Révisionisme: Ni sauveur ni simple spectateur (Book tries for balanced view on Roosevelt and Jews)

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La Palestine appartient aux Arabes dans le même sens que l’Angleterre appartient aux Anglais ou la France aux Français. Il est erroné et inhumain d’imposer les Juifs aux Arabes. Ce qui se passe en Palestine aujourd’hui ne peut être justifié par aucun code de conduite morale. Les mandats ne représentent aucune sanction sinon celle de la dernière guerre. Ce serait certainement un crime contre l’humanité de réduire les fiers Arabes pour que la Palestine puisse être rendue aux Juifs en partie ou complètement comme leur foyer national. (…) Si j’étais juif et étais né en Allemagne et y gagnais ma vie, je revendiquerais l’Allemagne comme ma patrie au même titre que le plus grand des gentils Allemands et le défierais de m’abattre ou de me jeter au cachot; je refuserais d’être expulsé ou soumis à toute mesure discriminatoire. Et pour cela, je n’attendrais pas que mes coreligionaires se joignent à moi dans la résistance civile mais serais convaincu qu’à la fin ceux-ci ne manqueraient pas de suivre mon exemple. Si un juif ou tous les juifs acceptaient la prescription ici offerte, ils ne pourraient être en plus mauvaise posture que maintenant. Et la souffrance volontairement subie leur apporterait une force et une joie intérieures que ne pourraient leur apporter aucun nombre de résolutions de sympathie du reste du monde. Gandhi (le 26 Novembre 1938)
Il vous faut abandonner les armes que vous avez car elles n’ont aucune utilité pour vous sauver vous ou l’humanité. Vous inviterez Herr Hitler et signor Mussolini à prendre ce qu’ils veulent des pays que vous appelez vos possessions…. Si ces messieurs choisissent d’occuper vos maisons, vous les évacuerez. S’ils ne vous laissent pas partir librement, vous vous laisserez abattre, hommes, femmes et enfants, mais vous leur refuserez toute allégeance. Gandhi (conseil aux Britanniques, 1940)
C’est en connaissance de cause qu’ils n’ont pas cherché à arrêter l’extermination des juifs d’Europe. Peut-être à leurs yeux ne fallait-il pas qu’on puisse l’arrêter? Peut-être ne fallait-il pas que les juifs d’Europe soient sauvés? Yannick Haenel (Extrait de « Jan Karski »)
J’avais affronté la violence nazie, j’avais subi la violence des Soviétiques, et voici que de manière inattendue, je faisais connaissance avec l’insidieuse violence américaine (…) En sortant ce soir-là (…), j’ai pensé qu’à la violence du totalitarisme allait se substituer cette violence-là, une violence diffuse, civilisée, une violence si propre qu’en toutes circonstances, le beau mot de démocratie saurait la maquiller. Yannick Haenel (pensées attribuées à Karski à la sortie de sa rencontre avec Roosevelt de juillet 1943)
[le procès de Nuremberg] savamment orchestré par les Américains, n’a jamais été qu’un masquage pour ne pas évoquer la question de la complicité des alliés dans l’extermination des Juifs d’Europe. (…) Il n’y a pas eu de vainqueurs en 1945. Il n’y a eu que des complices et des menteurs. Yannick Haenel (Pensées attribuées à Karski)
Sur mon bureau, j’ai des copies d’un échange de lettres entre le Congrès juif mondial le Département de Guerre des États-Unis. Voici les lettres : C’était en 1944. Le Congrès juif mondial avait imploré le gouvernement américain de bombarder Auschwitz. La réponse est venue cinq jours plus tard. Je tiens à vous la lire. Une telle opération ne pourrait être réalisée qu’en détournant un soutien aérien considérable essentiel à la réussite de nos forces ailleurs … et en tout cas, il serait d’une efficacité douteuse de telle sorte qu’elle ne justifie pas l’utilisation de nos ressources … Et, mes amis, voici la phrase la plus remarquable de toutes, et je cite: Un tel effort pourrait provoquer encore plus d’action vindicative de la part des Allemands. Pensez à ce sujet – « encore plus d’action vindicative » – ​​que l’Holocauste. Benjamin Netanyahu (Washington, 05.03.12)
Aux Etats-Unis, de réels obstacles empêchent de croire à l’existence de l’Holocauste. La barbarie nazie se produit à des milliers de kilomètres. La «Solution finale», sans précédent, paraît inconcevable jusqu’en automne 1942 dans les hautes sphères du département d’Etat et chez les proches du Président. Même au Congrès juif américain, on doute de la véracité des informations dont on dispose. Comment imaginer que des êtres humains puissent avoir de tels comportements? Le Gouvernement américain dit avoir besoin de faits soigneusement documentés ne laissant planer aucun doute sur leur authenticité, Au milieu de l’année 1942, il ne croit pas encore en disposer, alors que des informations fiables passent pour des «rumeurs délirantes inspirées par les peurs juives». Les articles de journaux ne suffisent pas à convaincre l’opinion, d’autant plus qu’ils sont souvent écrits en termes modérés, voire sceptiques… (…) Face aux informations relatives aux assassinats massifs de juifs par les Allemands, les responsables américains et britanniques se rappellent les rumeurs de la Première Guerre mondiale, lorsque des officines du camp de l’Entente fabriquaient de toutes pièces des atrocités allemandes prétendument commises en Belgique et dans le nord de la France, afin de retourner l’opinion mondiale contre le IIe Reich. Les Allemands auraient transformé les cadavres en produits chimiques! Ce qui est faux pendant la Première Guerre mondiale s’avère vrai pendant la Seconde… Les dirigeants alliés ne veulent pas donner l’impression qu’ils manipulent leur opinion publique, et ils soupçonnent les réseaux d’information juifs et polonais d’exagérer les crimes nazis afin d’obtenir de secours pour leurs peuples. En août 1943, c’est toujours la conviction de Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, patron du Britsh Joint Intelligence Committee, alors qu’il a en main des preuves indiscutables de certains épisodes de l’Holocauste. Même Churchill, qui est pro-sioniste, craint d’officialiser le massacre des juifs, ce qui risquerait de circonscrire la cause antinazie, voire de la compromettre, vu l’antisémitisme culturel régnant en Grande-Bretagne comme partout en Europe, ainsi que l’hostilité envers les juifs chez les Arabes du Commonwealth. Se focaliser sur la question juive accréditerait également la thèse de la propagande allemande selon laquelle les Alliés mènent la guerre pour le compte des juifs. Il faut donc attendre le 17 décembre 1942 pour que les gouvernements alliés, pour la première et la dernière fois, publient une condamnation formelle «de la mise en pratique de la menace maintes fois répétée par Hitler de détruire le peuple juif». Le Gouvernement britannique refuse d’envoyer des secours aux juifs qui meurent de faim, entre autres dans les ghettos polonais, parce que cela n’empêcherait pas les nazis de liquider ces populations et que la stratégie choisie par la Grande-Bretagne implique d’obliger l’Allemagne à nourrir les peuples qu’elle a conquis. Faire quitter l’Allemagne et les territoires occupés à des enfants, des femmes, des personnes âgées allégerait pour le pouvoir nazi l’obligation de subvenir aux besoins des résidents. Des envois de nourriture ou de médicaments permettraient à l’Allemagne de consacrer des ressources supplémentaires pour son effort de guerre, ce qui risquerait de retarder son effondrement. Pour les Alliés, il faut que le blocus déploie ses pleins effets et que l’on continue à faire la guerre sans soulager les souffrances des civils sous la botte ennemie. Surtout, il faut admettre qu’il s’avère très difficile de reconnaître un fait qui excède les limites de l’entendement. Comment croire à l’inhumanité illogique des nazis qui ont décidé de liquider tous les juifs d’Europe, alors que le Reich manque de main-d’œuvre? Le décalage entre les informations disponibles et le crédit qu’on leur attribue constitue un problème de psychologie sociale durant toute la Seconde Guerre mondiale. Ce n’est pas avant le second semestre 1942, prétend Richard Breitman, que des informations en provenance de plusieurs sources permettent qu’à Londres et à Washington, on comprenne la monstrueuse entreprise nazie, particulièrement la volonté d’anéantir la totalité des juifs résidant en Europe. Même à ce moment, plusieurs responsables du Foreign Office et du département d’Etat restent sceptiques face aux preuves de l’existence de la Shoah. Cette impossibilité de voir la réalité se rencontre également dans les milieux juifs. A fin 1943, le consistoire juif français prend soigneusement note de toutes les informations à sa disposition, mais rien n’indique qu’il en saisisse la véritable signification. Deux évadés d’Auschwitz décrivent à des résistants de Nice la réalité du camp de la mort. On ne les croit pas, on les prend pour des individus traumatisés par leurs malheurs … Ni Churchill, ni Roosevelt, qui ont pourtant reconnu très tôt les méfaits du nazisme et ont pris des risques énormes pour s’opposer à l’Allemagne, n’expliqueront pas leur attitude de réserve face au génocide des juifs. Les autorités britanniques et américaines refusent d’utiliser les récits d’atrocités, d’informer le peuple allemand de ce qui se passe pour contraindre les nazis à stopper les massacres, voire de décider des bombardements aériens de représailles sur des villes allemandes. Cette dernière mesure risquerait de mettre en question la légitimité des attaques aériennes normales sur les villes considérées comme des cibles militaires. Aux Etats-Unis, cette absence de réactions semble s’expliquer par la crainte de mesures de rétorsion touchant les prisonniers alliés dans les pays ennemis, par le fait qu’on n’a pas compris ce que signifie concrètement l’extermination ou qu’on est décidé à ne pas distinguer les meurtres en masse de juifs de la souffrance des autres victimes. Décrire la situation désespérée des juifs entrave la guerre psychologique américaine: les juifs étrangers ne figurent pas parmi les groupes les plus populaires dans le pays, et la propagande nazie accuse les Alliés de mener la guerre pour le compte des juifs. Depuis qu’à la mi-septembre 1941, le Secret Intelligence Service (MI 6) cesse de transmettre ses rapports concernant le sort des juifs en Allemagne à Churchill, celui-ci ne sollicite aucune information; il a délégué la question au Foreign Office. A la mi-décembre 1942, il manifeste cependant la volonté d’en arriver à une décision commune des Alliés concernant l’anéantissement des juifs. Le 17 décembre, les gouvernements alliés dénoncent pour la première fois le massacre des juifs par les nazis, mais cela ne modifiera pas leur stratégie; ils ne prennent pas de mesures destinées à sauver des juifs. Le Ministre britannique de l’Intérieur, le 31 décembre, consent tout au plus à accueillir quelques milliers de réfugiés, rappelant qu’il y en a «environ 100 000 (…) dans le pays, principalement des juifs, et que le problème de l’hébergement, qui est déjà assez difficile, deviendrait critique en cas d’attaques aériennes renouvelées.» Il ajoute qu’il y a «un très fort antisémitisme larvé dans ce pays. S’il y avait un accroissement substantiel du nombre de réfugiés juifs ou si ces réfugiés ne quittaient pas le pays après la guerre, nous serions en sérieuse difficulté.» En dernière analyse, il semble que les autorités américaines, mais surtout britanniques, craignent que les nazis et leurs satellites puissent libérer un grand nombre de juifs qu’il leur faudrait alors accueillir et entretenir en plein effort de guerre. La position d’Anthony Eden, ministre des Affaires étrangères du Gouvernement Churchill, apparaît significative: toute tentative de négocier le sauvetage de quelques juifs pourrait avoir pour résultat que «Hitler veuille que nous prenions tous les juifs». En revanche, Américains et Britanniques encouragent les neutres à ouvrir leurs frontières… Le 23 mars 1943, la Chambre des lords débat de la motion de l’archevêque Temple demandant d’accueillir tous les réfugiés pouvant atteindre la Grande-Bretagne. Le Gouvernement la rejette, invoquant les difficultés de ravitaillement et le manque de bateaux disponibles. Colonel Hervé de Weck
Entre 1933 et 1945, quelque 20 000 réfugiés ont séjourné temporairement au Royaume-Uni dont les dominions n’ont joué pratiquement aucun rôle dans le sauvetage des juifs; le Canada s’est d’ailleurs distingué par un refus presque total d’accueillir des réfugiés, notamment en raison de l’opposition déterminée de la province du Québec. (…) Entre 1933 et 1945 les Etats-Unis ont admis au total quelque 250 000 réfugiés juifs. Pendo
Entre 1933 et septembre 1939, les Etats-Unis ont accueilli 225000 juifs, mais seulement 25 000 durant les hostilités. Entre septembre 1939 et mai 1945, la Grande-Bretagne n’en accueille que 25 000, alors que la Suisse laisse entrer temporairement plusieurs dizaines de milliers de juifs avant septembre 1939, dont la plupart vont réussir à poursuivre leur exode vers d’autres cieux. Seuls 6 500 réfugiés juifs se trouvent sur sol suisse le 1er septembre 1939, auxquels vont s’ajouter quelque 21000 coreligionnaires accueillis dès cette date jusqu’en 1945, soit près de 28 000 personnes. Compte tenu des populations des Etats-Unis et de la Suisse, la Confédération cinquante fois plus de réfugiés juifs que les Etats-Unis. Colonel Hervé de Weck
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Bauer states that there was no possibility of saving a significant number of Jews by bringing them into the Land of Israel, because there was no way of extracting them from occupied Europe. Further examination led Bauer to conclude also that there was no real opportunity to destroy Nazi annihilation mechanisms by aerial bombings, except at the cost of the lives of many Jews. [H]ad the Allies bombed the gas chambers, the annihilation would have continued via other means, including the “death marches.” In this context, Bauer notes that some 50 percent of Jewish war victims were not murdered in the death camps. Tom Segev
Nazi Germany planned to expand the extermination of Jews beyond the borders of Europe and into British-controlled Palestine during World War Two, two German historians say. In 1942, the Nazis created a special « Einsatzgruppe, » a mobile SS death squad, which was to carry out the mass slaughter of Jews in Palestine similar to the way they operated in eastern Europe, the historians argue in a new study. The director of the Nazi research center in Ludwigsburg, Klaus-Michael Mallman, and Berlin historian Martin Cueppers say an Einsatzgruppe was all set to go to Palestine and begin killing the roughly half a million Jews that had fled Europe to escape Nazi death camps like Auschwitz and Birkenau. In the study, published last month, they say « Einsatzgruppe Egypt » was standing by in Athens and was ready to disembark for Palestine in the summer of 1942, attached to the « Afrika Korps » led by the famed desert commander General Erwin Rommel.(…) Fortunately for the Jews in Palestine, « Einsatzgruppe Egypt » never made it out of Greece. «The history of the Middle East would have been completely different and a Jewish state could never have been established if the Germans and Arabs had joined forces, » the historians conclude. Thomas Krumenacker
The survivors said, ‘You didn’t do enough to save us,’ and who could deny it? But do you write history as it should have been or as it was? Henry L. Feingold
Roosevelt had always to contend with American insularity, nativism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism. After all, to so many in the American heartland, FDR was mocked as “President Rosenfield” and his bold New Deal agenda vilified as the “Jew Deal.” In the authors’ view, FDR in his “first” phase felt compelled to “put recovery, reform, and party building well ahead of other priorities.” In his “second” stage, however, he admirably “defied public and congressional opinion” while enacting a humanitarian response to the Jewish crisis abroad. The “third” FDR coincides with the outbreak of World War II, and at this time he was preoccupied “with aiding Germany’s opponents and protecting the internal security of the United States.” In late 1943, the authors assert, a “fourth” FDR again “addressed Jewish issues with renewed interest.” At this point in his development, for example, Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board and worked “to secure a Jewish homeland in Palestine.” The wider American populace offered scant encouragement for a bold emergency policy regarding European Jewry. The authors document that in 1939, two months after Kristallnacht, eighty-three percent of American poll respondents actually opposed a bill to allow more European refugees safe and legal entrance to the United States. What also complicated FDR’s decision making was the conflicting voices of established opinion. Jewish leadership, for example, was divided between the American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee. The former, as exemplified by Rabbi Stephen Wise, lobbied for assertive action and pro-Zionist policies. In contrast, the wary and circumspect American Jewish Committee “preferred quiet diplomacy” in the fear that militant mass protest would dangerously “intensify anti-Semitism.” An even deeper division of opinion confronted FDR in his own State Department. Reactionary figures such as Cordell Hull and Breckinridge Long bitterly challenged progressive and pro-Jewish voices. Roosevelt’s Treasury Secretary and only Jewish cabinet member, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., continuously clashed with the arrogant and prejudiced Long. Roosevelt, the authors contend, “had always disliked the State Department.” However, when he confronted administrative problems,he would “add people or organizations to the task: he was not very good at subtracting.” Perhaps more timely and decisive “subtracting” would have actually enforced the principled and purposeful effects of FDR’s Jewish policy. As his close colleague, Treasury Secretary Morgenthau, lamented in 1939, “the point is the President has this. Nobody is helping him.” Jewish Book Council
You’ve got two symbols — the St. Louis and the absence of Auschwitz bombing — taken as the bookends of American indifference and worse, but both symbols are off. Richard Breitman
Imagine if Roosevelt had let in 937 passengers but had limited success easing the Neutrality Act. He would be far more negatively judged by history than he is now. Allan J. Lichtman
Without F.D.R.’s policies and leadership, there may well have been no Jewish communities left in Palestine, no Jewish state, no Israel. Richard Breitman et Allan J. Lichtman
(FDR was) neither a hero of the Jews nor a bystander to the Nazis’ persecution and then annihilation of the Jews. Richard Breitman et Allan J. Lichtman

Ni sauveur ni simple spectateur.

A l’heure, sans compter les reconstitutions cinématographiques plus ou moins fantaisistes, du tout-victimisation et de la réécriture intéressée et largement anti-américaine (voir notre Yannick Haenel national mais aussi tout récemment le premier ministre israélien) de l’histoire …

Confirmation, avec la sortie d’un nouveau livre sur la politique du seul président américain aux quatre élections et en fauteuil roulant envers les juifs par les historiens américains Richard Breitman et Allan J. Lichtman (“FDR and the Jews »), des thèses de Robert Rosen

A savoir, contre les multiples et incessantes accusations de non-assistance voire de complicité passive et limitant très sérieusement ses options, le contexte particulièrement difficile de l’époque côté américain (très forte opposition du Congrès, opinion fortement isolationniste et anti-immigrant d’une population traumatisée par la Grande Dépression) …

Comme, au niveau mondial, la difficulté socio-psychologique, organisations juives comprises, de « penser » une telle énormité (non seulement l’extermination industrielle mais la liquidation d’une main d’oeuvre dont un Reich alors en difficulté militairement manque alors cruellement) face à une propagande nazie dénonçant de surcroit la guerre contre eux comme une « guerre des juifs » (qui se souvient par exemple des inepties alors prononcées par un certain parangon de bien-pensance nommé Gandhi ?) …

Mais surtout la priorité de l’époque de gagner la guerre (et pour ce faire de convaincre un Congrès largement récalcitrant de la financer et d’approvisonner en armes les pays victimes de l’agression nazie et ne soulager en aucune manière l’effort militaire nazi en le « déchargeant par exemple de ses juifs ») qui seule en fin de compte pouvait mettre un terme au génocide …

Y compris, sans compter le sauvetage de quelque 750 000 juifs, le refoulement non directement américain mais cubain du Saint-Louis dont finalement deux tiers furent sauvés et la probable inefficacité du bombardement d’Auschwitz alors que nombre d’organisations juives y étaient opposées et que 90% des juifs y avaient déjà été exterminés, en sauvant l’Egypte de l’invasion allemande sans laquelle il n’y aurait peut-être jamais eu de Palestine pour le retour des juifs et donc d’Etat d’Israël aujourd’hui …

Book Tries for Balanced View on Roosevelt and Jews

Jennifer Schuessler

The New York Times

March 8, 2013

For decades, it has been one of the most politically charged questions in American history: What did Franklin D. Roosevelt do — or, more to the point, not do — in response to the Holocaust?

The issue has spawned a large literary response, with books often bearing polemical titles like “The Abandonment of the Jews” or “Saving the Jews.” But in a new volume from Harvard University Press, two historians aim to set the matter straight with what they call both a neutral assessment of Roosevelt’s broader record on Jewish issues and a corrective to the popular view of it, which they say has become overly scathing.

In “FDR and the Jews,” Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman, professors at American University, contend that Roosevelt hardly did everything he could. But they maintain that his overall record — several hundred thousand Jews saved, some of them thanks to little-known initiatives — exceeds that of any subsequent president in responding to genocide in the midst of fierce domestic political opposition.

“The consensus among the public is that Roosevelt really failed,” Mr. Breitman said in a recent interview. “In fact, he had fairly limited options.”

Such statements, backed up by footnotes to hundreds of primary documents (some cited here for the first time), are unlikely to satisfy Roosevelt’s fiercest critics. Even before the book’s March 19 release, the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, a research organization in Washington, has circulated a detailed rebuttal, as well as a rival book, “FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith,” zeroing in on what it characterizes as Roosevelt’s personal desire to limit Jewish immigration to the United States.

But some leading Holocaust historians welcome “FDR and the Jews” for remaining dispassionate in a debate too often marked by anger and accusation.

“Ad hominem attacks don’t help uncover the historical truth, and this book really avoids that,” said Deborah Lipstadt, a professor at Emory University and a consultant on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s permanent exhibition about the American response to the Holocaust. “If people read it and don’t ascribe to the authors an agenda, it could be very important.”

“FDR and the Jews” offers no dramatic revelations of the sort Mr. Breitman provided in 2009, when he and two other colleagues drew headlines with evidence, discovered in the papers of a former refugee commissioner for the League of Nations, that Roosevelt had personally pushed for a 1938 plan to relocate millions of threatened European Jews to sparsely populated areas of Latin America and Africa. But it does, the authors say, provide important new detail and context to that episode, as well as others that have long loomed large in the popular imagination.

They pointed in particular to the fate of the 937 German Jewish refugees on the ocean liner St. Louis, who were turned away from Cuba in May 1939 and sent back to other European countries, where 254 died after war broke out. The episode, made famous in the 1974 novel “Voyage of the Damned” and a subsequent film, has come to seem emblematic of American callousness.

