A book review in the Feb. 11 issue (“A rabbi both revered and divisive,” WJW) speculated that “America in the 1930s and 40s was probably too traumatized by the Great Depression and too anti-Semitic to open its gates to Jewish immigrants or risk losing pilots and planes to bomb Auschwitz.”
Actually, domestic anti-Semitism was not the main obstacle to admitting refugees or bombing the death camps. Both aims could have been achieved without any significant public debate or controversy.
The quota for immigrants from Germany was filled in only one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 12 years in office; and in most of those years, it was less than 25 percent filled. Some 190,000 quota places from Germany and Axis-controlled countries sat unused during those years — meaning that 190,000 Jewish refugees could have been admitted to the United States within the existing quotas, without changing any laws or having any public controversy. Alternatively, Jewish refugees could have been admitted temporarily to a U.S. territory such as the Virgin Islands; in fact, after the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom, the governor and legislative assembly of the Virgin Islands publicly offered to take in Jewish refugees.
As for bombing Auschwitz or the railways leading to it, there was no need to have a public debate and no need to divert planes from elsewhere on the battlefront because U.S. bombers were already striking German oil factories adjacent to Auschwitz during the summer and autumn of 1944. Some of those factories were situated less than five miles from the gas chambers and crematoria. Dropping a few bombs on the gas chambers or railways would not have detracted from the war effort.
The main obstacle to these or other measures to help the Jews was not domestic anti-Semitism. The main problem was President Roosevelt’s indifference.
director, The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies