Sunday, March 17, 2013

FDR: Anti-Semite or friend of the Jews?

Letters to the Editor - Washington Post - March 17, 2013

FDR: Anti-Semite or friend of the Jews?

Richard Cohen [“An indelible stain on FDR’s legacy,” op-ed, March 12] wrote, “FDR supported programs that did . . . save 100,000 Jewish lives.” That figure is based primarily on the number of European Jews who immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s.

But those immigrants were not the beneficiaries of some special plan by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to rescue the Jews from Hitler; they came here within the framework of existing U.S. immigration laws, as did immigrants from all over the world. In fact, they entered the country despite an array of bureaucratic obstacles that the Roosevelt administration imposed to discourage refugees.

A maximum of 25,957 German citizens were permitted, by law, to enter the United States each year during that era. (The number increased slightly, to 27,370, after Germany annexed Austria in 1938.) Yet the extra requirements and restrictions imposed by U.S. officials ensured that the quota was filled only once during FDR’s 12 years in office. In most years, the German quota was left three-fourths unfilled. Between 1933 and 1945, a total of about 190,000 spaces from Germany or Axis-occupied countries were never used.

If Roosevelt had been sincerely interested in aiding the Jewish refugees, he could have simply instructed the State Department to quietly permit the quotas to be filled as the law permitted.

Rafael Medoff, Washington

The writer is director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

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