U.S. Role

 

Home Up
 

Jewish War Veterans Museum

 

Poster (issued by the Jewish War Veterans of the United States) calling for a boycott of German goods.

New York, United States, between 1937 and 1939.


USHMM

 

Holocaust Encyclopedia

 

  THE UNITED STATES AND THE HOLOCAUST  

 
  During World War II, rescue of Jews and other victims of the Nazis was not a priority for the United States government. Nor was it always clear to Allied policy makers how they could pursue large-scale rescue actions behind German lines. Due in part to antisemitism (prejudice against or hatred of Jews), isolationism, the economic Depression, and xenophobia (prejudice against or fear of foreigners), the refugee policy of the U.S. State Department (led by Secretary of State Cordell Hull) made it difficult for refugees to obtain entry visas to the United States.

The U.S. State Department also delayed publicizing reports of genocide. In August 1942, the State Department received a cable confirming Nazi plans for the total destruction of Europe's Jews. The report, sent by Gerhart Riegner (the representative in Geneva of the World Jewish Congress), was not passed on to other government officials. The State Department asked American Rabbi Stephen Wise, who also received the report, to refrain from announcing it.

Reports of Nazi atrocities often were not publicized in full by the American press. In 1943, Polish courier Jan Karski informed President Franklin D. Roosevelt of reports of mass murder received from Jewish leaders in the Warsaw ghetto. No immediate executive action was taken. The U.S Congress twice rejected legislation that would have allowed entry to the United States for 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children seeking refuge.

On April 19, 1943, U.S. and British representatives met in Bermuda to find solutions to wartime refugee problems. No significant proposals emerged from the Bermuda Conference. In January 1944 Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board (within the Treasury Department) to facilitate the rescue of imperiled refugees. Fort Ontario, in New York, began to serve as an ostensibly free port for refugees. Refugees brought to Fort Ontario, however, were not from Nazi-occupied areas, but rather from liberated zones.

By the spring of 1944, the Allies knew of the killing operations using poison gas at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Jewish leaders pleaded unsuccessfully with the U.S. government to bomb the gas chambers and railways leading to the camp. From August 20 to September 13, 1944, the U.S. Air Force bombed the Auschwitz-Monowitz industrial complex, less than five miles from the gas chambers in Birkenau. However, the U.S. maintained its policy of non-involvement in rescue, and bombed neither the gas chambers nor the railways used to transport prisoners.


U.S. National Archives

Anti-Nazi protest

 

Copyright United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.