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the Author -- Zionism at the UN: A Diary of the First Days
Foreword by HOWARD M. SACHAR
I In the Corridors
San Francisco April 30—May
II The "Unholy Alliance"—Russia and the Arab League
San Francisco May 26—June
III Politics and Public Relations
New York June 11—July 3
Monday, June 11
Because of a shortage of hotel accommodations, I am staying in the apartment of Dorothy Thompson, who is abroad. The first of us to be put up here was Eliezer Kaplan, and I have now joined him. It is a beautiful place, packed with books and pictures of her friends. She seems to be on familiar terms with scores of famous people in different walks of life, to judge from the warm dedications written on their photographs. One such friend was the late President Roosevelt, whom Dorothy Thompson had served faithfully in his election campaigns. She also did us a valuable service in depicting the white paper as a breach of Britain’s historic obligation to the Jewish people and as part of the Chamberlain government’s policy of appeasing the enemies of freedom and democracy—Hitler, Mussolini, and the ex-mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el-Husseini.
Kaplan and I will be using Miss Thompson’s apartment for only a few days. This week she is returning to the United States, and we will have to look for other accommodations. tine. It demands our closest attention, he said, to determine what we should do to face the challenge.
I gave Kaplan my impressions of my meetings with Arabs in San Francisco and told him about their self-confidence, which has grown with the establishment of the Arab League and with the position they enjoy at the United Nations conference. I also noted that the Turkish, Iranian, and Greek delegations are afraid of any move in our favor that might upset the Arabs. I said that the danger for us lies not so much in what the Arabs themselves may do to harm our cause, but in how strongly Britain will back them and whether the United States will remain indifferent to our pleas. I mentioned disturbing signs I detected in my talks with State Department officials, the judgments they have made on the problems in the Middle East, and the role of oil as one of the main factors in determining United States policy there. In addition, the Arab League’s Washington information office will undoubtedly lead and coordinate the activities of the Arab embassies against us, relying on the moral and material support of Arab friends in the country.
Kaplan expressed full support for Goldmann’s plan and proposed that I stay on for at least eight months or even a year. He suggested that I consult Ben-Gurion, who will soon arrive in America, on the matter and that I inform Shertok. In Kaplan’s opinion the matter must not be put off; we have to strengthen our representation in Washington without further delay. Goldmann comes to Washington only rarely and stays briefly. There is not a single Palestinian in the office of the American Zionist Emergency Council in Washington who can present our case with either the requisite knowledge or the proper authority. Since the Arabs will soon have a Washington office specifically organized to mount anti-Zionist propaganda, the Jewish Agency representative has to be an expert in Arab affairs and au fait with Arab developments. Kaplan went on to emphasize the importance of fostering close social relations with influential people in Washington, including government officials.
When we met later at the Jewish Agency’s offices in Madison Avenue, I heard Kaplan telling Goldmann that he favors the broadening of agency activity in Washington. Both will speak to Lipsky and to Ben-Gurion about my staying on in Washington for some time, as proposed by Goldmann.
I spent the late afternoon and evening with Hayim Greenberg. In the course of our long conversation he told me what the American government did, or rather how much it did not do, both before and during the war, to save Jews in Nazi hands. Much of the blame for what happened falls on President Roosevelt, his administration, and public organizations of all kinds. They all share the responsibility to various degrees for the appalling course of events. Of course, it is still difficult to reach a final conclusion on the subject, and it will certainly be a long time before all the evidence and documents come to light and allow a full investigation of what took place. However, one can already point to grievous omissions in easing the position of German Jews after Hitler’s rise to power and in rescuing many by helping them to leave Germany before war broke out.
Greenberg said that when Hitler became chancellor in 1933, the leading American Jewish organizations grasped the seriousness of the threat facing German Jewry. The American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, and B’nai B’rith all asked the State Department to use diplomatic means to protect Jews from the attacks of the Nazi regime. But Secretary of State Cordell Hull regarded a diplomatic demarche, of the kind the Jewish organizations sought, to be interference in the internal affairs of Germany. It is true that under pressure from many members of Congress, particularly those representing centers of large Jewish population, sharp words of criticism were occasionally voiced by administration officials, including the president. Jewish organizations pressed repeatedly, however, for a clear and declared policy that would make Hitler realize that the United States government would not remain indifferent to what was going on—but their demands came to nothing.
