FDR AND THE JEWS by Richard Breitman

One of the most contentious debates pertaining to World War II deals with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s role in trying to mitigate the horrors of the Holocaust. Many argue that Roosevelt was a political animal who based his position on the plight of world Jewry on political calculation and did little to offset Nazi terror; others argue that FDR did as much as possible based on conditions domestically and abroad. In the new book, FDR AND THE JEWS, Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman address all aspects of FDR’s policies during the Holocaust synthesizing most if not all the relevant secondary and primary sources with a layer of new material. The authors reach the conclusion that FDR’s views were consistent throughout the war and he was “politically and emotionally stingy when it came to the plight of the Jews-even given that he had no easy remedies for a specific Jewish tragedy in Europe.” (210) The authors argue that “FDR avoided positions that might put at risk his broader goals of mobilizing anti-Nazi opposition and gaining freedom to act in foreign affairs,” (151) for example dealing with the refugee crisis, the issue of Palestine, immigration, and organizing the defeat of Nazi Germany. The authors describe in detail the fear of domestic anti-Semitism, especially in the State Department; the inability of American Jews to present a united front; the role of the War Department; and presidential politics. Overall, the reader is presented a picture of a president who had a great deal on his plate during the war and did as much as he could given the political and military situation in Europe in trying to bring to an end the horrors that beset the Jews during the Second World War. Overall, the book is an exceptionally detailed work that is worthy of an academic as well as a general audience as it centers in on the important issue that remains with us today; what is the “appropriate response of an American president to humanitarian crises abroad?” (327)

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