After a thousand petitions failed to move FDR, Orthodox rabbis here in America attempted a dramatic show of force to persuade the President to do something – anything. More than 400 from the United States and Canada took to the road to persuade FDR to use whatever means to save what was left.
They planned to meet the President at the White House. The least he could do was open America’s doors. The silent quota permitted no flow, only a trickle.
This was 1943. Millions of European Jews had already been put to death for being Jewish. More were being murdered by the hour.
The rabbis approached the White House on October 6. The President could not be bothered. He left for vacation and there was no meeting.
“The President went golfing,” according to Judy Silver, granddaughter of Rabbi Eliezer Silver, the great Rav who was among the leaders of the delegation.
Succeed or fail, they tried, and they never stopped trying – and if 400 sounds impressive, yes, these leaders deserve history’s everlasting gratitude…among them Cincinnati’s Rabbi Silver, Hillel Kook from the famed rabbinical dynasty, and the writer Ben Hecht.
But that number is nothing compared to the American Jews who remained silent throughout the Holocaust.
“Stand not aside from your brother’s suffering,” seems like one Biblical command that went missing in much of America.
We have it that a man who was said to be a Zionist leader at the time, Reform Rabbi Stephen Wise, was at times helpful but was not around when it counted.
Allegedly, he urged FDR to turn away from the 400. We cannot understand that kind of thinking unless we understand the symptom of the times.
Jews, even in America, were warned not to make trouble.
Don’t Make Trouble were words to live by for that generation. So the Ochs family which ran The New York Times and others who were comfortable within the Reform movement made no trouble. The Times buried the Holocaust in its back pages. The excuse was that making trouble would spark an anti-Semitic backlash. Meanwhile Jews were being murdered.
Hillel Kook knew the situation in America. He had to step lightly. He changed his name to Peter Bergson to wage heroically and tirelessly to save what could be saved. He persuaded Ben Hecht to use his show biz flair in order to rouse attention that could lead to action.
Hecht delivered. He wrote a stirring pageant “We Will Never Die.” It was performed throughout the country and drew 40,000 at Madison Square Garden.
Later, he wrote: “The pageant accomplished nothing. Actually, all we have done is make a lot of Jews cry, which is not a unique accomplishment.”
Still, he could not be stopped. He kept writing and kept to the task of forming committees to join him in the fight.
(Later, this American who came late to his Jewishness and to his Zionism, would turn out to be a hero at the founding of the Jewish State.)
Rabbi Silver – he too delivered, with astonishing results, comparatively. He circumvented the silent quota by insisting that certain rabbinical seats had to be filled in the United States and thus several thousand imperiled European Jews were rushed to America on his signature.
Heroes, the few. The many were called but did not answer…which sounds too much like America today when Jews in Israel suffer daily from Arab terrorism.
American Jews prefer to vote for Liberal/Democratic candidates who are openly anti-Semitic. It’s back to that again – Don’t Make Trouble.
Again, we are on the wrong side of history. Will American Jews ever get it right?
New York-based bestselling American novelist Jack Engelhard writes regularly for Arutz Sheva. His books, including “The Bathsheba Deadline,” are available from Amazon and other retailers. Engelhard wrote the international bestseller “Indecent Proposal” and the award-winning Montreal memoir “Escape from Mount Moriah.” His latest is “News Anchor Sweetheart.” He is the recipient of the Ben Hecht Award for Literary Excellence. Website: www.jackengelhard.com