In response to Joe Rosenberg’s letter (“Why Left is wrong,” Nov. 18), Jews voted for Roosevelt in the midst of the Great Depression because he inspired hope when Jews, along with other Americans, had lost hope.
The book Refugees and Rescue: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald, 1935-1945 reveals that Roosevelt supported a behind-the-scenes effort to resettle victims of persecution in undeveloped countries in Africa and South America. The evidence indicated he felt (and most historians agree) that given the sentiment in America at the time — 90 percent isolationist and 60 percent anti-Semitic — the chance of getting Congress to raise quotas was unlikely. (McDonald was the first U.S. ambassador to Israel.)
Historian Richard Beitman of American University and one of the editors of the book points out that Roosevelt privately nudged the British to allow more Jews into Palestine. Severin Hochberg, another editor, maintains that it was because of Roosevelt that Bolivia rescued 20,000 Jews.
FDR’s detractors like to point out the refusal of Roosevelt to allow 900 Jewish refugees to enter the United States from the ocean liner St. Louis. To do so would have required an act of Congress or an executive order. Given the anti-immigration mood of the country it would have taken an act of exceptional political courage for Roosevelt to issue an executive order.
Where were the influential American Jews through the 1930s? Only one movie producer, Warner Brothers, made any movies dealing with the plight of Jews in Europe. American newspapers owned by Jews delegated articles dealing with what was happening to the back pages. Jews with political influence on both sides of the aisle were silent.
The attempt by Mr. Rosenberg to woo Jewish voters away from the Democratic Party by denigrating a great leader who had to steer our country through the Great Depression and World War II while singing the praises of a Republican president who resigned in disgrace and another who led America into two wars — which we are still fighting — and the worst recession in our history is unconscionable.