There is simply no evidence, Mr. Breitman and Mr. Lichtman say, to support accounts that the United States Coast Guard was ordered to prevent the refugees from coming ashore in Florida. What’s more, they were turned away from Cuba, the authors argue, as part of a backlash against a previous influx of some 5,000 refugees to that country, who may have been admitted under the terms of a previously unknown deal between Roosevelt and the Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista, who got reduced tariffs for his nation’s sugar in return.

The book notes that the St. Louis affair unfolded against a backdrop of intense isolationist and anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States while Roosevelt was preparing to press Congress to allow the sale of weapons to nations victimized by German aggression.

“Imagine if Roosevelt had let in 937 passengers but had limited success easing the Neutrality Act,” Mr. Lichtman said. “He would be far more negatively judged by history than he is now.”

The authors offer a similar calculus for one of the most contentious issues they discuss: the Allied refusal to bomb Auschwitz. The idea that the Allies could and should have bombed the crematories or the rail lines leading to them came to wide public attention with a 1978 article in Commentary by Mr. Wyman, who reprised it in a best-selling book, “The Abandonment of the Jews,” which became the basis for the 1994 PBS documentary “America and the Holocaust:

Many people, the authors say, believe that Roosevelt refused to bomb the camp (an option, historians note, that became feasible only in May 1944, after 90 percent of Jewish victims of the Holocaust were already dead). But the book contends that there is no evidence that any such proposal came to him, though a number of Jewish leaders did meet with lower-level officials to plead for bombing. And while the authors call the objections raised by those officials “specious,” they maintain (echoing others) that bombing would not have significantly impeded the killing.

“You’ve got two symbols” — the St. Louis and the absence of Auschwitz bombing — “taken as the bookends of American indifference and worse,” Mr. Breitman said. “But both symbols are off.”

By contrast, the book points to the War Refugee Board, established by Roosevelt in 1944, which they say may have helped save about 200,000 Jews — a number that, if even 50 percent accurate, they write, “compares well” with the number that might have been saved by bombing Auschwitz.

Such claims are not convincing to Rafael Medoff, the founding director of the Wyman Institute, which is dedicated to furthering the research of Mr. Wyman, a former professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who is not directly involved in its day-to-day activities. In “A Breach of Faith” Mr. Medoff argues that Jewish immigration levels in the 1930s were largely below established quotas because of Roosevelt’s animus, not as a result of anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic sentiment in Congress and the State Department.

Roosevelt’s vision for America was “based on the idea of having only a small number of Jews,” Mr. Medoff said in an interview. Mr. Breitman and Mr. Lichtman’s book, he added, is just an effort “to rescue Roosevelt’s image from the overwhelming evidence that he did not want to rescue the Jews.”

Mr. Breitman and Mr. Lichtman scoffed at that charge, noting that their book is certainly not always flattering to Roosevelt. They depict him as missing many opportunities to aid Jews and generally refusing to speak specifically in public about Hitler’s Jewish victims, lest he be accused of fighting a “Jewish war.”

“This is not an effort to write a pro-Roosevelt book,” Mr. Breitman said. “It’s merely pro-Roosevelt in comparison to some things that are out there.”

In the end, however, their verdict is favorable, crediting Roosevelt’s policies with helping to save hundreds of thousands of Jews, as well as preventing a German conquest of Egypt that would have doomed any future Jewish state.

“Without F.D.R.’s policies and leadership,” they write, “there may well have been no Jewish communities left in Palestine, no Jewish state, no Israel.”

Mr. Lichtman pointed out that contemporary disagreements about Israel loom behind the Roosevelt debate today. Last year, the book notes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel cited America’s refusal to bomb Auschwitz as providing potential justification for a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Henry L. Feingold, the author of “The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938-1945,” bemoaned the rise of “accusatory” history that elevates retrospective “what ifs” over historical context. Roosevelt, he said, had one overriding concern: to win the war.

“The survivors said, ‘You didn’t do enough to save us,’ and who could deny it?” Mr. Feingold said. “But do you write history as it should have been or as it was?”

More in Books (28 of 41 articles)

Essay: One Hundred Seconds of Solitude

Voir aussi:

Book Review | FDR and the Jews

Marc Fisher · February 27, 2013

2013 March-April, Book Review ·

A Tale of Four Roosevelts

FDR and the Jews

Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman

Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

2012, $29.95, pp. 436

The State Department at first didn’t want to unduly rattle the Germans, and later didn’t want to risk a rift with our British friends. The Republicans allowed their isolationist supporters to run roughshod over their moral sensiblities. Christian leaders, joined by at least some major Jewish organizations, said the extermination of Europe’s Jews was indeed a terrible thing, but the more important goal was to defeat the Nazis, for only the destruction of Hitler’s war machine could really make the world safe for all, including, by the way, whatever Jews might survive the Germans’ genocide.

That was the climate in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt repeatedly found reasons not to do the right thing—not to take in Jewish child refugees, not to meet (let alone enlarge) American quotas for European immigrants, not to force the British to let more Jews enter Palestine, not to bomb the gas chambers at Auschwitz when American warplanes were already busy destroying that concentration camp’s industrial plants, less than five miles away.

Ever since David Wyman’s landmark 1984 book, The Abandonment of the Jews, historians and journalists have generally described President Roosevelt as sympathetic to the plight of Europe’s Jews, but unwilling to risk political capital, endanger relations with U.S. allies, or divert military or financial resources on behalf of a people he knew were being systematically and gruesomely wiped out.

Now come two American University historians, Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman, with a slightly revisionist approach. They seek not to absolve Roosevelt for his inaction, but, as my latest parking ticket says, “to admit with explanation.” Here and there in FDR and the Jews, Breitman and Lichtman do argue that Roosevelt has gotten a raw deal in history—that, for example, it was reasonable to husband military resources and focus on destroying the Nazi war machine rather than bombing the rail lines to the death camps, or that, contrary to the Hollywood version of the story, the great majority of the 937 refugees on the German ship, the St. Louis, which was turned away from U.S. ports in 1939, were delivered safely to countries that were then considered protected from Nazi oppression. (That 254 later died in the Holocaust was, by the authors’ reckoning, tragic but not the result of American callousness.)

But their primary purpose is to posit that Roosevelt’s attitude toward the Holocaust developed in four stages, with varying degrees of resolve and effort, even if none of them amounted to a full-fledged commitment to intervene on behalf of the Jews. FDR started out as a bystander to Nazi persecution. “Like Lincoln facing the need to hold the Union together,” they write, Roosevelt put his political need to focus on the domestic crisis caused by the Depression ahead of mounting evidence of Nazi crimes. This first FDR wouldn’t meet with Jewish leaders and saw no cause to relax immigration restrictions.

In his second term, FDR, newly confident in his political stature and starting to take on his recalcitrant State Department, met with Rabbi Stephen Wise and other Jewish leaders and accepted their narrative about the Nazis’ grave intentions toward the Jews. This Roosevelt explored ways to loosen immigration quotas and publicly called for a Jewish homeland in Palestine and for an international effort to resettle refugees in South America.

But in 1939, at the worst possible moment, a third FDR reversed course, persuaded that any overt focus on the plight of Jews would fuel American isolationism, weakening his administration’s effort to find ways short of U.S. troop involvement to strengthen the battle against Hitler and endangering Roosevelt’s chances for a third term.

Finally, too little and too late, a fourth Roosevelt emerged in 1943, as the president—appalled by the wholesale genocide that U.S. newspapers were increasingly reporting despite the State Department’s efforts to tamp down on eyewitness accounts—denounced anti-Semitism, set up the War Refugee Board, and pressed the king of Saudi Arabia, without success, to accept Jewish resettlement in Palestine.

Breitman and Lichtman convincingly place Roosevelt’s ambiguity about the Jews at the intersection of his career-long acceptance of Jews personally and his practical, and sometimes opaque, calculations about political viability.

As governor of New York, he presided over about half of American Jewry; as a candidate for president, he said it was “foolish to call the Jews a materialistic race”; and as both governor and president, he relied on a striking number of Jewish advisors in prominent positions. On the other hand, although he grew up largely free of the reflexive anti-Semitism that pervaded his social class—his wife Eleanor, for example, “had harsh and commonplace stereotypes of Jews as pushy social inferiors,” the authors write—FDR as a student at Harvard supported a drive to reduce the number of Jews on campus, then six percent of students, because no group should have undue representation.

Ultimately, Breitman and Lichtman seem to protest a bit much when they argue that the character of the times and political pressures of the moment explain Roosevelt’s recalcitrance about directing America’s attention and resources against the murder of millions of Jews. As evidence of how hard such choices were at the time, the authors focus on the split within American Jewry. Rabbi Wise—founder of the American Jewish Congress, president of the Zionist Organization of America, and the Jewish leader FDR saw most often—emerges as the hero and conscience of this account, urging the president early and vociferously to speak out or see “a worldwide conflagration… against the Jews.” But FDR was also hearing from Jews, sometimes including Wise, who counseled reserve and even silence about the Nazis’ anti-Jewish acts for fear of fomenting more anti-Semitism at home and in Western Europe. The authors conclude that it sometimes looked as if “Jewish leaders hated each other almost as much as they hated Hitler.” If the Jews themselves couldn’t see a clear path toward effective action, how could the president?

Well, okay. Except that presidents are supposed to be able to rise above the narrow interests of the factions that make up the nation, and as Wyman demonstrated powerfully in Abandonment, even if Jewish groups, Christian churches, business leaders and the American public as reflected in opinion polling were all too willing to look away from the evidence of genocide, Roosevelt’s inaction was an amoral decision to put politics and pragmatism ahead of even a symbolic effort to rescue Europe’s Jews.

What, really, were the alternatives, Breitman and Lichtman ask. What could Roosevelt have done, given the domestic pressures of an isolationist opposition, an overtly anti-Semitic fringe, a hostile State Department, and the indifference of nearly the entire world, with only Rabbi Wise, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau and a few dissident voices in the federal bureaucracy urging FDR to think in terms of rescue operations rather than focusing exclusively on defeating the Nazis on the battleground?

No doubt the authors have accurately portrayed the forces arrayed against Roosevelt doing what Wise urged in 1943: taking “active measures to save those Jews who can still be saved.” And surely they are right that “over the course of more than a decade as president, Roosevelt sounded at times like a Zionist, at times like a skeptic about Palestine’s capacity to absorb new settlers, and at times, when speaking to anti-Semites, like an anti-Semite himself.”

But in the end, it is not enough to conclude that FDR “reacted more decisively against Nazi crimes than any other world leader.” As Breitman and Lichtman note in passing, it was Gandhi who said, “Action expresses priorities.”

Marc Fisher is senior editor of The Washington Post and author of After the Wall: Germany, the Germans and the Burdens of History.

Voir encore:

FDR AND THE JEWS

By Richard Breitman (Author) , Allan J. Lichtman (Author)

Pub Date: March 19th, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-674-05026-6

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Kirkus Review

A thorough revisiting of the record concludes that Franklin Roosevelt’s actions on the “Jewish Question” were mostly too little, too late.

