Category Archive: RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

Long-Lost Plea to FDR Revives Question: How could Europe’s Jews have been Saved?

A ‘60 Minutes’ segment, an archivist, and the enduring legacy of assumptions that there was no way to skirt the law

winton82038Last month, 60 Minutes aired an interview with Sir Nicholas Winton, the London-born son of German Jews who has become known in England as “the British Schindler” for his efforts to rescue hundreds of Czech children, most of them Jews.

In the course of the segment, Winton mentioned that in 1939, he wrote a letter to President Roosevelt, asking the United States to accept some of the children. “But the Americans wouldn’t take any, which was a pity,” Winton told Bob Simon. “We could’ve got a lot more out.”

Neither family members nor scholars who have researched Winton’s story have ever been able to locate a copy of that letter—but after the 60 Minutes segment, a National Archives staff member named David Langbart began digging through the files until he found it. Earlier this week, on the occasion of Winton’s 105th birthday, Langbart presented him with both the original missive and the Roosevelt Administration’s response.

“Perhaps people in America do not realize how little is being done and has been done for refugee children in Czechoslovakia,” Winton wrote. “[T]here are thousands of children, some homeless and starving, mostly without nationality, but they certainly all have one thing in common: there is no future, if they are forced to remain where they are.” Winton went on to describe their destitution, and closed with the question, “Is it possible for anything to be done to help us with this problem in America?”

The answer was a firm “no.” The White House handed the letter off to the State Department, which in turn instructed the U.S. Embassy in London to inform Winton that “the United States Government is unable…to permit immigration in excess of that provided for by existing immigration laws.”

Indeed, 1939 was the one year out of Roosevelt’s 12 in office that he permitted the full use of the immigration quotas for Germany and other European countries with large Jewish populations. But the law was the law; there was no more room. “The United States opened its doors to the extent that the law allowed at the time,” Langbart, the National Archives staffer, told CBS. “I wish it could have been more—but it wasn’t.”

But the truth is, it could easily have been.

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The very same week that Winton wrote to Roosevelt, the refugee ship St. Louis was making its way across the Atlantic with its 937 German Jewish passengers all dreaming of freedom. Soon they would be refused admission to Cuba and the United States, and forced to return to Europe, where many would later be murdered by the Nazis.

But in 1938, after the Kristallnacht pogroms, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Lawrence Cramer, backed by the territory’s legislative assembly, publicly offered to accept Jewish refugees fleeing the Third Reich. “The U.S. immigration quotas did not apply to our territory,” Rep. Donna Christensen, a Democrat who currently represents the Virgin Islands, told me last month. “So refugees could have been admitted on a temporary basis, on tourist visas, for as long as they were in danger.”

Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes supported the proposal, but the State Department strongly opposed it. Roosevelt sided with State, vetoing the plan on the grounds that Nazi spies might disguise themselves as Jewish refugees and sneak into the mainland U.S. via the islands. In fact, no cases of Nazis posing as refugees to get into America were ever discovered.

But there were other ways that Jews could have been admitted despite the rigorous quotas. Henry Feingold, a professor emeritus of history at Baruch College and one of the leading experts on the 1930s refugee crisis, noted that the law permitted the non-quota immigration of an unrestricted number of “ministers, their wives, and unmarried children.” The term “ministers” included rabbis. “In other words, quite a few rabbis and their families could have been admitted in 1939 despite the quota being filled that year with regular immigration from Germany and other European countries,” Feingold said.

As it happens, Feingold—then a child—was among the lucky handful who qualified under the immigration quotas and were able to reach the United States. He left Germany with his family just days before Kristallnacht. Most of his extended family stayed behind in Europe, and nearly all of his aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents were killed in the Holocaust.

Stephen Norwood, a professor at the University of Oklahoma who has researched relations between American and German universities in the 1930s, points to two additional categories that could have been used to admit Jews outside the quota system. “A small number of college professors and students were admitted on a non-quota basis, provided an American college hired the professors and contributors, usually from the Jewish community, covered the students’ expenses,” he explained. “But many others could have immigrated to the U.S. within the law, if the administration hadn’t been looking for every possible way to keep immigrants out.”

In his recent book The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower, Norwood noted at least 50 instances in which American colleges offered scholarships to European Jewish refugee students, but the Roosevelt administration blocked their entry. U.S. officials claimed the students could not prove they had a safe address in Europe to which they could later return–and thus constituted a “risk” to become “financially dependent” on the federal government.

