- In the 1930’s FDR did not publically denounce Hitler’s treatment of the Jews.
- Some Jewish advisors in his administration had advised him not to speak out.
- They were concerned that speaking out would lead to more persecution of the Jews.
Some Jewish advisors close to President Franklin D. Roosevelt advised him not to publicly denounce the Nazis because they were concerned it could further harm Jewish people in Germany — placing the Democratic president in a dilemma, a new PBS documentary reported.
According to the documentary, Roosevelt appointed more Jewish officials to his administration than any president before him, but those in his administration were conflicted on how to handle international diplomacy regarding what Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were doing in Germany during the 1930s.
The documentary, “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” is a film by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein. It premiered Sunday on PBS. The three-part, six-hour series includes firsthand testimony of survivors of the Holocaust and, with the help of historians, examines the initial public apathy in the US toward the humanitarian crisis and the US government’s reticence to open its doors to those seeking refuge.
Eventually, President Roosevelt would side with advisors who told him not to speak out.
Jewish Americans across the US were conflicted on how to help those in Germany. There were concerns that speaking out would fall into Hitler’s propaganda and ultimately end up more harmful for the Jews under his rule. However, many Jewish Americans and non-Jewish allies held rallies, made speeches, and advocated for more to be done.
Jewish war veterans had led a march to New York City hall and called for a worldwide boycott of German goods.
“The time for prudence and caution is past. We must speak up like men. How can we ask our Christian friends to lift their voices in the protests against the wrongs suffered by Jews if we keep silent,” influential Rabbi Samuel Wise said at the time.
He added: “What is happening in Germany today, may happen tomorrow in any other land on earth unless it is challenged and rebuked. It is not the German Jews that are being attacked. It is the Jews.”
The protests then spread across the pond to England, prompting the Nazis to claim it was proof that Germany’s rule was “under attack” by Jews, and claimed reports of mistreatment toward Jewish people were lies.
Nazi leader Hermann Göring, a close Hitler advisor, called on Jewish leaders in Germany to call for an immediate end to the demonstrations, or otherwise, the Nazis would take their “revenge,” according to the documentary.
“The Jews in America and England are hoping to injure us. We shall know how to deal with their brothers in Germany,” Göring said.
On March 27, 1933, more than 20,000 people in New York packed in Madison Square Garden in protest of German’s treatment of German Jews. Another 35,000 gathered outside. During a speech at the event, Rabbi Samuel Wise said that if their protests would cause more harm then they would “bow their heads.”
“If things are to be worse for our brother Jews in Germany, which I can not bring myself to believe then humbly and sorrowfully we bow our heads in the presence of the tragic fate that threatens and once again appeal to the conscious of Christiandom to save civilization from the shame that may be imminent,” Wise told the crowd.
More than 70 protests in cities all across the US followed, with over a million Americans taking part. These protests only led Hitler to claim that Jews “controlled” America.
In retaliation, he ordered a one-day boycott of Jewish businesses in Germany and Nazi soldiers stood outside any Jewish business to intimidate patrons from going in.
“Again and again Jewish Americans would find themselves in an agonizing quandary,” the documentary, narrated by Peter Coyote, said. “If they kept quiet about Nazi persecution, it looked as though they had abandoned their fellow Jews. If they protested, they ran the risk of seeming to confirm Hitler’s delusions about the power of Jews around the world.”