It is very difficult for people to have an objective perspective if they are still subjectively caught up in life. The Jewish history of America, or America in Jewish history, or the history of the Jews in America is still happening at the present time. Just as most of the people who came to America from foreign lands, Jews have benefited from a marvelous new homeland in North America. Rabbis have referred to America as a Malchus Shel Chesed - "an empire of kindness" that cares deeply not just for all of its citizens but for all the people of the world.
Certainly in modern history and world affairs America's role has been crucial and it is the final key to the outcome of all types of global challenges and major wars. God has created this great nation for a purpose as it has a fundamentally central role to play in the affairs of humankind. Call it Divine Providence overseeing America and a kind of international "Manifest Destiny" for its mission in the world! During both the First and the Second World Wars, the United States became the Arsenal of Democracy that would be needed to tip the balance of power in favor of the Allies and to destroy and defeat first the Central Powers of World War One and then the Axis of World War Two.
However, for internal political reasons, the United States of America wanted nothing to do with conflicts across the pond of the Atlantic Ocean that separated it from Europe. This had been its attitude even before the First World War (1914–1918) but just as things turned out then, Destiny and Providence, meaning God, had other plans for America, and it was nevertheless dragged into that war, joining the World War One Allies, mainly Britain, France and Russia, and tipping the scales against the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary.
After that war, Isolationism would take hold again in America as it refused to join the Allies of the Second World War, at that time Britain, France and Russia against Nazi Germany and its Axis partners in evil, until the days following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7th, 1941 and even then it was Nazi Germany that declared war on America and not the other way round!
In the decades before the Second World War (1939–1945) Isolationism reigned supreme among the American people and leadership. America was not interested in the fate of Europe, let alone of European Jewry even as Europe inexorably fell into the cruel hands of the Nazi Germany and its cohorts. In addition, by 1924 America had stopped its traditional national hospitality by imposing strict quotas and blocking mass immigration with passage of the Immigration Act of 1924. Just as the Nazis were taking power in Germany in 1933, President Hoover of the USA in 1932, due to the Great Depression, shut down all immigration to the United States.
There was little or no sympathy for the plight of Jewish refugees from Russian oppression under the Communists and for Jews who fell under the domination of Nazi Germany as they took control of Germany and subjugated surrounding countries such as Austria, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Holland and France, and those countries supportive of Nazi Germany such as Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania all with huge Jewish populations.
Antisemitism in the United States has existed for centuries. Nevertheless millions of Jews mainly from Europe had found a safe haven and new home in the United States in the years preceding 1924 when immigration was cut off and strict quotas were installed in spite of the long history of antisemitism in the United States. American antisemitism coupled with Isolationism together with an admiration for Hitler and Nazi Germany by some sectors, as many Americans were ethnically German, fueled and constricted the foreign policies of President Franklin Roosevelt prior to the outbreak of the Second World War and up until December 7, 1941 when America was attacked by Japan followed a few days later by the German declaration of war against the United States on December 11, 1941!
This situation was one America had tried to avoid like the plague, but instead had its arm twisted by events out of its control, meaning by God, to join the fight against not just the Japanese but also against Nazi Germany as well as against Fascist Italy.
Joseph Kennedy, the father of later President John Kennedy, was a powerful American and a foremost proponent of both Isolationism as well as pushing a pro-Nazi Germany stance with the assumption that the Nazis were an ascendant world power and that the United States needed to be on that side rather than support weaker anti-Nazi countries. Joseph Kennedy was a leading advisor of President Franklin Roosevelt and had run some of his election campaigns. For that he was rewarded with ambassadorship to the United Kingdom where he was in collusion with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain encouraging the British policy of Appeasement of Nazi Germany.
He resigned his post as American ambassador and returned to the United States once the United Kingdom declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939, but once back home, he went around on public relations campaigns to keep America out of the war! Wikipedia describes Joe Kennedy as supporting Appeasement, being anti-British, an Isolationist, an anti-Semite, a defeatist, and out of step with Roosevelt! This is all well-documented. Yet, that was the outlook of many Americans and no wonder there was little President Roosevelt could do to bring America in on the side of the Allies already fighting Hitler and Nazi Germany.