American University history professors Breitman (Hitler’s Shadow: Nazi War Criminals, U.S. Intelligence, and the Cold War, 2011, etc.) and Lichtman (Predicting the Next President: The Keys to the White House, 2012 Edition, 2012, etc.) 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. The authors trace “four Roosevelts” who emerged as the conditions of his presidency changed depending on the priorities of economy or war. In his first term, FDR was consumed by domestic pressures to repair the economy, thereby putting political expedience before the pressure to speak out against Nazi virulence or ease immigration restrictions against refugees. The second, more activist Roosevelt emerged after the landslide of 1936, openly backing Jewish settlement in Palestine, encouraging and offering incentives for immigration (to a point), and being the only world leader to recall the ambassador to Germany after the events of Kristallnacht. The third FDR set his focus on the war effort and passed his Lend-Lease program, keeping his work for refugees on the back burner. The last FDR created the War Refugee Board and supported immigration to Palestine despite Britain’s obstacles. However, the contradictions abound throughout—e.g., his long-lasting reliance on Jewish advisers like Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, yet failure to either inform the public about Hitler’s Final Solution or bomb Auschwitz.

A well-organized, accessible study finds FDR “neither a hero of the Jews nor a bystander to the Nazis’ persecution and then annihilation of the Jews.”

Voir enfin:

FDR and Lincoln on Screen

We’ve come pretty far down since then.

Conrad Black

National Review on line

January 2, 2013

Bill Murray as Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson (Focus Features)

Conrad Black

Two recent films about America’s greatest presidents since, and along with, George Washington — Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt — cannot fail to remind us of the deterioration in the distinction of the presidency. They have received sharply different reviews and taken large, and, in Roosevelt’s case, sometimes scurrilous, liberties with historical facts. It would have been astounding if Steven Spielberg had not produced a boffo performance in recreating America’s greatest statesman, and he did. The script reveals the qualities that made Lincoln one of the most universally admired figures in world history.

The self-made man without chippiness; the very ethical man who was, yet, far from a prude nor above a political ruse; the intellectual autodidact who was subject to moroseness but never without a sense of humor, worn but not altogether exasperated by an impossible wife nor broken by the death of two sons in adolescence, disappointed but never angry at the countless betrayals he endured — all emerge in Daniel Day Lewis’s brilliant performance in the title role. It would be unfair to compare any of his successors to Lincoln, as such a leader is unique and only a very few statesmen in the history of democracy anywhere bear any comparison with him.

In Hyde Park on Hudson, about FDR, Bill Murray, generally known for comic roles, does a commendable job (almost as good as Ralph Bellamy in Sunrise at Campobello), showing how Roosevelt coped with the immense pressures of his office as he pulled the United States out of the Great Depression while World War II threatened, and how he alleviated the additional tensions created by polio, his vulnerability to sinus attacks, his not altogether functional marriage, and his loneliness for affectionate female company. One can only wonder at the equable stoicism, ingenuity, and unshakeable determination with which both presidents shouldered terrible burdens and conducted the country to successful conclusions of the greatest dramas in its post-Revolutionary history.

No country can expect leaders of such stature to arise more frequently than they have in the U.S., but almost all the presidents who were elected shortly after Lincoln and Roosevelt possessed conspicuously impressive qualities of leadership. U. S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James A. Garfield were capable generals and generous-hearted men. Harry Truman and Gerald Ford, though ordinary, were fearlessly honest and decent, and are now well-regarded presidents. Dwight D. Eisenhower is, unjustly, better remembered as a kindly and amiable golfer in the White House than as the uniformly victorious theater commander who received the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany in the West, founded the military command of NATO, and, as president, ended the Korean War, stayed out of the Vietnam War, proposed Atoms for Peace and Open Skies, de-escalated the Cold War, and warned of the military-industrial complex. Ronald Reagan was a great president who possessed some of the attributes of Lincoln and Roosevelt. And whatever their shortcomings, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and George H. W. Bush were very talented men who served the nation with bravery and success in war and peace.

Fortunately, few presidents in the country’s history could have been relied upon to produce the indignities of the Clinton era, the gaucheries of the younger President Bush, or the slippery confrontationalism of the incumbent. Lamentations of this kind are commonplace and it would be unbecoming to dwell on invidious comparisons. I will only repeat my view that the national bug-out on Vietnam and the destruction of the very successful and heavily reelected Nixon presidency over the fatuous issue of Watergate (albeit with the president’s somewhat neurotic cooperation through his mishandling of it) have deterred unknowable numbers of good people from seeking high office and have terribly coarsened and commercialized the political process. This must be a contributing factor to the abstention of the most promising Republicans from last year’s presidential race: Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio.

Given the greatness of their principal subjects and the high drama of their times, there was no need or justification for Lincoln or Hyde Park on Hudson to invent history. Spielberg represents the passage by the House of Representatives of the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery in the session ending in February 1865 as utterly essential to achieve the full enactment of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. To breathe life into this canard, he claims that the peace talks Lincoln had with Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens in that month would have been successful if Congress had not not already been committed to the Thirteenth (abolition) Amendment.

This is bunk. The new Congress would easily have adopted the Amendment; there were already more than a million emancipated slaves in Union-occupied Confederate territory, and undoing Emancipation would have been out of the question. The end of slavery was bound to be a condition of readmission of the Confederate states, most of which were then in Union hands. Nor was slavery discussed at the Hampton Roads meeting with Stephens. They never got past the southern insistence on a cease-fire while reentry into the Union was negotiated. (When Lincoln declined to negotiate with “Americans who have taken up arms against [the] government,” and one of Stephens’s colleagues replied that Britain’s King Charles I had, Lincoln responded in his usual laconic way that his “principal recollection of the matter is that King Charles lost his head.”)

Hyde Park on Hudson is set in the visit to the U.S., and specifically to the Roosevelt home, of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (better remembered now as the Queen Mother), in 1939. Roosevelt had a domineering but doting mother, who in 1939 had been a widow for 39 years. The complicated marriage with Eleanor had been launched in 1905 only because Eleanor was a sixth cousin, a Roosevelt (Theodore’s niece), and so was one of the very few people FDR’s mother could not claim wasn’t good enough for her son.

But it was never an entirely real marriage. FDR, as he later did in politics, and ultimately in world affairs, created and managed a balance of power — a state of constant tension between his wife and his mother, which he could manipulate while continuing to enjoy social pleasures, including the company of more vivacious and prettier women than Eleanor, whom he encumbered with six children. (One died in infancy and most of them fled into unsuccessful marriages to escape from the war zone at home between their parents.) By 1939, Roosevelt was seeing a great deal of his cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (played in Roger Michell’s film by Laura Linney with her usual almost Streep-like virtuosity); and his secretary, Marguerite “Missy” LeHand, was also constantly around. Both women were unmarried and there has been much speculation on how intimate these relationships became. This film pushes it, with Missy emerging from FDR’s hilltop cottage rebuttoning her blouse as Daisy arrives, and the king and queen observing his return from their bedroom window in the middle of the night. Roosevelt’s medical records survive, and there is no doubt that he retained his sexual powers after the onset of polio in 1921, though the impact of inactive legs might have been inhibiting even to such a confident man.

Hyde Park is pretty explicit in implying that Eleanor was a lesbian. There is no more substance to this allegation than to the feminist confection that Eleanor was a virtual co-president. The only evidence of supposed lesbianism is a letter to one of her lady friends about the pleasure of kissing her dimpled cheek. It is more likely that she was simply asexual after, as she put it, “doing her [maternal] duty.”

As it happens, I own most of the correspondence between Roosevelt and Suckley. There is only one place where there is a hint of physical contact. With Missy, it is more plausible, as relations started earlier, including months on end when they were almost alone on a houseboat Roosevelt used in Florida in the 1920s while he was convalescing from his illness. The film also errs in mentioning his relationship with Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd as if it were active in 1939. (It flourished in World War I, ended on a joint ultimatum from FDR’s wife and mother, and was at least partly revived in 1942. Daisy and Lucy were both with him when he died in Georgia in 1945. Missy died in 1944 and FDR named a warship after her.)

In both films, it would have been easy to portray the presidents’ personalities in an accurate context. The Roosevelt film has a little more merit than most critics have allowed, and Lincoln, perhaps, slightly less. But both remind us of the qualities the country needs in its leaders.

— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and, just released, A Matter of Principle. He can be reached at cbletters@gmail.com

Voir encore:

‘Haaretz’ undermines a foundational myth: FDR abandoned Europe’s Jews

Michael Desch

Mondoweiss

November 5, 2012

Sunday’s Ha’aretz ran a very important piece by Tom Segev reporting on the distinguished Israeli historian of the Holocaust Yehuda Bauer’s about-face about whether there was anything the Roosevelt Administration could have done aside from winning the war to prevent the Holocaust and minimize the loss of Jewish lives.

As I argued in a piece a few years ago (The Myth of Abandonment: The Use and Abuse of the Holocaust Analogy), the conventional wisdom has become that the United States and the rest of the international community were guilty of grave indifference to European Jewry’s plight and should have realized even before the war what Hitler had in store for the Jews and acted more decisively to rescue them. Once the war began, so this argument goes, the Allies should have launched direct strikes on the Nazi death camps and the rail-lines leading to them to stop the killing. The fact that the United States did none of these things is prima facie evidence that Roosevelt “abandoned” the Jews in their hour of grave peril.

Segev has done great work in his own right as an historian in his book The Seventh Million in showing how the memory of the Holocaust has been used to construct a modern Israeli identity that encompasses both religious and non-religious Jews. Such politicized history serves current agendas more than historical truth.

Here as a journalist he reports that one of the leading historians of the Holocaust, who once shared the conventional wisdom, now after a life-time of professional reflection regards the idea that the Allies could have done anything other than win the war, which is what President Roosevelt pursued energetically, as a myth. Money grafs:

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Bauer states that there was no possibility of saving a significant number of Jews by bringing them into the Land of Israel, because there was no way of extracting them from occupied Europe. Further examination led Bauer to conclude also that there was no real opportunity to destroy Nazi annihilation mechanisms by aerial bombings, except at the cost of the lives of many Jews. [H]ad the Allies bombed the gas chambers, the annihilation would have continued via other means, including the “death marches.” In this context, Bauer notes that some 50 percent of Jewish war victims were not murdered in the death camps.

The fiction about the United States and its allies survives not because there is compelling historical evidence for it but rather because it advances various political agendas in Israel and the United States.

Bauer’s turn-around matters because the Israeli Right — from Begin to Bibi — is stuck in 1938, and the weight of politicized Holocaust history blinds them to the fact that they have a partner in peace in Mahmoud Abbas and leads them to blow out of all proportion the threat they face from an as yet non-existent Iranian nuclear weapon.

Among American Jews, the Holocaust has become the secular Genesis story that melds together the otherwise disparate tribes of modern American Judaism by reemphasizing their peril in the diaspora and adding to it the supposed indifference of the Gentiles to their plight. The lesson is clear: They can only count on themselves and Israel.

Segev’s account of Bauer’s reassessment should put in stark relief the difference between real history (conclusions based on evidence) and politicized history (to advance current agendas) and hopefully prevent the misinterpretation of an historical tragedy from contributing to contemporary political folly in both countries.

Voir aussi:

Abusing the Holocaust

Michael C. Desch

The American Conservative

April 12, 2004

The Holocaust has become one of the central historical analogies for thinking about U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold War world. Discussions of U.S.-Israeli relations and debates about humanitarian intervention are invariably couched in the rhetoric of the Holocaust. According to Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, the Holocaust analogy is now so widely accepted that it has become today’s equivalent of the “Munich analogy.” The most recent example of this is Richard Perle and David Frum’s claim in their new book that we face either “victory or holocaust” in the War on Terror.