Of the bodies active in marshaling American public opinion and pressuring the government on the issue, Greenberg particularly mentioned the American Jewish Congress. Its president, Dr. Stephen Wise, was aided in his endeavors by people in different walks of life, Jews and non-Jews, including leading churchmen and prominent journalists. Wise, who after 1935 was also president of the Committee of Jewish Delegations in Geneva, knew the problem better than other American Jewish leaders. After Hitler’s rise to power he tried to impress his grave evaluation of the situation on the American Jewish public. The fact, however, that United States Jewry had no central body to speak on its behalf prevented agreement and joint action by Jewish organizations. The division in the Jewish camp weakened the efforts to concentrate greater public pressure on the authorities in order to get prompt and tangible results.
One factor that blocked the saving of large numbers of Jews was the strict American immigration policy, which prohibited them from coming to the United States. The many and continuous efforts by American public bodies and influential individuals—both Jews and non-Jews—to change these laws failed. There were a number of reasons for this: President Roosevelt feared that by supporting the demanded changes in the immigration laws he would lose votes; William Green, president of the AFL, was afraid that large-scale immigration might lead to heavy unemployment; the conservative press was apprehensive about undesirable changes in American society; and anti-Semites in all walks of American life did little to conceal their opposition to Jews “flooding” the country.
In 1933 the League of Nations, with the official support of the United States government, had appointed an American, Professor James G. McDonald, president of the American Foreign Policy Association, as high commissioner for refugees, and a fellow American, Joseph Chamberlain, was elected to the league’s Council for Refugees. However, the two men soon realized that there was little point in their efforts as long as their own government refused to set an example by admitting substantial numbers of refugees from Nazi persecution. Professor McDonald resigned in 1935; Chamberlain resigned sometime later.
Greenberg particularly cited the attempts to ease the immigration laws by Senators Robert Wagner and Edith Rogers and the Jewish members of the House of Representatives, Emanuel Celler and Samuel Dickstein. However, when they proposed legislation to this end, it was rejected in both houses of Congress since it did not have the support of the administration. President Roosevelt himself was largely responsible for the situation: from time to time he publicly expressed his regret at the suffering of German Jews but did not lift a finger to do anything concrete to help the lot of the persecuted, either by energetic diplomatic action or by supporting the easing of immigration to the United States. Greenberg went on to say that not only Palestine but also Great Britain and several South American countries each accepted more Jewish refugees, including children, than did the United States.
Not all State Department personnel, according to Greenberg, had opposed appropriate diplomatic action in defense of German Jewry. There were officials who would have been prepared to help if their superiors, and particularly their chief, the secretary of state, had backed them up. Cordell Hull, however, remained intransigent during his entire term of office on that matter, as on so many other matters connected with American policy of interest to Jews, including the question of Palestine.
Greenberg thinks that the energy expended by the Jewish public in organizing a boycott of German goods (whose effect in the end was small) would have been better spent in applying more pressure on the White House. This was especially true after the failure of the Evian Conference in July 1938, which demonstrated the impotence of the international community, principally the United States, in assisting the persecuted Jews in Europe. The conference had been summoned at the initiative of the United States, but because the American government presented the delegates with no tangible proposals proportional to the problem either in scale or substance, no other government stirred itself to do so. At this juncture there was an opportunity for Jewish organizations to reveal President Roosevelt’s two-facedness and to try to rouse American public opinion against what was going on. The emergency demanded radical, effective action, but nothing of this kind emerged and each Jewish organization continued, as in the past, on its own separate way without even coordinating what it did with other Jewish bodies. The American Jewish Committee strove for worthless programs for the settlement of Jews outside the United States, while Zionists, naturally enough, fought against the 1939 white paper and for the opening of Palestine’s doors to large-scale immigration “by right and not on sufferance.”
As for what happened during the war, Greenberg thinks it is still hard to get the full story. It will probably be a long time before the whole truth is revealed, before we can judge the responsibility of America and the Allies in not coming to the rescue of Jews in German-occupied Europe when it was still possible to save many of them.
After I left Greenberg, I thought long and hard about what he had said. I reflected that from 1933 on, the small and struggling Yishuv has absorbed more Jews than any other country—despite the Arab revolt and obstruction by the British authorities. Who knows how many more lives we could have saved if a Jewish state had come into being before 1939?
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