FDR AND THE HOLOCAUST

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1 FDR AND THE HOLOCAUST The documents contained in this selection are from the collections of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum and are intended to reflect the many sides of this issue. Document #1: Letter, FDR to New York Governor Herbert Lehman, November 13, 1935: Throughout the 1930s, President Roosevelt was kept informed of the growing refugee crisis in Europe by political leaders with ties to the American Jewish community, including New York Governor Herbert Lehman. Through these contacts, Roosevelt also learned that the strict immigration quotas in place at the time were not being fully or fairly administered by his own State Department. In this November 13, 1935 letter, the President advises Lehman of the results of his own examination of the visa issue, the legal limitations imposed by the Immigration Act of 1924, and his instruction to the State Department that German Jews applying for visas were to be given the most generous and favorable treatment possible under the laws of this country. (President s Official File 133: Immigration, , Box 1).

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6 Document #2: Memorandum for Miss LeHand from Stephen Early, November 13, 1936: Because of the country s isolationism and the immigration laws in place in the mid-1930s, President Roosevelt often felt constrained in taking a more proactive stance with regard to European refugees. In this November 13, 1936 memorandum for the President s private secretary Missy LeHand, Press Secretary Stephen Early recommends that the President resist the temptation to issue a requested appeal on behalf of persecuted Christians in Germany. Such an appeal, in the opinion of Early and the State Department, would be an inappropriate expression of the President s preference for one group of refugees over others. The President indicates his acceptance of Early s recommendation at the bottom of the memo. (President s Official File 133: Immigration, , Box 1).

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8 Documents #3 and #4: KRISTALLNACHT: On the night of November 9-10, 1938, the Nazi Party escalated its organized persecution of German and Austrian Jews in what has become known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of the Broken Glass. In the course of just a few hours, 815 shops, 171 homes, and 76 synagogues were destroyed; an additional 191 synagogues were set on fire; 36 Jews were murdered, another 36 seriously injured, and some 20,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Document #3: Letter, Benjamin V. Cohen to Miss LeHand, November 10, 1938: In this letter to the President s private secretary Miss LeHand, longtime FDR adviser Benjamin V. Cohen relays an urgent message from Rabbi Stephen Wise, a prominent leader of the American Jewish community, about the first hand reports he is receiving about the events of Kristallnacht. (President s Official File 198: Germany, , Box 1).

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10 Document #4: Draft Statement by the President, November 15, 1938: When the reports of the Nazi violence were confirmed, the President drafted this statement expressing his outrage at Kristallnacht and recalling the American ambassador to Germany. The changes and additions are in the President s own hand, and the final message was approved by Secretary of State Cordell Hull who placed his initials in the lower right hand corner. The President read the statement at his press conference held on November 15, (President s Secretary s Files; Diplomatic Correspondence; Germany, , Box 31).

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12 Document #5: State Department Memorandum of Conversation written by the United States Ambassador to Cuba J. Butler Wright concerning his meetings in Havana with the Cuban president and secretary of state about the SS St. Louis, June 8, 1939: Prior to the outbreak of World War II, many Jews fled to Cuba. On May 13, 1939 three months before the start of World War II the SS St. Louis, a ship carrying 937 German Jews attempting to flee Nazi persecution, sailed from Hamburg en route to Cuba. Other ships had made the same journey and their refugee passengers had disembarked in Havana successfully. But on May 5, the Cuban government, responding to corruption and anti-semitic pressures, curtailed the power of its immigration officials to issue landing certificates and ordered new visa procedures. The regulations had been transmitted to the Hamburg-Amerika Line, which owned the St. Louis, but only 22 of its passengers had fulfilled the new requirements before the ship left Hamburg. These 22 were allowed to land in Cuba. Negotiations with the Cuban government led by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee regarding the remaining passengers broke down, despite pressure from the U.S. government. Tremendous public attention focused on the St. Louis. The ship s passengers even cabled the White House for assistance, but the matter was referred to the State Department. America s harsh immigration laws did not permit the entry of the refugees into the United States, but American diplomats were able to help resettle the refugees in the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark. Many later fell victim to Hitler s Final Solution. Contrary to popular belief, there was no specific or official order by President Roosevelt refusing entry of the St. Louis refugees. (Sumner Welles Papers; Office Correspondence; File: Wright, J. Butler, April-June 1939; Box 57).

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16 Memo from Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long, to State Department Officials dated June 26, 1940, outlining effective ways to obstruct the granting of U.S. visas. June 26, A-B - Mr. Berle PA/D Mr. Dunn Attached is a memorandum from Mr. Warren. I discussed the matter with him on the basis of this memorandum. There are two possibilities and I will discuss each category briefly. Non-immigrants Their entry into the United States can be made to depend upon prior authorization by the Department. This would mean that the consuls would be divested of discretion and that all requests for nonimmigrant visas (temporary visitor and transit visas) be passed upon here. It is quite feasible and can be done instantly. It will permit the Department to effectively control the immigration of persons in this category and private instructions can be given the Visa Division as to nationalities which should not be admitted as well as to individuals who are to be excluded. This must be done for universal application and could not be done as regards Germany, for instance, or Russia, for instance, or any other one government because it would first, invite retaliation and second, would probably be a violation of some of our treaty arrangements. The retaliation clause is in connection with Germany because it could mean the closing of our offices in almost all of Europe. Immigrants 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 and to require additional evidence and to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas. However, this could only be temporary. In order to make it more definite It would have to be done by suspension of the rules under the law by the issuance of a proclamation of emergency-- which I take it we are not yet ready to proclaim. Summing Up We can effectively control non-immigrants by prohibiting the issuance of visas unless the consent of the Department to obtained in advance for universal application. We can temporarily prevent the number of immigrants from certain localities such as Cuba, Mexico and other places of origin of German intending immigrants by simply raising administrative obstacles. The Department will be prepared to take these two steps immediately upon the decision but emphasis must be placed on the fact that discrimination must not be practiced and with the additional thought that in case a suspension of the regulations should be proclaimed under the need of an emergency, it would be universally applicable and would affect refugees from England. The Canadian situation and travel across that border we can handle through an exception to the general rule and so advise our consuls In Canada.

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