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VINE VOICEon August 18, 2008
Theodore S. Hamerow, professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, offers us, in "Why We Watched: Europe, America, and the Holocaust," a painstakingly researched examination of why, during World War II, the western allies - the United States, England, and France,behaved as they did. They simply stood by and allowed Nazi Germany, under Hitler, to implement its plans for the "final solution" to the "Jewish problem--" mass murder. (Even Canada, later, during the Vietnam War, so hospitable to American draft dodgers, refused to accept any substantial number of European Jews as immigrants.)

The Holocaust still haunts us more than half a century later, and with good reason. It's hard for us to understand why the allies, all of whom knew the murderous extent of Hitler's "final solution," allowed the Nazis to annihilate European Jewry. They might well have stopped the killing. Before the war, they might have taken in many more refugees, saving them from the hell to come. Even during the war, they might have taken in many more refugees; or they could have bombed the railroads to the concentration camps, the supply lines to the camps, or the camps themselves, and disrupted the cruel efficiency of the Third Reich.

However, they did not. They persisted in describing the Nazis as murdering many of their subject peoples, rather than focusing on their fanatical plans for the Jews within their sway. And they continued to insist that the best way to save lives was to bend all military efforts to the effort to win the overall war as quickly as possible. Hamerow sets forth the thesis that each of the allied nations was struggling with its own version of the "Jewish Question:" each was conscious of the Antisemitism within its own population that had been exacerbated by the prewar Great Depression of the 1930's. Hamerow's figures make it clear that the Antisemitism in the four countries -- England, France, Canada and the U.S.-- was not nearly as virulent or violent as that found in Hitler's Germany, nor in the rest of Central and Eastern European countries - all of it worsened by the Depression. (In fact, Hamerow's research gives us several of the Eastern European countries that, before the war, seemed voluntarily to be matching Hitler's Germany in passing Antisemitic legislation.)However, the Antisemitism of the population of the Western allies was serious enough to force allied political and military leaders to follow what Hamerow characterizes as "a statecraft of carefully calibrated compassion:" to make their opposition to what was happening known, but not to take specific action against it.

Aside from its subject matter, Hamerow's book is not easy reading; though well-written, and prodigiously researched, it is rather long and repetitive. There's an important omission, as well. In his consideration of why the world finally became aware of, and focused on the Holocaust, in the 1960s, forty years after its occurrence, the author offers many possible explanations. But he fails to weigh the publication of the pioneering classic While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy; by Arthur D. Morse, published in 1967, the first book to reveal the untold story behind the deliberate obstruction placed in the way of attempts to save Jewish lives. Morse's book, however, is an impassioned polemic; Hamerow's careful research helps to support Morse's conclusions. Also, Hamerow's theory helps us to perhaps understand better the actions of wartime American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, rather than simply demonize them, as Morse does.

Morse, however, also gives us the stories of some people who did take whatever action they could to stop the suffering of innocent people. Prominent among them was esteemed, witty Hollywood screenwriter Ben Hecht ( The Front Page; and many, many movies and books.) Hecht was of such central importance to this struggle that one of the boats smuggling people and arms to Israel after the war was named after him: the Ben Hecht. You can read Perfidy; by Hecht, or A Child of the Century; co-written with noted journalist Sidney Zion. Morse also told us about another of the great heroes of this effort, Mike Tress, whom I'm extremely proud to say was my father's cousin. Tress was able to raise sufficient money to ransom 40,000 Romanian Jews from annihilation. You can read about him in They Called Him Mike: Reb Elimelech Tress (Artscroll History Series), by Yonason Rosenblum.

"Why We Watched," however, though neither comfortable nor comforting, is balanced, and thought-provoking. It's sure to spark further controversy and debate. This, we can only hope, will help prevent the future occurrence of any such solution to the world's ethnic animosities.
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on October 2, 2008
I have read most books on the subject matter here, and this by far covesr the topic most throughly. Why each nation in the West was indifferent to teh Holocaust is reviewed country by country with sample opinions, editorials and sound facts backed up by amazing research. After reading this, I really had a much better understanding of American reluctanace to accept Jewish refugees. In this book, th e attitudes in America are portrayed as complex. Nothin g is black and white, and the author brilliantly explores attitudes toward Jews from every angle extremely objectively. Even Jews are singled out for sometimess being very distant and uncomfortabel with their Eastern European coreligionists.

That being said, the writing style is horrendously tedious and painstakingly dull. How a book about mass murder of millions can have no driv eor energy is beyond me. But this author does it.

I did enjoy it..but coudl not read more thna 10 pages at a time...without coffee and I am definitely well-versed and interested in the subject matter.
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on December 23, 2013
the research for this book was amazing. There are so many myths about why FDR refused to have the rail lines to the Concentration Camps bombed. Hamerow answers the whys and destroys the myths. His book is a permanent part of my library.
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on September 19, 2008
I have no dispute with the content and scholarship that went into this lengthy historical treatise, but the writing style is somewhat flat and may not appeal to the casual reader.
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on February 28, 2009
I'm almost finished with this book. It is very well researched and I find it enlightening yet sad. While the U.S. and Europe dithered over the "Jewish Question," Hitler and his henchmen proceeded with their final solution. I believe the Allies' inaction played right into Hitler's hands. Even today when a particular group gets singled out for persecution, there is much hand wringing and nothing more. The book can be dry, but Hamerow is not out to entertain the reader. I visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum today and there too the inaction of world leaders is discussed along with the U.S. reaction (or lack thereof). My visit was emotionally intense, but it put Hamerow's argument all together for me. I recommend this book and also a trip to the museum if one is ever out in DC.
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on April 28, 2016
Accepts uncritically that Roosevelt had to avoid rescuing Jews to prosecute the war effectively
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on November 21, 2009
As a scholar on the history of antisemitism, I keep wanting this author to flesh out what he was saying. He states that eliminationist antisemitism did not exist before the 20th century. While this is correct, he does not go on to explain that Christian leaders wanted Jews around to show the degradation of those who did not accept Jesus as Messiah. In addition, he does not think there is a connection between religious hatred of Jews and late racial hatred. However, scholars of race know that religious hatred was the BASIS for racial hatred. Thus, there may not be a DIRECT line between the millenia of antisemitism, there IS a connection. The author fails to grasp this.
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on January 4, 2009
It is good to have the facts made clear: Hitler did every Christian and ex-Christian country's dirty work in killing the Jews. Unfortunately this particular historian, though he knows how badly history is usually written by academics, is incapable of writing a book the general public will read.
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