The American pre-Holocaust policy of not allowing any Jews to enter the United States was applied ruthlessly as can be seen from the notorious case of the Mail Ship Saint Louis, as described in Wikipedia: "Under the command of Captain Gustav Schröder, St. Louis set sail from Hamburg to Havana, Cuba on May 13, 1939, carrying 937 passengers, most of them Jewish refugees seeking asylum from Nazi persecution in Germany...Bound for Cuba, the ship dropped anchor...but was denied entry to the usual docking areas. The Cuban government, headed by President Federico Laredo Brú, refused to accept the foreign refugees, although they held legal tourist visas to Cuba...After the ship had been in the harbour for five days, only 28 passengers were allowed to disembark in Cuba....
After most passengers were refused landing in Cuba, Captain Schröder directed St. Louis and the remaining 907 refugees towards the United States. He circled off the coast of Florida, hoping for permission from authorities to enter the United States. Neither [Secretary of State] Hull nor U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt chose to intervene to admit the refugees. Captain Schröder considered running St. Louis aground along the coast to allow the refugees to escape but, acting on Hull's instructions, United States Coast Guard vessels shadowed the ship and prevented this...
.After St. Louis was turned away from the United States, a group of academics and clergy in Canada tried to persuade [Canadian] Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to provide sanctuary to the passengers....The director of Canada's Immigration Branch, Frederick Blair, was hostile to Jewish immigration and persuaded the head of government on June 9 not to intervene....The ship returned to Europe, docking at the Port of Antwerp (Belgium) on June 17, 1939, with the 908 passengers." Most of the passengers went on to other European countries that were soon occupied by Nazi Germany.
It was therefore nothing less than a great unexpected miracle that would finally eventually save the world from the genocidal tyranny of the Nazis, that
It should be noted that in spite of the cold shoulder many American Jews received before the war, once the war broke out they were welcomed to the United States Armed Forces when they enlisted in huge numbers. Out of a total Jewish population in the United States during the war of about five million Jews, more than half a million Jewish Americans served in its armed forces. Statistics provided by the Jewish Virtual Library show that 22 Jews attained senior rank such as generals and admirals and more than 38,000 Jewish servicemen died and more than 40,000 were wounded. This proves the point and gives the lie to the canard that Jews went "like sheep to the slaughter" during the Second World War, because for Jews living in countries that accepted them and allowed them to join the armed forces of the Allies they enrolled and fought bravely, wheas under Nazi occupation this was nearly impossible.
The USA struck one of the first major strategically important blows against the Nazis and their Vichy French collaborators during Operation Torch from November 8-16, 1942 in North Africa when American forces attacked and defeated the Nazi allied Vichy French armies in Morocco and Algeria. Eventually this would lead up to the Americans and British liberating Italy starting with operations in July 1943, and then liberating France with the Allies' D-Day Normandy landings starting on June 6, 1944 that sealed the fate of Nazi Germany and put the final nails into the coffin of Hitler's doomed Third Reich.
Even after America officially joined the Allies and went on to fight Nazi Germany, American apathy towards the fate of Europe's Jews was a huge problem. There is a famous book by Arthur Morse, While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy wherein "Morse indicts the Roosevelt administration, and particularly the US State Department and certain officials in it responsible for refugee and Jewish affairs, for failing to act when there was a possibility of rescuing substantial numbers of Jews from annihilation by the Nazis during the Holocaust....Morse details the events leading to the submission of a report to President Roosevelt by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr originally titled 'Acquiescence of this Government in the Murder of the Jews' which criticized the State Department for having delayed for five months a proposal to negotiate with the Nazis for the release of thousands of Jews in France and Romania. The report finally motivated Roosevelt to approve the creation of a War Refugee Board to aid civilian victims of the Nazi and Axis powers....
Morse further criticized President Roosevelt for abdicating moral leadership on the issue until Morgenthau's report forced his hand in 1944. Morse also criticizes the British for supporting the rescue of European Jews while keeping Mandatory Palestine closed to refugees, and Pope Pius XII for his public silence in the face of the information about the genocide taking place that was made known to him too." (Wikipedia).
There is a famous rabbinical expression that "The hearts of kings and princes are in the hand of God" seemingly based on the verse in Proverbs (21:1): "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the water flows He (God) turns it wherever He wants." This is a key principle in classical Jewish Thought that ultimately God is in control of the affairs of humankind. People and leaders may set out in one direction convinced that they are right and on the correct path, but then suddenly or sometimes gradually may find themselves on the opposite path doing diametrically opposite things then they had set out to do. So it goes for all the protagonistic nations and their leaders of virtually all the countries caught up in the snares of the Second World War or in great and small events anywhere at any time.