Another option for Jewish refugees was British Mandatory Palestine. Ironically, Winton’s letter to FDR was written just day after the British announced their new White Paper policy, shutting off the Holy Land to all but a trickle of Jewish immigration. Could FDR have dissuaded London from taking that step? “England desperately needed American support because it knew war with Germany was likely,” noted Monty Penkower, a professor emeritus of Jewish history at the Machon Lander Graduate Center of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and the author of the new book Palestine in Turmoil: The Struggle for Sovereignty, 1933-1939. “Had FDR put a little behind-the-scenes pressure on the British to keep Palestine more widely open to Jewish refugees, they might have listened.”

Which brings us back to Winton, whose parents had changed their name from Wertheim and converted to Christianity after arriving in London. A stockbroker by profession, he got into refugee work after the Kristallnacht pogrom, spurred on by friends who shared his outrage over events in Germany. Eventually, he managed to arrange for the transport of 669 Czech children, finding families to take them in. One final group of 250 children were scheduled to depart from Prague on Sept. 1, 1939—but they were trapped when the Germans invaded Poland that day, and all of them were eventually murdered in the Holocaust.

His letter to the president of the United States, written six months earlier, in May 1939, remains a tragic reminder of the desperation not just of Jews trying to flee Hitler, but of those working so hard to save them. And the Roosevelt Administration’s response remains a symbol of a government that looked for every reason to say “no” to Jewish refugees, even when the law itself offered numerous options to save lives by opening the doors just a little.

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Risking Everything to Defy the Nazis

The tale of Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp, who lied and deceived their way to saving more than 100 Czech Jews during the Holocaust.

ShowImage (2)They bullied and bluffed, bamboozled and bedeviled bureaucrats, politicians and soldiers.

They climbed mountains and traversed other treacherous terrain. They fed the hungry and clothed the nearly naked. They smuggled refugees out of countries in which they were in mortal danger, into other lands, some of whose borders were supposed to be closed and most that were unenthusiastic about accepting the fugitives. They regularly risked their lives.

Leaving their two young children with friends, Rev. Waitstill Sharp and his wife Martha did all that and more in their efforts in 1939 and 1940 to rescue Jews and others fleeing or hiding from the Nazis.

Their remarkable story is told by their grandson Artemis Joukowsky in Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War, which complements the documentary of the same name, co-directed by him and the wellknown American filmmaker Ken Burns.

Both works are based on a thorough study of the Sharps’ papers and interviews with those whose lives intersected with the couple.

It is difficult to quantify the Sharps’ efforts, their grandson writes. However, in the few months they were in Czechoslovakia and later for a short time in Vichy France, they apparently helped about 125 people flee to freedom from an almost- certain death at the hands of the Nazis. The two also provided money for transportation and clothes for other people to get to ports where their visas would allow them to escape.

In addition, the Sharps set up a feeding program in Prague that kept 264 people alive long enough to get out and provided milk for 800 starving French children for a month.

Even more amazing than the “what” is the “how.” Neither had much experience or training in deception, covering their trails or money laundering. But because the Nazis were stealing money sent by legal means, Waitstill Sharp set up bank accounts in neighboring countries by which he would receive money from donors and disburse funds to refugees from those bank accounts.

He also illegally exchanged dollars for Czech currency, because people allowed to leave were forbidden to take out any hard currency. Operating as an illegal money changer left Sharp with suitcases of local currency. With that money, he donated funds to the Salvation Army in Prague, which was feeding thousands of Social Democrats who were living on the streets or underground to avoid being captured by the Germans. He also gave large sums to the YMCA to expand its summer-camp program and for the reconstruction of a refugee orphans’ home.

Helping those that the Nazis wished to kill or capture was extremely dangerous.

A day or two before leaving Prague, an informant told Martha she was on a list of people the Nazis intended to imprison.

What motivated these two to undertake such a dangerous assignment – so risky that 17 other Unitarian ministers had turned down the offer of going to Europe before the Sharps finally accepted? On a ship back to America, German- Jewish writer and anti-fascist activist Lion Feuchtwanger, who had been rescued from his hiding place in southern France by Waitstill Sharp, asked his rescuer what motivated him to do what he was doing.

He received no money for saving people, the Unitarian minister assured the writer, and he was a sinner and no saint.

“But I believe the will of God is to be interpreted by the liberty of the human spirit,” Sharp continued. “So I do what I do without any piety at all but ad magna gloria libertatis humani spiriti [to the greater glory, freedom of the human spirit].

