downtownexpress.com
Volume 19 Issue 50 | April 27 - May 3, 2007

Letters to the editor

W.T.C. bait & switch

To The Editor:
The possible approval of a behemoth Chase Bank tower on the site of the Deutsche Bank building is another sad example of bait and switch in the Downtown redevelopment process (news article, April 13 – 19, “Board takes on L.M.D.C. revival, J.P. tower idea”).

The public embraced a World Trade Center master plan that promised a cultural center, but the center has now shrunk to a home for a single dance company. The public accepted the plan to acquire the Deutsche Bank site because it promised to replace a too-bulky eyesore (one that exceeded zoning guidelines) with a slender tower, to reopen Cedar St. and to create a tranquil park south of the 9/11 memorial. Instead, we may now get an even more massive tower that reduces the street and park to a tunnel, and that darkens the memorial.

If a private corporation had broken promises so egregiously when Eliot Spitzer was attorney general, he would have sued it. If the Port Authority approves this proposal, it will be a clear betrayal of the public trust, and Gov. Spitzer should step in to prevent it.

Mark Scherzer
Holocaust & U.S. Jews

To The Editor:
Perhaps because Jerry Tallmer was in the Air Force from 1941-1944, he missed the overwhelming evidence of American Jewry’s massive efforts to rescue Europe’s Jews from the Nazis during those years. Instead Mr. Tallmer endorses Bernard Weinraub’s false claim in his play, “The Accomplices,” that American Jews were accessories to the Holocaust (arts article by Jerry Tallmer, April 13 – 19, “The unspeakable silence of ‘The Accomplices’”).

The fact is that hundreds of thousands of American Jews and their leaders were actively engaged in trying to rescue and sustain European Jewry from the outbreak of the war until its end. American Jews of all stripes donated more than $60 million (equal to more than $700 million today) during the war for the express purpose of rescue. By far, the largest and most active rescue organization was the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

The Joint’s efforts, which were funded by donations to the United Jewish Appeal, were well known at the time. By the time Peter Bergson, the protagonist of Mr. Weinraub’s play, began lobbying for rescue the following year, the Joint had already helped more than 140,000 Jews escape and had provided food and medicine annually to 1 million others still trapped in Europe.

Bergson’s single greatest accomplishment was helping to put pressure on the Roosevelt administration to create the War Refugee Board in January 1944. Up to that point, as the play states, he had not saved a single life. (Some historians deny that Bergson had any influence in the board’s creation but I will leave that to others to argue.) The board is credited with saving 200,000 Jews – and it did so by turning to the existing Jewish rescue organizations for funding, ideas and manpower.

Eighty-five percent of the W.R.B.’s budget came from the Joint, a.k.a. American Jews.  In a speech in early 1944, just after the W.R.B. was created, John W. Pehle, its executive director, and one of the minor heroes of “The Accomplices” said,  “The agencies in the United Jewish Appeal …have developed a well-tested machinery for rescuing and maintaining refugees. It is for us to supplement and reinforce their activities….”

Weinraub and Tallmer both ignore this.

The differences between Bergson and American Jewish leaders were over tactics and politics. Just because mainstream Jewish organizations did not cooperate with Bergson, who represented a political rival in the Zionist movement, does not mean that they weren’t doing anything to rescue Jews.  And it is far from clear that attacking Roosevelt early on would have saved more Jewish lives, though it is an extremely easy argument to make in hindsight.

Who would we hold responsible today if loud attacks on the Roosevelt administration by Jewish organizations had ended the minimal cooperation of the State Department?

Hundreds of thousands of Jews were saved because of the Joint and the other American Jewish organizations. The good works of those righteous Jews deserve to be honored, not besmirched. 

Laurence Zuckerman
The writer, a former New York Times reporter, is working on a book about the Joint.


To The Editor:
It has been 65 years since the U.S. government refused to take meaningful action to rescue Jews during the Holocaust, and became “The Accomplices” – the title of Bernard Weinraub’s new play, reviewed in the April 13th issue of Downtown Express – of mass murderers. Now, at last, this drama will hopefully generate an understanding of the governmental inaction and the public’s silence on genocide.

I am, however, compelled to point out it is a serious mistake (either in Weinraub’s play or the reviewer’s opinion) to lump U.S. wartime Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau among the Jews inside the U.S. government who either were inactive in efforts to rescue European Jewry during the Holocaust or were indifferent to the genocide.

Morgenthau took effective action and was directly responsible for the creation of the War Refugee Board in 1944. This agency, which rescued thousands of Jews, demonstrated what could have been accomplished had it been created one-and-a-half years before, when the U.S. first learned of the Final Solution from the late Dr. Gerhard Riegner, the representative of the World Jewish Congress in Geneva.

I interviewed Riegner in the mid-‘80s for a three-part series I wrote for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Riegner related that he had sought in 1942-43 to get permission from the American government to release blocked funds to be used in the rescue of 70,000 Romanian Jews. He turned to Morgenthau.

Morgenthau assigned two lawyers on his staff (both non-Jews) to investigate, and they discovered that Riegner’s plan was sabotaged by the anti-Semitic State Department. Morgenthau presented their paper on “The Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews,” to F.D.R. (with a slightly less confrontational title).

Meanwhile, the activist group around Peter Bergson, accurately described by Weinraub as the only organization which publicized information about the genocide and advocated action, was breaking the silence of the public (and the mainstream media, except for the Hearst press) on the Holocaust.

The Bergson group succeeded in getting a resolution introduced in Congress in November, 1943, to establish a rescue agency, but President Roosevelt feared a public scandal would erupt if Morgenthau’s memo was made known to the public during the hearing in 1944, according to David Wyman’s definitive book, “The Abandonment of the Jews.”

Two days before the debate was to begin in the Senate, F.D.R. signed an executive order establishing the War Refugee Board with $1 million, and the board required American Jewish organizations to contribute $16 million. American Jews, who adored F.D.R., had no leverage with him because he had their votes safely in his pocket.

There were several motivations for the U.S.’s criminal negligence in addition to endemic anti-Semitism. I have speculated that one was that this policy was also rooted in F.D.R.’s and other Allied leaders’ acute awareness of the inordinate numbers of German personnel and equipment pinned down in perpetrating the mass murders. The German military effort was impeded by this diversion of resources.

Apathy to mass murder has not vanished. Our government has been unwilling to take action to end the mass murders against the Rwandan Tutsis, the Kurds, the Bosnians (until very late) and, most recently, the Sudanese in Darfur. We have learned nothing from the Holocaust. Our leaders’ hearts are made of stone.

Aviva Cantor
The writer is the author of “Jewish Women, Jewish Men: The Legacy of Patriarchy in Jewish Life,” which includes an analysis of the Holocaust.


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