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FDR secretly pushed to get Jews to safety during Holocaust

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Newly uncovered documents reveal that President Franklin D. Roosevelt worked quietly in the late 1930s to find havens for European Jews, contradicting the view that he ignored their plight in the years leading up to the Holocaust.

 

Roosevelt was “a master politician who tried to carry out some humanitarian steps while juggling political and military considerations,” writes historian Richard Breitman, co-editor of Refugees and Rescue: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald (1935-1945) released today. The book draws on papers at the Center for Jewish History in New York City.

McDonald was chairman of Roosevelt’s advisory committee on refugees. He met Adolf Hitler in 1933 and was convinced the Nazi planned to exterminate Europe’s Jews, prompting him to sound warnings. He later was the first U.S. ambassador to Israel.

Despite FDR’s popularity with Jewish Americans, the influential 1984 book The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust argued that he did little to save their European brethren.

Breitman says McDonald’s papers soften that view, showing that in 1938, Roosevelt:

• Cut red tape that kept immigration quotas from being filled, allowing entry for 27,370 Germans — most of them Jews.

• Hoped to resettle millions of Jews from Central and Eastern Europe to other countries, mostly in Latin America. He called an international conference to line up money and support.

• Promised to ask Congress for $150 million to help resettle refugees if Britain allowed more Jews into Palestine and private funds could be raised.

Read more: FDR pushed to get Jews to safety in 1930s

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