Two of the remarks were made by FDR to senior Soviet officials. One was on May 29,1942, during a visit to the White House by Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov. Professors Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman, in their new book 'FDR and the Jews', report that President Roosevelt and his senior adviser Harry Hopkins "loosened up" Molotov "with liquor and with an exchange of anti-Semitic comments."They were just "using anti-Semitism as an icebreaker." (p.301)
Here's what they said. According to the minutes of the conversations, Hopkins at one point remarked that the American public’s view of Soviet Communists had been damaged by the presence in the Communist Party USA of “largely disgruntled, frustrated, in effectual, and vociferous people--including a comparatively high proportion of distinctly unsympathetic Jews.” The translator at the meeting, Harvard University professor Samuel H. Cross, then wrote: “On this the President commented that he was far from anti-Semitic, as everyone knew, but there was a good deal in this point of view.”
Molotov, Roosevelt, and Hopkins then apparently agreed that “there were Communists and Communists,” which they compared to what they called “the distinction between ‘Jews’ and ‘Kikes’,” all of which was “something that created inevitable difficulties.”
They begin by describing a discussion about various topics that was held when Molotov first arrived at the White House that afternoon. Then there was another detailed conversation that took place before dinner. Yet another discussion was held during dinner. The final talk was after dinner, in the president’s study. It was only in that very last segment --and just before the conclusion of that segment-- that the exchange about Jews took place.
As troubling as the Molotov cocktails incident was, it was not an isolated incident.
Professors Breitman and Lichtman, in 'FDR and the Jews', say that this "quip," as they call it, was likewise used by FDR as "an ice-breaker." (p.301)
Given the high stakes at Yalta, perhaps there are those who would say that telling an anti-Semitic joke or two was justified if it would soften up Stalin and advance the cause of world peace. That certainly is the implication of the "ice-breaker" explanation.
The record of President Roosevelt's unpleasant private remarks about Jews is, sadly, not limited to what he said over cocktails with Molotov and at Yalta to Stalin. That record includes statements in which FDR blamed Polish Jews for anti-Semitism in Poland; spoke of the "understandable complaints" of the Germans about the prominence of Jews in some professions; boasted to a colleague that "We know we have no Jewish blood in our veins"; helped bring about a quota on Jewish students admitted to Harvard; and recommended that Jews be "spread out thin" around the world so they would not dominate any particular economy or culture.
(Dr. Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C., and author of 15 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. The latest is FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith.)