Among most Americans, the received wisdom about the Holocaust is that the United States and the rest of the civilized world turned away Jews seeking to escape Nazi Germany before World War II and then sat idly by while the Third Reich murdered six million of them. In effect, the Jews were callously abandoned in their moment of peril although there was ample opportunity before and during the war to save them. In light of this reprehensible indifference, the United States shares some responsibility for the Holocaust, and it must “never again” watch passively as large numbers of people are slaughtered because of their race, ethnicity, or religion.

The rhetoric of recent presidents shows how accepted the Holocaust analogy is in American political life. “Out of our memory of the Holocaust,” Jimmy Carter enjoined, “we must forge an unshakable oath with all civilized people that never again will the world stand silent, never again will the world fail to act in time to prevent this terrible crime of genocide.” At the groundbreaking for the U.S. Holocaust Museum, George H.W. Bush admonished the audience, “Here we will learn that each of us bears responsibility for our actions and for our failure to act. Here we will learn that we must intervene when we see evil arise.” Finally, at the inauguration of the Holocaust Museum, Bill Clinton concurred: “For those of us here today representing the nations of the West, we must live forever with this knowledge: Even as our fragmentary awareness of crimes grew into indisputable facts, far too little was done.” The deeply held belief that the United States should never again behave like it did in response to the Holocaust has two concrete policy implications. To begin with, policymakers invariably insist that the United States should unequivocally support the state of Israel. Richard Nixon, who was no philo-Semite, admitted in 1994, “No American President will let Israel go down the tubes [because] Israel is a haven for millions whose families endured incredible suffering during the Holocaust.” “The Holocaust underlined, in the starkest terms, the moral basis for Israel’s founding,” Sen. John McCain (R–Ariz.) recently wrote in Reader’s Digest. “In standing by Israel, we are merely being true to ourselves. If we ever turned our backs on Israel, we would be abandoning the principles that built our nation.”Moreover, it is an article of faith among American elites that the United States has a moral responsibility to stop virtually any mass killing, especially genocides. For example, Congressman Steve Solarz (D-NY) and Brookings Institution analyst Michael O’Hanlon write, “We cannot bring back to life the victims of the Holocaust and the other genocides that have been among the cardinal characteristics of the century in which we live. But if we can resolve to prevent future genocides and mass killings when possible, the sacrifices and sufferings of those who lost their lives in the gas chambers of Nazi-occupied Europe and the killing fields of Cambodia and Rwanda will not have been entirely in vain.” In a recent Washington Post interview the architect of the Bush administration’s war on Iraq, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, cited the international community’s failure to act in the face of Nazi extermination of the Jews as a compelling reason why the United States had to depose Saddam Hussein. This rationale has become even more important now, one suspects, as it appears that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction or meaningful links to al-Qaeda.

There is no question that historical analogies are frequently used by policymakers to deal with contemporary issues. Sometimes they provide useful guidance; other times they serve merely as a rationalization to mobilize support for policies that would otherwise be hard to sell to the public. Unfortunately, the lessons of the past are often misunderstood and misapplied, resulting in faulty policy outcomes. In the 1960s, for example, the ubiquitous Munich analogy—that the Allies’ failure to stand up to Hitler over Czechoslovakia in 1938 caused the Second World War—helped steer the United States into the disastrous Vietnam War. Hence, we should be wary of historical analogies and examine them carefully to make sure that they are based on sound history and are used wisely by policymakers.

In my view, the widely accepted Holocaust analogy is based on a misreading of history and its “never again” obligations have not always served U.S. interests. It is premised on the historical claim that the international community—particularly democracies like the United States and Great Britain and moral leaders like the Pope—knowingly stood by while millions of Jews were systematically persecuted and then murdered by the Third Reich and its allies. “The Nazis were the murderers, but we were all too passive accomplices,” argues historian David Wyman, who maintains that a “substantial commitment to rescue could have saved several hundred thousand [Jews] and done so without compromising the war effort.” This interpretation of what happened is widely accepted among politicians and pundits in the United States and abroad. Thus, historian Peter Novick, a critic of this view, nevertheless concludes, “No lesson of the Holocaust is pressed more often and more forcefully than ‘the crime of indifference.’”

The West’s indifference, it is argued, manifested itself in six failures. First, due largely to anti-Semitism, the United States, Britain, and many other countries imposed such tight immigration quotas that few Jews were able to escape Nazi Germany before the war began. The second failure of the international community was that once the war began, plans to rescue the beleaguered Jews of occupied Europe were not vigorously pursued. The international community’s third failure, according to this school of thought, was its unwillingness to use the Allies’ substantial military capability to destroy the infrastructure of the Holocaust through bombing the transportation, killing, and incineration facilities of the Nazi death-camp system. The fourth failure was the tardiness of the United States in establishing the War Refugee Board to coordinate efforts to save embattled Jews throughout Europe during the war. The international community’s fifth alleged failure was its unwillingness to pursue opportunities to negotiate with the Nazis or their allies for the release of Jews during the war. The final, and for some most ethically reprehensible, failure was the silence of many moral leaders around the world who supposedly knew about, but did not publicly condemn, the Holocaust.

Critics argue that these failures not only resulted in the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent Jews but were also animated not by ignorance or legitimate strategic concerns but rather by baser motives such as anti-Semitism. These failures thus represent a significant moral lapse on the part of the international community. In the words of Arthur Koestler: “As long as you don’t feel … ashamed of being alive while others are being put to death, you will remain what you are, an accomplice by omission.” The moral lesson of the Holocaust, which makes the analogy particularly powerful in contemporary policy debates, is that those who stand by and do nothing are silent accomplices to genocide. Never again, many Americans are convinced, should the United States stand idly by while innocents are killed merely because of their religion, race, or ethnicity. However, the Holocaust analogy and its never-again obligation are based on a misreading of what the United States and the rest of the international community did and could have done to save Europe’s Jews before and during the Second World War. The work of leading scholars such as Raul Hilberg, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Tom Segev, Benny Morris, and Peter Novick provides reasons to question various aspects of this conventional wisdom. After an exhaustive assessment of the literature on the Holocaust, historian William Rubinstein concludes in his book The Myth of Rescue, “No Jew who perished during the Nazi Holocaust could have been saved by any action which the Allies could have taken at the time, given what was actually known about the Holocaust, what was actually proposed at the time and what was realistically possible.” This is a sweeping conclusion and one that no doubt could be challenged in some of its particulars. But on balance, there is enough truth in it to undermine the Holocaust analogy and call into question the obligation that many contemporary policymakers and pundits feel to support the state of Israel unreservedly and intervene indiscriminately in humanitarian crises around the world.

Upon closer consideration, each of the six “failures” that Wyman and others offer as evidence that the international community was complicit in the Holocaust through indifference, turn out to be far less clear cut.

To begin with, it is true that the United States and many other allied countries had immigration quotas before the war that were the result in part of discreditable motives. But much of the contemporary moral outrage about America’s inter-war immigration policies is based on the assumption that American officials knew in the 1930s what we know now: that German persecution of the Jews would end in the Holocaust. Using 20/20 hindsight, it is easy to see a straight line running from the Nuremberg Laws through Kristallnacht to Auschwitz. But at the time, few imagined what Hitler had in store for Europe’s Jews. Moreover, we tend to forget that America’s immigration quotas were not explicitly designed to keep out German Jews but rather were directed at Eastern and Southern Europeans and Asians. Indeed, Germany had one of the largest quotas during the 1930s, and most applicants for immigration visas in Germany were Jews.

It is also important to keep in mind that, despite these quotas, over 160,000 Jews came to the United States during the 1930s, more than to any other country in the world. In the critical period after Kristallnacht in 1938 through the beginning of the war in the West in 1940, Jews constituted over half of all immigrants to the United States. This calls into question how much of a role anti-Semitism, which was admittedly widespread in American society and the U.S. government, really played in U.S. immigration policy.Moreover, as Rubinstein notes, 72 percent of German Jews did manage to get out of Germany prior to September 1, 1939. The problem is that most of them, thinking that the troubles in Germany would soon blow over, did not go much further than the countries bordering Germany, as John V.H. Dippel chronicles in his book Bound Upon a Wheel of Fire: Why So Many Jews Made the Tragic Decision to Remain in Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, these countries were rapidly occupied by the Third Reich in the early stages of the war, and Jews there had little chance to escape.

At least five factors account for the lack of urgency among large numbers of European Jews about fleeing Europe. First, among many European Jews, Russia, rather than Germany, was historically regarded as the seat of violent anti-Semitism, and it was hard for them to recognize their peril in the Third Reich until quite late. Second, given the economic crisis of the 1930s, few Jews regarded the United States as the land of opportunity, and they were loath to give up their established positions in Europe to start from scratch in the New World. Third, for the Jews of Soviet-occupied territory, Communist censorship, in line with the Nazi-Soviet alliance, hid evidence of what was happening in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe until it was too late to relocate. Fourth, many Jews believed that their ancestors had survived anti-Semitism in the past by co-operation and subservience rather than resistance or flight, and this tradition made them hesitant to leave Nazi Germany. Finally, Zionism—the belief that the Jews needed a homeland in Palestine—was only a fringe movement among European Jews before World War II, and few Jews were eager to go to Palestine before the war began. British quotas on Jewish immigrants to Palestine thus probably were not a major factor in the reluctance of European Jews to go there, a fact widely acknowledged by the leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine. In short, the inter-war immigration quotas, while morally reprehensible, did not play as large a role in preventing European Jews from escaping Germany before the Second World War as critics charge. Of course, if even a handful of Jews died because of overly restrictive immigration quotas, that represents a serious moral failing. However, the only obligation that imposes on the United States is that it be more lenient in its refugee policy in the future.

Nor is it fair to argue that the international community failed because it did not actively make plans to rescue the Jews once it became obvious what Hitler had in store for them. While there is some debate about when the Nazis began to plan for a Final Solution to the Jewish question, the best evidence suggests that they did not decide on extermination until late 1941. Credible reports of the Nazis’ mass murder of the Jews reached the West only in late 1942, well after the war had begun. In other words, it was not clear until the middle of the war what was happening to the Jews of Europe. Moreover, none of the critics have been able to point to a rescue plan that had any chance of success short of the Allies winning the war. Thus, the international community can hardly be faulted for not launching a rescue effort before its members knew for certain one was necessary and if none was then possible.

No other Allied failure is more often criticized than the decision not to try to halt the killing by bombing death camps like Auschwitz. For many, this is the strongest indictment of Allied wartime behavior. Bombing Auschwitz was discussed during the war within the American government, but it was ultimately rejected in favor of concentrating on winning the war. While it is arguable how many Allied resources would have been diverted from the war effort by air strikes on Auschwitz and other killing centers, it seems clear that bombing would have done little to halt the Final Solution.

It is important to recall that since 80 percent of Jews who would die in the Holocaust had already been killed by spring 1944 when the Allies finally had air bases close enough to regularly strike targets in Central Europe, even the most optimistic proponents of bombing the death camps count the lives it could have saved in the hundreds of thousands, not millions—certainly a consequential number, but a small percentage of the total loss.

