This accusation of immense moral failure — or indifference — is now being addressed by a new book, “FDR and the Jews,” by Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman. It sets out to find a middle ground and instead makes things worse. It is a portrait of a president who, in the authors’ own words, “did not forthrightly inform the American people of Hitler’s grisly ‘Final Solution’ or respond decisively to his crimes.” This is a Roosevelt who almost always had a more pressing political concern — American isolationism, American anti-Semitism, a fear and hatred of immigrants — and who stayed mum while a bill to allow 20,000 Jewish children into the United States died in Congress.
Roosevelt inattentively also permitted a cabal of heartless anti-Semites in the State Department to control the country’s visa policies. Desperate Jews, fleeing from the Nazis, were denied asylum in the United States. One of them was Otto Frank. His daughter Anne perished at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Both FDR and his wife, Eleanor, were genteel anti-Semites — although the president had Jewish aides and one close Jewish friend, his neighbor Henry Morgenthau Jr. Eleanor, a woman not afraid to confront her own prejudices, later became a champion of Jewish causes, but the record for the president on this score is hardly as redeeming. As late as 1943, at the Casablanca Conference, he sympathized with a French general’s observation that the Jews were overrepresented in the professions. FDR referenced the “understandable complaints which the Germans bore towards the Jews.”