America can be proud of putting halt to Holocaust (Boston Herald)

By Gregory Wallance


April 27, 2014

The theme of this year’s Holocaust Days of Remembrance in the United States, starting today, is “Confronting the Holocaust: American Responses.” This will involve a necessary, but often guilt-provoking examination of America’s failures, especially the State Department’s restrictive refugee admission policies and suppression of information about the murder of European Jewry and Franklin Roosevelt’s delay in creating a Jewish rescue agency. Guilty feelings by nations, as with individuals, can promote healthy corrective behavior, such as a heightened resolve to prevent future genocidal acts.

But national guilt becomes less healthy when short shrift is given to what America did accomplish in saving Jewish lives. That, unfortunately, has been the hallmark of much of the historiography of the American response, which uses emotional phrases like “abandonment of the Jews.” The result has been a widely-held belief that xenophobic and anti-Semitic Americans turned their backs on the murder of European Jews and did little if anything to save them.

In fact, the “greatest generation” of Americans was not indifferent when they fully understood what the Nazis were doing. And, unlike the generation later confronted with the Rwandan genocide, they were not passive bystanders.

On Nov. 9, 1938, the Nazi regime unleashed a week of violence against German Jews, their synagogues and their businesses, like nothing seen since the Middle Ages. Approximately 100 Jews were killed in what we now call Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass). Newspapers ran days of front-page coverage, including vivid photographs of burning synagogues.

Kristallnacht deeply shocked the American public and they were not silent. On Nov. 14, the German ambassador to the United States cabled Berlin that “a hurricane is raging here and no regular work can be done. As far as public opinion is being expressed, it is without exception enraged and bitter against Germany.”

In late November 1942, based on reports from Europe, American Jewish groups disclosed the existence of the Nazi plan to murder millions of European Jews. The American and British governments vowed to prosecute the responsible German officials as war criminals after the war. But, the overall response was relatively muted.

But, of course, there were no reporters or photographers in Auschwitz to write eyewitness accounts or take shocking photographs as there had been in Germany during Kristallnacht.

And, by late 1942, America was consumed with a world war in which every available human, industrial, and natural resource had been mobilized to defeat Nazi Germany and its allies. When Germany finally surrendered, there were approximately two million Jews still alive in Europe who would have been murdered but for the sacrifice of American soldiers in winning the war.

After touring a Buchenwald sub-camp, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower issued an order for nearby American units to see the camp.

“We are told that the American soldier does not know what he was fighting for,” he said. “Now, at least he will know what he is fighting against.”

Gen. George Patton, who accompanied Eisenhower, was so furious that he ordered MPs to bring 1,000 German citizens from a nearby town to see what their leaders had done. The outraged MPs brought back 2,000.

“Now I know why I am here,” was a common reaction of American soldiers.

So, while it’s vital that this year’s Days of Remembrance recall what America failed to do, and that we learn from our mistakes, it’s equally vital to remember what the American people did accomplish.