Goldberg Whitewashes the Jewish 1%'s Holocaust Passivity

In December 2013 the Jewish Daily Forward decided to salute the late Holocaust historian Lucy Dawidowicz for defending the American Jewish 1% from charges that they let down European Jewry during the '30's and 40's. The author of the article is the paper's editor J.J. Goldberg. 30 years ago in an article called "Indicting American Jews" Dawidowicz argued that nothing could have been done differently by the Jewish leadership. Roosevelt had to protect himself from the isolationists. The Jews then were not "powerful". Hitler wanted to kill the Jews and that was that. Goldberg thinks that analysis is just fine and any criticism is a "libel".

We're indebted to Goldberg for opening up the dressing so we can look at this still festering sore even if he thinks the wound is just pink and rosy skin.

Now until the 1960's nobody wrote much about what the U.S. Jewish establishment did or didn't do during the time of the Nazis. It was just assumed that by the time the Final Solution became known it was too late to help Jews in Hitler's claws.

However, in 1961 the famous writer Ben Hecht ("The Front Page") wrote "Perfidy" which mentioned his efforts in the 1940's to mobilize U.S. public opinion to rescue European Jews in the teeth of opposition by the Jewish leadership. In 1968 journalist Benjamin Morse wrote "While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy". "No Haven For the Oppressed: United States Policy Toward Jewish Refugees, 1938-1945," by Prof. Saul S. Friedman came out in 1973. In 1978 David S. Wyman wrote "Why Auschwitz Was Never Bombed" in Commentary magazine charging that U.S. planes had repeatedly bombed oil factories next to Auschwitz, but deliberately refused to bomb the death camps themselves.

The whole question of why more wasn't done to help the Jews in the Holocaust had become a controversy.

In the 1980's the discussion became front page news because of the Goldberg report or officially "the American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust". It was initially financed by a man named Jack Eisner. Eisner was a Warsaw ghetto fighter who survived only to go to several concentration camps. He eventually came to the U.S. and made a fortune in the import-export business. He had lost around 100 of his family to Hitler and naturally had a keen interest in what people had or hadn't been doing to save Jewry during the Hitler period so he financed the commission.

The Chairman of the commission was Arthur Goldberg, who was a former Supreme Court justice and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He later became president of the American Jewish Committee, the very upper crust of Jewish organizations. There were many other prominent people on the commission including vice-chairman Senator Jacob Javits, legendary actor/acting teacher Stella Adler, Martin Peretz, owner of the New Republic, Rabbi Joachim Prinz former president of the American Jewish Congress (a different group from the American Jewish Committee), Samuel Merlin a co-founder of the Herut Party, ambassadors, rabbis, cabinet officials and other political glitterati.

Evidently forty years was too soon to talk about the failings of the Jewish leadership. The commission was riven with disputes. According to Rafael Medoff the commissioners rejected the draft report of their staff because they thought it was too critical of the Jewish leadership.

Eisner feared the whole thing would amount to a whitewash. At the end of 1982 he renounced the commission and cut off his funding.

Part of the draft was leaked to the New York Times and Bernard Weinraub wrote about it on January 4, 1983. The Times related that the draft said, ''In retrospect, one incontrovertible fact stands out above all others: In the face of Hitler's total war of extermination against the Jews of Europe, the Jewish leadership in America at no stage decided to proclaim total mobilization for rescue.'' It said that the Zionists "exclusive concentration on Palestine as a solution" made them unable to work for any other alternative.

The draft explains that the biggest American Zionist leader during the Nazi era, Rabbi Steven Wise, opposed a resolution designed to set up a commission "to effectuate the rescue of the Jewish people of Europe". Read that sentence again. Wise opposed a commission to rescue the European Jews while they were undergoing genocide.

Now, of course, he had his reasons. According to the Times again quoting the commission's work, "He opposed the resolution, the draft said, because it failed to include any provision that the British change their policy and open up Palestine to Jews." So his Zionist project came before the actual lives of desperate Jews.

The commission appeared to collapse, but Goldberg himself revived it and its findings were published in April 1984.

The findings were shall we say… tepid. Goldberg told the New York Times, "we didn't do enough". The final report says Jewish leaders repeatedly asked government officials to take action. ''They were still trying to persuade the same officials when the war ended'.'

Fear of Making Things Worse…For Whom?

So what was holding back the Jewish 1%? According to the report they were afraid of "stirring up anti-Semitism" in the United States. They were worried about backlash. No doubt some more country clubs could have been closed off to Jewish executives if they pressed too hard. On the other hand after Kristallnacht, after reports on Nazi atrocities in countries Nazis conquered, a full scale campaign might have gotten thousands more Jews allowed into the U.S. In May 1939 a ship called the St. Louis filled with 900 Jews fleeing Germany tried to get to Cuba. The plan was they would stay there until they could get visas to the U.S. Cuban officials turned them away and they took to sea. Cables to Roosevelt were ignored. It became a huge story in the papers. At one point the passengers could even see the lights of Miami, but nothing was done for them by the Jewish committees of the day and the ship was forced to return to Europe.