As has been noted in part one of this series, Britain and France and their leaders wanted to appease Nazi Germany and avoid armed conflict at all costs, but it was not to be, because Destiny, meaning God Who guides destiny had other plans and they ended up as both victims, belligerents, and ultimately victors.
In part two of this series it is noted that Soviet Russia initially allied itself with Nazi Germany but soon found itself under attack from their erstwhile "ally" and turned around to become the very nemesis of Nazi Germany fighting it to the death. France saw itself as a power to be reckoned with that could resist Nazi Germany but soon found itself as a vassal state of the Nazis. America wanted to stay aloof and ride out the world's troubles by isolating itself, but God had other plans and it was dragged into the conflagration by both Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.
As the Yiddish expression goes: "A mentsch tracht, obber Gott lacht" basically translated as: "People make plans but God laughs at them" a very apt description of how the Allies of the Second World War came to be one by one until they coalesced as God wanted them to, to be a united force that would destroy Nazi German and its allies once and for all.
America was dragged in the Second World War reluctantly and because of its huge industrial might and, yes, due to its isolation from the battlefields in Europe and the Far East, it became the leading crowning member of the wartime Allies that would eventually inflict heavy losses on the Axis powers and decisively defeat them. With the Nazis and their cohorts defeated in Europe with the arrival of Victory in Europe Day on May 8, 1945 it would take the United a three more months to attain Victory over Japan Day on August 15 and September 2, 1945, forcing Imperial Japan to finally surrender after America dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. This finally ended the Second World War once and for all.
A concluding thought about how God guides the destiny of the Jewish People according to the Torah (Hebrew Bible) particularly when they are not living as one nation in their own Land of Israel. Jews have lived in what is known in Hebrew as the Galut, the Exile, for the majority of their history since their inception as a people dating back to the days when their foundation as a people was laid by the Hebrew Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and then later following their exile in Egypt that culminated in the Exodus as a complete
The People of Israel that then settled in the Land of Canaan that was expanded into the Land of Israel and later also called Judea. During the time of the Judges and the Kings of Israel and when the two Jewish Temples stood, the People of Israel lived in their own land for about one thousand years. Starting from about 2,500 years ago when the Babylonians sent the Jewish People into exile, and then following the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple, the Jewish People have mostly lived in Exile during the last 2,000 years until the great return that culminated with the founding of modern Israel in 1948. Since then, Israel has continuously gathered in the remaining Jewish exiles.
During the time of the exile, the de facto policy and reality of Jewish life was that the Jewish people was split up, roughly into two main Jewish centers, such as between Judea and Babylonia, between Babylon and Rome, between the Middle East and Europe, between Europe and America and finally between modern Israel and the rest of the world.
The so-called "Galut Policy '' of our ancestors, meaning the leading Jewish sages of Torah, always revolved around the fact and even the necessity of this dual-existence reality. It is derived from and based on the example of our forefather Jacob who upon his return to Canaan from exile in the house of Laban prior to his encounter with his brother and arch-rival Esau, divided his household into two camps as it says in Genesis 32:7-9 : "And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying: 'We came to your brother Esau, and he comes to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.' Then Jacob was very afraid and was distressed, and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and the herds and the camels, into two camps. And he said: 'If Esau comes upon the one camp, and smite it, then the camp which is left shall escape.'"
That being said, we can see how when "Esau," the proverbial progenitor of the Nazis, came upon "the one camp" of European Jewry murdering over six million Jews, "the camp which is left shall shall escape" in our case the approximately almost six million surviving Jews in the United States were to become the center of Jewish life. This took place immediately after the Holocaust. As the number of Jews in Israel grew each decade after 1948, the Jews of Israel became the center of world Jewry.
As heard from Rav Yitzchok Hutner who said that when the Torah world in Europe was destroyed by the Holocaust, it was America that became the center of the Torah world,after the Second World War. After that, the center of Torah life moved to Israel as its Jewish population grew.
Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers College–Columbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach – Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 1988–1995, a Trustee of AJOP 1994–1997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 1995–2015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York. He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy. Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at[email protected]