Saturday, October 14, 2006

FDR and the Holocaust: A Podcast Interview With Author Robert N. Rosen

FDR was singularly responsible for defeating Nazi Germany’s brutal anti-Semitic regime. Yet sixty-one years after his death, FDR’s legacy is entwined with allegations he was anti-Semitic and not interested in the Holocaust.

As a liberal Jewish American I was always conditioned to regard FDR with an asterisk. Many times I’ve heard my predominantly liberal family say, “FDR was a great President, but …” And they proceed to indict him for being unsympathetic to European Jewry during the Holocaust. In particular, FDR’s critics cite the SS St. Louis, which arrived in Havana Harbor on May 27, 1939 with 936 European Jews seeking asylum, but were turned away. There was also FDR’s failure to fire Breckinridge Long. While serving in FDR’s State Department, Long obstructed and delayed visas, causing the deaths of Jews desperate to escape Europe.

Critics also note that anti-Semitism was common among wealthy Anglo-Saxons such as the Roosevelts during this era. Indeed, Roosevelt’s State Department was stocked with anti-Semites who opposed raising any immigration quotas to save European Jews. Roosevelt’s ambassador to England, Joe Kennedy was notoriously anti-Semitic.

Author Robert N. Rosen is challenging FDR’s critics with his book, Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust (Thunder’s Mouth Press). In the Afterward to Rosen’s book, Alan M. Dershowitz writes,
“If journalism is the first draft of history, then revisionism is the second. Typically third and fourth drafts are required to set the record straight.

The history of FDR’s role in the Holocaust is currently undergoing this process. Robert Rosen’s carefully researched and beautifully written book may well prove to be the final draft.”
But Rosen is not without his own critics. In his book, Rosen admonishes FDR’s accusers for “American bashing” when questioning the President’s motives. 55 historians from universities in the United States, Canada and Israel wrote Rosen’s publisher and protested that his,
"name-calling and invective" are "deplorable, false, and have no place in serious discussion of the Roosevelt administration's response to one of the greatest moral crises of the Twentieth Century."
Click here to read the text of their letter.

The David S. Wyman Institute has even accused him of plagiarizing 21 pages without proper attribution. For what it’s worth I believe Rosen’s book is scrupulously sourced. I don’t agree with everything he writes but Rosen has definitely challenged my preconceptions about FDR’s attitudes towards Jews and his motives during the Holocaust. The author makes a compelling case that FDR was sympathetic and engaged in saving European Jewry. According to Rosen, domestic politics and strategic imperatives handicapped FDR from doing more – not callous disinterest.

Rosen is 58, Jewish and he earns a living as a practicing lawyer in Charleston, South Carolina. He welcomes the controversy of his current book, telling the Washington Post,
“I'm glad it has generated some controversy. That was the point of it.”
Upon reading his book my immediate reaction was, “I want to talk to this guy.” The beauty of the blogosphere is not only do I get the chance to talk with him but also all of you can listen to the conversation. Please refer to the media player below.

This interview can also be accessed for free via the Itunes Store by searching for "Intrepid Liberal Journal."


Aaron said...

Hi, I really enjoy your blog and great post about FDR. I was wondering if you could place a link to my blog at on your sidebar. I would appreciate it and keep up the great posts.

R2K said...

Very interesting.

Anonymous said...

The Solviets defeated the Nazi's, the USA only kept the Russians from taking Western Europe

Bill said...

Bravo, Rob. You're getting to be Cavett-esque!

Good interview and an interesting subject. You obviously spent some time preparing for it and the questions were illuminating, as were his answers.

I'm not sure how completely I'd excuse American anti-Semitism of the era, but Rosen makes good points about the political art of the possible, vis a vis FDR and immigration.

Joe Hendren said...

"FDR was singularly responsible for defeating Nazi Germany"

I think this grossly overstates FDR role.

World War II was won on the Eastern Front - if any country was "singularly responsible" it would be the USSR.

I visted an excellent WWII museum in Minsk - the sheer scale of the Eastern Front was incredible. While we might here a lot about the french reistance this was tiny compared to the resistence movements in the East.

I think there has been a deliberate strategy by the West to underestimate the importance of the victory in the East, largely because this would be admitting that communists won the war, and the anti-intellecutal spirit of McCarthism says we can't have that!

Now that I am defending Stalin here only the historical record - I think Stalin was the most anti-semite of the three Allied leaders by a long way.