Now there had been serious anti-Semitism in the U.S. in the '30's, Father Coughlin, the Silver Shirts and the German American Bund. The solution was rather obvious, join with the anti-fascist left and fight them. This did not happen. When the Left battled against a German-American Bund rally at Madison Square Garden in early 1939 the Left (successfully) fought them by themselves.

Whatever hesitations there were in the '30's they should have disappeared in the '40s. Once the war started most of the American Nazi and fascist leadership had been arrested and fears of an anti-Semitic reaction in the U.S. should have dissipated, but they didn't.

In May of 1942 the Polish-Jewish underground smuggled out a report saying the Nazis had killed an estimated 700,000 Jews. Three months later on August 28 Wise received a cable, originally sent by Gerhart Riegner, the World Jewish Congress representative in Geneva. The cable said the Nazis were preparing to exterminate four million Jews. Rabbi Wise sat on the cable, keeping it from the press until November 24.

According to Lenni Brenner, in the 8th Appendix to the Goldberg report a researcher Saul Friedman wrote that Wise actually wrote to Roosevelt and said "I have had cables and underground advices for months, telling of these things. I succeeded with the heads of other Jewish organizations in keeping them out of the press". (1)

Not all Jews held back. The most extreme Zionists, the Bergson group, who were members of the terror-using Irgun, demanded action. They started to organize with Ben Hecht after he started writing articles in 1941 condemning the silence of Jewish leaders and cultural figures about the massacre of European Jews.

The leader of the group Peter Bergson had a genius for publicity. In March 1943 he rented out Madison Square Garden for a pageant "They Shall Never Die". Bergson's group filled it twice in one night and then took the pageant to other cities. In October Bergson mobilized 450 rabbis to march in Washington up to the White House. Roosevelt didn't meet with them. Bergson called his group the "Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe". It were attacked by Steven Wise for neglecting Palestine! Bergson wrote, 'If you were inside a burning house, would you want the people outside to scream "save them" or to scream "save them by taking them to the Waldorf Astoria?" ' (2) It was to no avail. When Bergson's friends in Congress tried to get a law passed for a government rescue commission, Wise testified against the bill because it didn't mention Palestine.

Nevertheless at the start of 1944 Roosevelt did set up a War Refugee Board which probably saved 200,000 or more Jews.

What Could Have Been Done?

Rafael Medoff disputes Dawidowicz and others who say that the only solution was to win the war as quickly as possible

"Using troop supply ships, which were returning to the United States empty, to carry refugees for temporary haven would not have interfered with the war effort. Pressuring the British to quietly open Palestine to Jews fleeing Hitler would not have interfered with the war effort. Pressuring Turkey and other neutrals or countries sympathetic to the Axis to open their borders to refugees, for temporary haven, would not have interfered with the war effort."

Then there was the special case of Auschwitz. We've already mentioned the charge that Allied bombers were hitting near Auschwitz, but leaving the death camp alone. In a fascinating article in the Brittanica Encyclopedia Michael Berenbaum explains that "as early as May 1944 the U.S. Army Air Forces had the capability to strike Auschwitz at will". This was before the Nazis deported 438,000 Hungarians to the death camp.

Nahum Goldman who was president of the World Zionist Organization for a dozen years admitted in 1964 in the Jerusalem Post that at the height of the he and Steven Wise received from the Jewish Resistance Movement a telegram exhorting "twelve top American Jews to go and sit night and day on the steps outside the White House until the Allies are moved to bomb Auschwitz and Treblinka" (3). Needless to say neither Wise nor Goldman did any such thing. In August 1944 the War Refugee Board politely asked if the Allies could bomb Auschwitz. They were told by Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy that the matter had been studied and such an effort would divert the air force from military bombing. The Jewish dignitaries left it at that. (4)

We must quote here Arthur Goldberg. In 1984 when his commissions report came out Mr. Goldberg attributed the refusal of the Allies to bomb the rail lines to Auschwitz to ''indifference.'' He said: ''I was with the Office of Strategic Services during the war, and I can tell you that the excuse that we couldn't afford to divert planes just didn't hold water. The Allied officials were preoccupied with winning the war, and Jews just didn't amount to much.''

One must add that the efforts of the Jewish 1% didn't amount to much either. The war was nearly over, the outlines of the Final Solution were well known, fears of anti-Semitism in America were delusional and still they didn't demand with all their might that Auschwitz-Birkenau be leveled.


(1) Lenni Brenner "Jews in America Today", pp. 160-161", (Lyle Stuart, 1986). (Yehuda Bauer defends Wise in holding back the Riegner cable. He says the had to be confirmed. )

(2) "Zionism in the Age of the Dictators: A Reappraisal", Lenni Brenner, p.241 (Lawrence Hill Books, 1983)

(3) Maurice Carr, "The Belated Awakening", Jerusalem Post , May 5, 1964, p.3 as quoted in "Jews in America Today", op cit

(4) The Britannica article mentions no such study was ever found in Army Air Force records