Their main contention is that doing so could have saved some of Hungary’s 740,000 Jews who had survived to that point. Even this more limited goal would have been hopeless, however. The transportation of the Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz and their subsequent murder took place very quickly between May 15 and July 9, 1944, so the window for Allied action was very small. Since there were redundant rail links between Budapest and Auschwitz, and the Germans had become quite adept at repairing bomb-damaged track during earlier bombing campaigns, the Allies could not have slowed the killing much by disrupting the Nazis’ transportation system. Bombing the gas chambers and crematoria within Auschwitz itself was not a solution either. Despite having general intelligence about the activities of the camp by the summer of 1944, the Allies lacked specific intelligence about exactly which buildings were integral parts of the killing machine. Even if the Allies had that specific information, U.S. heavy bombers (B-24s) did not have the accuracy to destroy small targets like the gas chambers and crematoria without also hitting the surrounding barracks where most of the inmates were housed. The more accurate medium (B-25) and light (P-38) bombers did not have sufficient range to hit targets in Central Europe.

Finally, even if the Allies had been able totally to disrupt the railroads and destroy the killing apparatus in the camps, it probably would have done little to save the Hungarian Jews, inasmuch as the Nazis could have just shot them in Hungary, as they did with over a million Jews in Poland and the Soviet Union early in the war. Keep in mind the gruesome fact that the Nazis killed 33,000 Jews in open-air shootings in a matter of a few days at Babi Yar in September 1941.

Critics argue that during its short existence in the last years of the war, the U.S. War Refugee Board (WRB) saved nearly 450,000 Jews from Romania and Hungary. Given that belief, it is understandable that they would condemn Allied leaders for not establishing something like it earlier. But it is simply a myth that the WRB saved these Jews. In fact, the survival of nearly 300,000 Jews in Old Romania had more to do with the changing fortunes of war and Romanian nationalism than the activities of the WRB. The Board also played a minimal role in the survival of 150,000 Jews in Hungary, which was mostly the result of Admiral Miklós Horthy’s efforts to pursue a separate peace with the Allies. In sum, criticism of the Allies for not establishing this body earlier can only be made by overstating the Board’s real effectiveness in saving those European Jews who survived.

Similarly, there is little reason to think that the Allies ever passed up any real chances for negotiating with the Nazis for the release of large numbers of Jews at any point once the war began. After all, Hitler was determined to exterminate the Jews of Europe. He went to enormous lengths to achieve that end, even when it worked at cross-purposes with the rest of the war effort. Why would he have agreed to let any Jews go given this fanaticism? Indeed, there is no evidence that he would have countenanced any deal to trade Jews for trucks or anything else. Hence, criticizing the Allies for not pursuing some of these supposed opportunities is unreasonable.Finally, critics like John Cornwell and Daniel Goldhagen think that Pius XII and other Roman Catholic leaders could have spoken out against the systematic killing of Europe’s Jews but did not because of anti-Semitism. But it is not true that the Holy See never spoke out: Pius XI’s encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge was a clear and powerful, if ultimately ineffectual, pre-war attack on National Socialism’s racist agenda. His successor, Pius XII, the target of much postwar criticism for his alleged indifference, actually dabbled in an abortive German military coup plot early in the war at great risk to himself and the Church. He later authorized the sheltering of Italian Jews in Church buildings. Critics provide scant evidence that Pius XII was motivated by anti-Semtism in his conduct during the war. The obliqueness of his public condemnations of Nazi atrocities was due to the fact that he was by training a diplomat, and like any diplomat from a weak country he was cautious about he said. As Josef Stalin aptly asked: “The Pope! How many divisions has he got?”

More overt opposition to the Final Solution would not have been costless for the Holy See, and those efforts that the Church made to flex its moral muscles were largely ineffective. Critics ignore the fact that in addition to 6 million Jews, the Nazis exterminated 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war, 3 million Polish civilians, and at least 10 million Russian non-combatants, not to mention scores of others. Thus, Hitler had no compunction about killing gentiles, including large numbers of Polish Catholic clergy and laity; Pius XII could not have spoken out without risk to millions of Catholics in Europe. The evidence from the Netherlands, where the local Catholic clergy spoke out against the deportation of the Jews and the Nazis retaliated by deporting Jewish converts to Catholicism, suggests that the Church’s intercession would not have saved Jews either.

The sad truth is that there was little the Allies could have done to stop the Holocaust, short of winning the war. “Nothing can be done to save these helpless unfortunates,” Assistant Secretary of State Adolph Berle concluded, “except through invasion of Europe, the defeat of the German arms and the breaking of German power.” This fact was widely recognized by Jewish leaders at the time as well. Rabbi Stephen Wise, a leading figure in the American Jewish community in the 1930s and 1940s, acknowledged, “The salvation of our people and all peoples who would be free can only come under God through a victory speedy and complete of the United Nations.” Since the Allies focused on winning the war, and the United States in particular chose to win in Europe first, there is little reason for Americans today to feel guilty about the Holocaust. Nazi Germany and her allies alone bear full responsibility for the Holocaust and for the murder of millions of other innocent victims.

Given the fact that the Holocaust analogy is based on faulty history, it is not surprising that the policy implications drawn from it are also frequently wrong-headed. For example, our commitment to the state of Israel, based in part on redeeming our perceived indifference to the Holocaust, has hurt our standing with the Arab and Muslim states of the world. During the Eisenhower administration, the United States was viewed as an honest broker in Middle East. Today that is no longer the case, and this has complicated, and at times even undermined, U.S. policies in the region. It has also put the United States in the morally precarious position of righting a significant historical wrong against the Jews by abetting a lesser one against the Palestinians. The international community was willing to make this trade-off for Israel within its pre-1967 borders, but because of the Holocaust analogy the United States has increasingly found itself committed to support Israel outside of the borders of the UN mandate, further undermining its position in the Middle East and elsewhere. President Gerald Ford nicely summarized the United States’ dilemma:

For the past twenty-five years, the philosophical underpinning of U.S. policy toward Israel had been our conviction—and certainly my own—that if we gave Israel an ample supply of economic aid and weapons, she would feel strong and confident, more flexible and more willing to discuss a lasting peace. Every American President since Harry Truman had willingly supplied arms and funds to the Jewish state. The Israelis were stronger militarily than all their Arab neighbors combined, yet peace was no closer than it had ever been. So I began to question the rationale for our policy…. I made it clear that there was ‘a substantial relationship at the present time between our national security interests and those of Israel.’ Then I added, pointedly: ‘But in the final analysis, we have to judge what is in our national interest above any and all other considerations.’

It has proven difficult, however, for the United States to think clearly about its national interests in the Middle East since its policies toward Israel are animated in part by historical guilt and moral obligation.

If the U.S. commitment to the state of Israel has complicated American foreign policy, it has also muddied U.S. domestic politics. The belief that we must atone for our inaction during the Holocaust makes the U.S. commitment to the state of Israel so sensitive that there is a tendency to question the motives of anyone critical of the Jewish state and its policies. President Truman recounted the bitter partisan battles over the establishment of the state of Israel:

I do not think that I ever had as much pressure and propaganda aimed at the White House as I had in this instance [the partition of Palestine U.N. vote]. The persistence of a few of the extreme Zionist leaders—accentuated by political motives and engaging in political threats—disturbed and annoyed me.

“What bothered me most,” recalled former president Ford, “was the claim by some of those leaders [of the American Jewish community] that inasmuch as I was suggesting the possibility of a reassessment of our policy toward Israel, I must be anti-Israeli or even anti-Semitic.” Many in the current Bush administration reportedly have concluded that George H.W. Bush’s defeat in 1992 was the result of Jewish-American opposition galvanized by his hard line against Israeli settlements under the Shamir government. American support for the Jewish state has become an issue in many national elections in the United States, and almost all American politicians are sensitive to how their stance on Israel affects their electoral prospects.Despite their overwhelming embrace, the Holocaust analogy and its never-again lessons have not necessarily been good for members of the American Jewish community either. Novick makes a compelling argument that it is a mistake for Jews to make the Holocaust central to modern Jewish-American identity. It perpetuates a victim mentality, detracts from the many positive aspects of the Jewish experience in the 20th century, and stifles debate about issues important to Jews such as Israeli foreign and domestic policies. Of course, there is no reason for American Jews to forget the Holocaust. But as Leon Wieseltier recently noted in the New Republic, “Hitler is Dead,” and therefore not all of the problems facing Jews around the world can be usefully framed in terms of the Holocaust.To be sure, not all American Jews have embraced the position of unqualified support for Israeli policies, but they remain in the minority. Some, such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who were perceived to have taken anti-Israeli stances, have been attacked ad hominem. The vitriol heaped upon New York University historian Tony Judt in response to his recent article in the New York Review of Books advocating a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is further evidence of what happens to members of the tribe who leave the reservation.The Holocaust analogy has also distorted U.S. foreign policy in other areas of the world. For example, the obligations it imposed played a part in leading the United States to intervene twice in the Balkans. It is not clear, however, that these interventions have produced stable outcomes in either Bosnia or Kosovo. Tragically, in Bosnia the international community’s never-again rhetoric led Muslims to believe they would be protected in safe areas like Srebrenica. Unfortunately this may have lulled about 7,000 Muslim men and boys into a false sense of security and discouraged them from getting out of harm’s way before it was too late. NATO’s intervention in Kosovo was also motivated and justified with frequent references to never allowing another Holocaust. Some analysts now believe that this well-intentioned intervention may in fact have accelerated, rather than halted, ethnic cleansing. As Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen argues: “If the United States and the West are going to intervene, the decision has to be based on a realistic appraisal of the situation and what is best for the [victims]—not a pathetically tardy response to Nazism.”

Finally, frequent invocation of the Holocaust analogy and the never-again obligation raises expectations that the United States can and will intervene any time large numbers of people are killed. When it does not, this breeds cynicism about the United States’s commitment to the protection of human rights. For example, that the United States and the rest of the international community did not intervene in Rwanda, where nearly 800,000 people were killed in genocidal violence, while we did in Bosnia and Kosovo, where the loss of life was much less (250,000 and 10,000 respectively), led many to suspect that the key difference was the color of the victims’ skin. But racism does not explain why America intervened in the Balkans but not in Rwanda. The United States did intervene in Africa to stop a major humanitarian crisis in Somalia in the early 1990s with disastrous consequences. This, not racism, made us wary of intervening in Rwanda. Also, the United States and its NATO allies had military forces and bases close to the former Yugoslavia, which made intervention there feasible. Rwanda, in contrast, was far away from NATO forces and bases, and so intervention would have been much more difficult. However, such pragmatic considerations do not carry much weight with many people today who have embraced the Holocaust analogy’s lessons and assume that failure to act must be due to indifference or worse.

Do not misunderstand: I believe that we should study the Holocaust and seek to learn lessons from it to guide contemporary policy. But the widely embraced Holocaust analogy is based on faulty history and the moral obligations derived from it have not always advanced American interests.

Europe’s Jews were not abandoned to Hitler’s tender mercies. The claim that pre-war immigration quotas were the main reason Jews did not escape Nazi Germany is overdrawn. In fact, more than 70 percent of Germany’s Jews managed to escape the Third Reich before World War II began. Unfortunately, most European Jews did not leave the continent before the war broke out, either because they did not live under Nazi rule or because they thought that the troubles in Germany would soon pass. Once the war began and the Final Solution was implemented in the latter half of 1941, the United States and its allies did not sit idly by while nearly six million Jews perished. The only way to stop the Holocaust was for the United States and its allies to win the war, which is exactly what they did. Given those facts, there is little reason for Americans to feel a sense of guilt about the Holocaust.

