Monday, February 06, 2012

Deborah Dwork, Pope Pius XII and the "Voyage of the Damned."

While historical revisionists like Deborah Dwork of Clark University's Strassler Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies like to slander Pope Pius XII, whose heroic efforts saved somewhere between 850,000 and 1.5 million Jewish lives, they often have little if anything to say about others who were in a position to save Jewish lives but decided not to.  One example is President Roosevelt's response to the plight of the St. Louis, a German transatlantic liner which sailed from Hamburg, Germany on May 13, 1939 carrying 938 passengers, most of whom were Jews fleeing from the Third Reich.

As this article from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum relates,  "..sailing so close to Florida that they could see the lights of Miami, some passengers on the St. Louis cabled President Franklin D. Roosevelt asking for refuge. Roosevelt never responded. The State Department and the White House had decided not to take extraordinary measures to permit the refugees to enter the United States. A State Department telegram sent to a passenger stated that the passengers must "await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States...

Quotas established in the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924 strictly limited the number of immigrants who could be admitted to the United States each year. In 1939, the annual combined German-Austrian immigration quota was 27,370 and was quickly filled. In fact, there was a waiting list of at least several years. U.S. officials could only have granted visas to the St. Louis passengers by denying them to the thousands of German Jews placed further up on the waiting list. Public opinion in the United States, although ostensibly sympathetic to the plight of refugees and critical of Hitler's policies, continued to favor immigration restrictions. The Great Depression had left millions of people in the United States unemployed and fearful of competition for the scarce few jobs available. It also fueled antisemitism, xenophobia, nativism, and isolationism. A Fortune Magazine poll at the time indicated that 83 percent of Americans opposed relaxing restrictions on immigration. President Roosevelt could have issued an executive order to admit the St. Louis refugees, but this general hostility to immigrants, the gains of isolationist Republicans in the Congressional elections of 1938, and Roosevelt's consideration of running for an unprecedented third term as president were among the political considerations that militated against taking this extraordinary step in an unpopular cause.

Roosevelt was not alone in his reluctance to challenge the mood of the nation on the immigration issue. Three months before the St. Louis sailed, Congressional leaders in both U.S. houses allowed to die in committee a bill sponsored by Senator Robert Wagner (D-N.Y.) and Representative Edith Rogers (R-Mass.). This bill would have admitted 20,000 Jewish children from Germany above the existing quota. ...

Following the U.S. government's refusal to permit the passengers to disembark, the St. Louis sailed back to Europe on June 6, 1939. The passengers did not return to Germany, however. Jewish organizations (particularly the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) negotiated with four European governments to secure entry visas for the passengers: Great Britain took 288 passengers; the Netherlands admitted 181 passengers, Belgium took in 214 passengers; and 224 passengers found at least temporary refuge in France. Of the 288 passengers admitted by Great Britain, all survived World War II save one, who was killed during an air raid in 1940. Of the 620 passengers who returned to continent, 87 (14%) managed to emigrate before the German invasion of Western Europe in May 1940. 532 St. Louis passengers were trapped when Germany conquered Western Europe. Just over half, 278 survived the Holocaust. 254 died: 84 who had been in Belgium; 84 who had found refuge in Holland, and 86 who had been admitted to France."

But while President Roosevelt and Congressional leaders in both U.S. houses were refusing to allow Jewish refugees into the United States (think of the 20,000 Jewish children denied entry to the United States because a Bill was allowed to die), and while other countries such as Great Britain were doing the same, the Vatican was issuing tens of thousands of false documents to allow Jews to pass secretly as Christians so they could escape the Nazis. In addition, the financial aid Pope Pius XII helped provide the Jews was very real. Lichten, Lapide, and other Jewish chroniclers record those funds as being in the millions of dollars -dollars even more valuable then than they are now.

As this article makes clear, "The papacy rescued Jews by channeling money to those in need, issuing countless baptismal certificates for their protection, negotiating with Latin American countries to grant them visas, and keeping in touch with their relatives through the Vatican Information Office. News of Pius XII's acts of charity spread. Nuncios, apostolic delegates, bishops, pastors, and priests offered their assistance and comfort to prisoners, to internees, to families.."

So here we are.  Pope Pius XII saved, even by the most conservative accounts, 860,000 Jews.  Some argue that the figure is closer to 1.5 million.  And this at a time when President Roosevelt and Congressional leaders in the United States were refusing refuge to Jews from Europe thereby ensuring the death of many - including children.

But for professor Dwork, it is Pius XII who "failed Europe's Jews miserably, unconscionably."

The voyage of the St. Louis has been, in my opinion, inappropriately described as the "voyage of the damned."  Many of those poor people may have gone to their deaths.  But if anything about that tragic voyage was damnable, it was the refusal of the Roosevelt administration to do the right thing by allowing those refugees entry into the United States. 

While the U.S. turned its back on innocent men, women and children, Pope Pius XII did not.  The Catholic Church did not.  And anyone who refuses to acknowledge this is not a real student of history.  Such a person is not interested in historical facts.  Only in anti-Catholic propaganda.


Blake said...

Roosevelt was a great humanitarian. Which is why he signed an executive order relocating Japanese-Americans to internment camps:

Liberals ignore certain facts of history because they are inconvenient. Roosevelt was a liberal so he gets a free pass.

Elizabeth said...

I haven't seen anything from Dwork about FDR's refusal to allow Jwish refugees into the U.S. That is an interesting fact. Would she describe this refusal as a "failure" to help Europe's Jews? If not, why not?

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