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Was There Communal Failure? Some Thoughts on the American Jewish Response to the Holocaust

  • Henry L. Feingold
Part of the The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute Series on Diplomatic and Economic History book series (WOOROO)

Abstract

The American Jewish response to the Holocaust has become a central question in the group’s historiography and has produced a plethora of books and articles that question not only the effectiveness of that response but the character of the leaders who organized it.1 Before I began research for A Time for Searching (Johns Hopkins Press: 1992), I suspected that there was much more to the story than merely noting that the second and third generations had become uncaring Jews.2 American Jewry’s prior record of reaction to overseas crises was, after all, a good one. Calls for help from abroad had elicited a generous Jewish response during the Damascus Blood Libel case (1840), the Mortara kidnapping (1858), the Dreyfus Affair (1894), the Beilis Blood Libel case (1903–1907), and the Kishinev pogrom (1903). Including the familiar mass-protest ritual and the quest for government diplomatic intercession, the community response to these crises was neither notably different from what Jews were doing in the 1930s and 1940s nor more effective. Were the researchers who found American Jewry indifferent to the fate of their European brethren imagining a Jewry that they wanted to exist rather than contending with the one that did? I suspected that the best clues to explain the behavior of American Jewry during the Holocaust were hidden in its experiences during the interwar years. Specifically, the roots of the Jewish response could be found in the individual and group identity changes of the post-immigrant generations, which made them at once freer of communal constraints and less able to identify with a worldwide Jewish interest.

Keywords

Jewish Community Zionist Movement Jewish Life Communal Failure Jewish Immigrant 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    The latest example is Rafael Medoff, The Deafening Silence: American Jewish Leaders and the Holocaust (New York: Shapolsky, 1987). There are others as well. Haskell Lookstein, Were We Our Brothers’ Keepers? The Public Response of American Jews to the Holocaust, 1933–1945 (New York: Hartmore House, 1986); Seymour M. Finger, ed., America Jewry during the Holocaust (New York: Homes and Meier, 1984); Saul S. Friedman, No Haven for the Oppressed: United States Policy toward Jewish Refugees, 1933–1945 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1973).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See, for example, Henry L. Feingold, “‘Courage First and Intelligence Second’: The American Jewish Secular Elite, Roosevelt, and the Failure to Rescue,” American Jewish History 72 (June 1983), 459; and Feingold, “Rescue and the Secular Perception: American Jewry and the Holocaust,” in Organizing Rescue: Jewish National Solidarity in the Modern Period, ed. Selwyn I. Troen and Benjamin Pinkus (London: Frank Cass, 1992,) 154–166.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Emanuel Celler, You Never Leave Brooklyn: The Autobiography of Emanuel Celler (New York: Day, 1953), 81; U.S. House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, Restriction of Immigration, H.R. 5, 105, 561, Congressional Record 68th Cong., 1st sess., 3 January 1924, 388–389.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Nathan Reich, “The Role of the Jews in the American Economy,” Yivo Annual of Jewish Social Science 5 (1950), 198–202; Jacob Letchinsky, “The Position of Jews in the Economic Life of America,” in Jews in a Gentile World, ed. I. Graeber and S. H. Britt (New York: Macmillan, 1942), 406–415.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Issac Metzker, A Bintel Brief 60 Years of Letters from the Lower East Side to the “Jewish Daily Forward” (New York: Doubleday, 1971), 160–161.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Jewish Telegraphic Agency Community News Report 32 (2) (10 January 1992), 2.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Henry L. Feingold, The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938–1945 (New York: Holocaust Press, 1980), 41–42; Deborah Lipstadt, Beyond Belief The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933–1945, (New York: Free Press, 1986), 98–104.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    Konrad Bercovici, “The Greatest Jewish City in the World,” Nation 117 (12 September 1923), 261.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    Charles Reznikoff, Louis Marshall, Champion of Liberty: Selected Papers and Addresses, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1957), 786–789.Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    Moshe R. Gotdieb, American Anti-Nazi Resistance, 1933–1945 (New York: Ktav, 1982), 45–75. A highly partisan examination of the transfer agreements is presented by Edwin Black, The Transfer Agreement: The Untold Story of the Secret Pact between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine (New York: Macmillan, 1984).Google Scholar
  11. 16.
    David Shapiro, “From Philanthropy to Activism: The Political Transformation of American Zionism in the Holocaust Years” (Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, n.d.), 147; Dann Kurtzman, Ben-Gurion: Prophet of Fire (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), 235–237.Google Scholar
  12. 17.
    Arthur A. Goren, Dissenter in Zion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), 46–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henry L. Feingold

There are no affiliations available

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