Furthermore, the Holocaust analogy has not contributed to sound American foreign policy. While there are good reasons why the United States should help Israel defend itself within its UN-mandated borders, the Holocaust analogy’s demand for unquestioning American support for all the policies of the Jewish state undermines U.S. national interests in the Middle East. The United States also has an obligation to do what it can to prevent or mitigate grave humanitarian crises. However, it should act not out of a sense of guilt about the past, but rather from common human decency tempered by a sober assessment of what can reasonably be accomplished in each case and what best serves America’s national interest.

________________________________________________________

Michael C. Desch is a professor and the Director of the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce and was a participant in the 2003 “March of Remembrance and Hope,” a Holocaust education program in Poland. This article is drawn from a forthcoming study of the use and abuse of the Holocaust analogy in U.S. foreign policy.

Voir enfin:

La Shoah, ce que les Alliés et… le Gouvernement suisse en savaient

Hervé de Weck

Revue militaire suisse

Les exécutions massives de juifs et leur gazage à Chlemno commencent à la fin de l’année 1941 en territoire soviétique occupé, alors que le 75 à 80% des victimes de la Solution finale sont encore en vie à la mi-mars 1942. Ils sont effectuées par les SS, les Einsatzgruppen, les formations de la Police d’ordre et des policiers auxiliaires baltes. Seule une partie des officiers de la Police d’ordre fait partie de la SS mais pas la troupe. La «Solution finale», au sens strict du terme, n’est pas mise en œuvre à grande échelle avant le deuxième semestre 1942, décidée à la conférence de Wansee le 21 janvier 1942.

Dans Secrets officiels. Ce que les nazis planifiaient, ce que les Britanniques et les Américains savaient[1], l’Américain Richard Breitman en véritable historien, sans jouer au procureur, exploite une source inédite: les décryptages réalisés en Grande-Bretagne de messages radio de la police d’ordre et du SS Wirtschaft-Verwaltungshauptamt. Son ouvrage, fruit d’un travail de bénédictin, démontre que les décideurs ont toujours beaucoup de peine à croire une information qui ne correspond pas à leur vision des choses et qu’ils semblent avoir peur de la vérité. A propos de la Shoah, ce ne sont pas les renseignements qui font défaut, mais la capacité des responsables alliés de les accepter comme vrais et de rassembler les pièces du puzzle pour avoir une image claire et cohérente de la situation. Ils ont tendance à détourner le regard parce qu’ils ne croient pas. Il faut admettre que les informations exigent le plus souvent d’être interprétées en les comparant à l’ensemble des données disponibles[2].

Il s’avère encore difficile aujourd’hui d’évaluer de manière exhaustive la façon dont les services de renseignements britanniques et américains ont réagi à l’Holocauste. Certains rapports peuvent avoir été détruits, la plupart restent classifiés mais il y en a assez pour se faire une bonne idée. L’OSS, qui disposait d’informations moins nombreuses et moins fiables que le MI 8 et le MI 14 à Londres, n’a pas été en mesure de représenter correctement la «Solution finale» avant la fin de l’année 1942.

Londres dispose d’informations fiables…

Dès 1941, les services de renseignements britanniques disposent d’informations crédibles sur les massacres de juifs par les nazis. A partir de 1937, ils ont en effet réussi à déchiffrer certains codes allemands, entre autres ceux de la Police d’ordre qui, depuis septembre 1939, passe des messages radio concernant les transferts de main-d’œuvre dans le Gouvernement général de Pologne et, depuis juin 1941, les liquidations de juifs dans les territoires soviétiques. Dès le début de la guerre, les services britanniques ont percé certaines clés utilisées avec la machine de codage sophistiquée Enigma, entre autres une de celles du SS Wirtschaft-Verwaltungshauptamt en charge des camps de concentration, puis d’extermination. En revanche, ils ne sont pas parvenus à percer les clés Enigma de la Gestapo et du Sicherheitsdienst, qui servent à crypter les messages des Einsatzgruppen.

Les analystes militaires britanniques comprennent que les fonctionnaires nazis recourent à l’euphémisme et au camouflage lorsqu’ils évoquent des mesures extrêmes. «Umsiedlung» (réinstallation) ou «Sonderbehandlung» signifie exécution de juifs ou de Russes, . Entre l’été et l’automne 1941, ils déchiffrent des douzaines de rapports clairs concernant des exécutions massives. Le 30 août, le chef SS Bach-Zelewski se vante que, dans sa région, les exécutions dépassent les trente mille. Le chef du Secret Intelligence Service envoie chaque semaine à Winston Churchill des résumés en anglais des activités de la police allemande sur territoire soviétique. Certains messages déchiffrés figurent dans les rapports quotidiens soumis au Premier ministre.

En août 1941, le problème juif ne se trouve pourtant pas au centre des préoccupations de Churchill, qui lie les atrocités nazies à l’âpre résistance soviétique et met en relation les exécutions de dizaines de milliers de patriotes russes avec l’irritation des responsables allemands face aux pertes de la Wehrmacht. A ce moment, il pourrait pourtant déceler un nombre et un pourcentage grandissants de victimes juives. En ce qui concerne les juifs, le Premier ministre, les gouvernants et les spécialistes initiés se montrent peu enclins à croire les rapports les plus alarmistes.

Les mises en garde des services d’Himmler concernant la vulnérabilité des transmissions radio réduisent considérablement les indiscrétions. Comparés à ceux de l’été et de l’automne 1941, les messages transmis par la Ordnungspolizei en 1942 comprennent beaucoup moins de données sur les exécutions massives de juifs et d’autres victimes dans les territoires soviétiques. En revanche, ils évoquent souvent le sérieux manque de main-d’œuvre dont souffre le Reich, qui amène la décision d’exploiter les juifs aptes au travail au lieu de les exécuter immédiatement.

Le décryptage de messages radio diffusés par le SS Wirtschaft-Verwaltungshauptamt donne des indications de première main sur les camps d’extermination et le processus industriel d’extermination. A Auschwitz-Birkenau, on liquide dans les meilleurs délais les nouveaux arrivants mais, dans le camp, il se trouve aussi des contingents de juifs travailleurs forcés, ce qui brouille les pistes. En 1942, les responsables SS transmettent par radio un compte rendu presque quotidiennement du nombre d’individus ajoutés ou retranchés à la population du camp. Quoi qu’il en soit, «au milieu de l’année 1942, et à partir de ces seuls décryptages, il eût été très difficile pour les analystes britanniques de faire le lien entre les transports de juifs vers Auschwitz et les nouvelles installations [nouveaux fours crématoires] qui s’y trouvaient. Rien n’indique que les services secrets l’aient fait.» Mais d’autres renseignements auraient pu être exploités, par exemple ceux de la résistance polonaise…

Les messages radio décryptés de la police d’ordre et de la SS sont diffusés d’une manière très restreinte, vraisemblablement pour éviter de divulguer des sources majeures. Cette restriction empêche des hauts fonctionnaires du Foreign Office de comprendre le génocide décidé par les nazis. Malgré ces messages et les autres sources annonçant la disparition et l’exécution de juifs, le Gouvernement britannique opte pour le silence face à la politique nazie à l’égard des juifs. «Pour autant qu’on puisse en juger, écrit Richard Breitman, la Grande-Bretagne a tout simplement mis en réserve les informations relatives aux débuts de ce qu’on appelle maintenant la Shoah, obtenues par l’intermédiaire des messages décodés ou de toute autre source.»

Les Etats-Unis ne bénéficient pas des décryptages

Pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, la collaboration américano-britannique dans le domaine du renseignement, si elle commence avant l’entrée en guerre des Etats-Unis, reste peu intense. Les deux communautés ont leur caractère propre et des particularités qui font qu’elles sont peu en phase avec les relations politiques entre les deux Etats. Les services de renseignements gardent traditionnellement les secrets qu’ils découvrent, ils les exploitent sans les partager. Jusqu’en 1945, les autorités civiles et militaires américaines ne connaissent pas les succès britanniques touchant à Enigma et les décryptages des messages radio de la Police d’ordre allemande; elles ne reçoivent que quelques documents de synthèse émis par les Britanniques. En revanche, elles disposent de l’enregistrement des conversations entre prisonniers allemands. L’ambassade américaine à Berlin prévoit, à fin octobre 1941, que tous les juifs d’Allemagne seront déportés «en l’espace de quelques mois», ajoutant à la mi-novembre, que les individus valides sont transférés d’Allemagne en Russie comme travailleurs forcés. L’attaché militaire rapporte que des unités SS exécutent des juifs dans de nombreuses localités occupées de Russie.

Les médias américains publient de nombreuses informations. Le principal correspondant allemand de l’Associated Press écrit à fin octobre 1941 que l’élimination totale des juifs est «une politique allemande déterminée» et que le sort des déportés reste inconnu. Le New York Journal American, à la mi-novembre, fait un gros titre en première page de l’assassinat par les Roumains de 250 00 juifs à Odessa: en réalité le chiffre est beaucoup plus élevé. A la fin du mois, le New York Herald Tribune, qui veut rester prudent, évoque certains rapports provenant d’Europe centrale qui «parlent de massacres de juifs par les Allemands». The New York Time annonce en mars 1942 que la Gestapo a assassiné 24000 juifs déportés en Ukraine; le Daily Telegraph, dans un grand article paru en juin, mentionne l’utilisation par les nazis de chambre à gaz mobiles. Le New York Herald Tribune, le 25 novembre, titre «Hitler a donné l’ordre de tuer 4 millions de juifs en 1942». Mais la presse américaine traite en général avec scepticisme toute information concernant les exécutions de juifs.

Aux Etats-Unis, de réels obstacles empêchent de croire à l’existence de l’Holocauste. La barbarie nazie se produit à des milliers de kilomètres. La «Solution finale», sans précédent, paraît inconcevable jusqu’en automne 1942 dans les hautes sphères du département d’Etat et chez les proches du Président. Même au Congrès juif américain, on doute de la véracité des informations dont on dispose. Comment imaginer que des êtres humains puissent avoir de tels comportements? Le Gouvernement américain dit avoir besoin de faits soigneusement documentés ne laissant planer aucun doute sur leur authenticité, Au milieu de l’année 1942, il ne croit pas encore en disposer, alors que des informations fiables passent pour des «rumeurs délirantes inspirées par les peurs juives». Les articles de journaux ne suffisent pas à convaincre l’opinion, d’autant plus qu’ils sont souvent écrits en termes modérés, voire sceptiques…

Les raisons de cette attitude

Face aux informations relatives aux assassinats massifs de juifs par les Allemands, les responsables américains et britanniques se rappellent les rumeurs de la Première Guerre mondiale, lorsque des officines du camp de l’Entente fabriquaient de toutes pièces des atrocités allemandes prétendument commises en Belgique et dans le nord de la France, afin de retourner l’opinion mondiale contre le IIe Reich[3]. Les Allemands auraient transformé les cadavres en produits chimiques! Ce qui est faux pendant la Première Guerre mondiale s’avère vrai pendant la Seconde…

Les dirigeants alliés ne veulent pas donner l’impression qu’ils manipulent leur opinion publique, et ils soupçonnent les réseaux d’information juifs et polonais d’exagérer les crimes nazis afin d’obtenir de secours pour leurs peuples. En août 1943, c’est toujours la conviction de Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, patron du Britsh Joint Intelligence Committee, alors qu’il a en main des preuves indiscutables de certains épisodes de l’Holocauste.

