Andrew Lapin’s review in the JTA of Ken Burns’s new documentary, “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” which you published online earlier this month, quotes the noted filmmaker as still believing that President Franklin D. Roosevelt was mostly acting within his means as a politician when confronting the Holocaust. In his words, FDR’s very limited response to Jewry’s darkest hour was due to the fact that he “could not wave a magic wand. He was not the emperor or a king.”
The wartime chief executive did not need a magic wand, however. There were ways to help Jews or interrupt the mass murder without serious political risk. Some possible examples: allowing the existing immigration quotas to be filled; permitting refugees to go temporarily to the U.S. Virgin Islands (as U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. suggested regarding the more than 900 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in May 1939 aboard the St. Louis); bringing refugees back to America’s shores on empty Liberty cargo ships, vessels which needed ballast to avoid capsizing; and dropping a few bombs on the railways and bridges leading to Auschwitz from planes that were already bombing those regions.
Prof. Monty Noam Penkower, Jerusalem