FDR Biographers Top List of Year’s “Ten Most Absurd Statements About the Allies’ Response to the Holocaust”

News Release
February 2, 2009

Washington, D.C.- Three biographers of Franklin D. Roosevelt have topped the annual list of the ten “most absurd statements” about the Allies’ response to the Holocaust.

The annual list for 2008 was released this week by The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in conjunction with the recent commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

(To see the list for 2007, please click here)

Topping the Absurdities list for 2008 was a statement by FDR biographer H.W. Brands claiming that the Allies would have had to divert “scarce resources” away from the battlefront in order to bomb Auschwitz.

“In fact,” Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff explained, “Allied planes repeatedly flew over Auschwitz when they were attacking German oil factories adjacent to the camp in 1944, so there was no need to divert planes from other battlefronts in order to bomb the gas chambers or crematoria. The planes were already there, in the skies above Auschwitz.”

Dr. Medoff recalled that units of the all-black Tuskegee Airmen, some of whom were special guests at the inauguration of President Barack Obama, were among the U.S. pilots who flew over Auschwitz in 1944.

Medoff said the purpose of the annual list is to “expose the most severe misrepresentation of the Allies’ response to the Holocaust, so that the public will have an accurate and balanced account of those crucial historical events.”

Two other FDR biographers also made the top ten: Jean Edward Smith, for erroneously giving FDR credit for a 1942 Allied statement condemning the Nazi genocide (it was the British, not the U.S., who initiated the statement), and Jonathan Alter, for praising Roosevelt’s convening of “international conferences on the refugees” during the Holocaust, even though those conferences –at Evian in 1938 and Bermuda in 1943– did almost nothing to help the refugees.

The nominees for inclusion on the list were judged by a panel of scholars who have researched the Allies’ response to the Holocaust: Prof. David S. Wyman, author of The Abandonment of the Jews; Dr. Rafael Medoff, author of Blowing the Whistle on Genocide; Prof. Laurel Leff, author of Buried by ‘The Times’; Dr. Racelle Weiman of Temple University, who is director emeritus of Hebrew Union College’s Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education; Prof. Bat-Ami Zucker, author of In Search of Refuge; and Dr. Alex Grobman.

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1. “[B]ombing the [death] camps or the rail lines would require the diversion of scarce resources. American and British bombers were fully employed during 1944 striking targets that contributed to the German war effort. To send planes over Auschwitz might well cost the lives of Allied soldiers.”

–H.W. Brands, Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (New York: Doubleday 2008), p. 762.

COMMENT: In fact, no “diversion of scarce resources” was necessary. Throughout the summer and autumn of 1944, Allied planes –including one piloted by young George S. McGovern– flew over Auschwitz as they bombed German oil factories nearby. Some of the raids hit targets less than five miles from the gas chambers.


2. “Roosevelt has been criticized in recent years for not moving more aggressively to rescue the Jews of Europe. FDR was not entirely negligent. In the face of an isolationist Congress and polls showing that more than 90 percent of the American public were opposed to easing immigration quotas, he raised the specter of the Nazi threat early, and sponsored international conferences on refugees.”

–Jonathan Alter, The Defining Moment: FDR’S Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope (New York : Simon & Schuster, 2008 paperback edition), pp. 333-334.

COMMENT: In fact, Roosevelt did not need to change any immigration laws to save lives; he could have simply allowed the existing immigration quotas to be filled. Instead, they were consistently underfilled. During the period of Hitler’s reign, 1933-1945, less than thirty-six percent of the German-Austrian quota places were used. During the years that the Nazis were slaughtering six million European Jews, that is, 1941-1945, nearly 190,000 quota places from Axis-controlled countries sat unused.

The “international conferences on refugees” that the Roosevelt administration sponsored –at Evian in 1938 and Bermuda in 1943– produced no meaningful plans to rescue Jews from the Nazis. The main purpose of the conferences was to deflect criticism of the Allies’ failure to rescue Jewish refugees.

3. “Nine days after meeting with [American Jewish leader Rabbi Stephen] Wise [in December 1942], Roosevelt induced Churchill and Stalin to join with him in a Declaration on Jewish Massacres …”

–Jean Edward Smith, FDR (New York: Random House 2008 paperback edition), p.609.

COMMENT: In fact, the British Foreign Office, not President Roosevelt, proposed the idea of the declaration. Roosevelt administration officials actually watered down the wording of the original British draft.

4. The Bergson Group “undermine[d] rescue efforts” by placing an advertisement in the New York Times in February 1943, urging the Allies to accept Romania’s reported offer to let its 70,000 Jews emigrate for the price of transportation costs. The Bergson ad “announced secret Romanian feelers to the U.S.” and thus “caused the Romanians to backtrack” on their offer.

–Dr. David Silberklang, Ha’aretz (English edition), July 11, 2008.

COMMENT: In fact, the Romanian offer was no secret. It had already been reported in the New York Times. But neither the Times nor the Bergson Group were to blame for the offer’s collapse. According to Yad Vashem’s Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (p.1297), the plan was halted because of German opposition. Similarly, a 1991 article by Dr. Ephraim Ophir, translated from Hebrew by Dr. Silberklang and published in the journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies, concluded that the Romanian plan was stopped “because of German opposition … [I]t is clear that the New York Times’ 13 February 1943 article and the subsequent 16 February paid advertisement by the Bergson Group had nothing to do with the plan’s failure.”

5. “The [U.S. immigration] quotas were basically unfilled by secret delaying tactics in the State Department by Breckenridge Long, an anti-Semite with almost universal support from all of the congressmen and senators from the South.”

–Radio talk show host Richard A. Garfunkel, letter to the editor, Boston Jewish Advocate, Aug. 21, 2008.

COMMENT: Long did not keep his actions “secret” from President Roosevelt. For example, after refugee advocates led by James McDonald met with FDR on October 9, 1940 to specifically complain that the Stat Department was preventing the quotas from being filled, Long went to the president the next day, together with Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Undersecretary Sumner Welles, to counteract the pro-refugee appeal. According to Long’s diary, FDR said “that he hadn’t had time to listen to McDonald and when he started condemning and criticizing me [Long] the President told him not to ‘pull any sob stuff’ on him …” The following summer, when Long implemented new procedures to further reduce the number of immigrants entering the U.S., he sent a memorandum to the president, explaining what was being done and why.


6. President Franklin Roosevelt “tr[ied] to save the Jews by winning the war as quickly as possible.”

–Joseph Epstein, “Thinking Outside the Lox,” Wall Street Journal, Sept. 15, 2008.

COMMENT: FDR never had a policy of trying to save Europe’s Jews, and the claim by his administration that the Jews could only be rescued through military victory over the Nazis was misleading. There were, in fact, various ways that Jews could have been rescued during the war, such as using empty troop supply ships returning from Europe to bring refugees for temporary shelter in the United States; bombing the death camps; and pressing the British to open Palestine.

7. “Even Ben-Gurion and his colleagues in Jerusalem vetoed any attempt to bomb Auschwitz…”

–Radio talk show host Richard A. Garfunkel, letter to the editor, Boston Jewish Advocate, Aug. 14, 2008.

COMMENT: Jewish Agency Executive chairman David Ben-Gurion and his colleagues first discussed the idea of bombing Auschwitz at a meeting in Jerusalem on June 11, 1944. At that point, they believed Auschwitz to be “a large labor camp” (as they put it), so they voted against requesting the Allies to bomb it. Later that month, however, the Agency leaders learned the true nature of Auschwitz, when their Geneva representative, Richard Lichtheim, cabled details from a report by two escapees revealing that it was a death camp. As a result, the Jewish Agency began pressing the Allies to bomb it. During the summer and fall of 1944, Jewish Agency president Chaim Weizmann, as well as Agency representatives in London, Washington, Budapest, Geneva, and Cairo met with British, American, and Soviet diplomats and urged them to bomb Auschwitz.

8. “Not until 1944 was [Treasury Secretary Henry] Morgenthau [Jr.] able to form something called the War Refugee Board, whose purpose was to save Jewish lives, but by then little could be accomplished.”

–Tom Shales, “PBS’s ‘The Jewish Americans’: A Triumphant Tale,” Washington Post, January 9, 2008, C-1.

COMMENT: In fact, much could be accomplished–and was. Despite an inadequate budget and little cooperation from the State and War departments, the Board successfully undertook numerous unorthodox steps to rescue Jews (such as sending Raoul Wallenberg into Nazi-occupied Budapest and financing his rescue activity) and ultimately played a central role in the rescue of more than 200,000 refugees. That experience demonstrates that when there was a will to rescue, ways could be found.

9. “The charge that Roosevelt failed to stop the Holocaust seems akin to criticizing a police officer who has gunned down a homicidal maniac for not preventing the crimes in the first place.”

–Alonzo Hamby, review of Robert N. Rosen, Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust, in American Jewish Archives Vol. LIX: Numbers 1 & 2 (2007; actual publication date October 2008).

COMMENT: In fact, a more accurate analogy would be: A homicidal maniac takes a large number of innocent Jews hostage and begins murdering them one by one. At the same time, the maniac fires some shots at a police officer. In the hours which follow, the police officer becomes aware of numerous opportunities to save some of the hostages. The officer’s advisers oppose saving them. Some of the advisers are antisemitic, and they oppose rescue because the hostages are Jews. Some of the advisers are against rescue because they think the public will not want the burden of having to care for the liberated hostages. Some of them are against rescue because, as a matter of principle, they oppose expending any time, effort, or bullets on anything except killing the maniac. So, instead of saving any of the hostages, the police officer declares that nothing can be done to rescue any of them until he kills the maniac. By the time he kills the maniac, most of the hostages are dead.

10. “By the time World War II had started and France and the Low Countries had fallen, the ability of any Jews to get on a neutral or Allied ship was virtually impossible.”

–Radio talk show host Richard A. Garfunkel, letter to the editor, Boston Jewish Advocate, Aug. 21, 2008.

COMMENT: In fact, more than 26,000 European Jewish refugees reached Palestine between 1941 and 1944, mostly by boat in transports organized by Zionist activists. In addition, several thousand refugees were smuggled out of Vichy France in 1940-1941 by Varian Fry’s rescue network and then made their way to ships leaving Portugal. Also, about 1,000 Jewish refugees who had reached Italy were brought to the United States by ship in 1944.