September 19, 2005
A book about America’s failure to rescue Jews from the Holocaust helped convince then-Vice President George H. W. Bush to order the U.S. airlift of 900 Ethiopian Jewish refugees to Israel in 1985, a U.S. ambassador has revealed.
John R. Miller, a former Congressman(R-WA), who is now the U.S. ambassador for combating human trafficking, revealed the episode for the first time in public, in a statement presented to more than 200 participants in a September 18 conference at the Fordham University Law School organized by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.
Ambassador Miller said that when the Ethiopian Jews became stranded in Sudan in early 1985, he brought a copy of Prof. Wyman’s book about America and the Holocaust, “The Abandonment of the Jews,” to Vice President Bush. “This is a chance to write a very different history than the history of America’s response to the Holocaust,” Miller told the vice president. Miller said that in a later conversation with Bush, the vice president confirmed that Wyman’s book “was a major influence in his decision to order the airlift.”
Miller’s statement was part of a conference session, chaired by former U.S. Congressman Stephen Solarz, marking the twentieth anniversary of the publication of The Abandonment of the Jews. In the same session, noted criminal defense attorney Benjamin Brafman spoke about how the pioneering Soviet Jewry activism of his uncle, the late Morris Brafman, was influenced by the lessons of the Holocaust. Also speaking were Dr. Racelle Weiman of Hebrew Union College’s Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, and Prof Leonard Swidler, editor of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies. The journal’s latest issue, coedited by Dr. Weiman and Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff, focuses on the impact of The Abandonment of the Jews and the issues it raised.
Additional highlights of the conference:
* New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia played an important but little-known role in lobbying the Roosevelt administration to rescue Jews from the Holocaust, according to research unveiled at the conference by Dr. Medoff. The conference’s “La Guardia and the Holocaust” panel was chaired by one of La Guardia’s successors, former Mayor Ed Koch, who said President Roosevelt’s unresponsiveness to appeals for the refugees was “unforgivable.” Koch said, “I am sure FDR is in purgatory as punishment for turning his back on Holocaust victims.” Also on the panel were LaGuardia biographer Prof. Thomas Kessner and Dr. Rochelle Saidel, who is editing the memoirs of La Guardia’s sister Gemma.
* The conference honored U.S. journalist Varian Fry and diplomat Hiram Bingham IV, who helped more than 2,000 refugees escape from Vichy France in 1940-41. The Fry rescue mission was discussed in remarks by Fry’s widow, Annette; Bingham’s son, Connecticut attorney William Bingham; and Dr. Bella Chagall Meyer, grand-daughter of painter Marc Chagall, who was rescued by Fry and Bingham. It was the first time Mrs. Fry, Mr. Bingham, and Dr. Meyer met. They were joined by Academy Award winning actor William Hurt, who spoke about his starring role in the dramatic film “Varian’s War.”
* The conference attendees viewed an interview with former U.S. Senator and 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern, filmed recently by the Wyman Institute. McGovern described how bombing missions he led as a U.S. pilot in 1944 targeted oil factories next to Auschwitz, and he criticized President Roosevelt for refusing to order the bombing of the death camps. Holocaust survivor Sigmund Rolat, a Wyman Institute board member; Stuart Erdheim, a filmmaker involved in the McGovern interview; and Dr. Racelle Weiman, who initiated the McGovern project, also spoke.
Prof. Thane Rosenbaum of the Fordham University School of Law, the prominent legal scholar, award-winning novelist, and public affairs commentator, was the emcee of the conference.