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FDR and the Jews Hardcover – March 19, 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Sadly, Roosevelt left behind a rather thin paper trail. He didn't write a memoir or record many White House conversations, and he refused to allow note-taking at his personal meetings. To fill this gap, Breitman and Lichtman have combed the archives of the leading players who did write down their thoughts and recollections, and the result is quite impressive. Even those who disagree with the book's conclusions must acknowledge the mountain of research on which they rest...The authors rightly note the squeamishness of America's modern presidents in dealing with genocide...Historically speaking, Roosevelt comes off rather well...[An] eminently sensible book. (David Oshinsky New York Times Book Review 2013-04-07)

While this incisively written study is unlikely to sway anyone whose mind is already made up, readers without fixed views will find plenty to ponder. And it will remind everyone not only of the enormity of the Holocaust but...the ultimate limitations of the presidency, no matter who holds the office. (Alan Cate Cleveland Plain Dealer 2013-04-01)

Breitman and Lichtman pursue several telling currents in FDR's record, namely the president's ability to keep the private separate from the public, his reliance on Jewish leaders and his evolving enlightenment toward Jewish issues as he neared the end of his life. (Kirkus Reviews 2013-02-01)

This splendid book should banish forever the notion that Franklin Roosevelt was a blinkered anti-Semite who made little effort to stop the Holocaust. With dazzling research and astute judgments, Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman portray FDR as a cunning politician who, in the dreadful context of his times, did more to aid Jews than any other leader in the United States or abroad. (Michael Kazin, author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation)

The FDR who emerges here is concerned with the fate of European Jewry, but also exquisitely sensitive to the demands of the situation: in short, he is the ultimately political man, and his approach shifts with each turn of major events. This comprehensive work will become the definitive word on the subject. (Noah Feldman, author of Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices)

Anyone who wishes to be part of the conversation about FDR's response to the Holocaust would do well to read Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman's FDR and the Jews. In a quiet and sober fashion it reexamines what is already known and lays out new and previously unknown information. (Deborah E. Lipstadt, author of The Eichmann Trial)

A penetrating analysis of the historical record, uncovering new sources and answering haunting questions that still linger after 75 years. A must read! (Richard Ben-Veniste, Senior Partner, Mayer Brown LLP, and Commissioner, 9/11 Commission)

[Breitman and Lichtman] challenge the view that F.D.R. was remiss in helping [Europe's Jews] and plot stages in his development from aloofness to engagement. (Jerome Donnelly America 2013-05-06)

Thoughtful and persuasive...It poses a challenge to the theme that American Jews have no friends, that the gentile world has been at best indifferent to the survival of the Jewish people. It shows that, while there were some anti-Semites in the State Department, the best friend Jews had anywhere in the world in the 1940s was the government of the United States and its president FDR; that, while FDR put domestic political factors ahead of rescuing European Jews, he did far more than any other head of government to act to protect Jews facing death...It's the most responsible, reasoned, well-documented assessment of FDR's role. (Jon Wiener Los Angeles Review of Books 2013-05-12)

At long last, two historians have sought to provide an analysis of Roosevelt's stance on the 'Jewish question' that avoids the tempting urge to judge the past through the lenses of the present...FDR and the Jews offers...a new perspective, a cogent and comprehensive study of Roosevelt's evolving opinions on the Jews...Breitman and Lichtman's carefully documented explication of this somewhat byzantine narrative proves immensely valuable in understanding the mechanics of what remain some of the most controversial decisions in the history of American foreign policy: the refusal to admit the Jewish refugees aboard the SS St. Louis to the United States in 1939 and the refusal to bomb the Auschwitz crematoria after their existence was discovered in 1942...Among the other accomplishments of this remarkably clear, concise but complicated history is the attention it devotes to American Jews, who were anything but unified during the war...[It] provide[s] the perspective necessary to comprehend the complexities of what have become some of the most painful and politically charged memories in American foreign policy. In short, FDR and the Jews is a narrative that resists the temptations of artificial drama and a work of scholarship that avoids facile categorization. (James McAuley Washington Post 2013-05-24)

On the basis of meticulous research, using many fresh sources, [Breitman and Lichtman] establish {FDR's] good intentions beyond any doubt. But by locating his words and deeds in their precise context, they elucidate what was feasible and distinguish when his conduct stemmed from prudence, cowardice or indifference. They do equal justice to the American Jewish leadership with whom he interacted. For good measure, they end by situating FDR in the spectrum of U.S. presidents who have confronted genocide. None has ever placed humanitarian intervention above political advantage or the national interest. (David Cesarani New Statesman 2013-05-30)

Breitman and Lichtman take pains to highlight what FDR did do to aid Jews fleeing Europe, and which has been largely ignored by his critics...Breitman and Lichtman conclude--wisely--that 'without FDR's policies and leadership,' the Germans and Italians would have beaten the British in North Africa and conquered, which would have ended all hopes for a future Israel (and put hundreds of thousands of more Jews in harm's way). And, they continue, even though the war always took priority over the rescue of masses of Jews 'Roosevelt reacted more decisively to Nazi crimes against Jews than did any other world leader of his time.' (Murray Polner History News Network 2013-06-17)

FDR and the Jews...is not a defense of the president. The authors note that Roosevelt's primary objective, especially during his first term, was economic recovery, not confronting Congress to revise restrictive immigration law. Nevertheless, the American Jewish community trusted him and understood that he was the first president to intervene somewhat on behalf of their oppressed brethren abroad. The authors observe that Roosevelt was neither a savior nor an indifferent bystander, yet his efforts on behalf of the Jews was far greater than those of any other world leader. (Jack Fischel Hadassah Magazine 2013-06-01)

