A lit­tle learn­ing shines a new light on a painful his­tory Ris­ing anti-Semitism in Europe sounds a warn­ing to a new gen­er­a­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Suzanne Fields

TBERLIN he Amer­i­can re­sponse to the his­tory of the Holo­caust is chang­ing. So, too, the re­sponse of the Ger­mans. “His­tory teaches, but has no pupils,” An­to­nio Gram­sci, a Marx­ist philoso­pher, once said. But he was wrong. Pupils abound, but they of­ten do not limit their cu­rios­ity to what their teach­ers teach them. The his­tory of the Holo­caust is a kalei­do­scope of fact and opin­ion dis­pensed among dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions, and rig­or­ous dis­cus­sion and de­bate is al­ways a strong dis­in­fec­tant to ap­ply to both mis­in­for­ma­tion and dis­in­for­ma­tion. Up­dates are re­quired.

In our own time of hy­per­par­ti­san anger and re­sent­ment, when ev­ery­one seems to be mad at some­body, there’s a resur­gence of anger at the Jews in Europe. Phys­i­cal as­saults on Jews av­er­age twice a week in France, Jews in Ger­many worry about open an­tiSemitism among mi­grants and refugees from Syria and Iraq, a new li­bel law in Poland pro­hibits at­tri­bu­tion or re­spon­si­bil­ity to Pol­ish com­plic­ity in the Holo­caust, syn­a­gogues in Swe­den were tar­geted for van­dal­ism af­ter the United States re­lo­cated its Is­raeli em­bassy to Jerusalem, and English Jews demon­strated in Lon­don against anti-Semitism in the Bri­tish La­bor Party.

Against this back­drop of un­rest there’s a new ex­am­i­na­tion of Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt’s re­ac­tion to the per­se­cu­tion of Euro­pean Jews in the years lead­ing to World War II. He ar­gued that the al­lies had to fo­cus to­tally on war strat­egy be­fore res­cu­ing Jews. The his­tory of that time taught that Amer­i­cans weren’t aware of the di­men­sions of the de­struc­tion of the Jews un­til af­ter the war was over. That’s not true, ei­ther.

A new ex­hibit at the U.S. Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Mu­seum in Wash­ing­ton shows just how much Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt, knew about what was hap­pen­ing to Euro­pean Jews, when it was hap­pen­ing, and ar­gues by im­pli­ca­tion that more could been done to save Jewish lives. Nazi atroc­i­ties were, in fact, widely re­ported dur­ing the 1930s, and im­mi­gra­tion of Jews was, in fact, sup­pressed when le­gal im­mi­gra­tion could have let in many more. The New York Times, though owned by Jews, par­tic­u­larly sup­pressed cov­er­age of what was hap­pen­ing.

The Im­mi­gra­tion Act of 1924 al­lowed a max­i­mum of 25,957 visas from Ger­many an­nu­ally, and only 1,241 were is­sued in 1933, when many Jews were try­ing to flee. By 1939, on the eve of war, many Jews had been wait­ing for 11 years.

Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt called an in­ter­na­tional conference in France in July 1938 to find coun­tries to take in Jewish refugees, but this might have been in­tended to de­flect at­ten­tion from the un­filled Amer­i­can quo­tas. The conference pro­duced noth­ing of sub­stance, ex­cept ex­po­sure of Amer­i­can hypocrisy. Alex Ross, writ­ing in New Yorker mag­a­zine, re­calls that the Ger­man For­eign Of­fice, “found it ‘as­tound­ing’ that other coun­tries could de­cry Ger­many’s treat­ment of Jews and then de­cline to ad­mit them.” The Ger­mans were brazen in their big­otry, but the fail­ure of so many so-called “sym­pa­thetic” coun­tries to ac­cept Jews was fairly brazen, too.

In 1939, leg­is­la­tion to ad­mit 20,000 Jewish chil­dren to the United States never made it through Congress. Fear of spies, Com­mu­nists and eco­nomic in­se­cu­rity abet­ted by iso­la­tion­ist at­ti­tudes was part of it, but anti-Semitism rooted in pub­lic and pri­vate at­ti­tudes di­min­ished in­cen­tives for sav­ing Jewish lives. Breck­in­ridge Long, an as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of State, rou­tinely de­nied visas to Jews and tes­ti­fied falsely to Congress to pre­vent res­cue of Euro­pean Jews. Fake news was deadly then, too.

The Jewish Voice From Ger­many, a quar­terly news­pa­per pub­lished in English in Berlin, asks whether, when there are no wit­nesses left to tell their har­row­ing tales, “Will it be purely con­signed to his­tory or will the Shoah play a cru­cial role in fu­ture society?” It’s not an aca­demic question.

New at­ten­tion fo­cuses on a site in an af­flu­ent sub­urb south­west of Berlin, where Rein­hard Hey­drich, direc­tor of the Se­cu­rity Po­lice and the Se­cu­rity Ser­vice of the SS, one of the most no­to­ri­ous Nazi lead­ers, in­vited 15 high-level of­fi­cials to a conference at a villa in Wannsee in Jan­uary 1942, where state agen­cies worked out how to in­sure the de­por­ta­tion and mass killings of Jews in Nazioc­cu­pied coun­tries. Moral hideous­ness hid be­hind bu­reau­cratic cor­rect­ness in the killing pro­to­cols as­signed to spe­cific gov­ern­ment agen­cies.

How these per­pe­tra­tors were pro­tected by their bu­reau­cratic cover is de­scribed in “Sur­vivors, Vic­tims, Per­pe­tra­tors,” a book pub­lished by Wannsee House to ac­com­pany a trav­el­ing ex­hi­bi­tion, which dis­cusses the chill­ing de­tails of the divi­sion of la­bor and re­spon­si­bil­ity. The de­hu­man­iz­ing di­rec­tives of the “fi­nal solution” are in­ter­spersed with dra­matic por­traits of ag­ing sur­vivors by pho­tog­ra­pher Luigi Toscano, giv­ing bru­tal­ity a hu­man face. The pho­tog­ra­pher, who ex­hib­ited his pho­to­graphs on the Na­tional Mall in Wash­ing­ton, calls his project, “Lest We Forget.”

When his­tory’s pupils con­tinue to ask the right ques­tions, and not flinch from the pain of the an­swers, mem­o­ries might even im­prove with age. For the sake of ris­ing gen­er­a­tions, we must all pray so.

Nazi atroc­i­ties were, in fact, widely re­ported dur­ing the 1930s, and im­mi­gra­tion of Jews was, in fact, sup­pressed when le­gal im­mi­gra­tion could have let in many more.

Suzanne Fields is a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times and is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.


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