The United States and the Holocaust
2. British Meeting
III. S.S. St. Louis
IV. War Refugee Board
A. Executive Order No. 9417
The United States has turned a blind eye to many things, tax evasion, corruption, graft, greed, ?back pocket action,? and countless other things, but what it did during World War II was unlike any of the above. Throughout this paper you will see United States reaction and policy in the presence of what Nazi Germany called the Final Solution, what the rest of the world recognized as, The Holocaust.
Public opinion has always played a huge role in how American responds to anything. From a new law to whether or not to go to war, if a president wants to be re-elected he will go with the people. Unfortunately, the people are not always right. For instance, in a 1942 opinion poll, Jews were ranked third when asked which group of people were a menace to America (America Deceit and Indifference). Other polls through out the country showed the same, even before the U.S. entered the war, a poll in 1939 showed that over half of the country, 53%, said that Jews should be treated specially and restricted (America Deceit and Indifference). An anti-Semitic aura was in the air throughout the United States, Jews couldn?t get jobs in many places, speakers such as Fr. Coughlin spewed anti-Jewish material out, the American Nazi party held rallies, and even the media was against the Jews. When the story first broke about the genocide in Germany, it was carried by the New York Times on the tenth page. In fact, throughout the war, the news of the massacre never made the front page of any major newspaper.
With all that pressure against the Jews, saving them would seem like a lost cause in the United States, however numerous organizations rallied, held protests, and exerted influence on the Washington government to do something. Louis D. Brandeis was just one of the many prominent American Jews who refused to let his brothers across the sea die. He was instrumental in getting the Roosevelt administration to ease up on visa requirements and get all the Jews applying for entrance gain entry. While no large-scale official boycott was placed on German goods, Jewish and non-Jewish leaders all over the country organized a boycott of German goods, hoping that economic pressure would gain an alternate ending to Hitler?s Final Solution.
Unfortunately, all the boycotts and rallies could not help the Jews trapped in Germany and German occupied areas. What those unfortunate souls needed was a place to go, and for that, only the U.S. government could help. However, due to increased nationalism during the 1920?s, Congress had passed the Immigration Law of 1924 that enacted quotas allowing only a certain number of people from each country into the United States. In fact, at the time of the holocaust, only 52,000 Germans would be allowed to immigrate to the United States in one year (Comprehensive Immigration Law 2). There were not enough spots to get all the people out who needed it.
When it came to immigration, the United States was very strict about how many people it let in. Nevertheless, they did show they wanted to help the Jews so in July 1938 they called the Evian Conference. This conference was supposed to help decide where all the Jews coming from Germany would be able to settle, but since the U.S. and other main powers would not allow more immigrants, the smaller countries followed suit and nothing was accomplished. Since the Evian Conference did not accomplish anything, the United States agreed to a closed-door meeting with British officials over the matter of rescuing Jews from Nazi occupied territory. While this looked good on the outside, U.S. representatives were sent there with ?secret directives from the State Department to accomplish little or anything.? (Primary Sources 3).
Not only did the United States try to keep Jews from her border in the conferences, but official policy in Washington was showing that too. In a memo from Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long to State Department Officials, Long outlined ways that the State Department could cut down the number of visas issued.
?We can delay and effectively stop for a temporary period of indefinite length the number of immigrants into the United States. We could do this by simply advising our consuls, to put every obstacle in the way?? (Memo 1)
By issuing that memo, Long was hoping to postpone and delay any immigrants chance of getting to the U.S. His order did its job, and by the end of 1940, issued visas had been cut in half (America Deceit and Indifference). Not only was visa issuance severely crippled, but also immigration to the United States. In 1939, the number of new immigrants to the United States was 82,998, by the 1943 the floodgates of immigration had been closed to a trickle and only 23,725 foreigners were immigrating to the United States (Immigration to the US). And the decrease was not because people stopped wanting to move to the U.S.
One of the main ?official? reasons for not allowing quotas to be increased or allowing all refugees haven in the United States was fear for jobs. The American Americans said they were already pressed for jobs and by allowing Europe?s ?undesirables,? the competition for jobs would be too tough. Therefore, with the public?s opinion still anti-Semitic, congress went to President Roosevelt. Knowing that the bill was unpopular politically and even with his own cousin, Laura Delano, saying, ?Twenty thousand charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults,? FDR opted to take no action. And with that, the bill died in committee. Yet, a similar bill came up a few years later except dealing with British children and it was passed promptly.
Another tragedy dealing with refugees would be of the S.S. St. Louis. The S.S. St. Louis was a ship in the Hamburg-America line and carried one thousand passengers. This ship was a last to chance to many Germans as they came out of hiding just to catch it, if those people were to stay in Germany, they would have been sent to concentration camps, or worse, killed. As the ship was sailing toward Cuba, they had received telegrams saying that they must hurry because two other ships were also heading toward Havana with Jewish refugees, though puzzled by this, they continued to sail and make the best time as possible. Unfortunately, after a passenger had died of old age, a distressed crewmember jumped overboard which caused a couple hours delay for the search, he was never found. When the ship eventually reached Cuba, they were not allowed to anchor in Havana but had to stop at the roadstead. What had happened was that the entry visas for the passengers into Cuba had been sold by the Director of Immigration without giving the president or any other official a cut of the money. When President Bru found out about this he refused to let the ship land. Dejected, the ship turned up the Florida coast hoping that the United States would let them dock and unload the refugees. However, that was not going to happen, in fact, the entire time the U.S. Coast Guard trailed the ship (Tragedy). The official reason to keep track of it in case negotiations would let the ship land in Cuba or the U.S., but it is more likely that the St. Louis was followed to make sure the ship did not land or unload any of the passengers through life rafts.
Even though the United States did many things that did not help the Jews during World War II, on January 22, 1944, FDR did do one thing to help them. Executive Order No. 9417 set up the War Refugee Board. The board would consist of the Secretary of State, Secretary of Treasury, and the Secretary of War; and this board would be allowed to plan for the rescue of the Jews and the establishment of camps for the rescued people (War Refugee Board). Working with the leaders from Jewish organizations all over the world havens were established for refugees in numerous countries. Even though the United States had set up the board, they had the least amount of camps set up for refugees, only one. Moreover, this camp was only allowed because it was strictly a temporary site for the refugees. The terms were that the people be returned following the end of the war. In sum, the camp set up in Ft. Ontario in New York, was more for publicity than for help. While the War Refugee Board did help save 200,000 lives, the amount of lives that it could have saved if it had been enacted only a few years earlier is incalculable.
Like with anything, how the United States reacted to the Holocaust was not based on just one thing. How the public thought did not solely determine what official U.S. policy was because people on both sides of the table were in there fighting for what they believed. Nor even when official policy was set, such as the memo telling consuls how to limit the number of visas, was it engraved in stone, contrasting opinions would be sent out, and, like Executive Order No. 9417, become new policy. The United States and the Holocaust was not just policies or opinions, but more a timeframe in which opinion and policy swayed like a young tree in the wind. Right or wrong is a matter for the individual, only the facts are offered here.
America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference. Dir. Martin Otrow. Shanachie Entertainment Corp. 1994
Jewish Virtual Library. ?Immigration to the United States.? 23 Apr 2001.
Jewish Virtual Library. ?The War Refugee Board.? 23 Apr 2001.
Jewish Virtual Library. ?The Tragedy of the S.S. St. Louis.? 23.Apr 2001
Public Broadcasting Service. ?Primary Sources.? 23 Apr 2001.