“As my friend Dick Ball said, ‘I don’t like to see guys pushed around.’” Upon her return to America, Martha Sharp, among other activities, helped in fund-raising with Youth Aliya, the Hadassah program that rescued European children and brought them to Palestine. In 1947, Hadassah sent her to pre-state Israel to see firsthand and learn about programs she had been supporting.

Later, she wrote of what she had seen during her six-week stay: “A great powerful stream of sacrifice and idealism is bringing about the birth of a nation. We are witnessing an epic like that of America. The pioneers are giving their lives and are challenging us to help in time.”

In 2006, Martha and Waitstill Sharp were named “Righteous Among the Nations.”

It was an honor duly earned.

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IDF Arrests, Releases Former Palestinian Governor and Fatah Leader

Israeli forces reportedly arrest former Tulkarem and Jenin governor, Talal Dweikat, early Wednesday.

ShowImageThe IDF released Talal Dweikat, a former PA governor of Tulkarm and Jenin, on Wednesday afternoon, after arresting him several hours earlier.

He also served as a general in the Palestinian Authority intelligence services.

Dweikat was arrested “for his involvement in weapons trade,” a spokesman for the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said in an email, without elaborating.

Hours later, however, the spokesman sent another email, saying that Dweikat “was released because his detainment was determined to be unnecessary following his interrogation.”

In addition to Dweikat, the IDF on Wednesday arrested two others in Nablus and raided the home of Dweikat’s brother Sarhan, who also has the rank of general, Wafa, the official PA news site reported.

Dweikat, who was elected to the Fatah Revolutionary Council in December, was a head of the PA intelligence services in Nablus in the early 2000s and was appointed as Tulkarm governor in 2006, where he oversaw the rehabilitation of the PA security forces in the aftermath of the second intifada.

In 2012, Dweikat was appointed governor of Jenin, serving until 2014 when he accepted a position as an adviser in the PA presidency.

Fatah spokesman Munir Jaghoub responded to Wednesday’s arrests, saying that they confirm Israel’s hostile mentality.

“The Israeli arrests and attacks against Fatah’s leadership and cadres are intensifying day after day all over the homeland, sending a clear message to the Palestinian people and its leadership that the current situation is incredibly difficult and complicated… and that the occupation’s mentality is only that of killing, destruction, arrest and denying Palestinian rights, requiring all of us to take a serious stand and confront its arrogance,” Jaghoub told Wafa.

The IDF says that it carries out arrests of suspects who pose a security threat.

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Taking another look at Pope Pius XII’s actions during the Holocaust

Pope Pius XII reigned between 1939 and 1958, a period of catastrophic events. But history seems mainly concerned about his behaviour around the Holocaust. Pius has been accused of being a German sympathizer or at best failing to do his moral duty to help save the Jews of Europe by keeping silent. For others he was a saint who used his skill as a diplomat to save thousands of Jews from Nazi terror. But this week in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, the world’s foremost Holocaust museum, softened its criticism of the wartime pope, allowing that despite faults he did help save Jewish lives.
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Poland And The Death Camps: Setting The Record Straight

By Abraham H. Foxman
Special To The Jewish Week
It should be simple to make the proper distinction: Poland has a long and not distinguished history of anti-Semitism, including before, during, and after World War II. But it was not responsible for the death camps and the Holocaust. This distinction is, however, too often glossed over and is the backdrop for the fierce Polish reaction to President Obama’s slip in referring to the “Polish death camps” in recognizing Jan Karski, a hero of the Polish resistance to the Nazis, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
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The “Polish Death Camps” Uproar: Unwarranted Outrage When a Simple Correction Would Have Sufficed

By Menachem Rosensaft, vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

Any objective observers reading the Polish prime minister’s and foreign minister’s overreactions to an innocent phraseological error — and that is all it was — by President Obama could only have been left scratching their heads in amazement. Prime Minister Donald Tusk charged that the President had perpetrated a “distortion of history” as a result of “ignorance, lack of knowledge, bad intentions.” Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said that the President was guilty of “ignorance and incompetence.”
The cause for this public display of indignation? A slip-up by President Obama when, in posthumously awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a heroic member of the Polish anti-German underground during World War II, he referred to “a Polish death camp” rather than to a German death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
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Max Liebmann interviewed on WPIX-TV, New York



Max Liebmann, Senior Vice President of The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their descendants, Interviewed on WPIX-TV New York

Jan Karski to receive posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom

WASHINGTON — Jan Karski, an officer of the Polish Underground during World War II, will posthumously receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The medal is the highest civilian honor in the United States. Karski was among the first to provide eyewitness accounts of Nazi Germany’s murder of the Jews. 
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