"FDR and the Jews aims for a balanced view...Roosevelt's actions during the Holocaust make a better showing than most, even if not as good as one might wish. (George Bornstein Times Literary Supplement 2013-07-14)

Level-headed yet deeply troubling, FDR and the Jews offers a history of American policy toward overseas Jews before and during World War II...Assertively fair-minded, sometimes excessively so, FDR and the Jews pushes back against simplistic denunciations, and refuses to treat the era's combination of constraints and decisions as a one-dimensional history of American abandonment. Situating Roosevelt within political and global circumstances, it weighs his actions with understanding and sympathy, though not always with approval. (Ira Katznelson New Republic 2013-07-01)

[This] work, which includes formerly unpublished primary sources, attempts to present an objective account of FDR and the Holocaust. [Breitman and Lichtman] note that the president was neither savior nor indifferent bystander. Although Roosevelt displayed sympathy for European Jews, his response was often tempered by pragmatic considerations. Nevertheless, the authors conclude that Roosevelt's efforts on behalf of the Jews were far greater than those of any other world leader.
(J. Fischel Choice 2013-08-01)

[A] meticulously researched history...As this book reminds us, politics offers not a simple choice between good and evil, but an agonizing choice between competing evils. Who among us can be sure [Roosevelt] chose badly?
(Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times 2013-08-11)

One effect of Breitman and Lichtman’s book is that no one who reads it sympathetically can continue to believe that Roosevelt acting alone ‘could have’ simply devoted the efforts of the United States to stopping or seriously mitigating the Holocaust, even if he had known sooner of the Nazis’ plans. (Noah Feldman New York Review of Books 2014-05-08)

About the Author

Richard Breitman is Distinguished Professor in the Department of History at American University.

Allan J. Lichtman is Distinguished Professor in the Department of History at American University.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (March 19, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674050266
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674050266
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #434,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Paul Gelman on March 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
On December 1942, the first anniversary of FDR's speech about Pearl Harbour, four American Jewish representatives entered the Oval Office at noon. One of the was Rabbi Stephen Wise, who read to the president a portion about the Nazi extermination of the European Jews. He apppealed to FDR to bring this to the world's attention and "to make an effort to stop it".
Roosevelt's reply was that Hitler was an insane man and "the group which surrounds him is an example of a national psychopathic case", adding that "We cannot act toward them by normal means... That is why the problem is very difficult".
According to Professors Breitman and Lichtman, Roosevelt can be absolved of any blame regarding the controversial question about his efforts to save the Jews during the Holocaust. It was another book, namely that of David Wyman, in which Roosevelt was accused of abandoning the Jews.
The problem was much more complicated and the evolvement of Roosevelt's approach to the Jewish question and the Holocaust was done in four stages, or what the authors call "The four Roosevelts".
In the first period or stage, Roosevelt would hardly meet with Jewish leaders and was far from being in favour of relaxing immigration laws. In the second phase, Roosevelt's attitude toward the Jewish question was more relaxed and he tried to find various ways in order to facilitate the entry of immigrants into the USA. Enter Isaiah Bowman, the John Hopkins geographer and sporadic presidential adviser who was asked by Roosevelt to find a solution the the Jewish refugee problem in South America. However, in the end, Bowman discounted the capacity of foreign lands to accomodate Jewish refugees.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Over the past two decades or so, there has periodically appeared in my peripheral vision of cultural affairs wrangling over whether FDR, as president, should have done more (some would phrase it, "much more") to save the European Jews who were being persecuted and exterminated by the Nazis and their cohorts. So when FDR AND THE JEWS came out, written by knowledgeable historians and published by a responsible publishing house, I read it to see if there was anything to the controversy.

In a nutshell, authors Breitman and Lichtman are mildly critical of FDR on a few issues or regarding a few statements, but in the main, and after painstaking analysis, they conclude that FDR was unusually sympathetic towards the plight of the Jews and that he did more on their behalf than any other world leader did or any other American political leader of the time might reasonably have been expected to do. Although they don't put it in these terms, to me the only possible grounds for criticizing FDR are if you believe that the President of the United States has much more power to act unilaterally than he actually has or if your only yardstick for judging FDR is responsiveness to Jewish concerns - i.e., if you adhere to a single-issue view of politics (ignoring that FDR was president during first the Depression and then during World War II).
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Format: Hardcover
I suggest you check out my review of both this book and the Medoff book on the same subject but with a different conclusion (see the link below).

FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith - Print Edition

Lichtman and Breitman is essential reading on this topic, because it reminds us of the virulent anti-Semitism that pervaded the American community even through 1944 and later. It is difficult to believe how much of the worst anti-Semitism was voiced on the floors of both houses of Congress as late as 1944. The authors demonstrate in a rather convincing manner that had FDR appeared to be supporting policies that would send American boys to die in Europe for the purpose of rescuing Jews, he would not have been able to get Congress to approve re-armament or permit aid to England, all of which were essential to defeating Hitler. Even Jewish leaders were opposed to asking Congress to liberalize the immigration laws to permit more Jewish refugees into the country because they feared, with ample justification, that Congress would further restrict those laws, not liberalize them. Little tidbits like the opposition of the labor unions, which often had Jewish leadership, to permitting more refugees into the country are eye-opening. (The reason is that this opposition occurred in the early 1930's, when the unemployment rate in the US was close to 20%, and long before Chrystal Nacht, when we finally appreciated that the Nazi's were serious about their intention to murder Jews.)

So there is some merit to FDR's claim that openly helping to save Jews, or even the perception that he was doing so,risked undermining public support for the war effort against the Axis.
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