Même Churchill, qui est pro-sioniste, craint d’officialiser le massacre des juifs, ce qui risquerait de circonscrire la cause antinazie, voire de la compromettre, vu l’antisémitisme culturel[4] régnant en Grande-Bretagne comme partout en Europe, ainsi que l’hostilité envers les juifs chez les Arabes du Commonwealth. Se focaliser sur la question juive accréditerait également la thèse de la propagande allemande selon laquelle les Alliés mènent la guerre pour le compte des juifs. Il faut donc attendre le 17 décembre 1942 pour que les gouvernements alliés, pour la première et la dernière fois, publient une condamnation formelle «de la mise en pratique de la menace maintes fois répétée par Hitler de détruire le peuple juif[5]».

Le Gouvernement britannique refuse d’envoyer des secours aux juifs qui meurent de faim, entre autres dans les ghettos polonais, parce que cela n’empêcherait pas les nazis de liquider ces populations et que la stratégie choisie par la Grande-Bretagne implique d’obliger l’Allemagne à nourrir les peuples qu’elle a conquis. Faire quitter l’Allemagne et les territoires occupés à des enfants, des femmes, des personnes âgées allégerait pour le pouvoir nazi l’obligation de subvenir aux besoins des résidents. Des envois de nourriture ou de médicaments permettraient à l’Allemagne de consacrer des ressources supplémentaires pour son effort de guerre, ce qui risquerait de retarder son effondrement. Pour les Alliés, il faut que le blocus déploie ses pleins effets et que l’on continue à faire la guerre sans soulager les souffrances des civils sous la botte ennemie.

Surtout, il faut admettre qu’il s’avère très difficile de reconnaître un fait qui excède les limites de l’entendement. Comment croire à l’inhumanité illogique des nazis qui ont décidé de liquider tous les juifs d’Europe, alors que le Reich manque de main-d’œuvre? Le décalage entre les informations disponibles et le crédit qu’on leur attribue constitue un problème de psychologie sociale durant toute la Seconde Guerre mondiale. Ce n’est pas avant le second semestre 1942, prétend Richard Breitman, que des informations en provenance de plusieurs sources permettent qu’à Londres et à Washington, on comprenne la monstrueuse entreprise nazie, particulièrement la volonté d’anéantir la totalité des juifs résidant en Europe. Même à ce moment, plusieurs responsables du Foreign Office et du département d’Etat restent sceptiques face aux preuves de l’existence de la Shoah.

Cette impossibilité de voir la réalité se rencontre également dans les milieux juifs. A fin 1943, le consistoire juif français prend soigneusement note de toutes les informations à sa disposition, mais rien n’indique qu’il en saisisse la véritable signification. Deux évadés d’Auschwitz décrivent à des résistants de Nice la réalité du camp de la mort. On ne les croit pas, on les prend pour des individus traumatisés par leurs malheurs[6]…

Ni Churchill, ni Roosevelt, qui ont pourtant reconnu très tôt les méfaits du nazisme et ont pris des risques énormes pour s’opposer à l’Allemagne, n’expliqueront pas leur attitude de réserve face au génocide des juifs. Les autorités britanniques et américaines refusent d’utiliser les récits d’atrocités, d’informer le peuple allemand de ce qui se passe pour contraindre les nazis à stopper les massacres, voire de décider des bombardements aériens de représailles sur des villes allemandes. Cette dernière mesure risquerait de mettre en question la légitimité des attaques aériennes normales sur les villes considérées comme des cibles militaires.

Aux Etats-Unis, cette absence de réactions semble s’expliquer par la crainte de mesures de rétorsion touchant les prisonniers alliés dans les pays ennemis, par le fait qu’on n’a pas compris ce que signifie concrètement l’extermination ou qu’on est décidé à ne pas distinguer les meurtres en masse de juifs de la souffrance des autres victimes. Décrire la situation désespérée des juifs entrave la guerre psychologique américaine: les juifs étrangers ne figurent pas parmi les groupes les plus populaires dans le pays, et la propagande nazie accuse les Alliés de mener la guerre pour le compte des juifs.

Depuis qu’à la mi-septembre 1941, le Secret Intelligence Service (MI 6) cesse de transmettre ses rapports concernant le sort des juifs en Allemagne à Churchill, celui-ci ne sollicite aucune information; il a délégué la question au Foreign Office. A la mi-décembre 1942, il manifeste cependant la volonté d’en arriver à une décision commune des Alliés concernant l’anéantissement des juifs. Le 17 décembre, les gouvernements alliés dénoncent pour la première fois le massacre des juifs par les nazis, mais cela ne modifiera pas leur stratégie; ils ne prennent pas de mesures destinées à sauver des juifs. Le Ministre britannique de l’Intérieur, le 31 décembre, consent tout au plus à accueillir quelques milliers de réfugiés, rappelant qu’il y en a «environ 100000 (…) dans le pays, principalement des juifs, et que le problème de l’hébergement, qui est déjà assez difficile, deviendrait critique en cas d’attaques aériennes renouvelées.» Il ajoute qu’il y a «un très fort antisémitisme larvé dans ce pays. S’il y avait un accroissement substantiel du nombre de réfugiés juifs ou si ces réfugiés ne quittaient pas le pays après la guerre, nous serions en sérieuse difficulté.»

En dernière analyse, il semble que les autorités américaines, mais surtout britanniques, craignent que les nazis et leurs satellites puissent libérer un grand nombre de juifs qu’il leur faudrait alors accueillir et entretenir en plein effort de guerre. La position d’Anthony Eden, ministre des Affaires étrangères du Gouvernement Churchill, apparaît significative: toute tentative de négocier le sauvetage de quelques juifs pourrait avoir pour résultat que «Hitler veuille que nous prenions tous les juifs». En revanche, Américains et Britanniques encouragent les neutres à ouvrir leurs frontières… Le 23 mars 1943, la Chambre des lords débat de la motion de l’archevêque Temple demandant d’accueillir tous les réfugiés pouvant atteindre la Grande-Bretagne. Le Gouvernement la rejette, invoquant les difficultés de ravitaillement et le manque de bateaux disponibles.

Suisse: le Conseil fédéral et la Shoah?

La Commission indépendante d’experts Suisse – Seconde Guerre mondiale, dans ses publications, ne fait pas la moindre allusion à la perception de la «Solution finale» par les gouvernements britanniques et américains entre 1941 et 1945, à leur scepticisme face à des informations et à des renseignements crédibles, leur utilisation de l’argument «La barque est pleine» pour refuser d’accueillir des réfugiés. La Commission ne devait pas comprendre d’expert en Intelligence au sens anglo-saxon du terme! Quoi qu’il en soit, le lecteur a l’impression que les autorités suisses sont les seules à se montrer sceptiques, puis indifférentes face aux massacres systématiques de juifs par les nazis.

Dans son Rapport définitif publié en 2002, elle se contente d’écrire: «Dès début août 1942, les autorités ne pourront plus ignorer que les réfugiés juifs sont gravement menacés. Elles ne sauront encore rien de précis sur le fonctionnement des camps d’extermination. Mais, dès la fin 1941, des informations faisant état de massacres systématiques sont parvenues en Suisse par différents canaux (…). Il n’en reste pas moins qu’à l’époque de la fermeture des frontières en août 1942, les autorités suisses savaient parfaitement ce qui se passait[7].»

Là est la grande question à laquelle la Commission ne donne aucune réponse ! Le Conseil fédéral est-il aussi bien renseigné que le Gouvernement britannique? Croit-il les informations et les renseignements à disposition? A quel moment chacun de ses membres prend-il conscience de la Shoah? Quand le Conseil fédéral, organe exécutif collégial, en fait-il de même? Dans quelle mesure son silence, son absence de réactions, le maintien de sa politique vis-à-vis des réfugiés s’expliquent-ils par les mêmes raisons qu’à Londres et à Washington qui n’ont pas accueilli, après 1941, de réfugiés juifs en quantités importantes.

«Entre 1933 et 1945, quelque 20000 réfugiés ont séjourné temporairement au Royaume-Uni dont les dominions n’ont joué pratiquement aucun rôle dans le sauvetage des juifs; le Canada s’est d’ailleurs distingué par un refus presque total d’accueillir des réfugiés, notamment en raison de l’opposition déterminée de la province du Québec. (…) Entre 1933 et 1945 les Etats-Unis ont admis au total quelque 250000 réfugiés juifs[8].» Entre 1933 et septembre 1939, les Etats-Unis ont accueilli 225000 juifs, mais seulement 25000 durant les hostilités. Entre septembre 1939 et mai 1945, la Grande-Bretagne n’en accueille que 25000, alors que la Suisse laisse entrer temporairement plusieurs dizaines de milliers de juifs avant septembre 1939, dont la plupart vont réussir à poursuivre leur exode vers d’autres cieux. Seuls 6500 réfugiés juifs se trouvent sur sol suisse le 1er septembre 1939, auxquels vont s’ajouter quelque 21000 coreligionnaires accueillis dès cette date jusqu’en 1945, soit près de 28000 personnes. Compte tenu des populations des Etats-Unis et de la Suisse, la Confédération cinquante fois plus de réfugiés juifs que les Etats-Unis[9].

Colonel Hervé de Weck

[1] Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 2005. 363 pp. Voir également Laqueur, Walter: Le terrifiant secret: la Solution finale et l’information étouffée. Paris, Gallimard, 1981; Browning, Christopher R.: Des hommes ordinaires. Le 101e bataillon de réserve de la police allemande et la solution finale en Pologne. Paris, Les Belles-Lettres, 1994; Spira, Henry: Stuart Eizenstat, «Imperfect Justice ». Interessengemeinschaft Schweiz – Zweiter Welkrieg, Schriftenreihe Nr. 2 – Juni 2003.

[2] Frédéric Guelton: Pourquoi le renseignement? De l’espionnage à l’information globale. Paris, Larousse, 2004, p. 25-26.

[3] Voir également Morelli, Anne: Principes élémentaires de propagande de guerre (utilisables en cas de guerre froide, chaude ou tiède). Bruxelles, Labord, 2001, p. 79.

[4] A ne pas confondre avec l’antisémitisme racial des dirigeants nazis et d’une partie de la population allemande.

[5] Charguéraud, Marc-André: La Suisse présumée coupable. Lausanne, l’Age d’homme, 2001, p. 45.

[6] Posnanski, Renée: Les juifs en France pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale. Paris, Hachette, 1997, p. 514.

[7] La Suisse, le national-socialisme et la Seconde Guerre mondiale. Zurich, Pendo, 2002, p. 109-111.

[8] Ibidem, pp. 154-156.

[9] Données aimablement fournies par Henry Spira.

3 Responses to Révisionisme: Ni sauveur ni simple spectateur (Book tries for balanced view on Roosevelt and Jews)

  1. […] Confirmation, avec la sortie d’un nouveau livre sur la politique du seul président américain aux quatre élections envers les juifs par les historiens américains Richard Breitman et Allan J. Lichtman (“FDR and the Jews »), des thèses de Robert Rosen … […]

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