FDR’s State Department And The WWII Obstruction Of Jewish Refugees


Guest post by E2

[Introduction: I was pleased to see this addition today’s Open Forum by E2. I have seen “American Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference,” and intended to eventually do a post about this terrible episode in U.S. history. I was especially thrilled to see the references to Breckenridge Long (above). I have long considered building a page here of American ethics villains through the years, and Long deserves to be on it.]


I spent 90 excruciating minutes a couple of weeks ago watching “American Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference”– a PBS documentary which unlike other PBS productions actually tries to relate an unvarnished truth. It is a devastating piece, and oddly, seems to disappear and then reappear on Amazon.

I knew a fair amount about all this from my history reading, but this was much more. It has real photographic documentation (e.g., a photo of a document about Jewish immigration to the US, with a handwritten note: “Ignore… [signed] FDR”); and a detailed photograph of the State Department’s Breckenridge Long’s advisory to US consulates worldwide about ways in which they could delay Jews’ emigration to the US between 1940 and 1944 – not coincidentally when 6 million died at the hands of the Nazis.

Slavery, our original sin, is not the topic here. And yes, we denigrated and mistreated the Irish, Italian and Chinese immigrants, but at least they were allowed to come here and had a chance to live. Not so for the Jews in Germany and Eastern Europe when the Final Solution arrived. The horrible truth is that it was not a primary cultural or bias problem among the general population that condemned so many innocent Jews including children to death, but a persistent and sinister State Department policy.

Roosevelt was accountable, even if he may not have been guilty of hostility to Jewish immigrants himself. Breckenridge Long is the true villain that emerges from the documentary, but it was FDR who allowed him to have the power he did.

Long had supported FDR’s 1933 presidential run; they knew each other from the Wilson administration. When World War II began, Roosevelt asked Long to return to the State Department as an Assistant Secretary of State. serving in that position until his resignation in November 1944. Among Long’s duties was overseeing the Visa Division, which handled the issuing of American immigration and transit visas at consulates overseas.

In 1940, ten days after France’s surrender to the Nazis, Long wrote a memo to other State Department officials suggesting ways to stop all immigration in the interests of national security. He suggested that consular officers “put every obstacle in the way and require additional evidence and to resort to various administrative advices which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of visas.”

Long worried that some of the refugees were communists or Nazis, were not legitimately in danger or would be security threats, and convinced President Roosevelt to limit the number of names FDR’s advisory committee on refugees could submit for visas. He continued to encouraged consular officials to use their power to deny visas, even for those recommended by the Advisory Committee on Political Refugees.

In July 1941, spurred by Long, the State Department announced that all visa applications needed to be reviewed in Washington, DC by an interdepartmental visa review committee made up of the State and Justice Departments, military intelligence, and FBI personnel. The idea was to add more red tape to the already long and difficult immigration process. Again, FDR stood by and allowed this to happen even as reports of Nazi persecution of the Jews became impossible to deny. Long, meanwhile, tried to stop intelligence about the mass murder from reaching the United States, fearing that it might cause public pressure on the State Department.

In November 1943, the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs held hearings on a bipartisan resolution that called on FDR to create and implement plans to rescue European Jews. Breckenridge Long testified that the State Department had accepted 580,000 refugees since 1933, and was still  working diligently to assist refugees. It was a lie. The actual number was far less than half of Long’s claim. In January 1944, the US Treasury Department discovered Long’s efforts to suppress information about the Holocaust, and Treasury Secretary Morgenthau finally confronted President Roosevelt, demanding that Long be removed and that State Department policies regarding Jewish refugees be changed. Some were saved by Morganthau’s intervention, but the State Department’s hostility had persisted to the point of complicity with murder. See https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/holocaust-timeline/

Find the film and watch it if you are so inclined. It will change your view of the US and the world.

And it will prove forever that that dear poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty is simply delusionary cant. We picked and chose our “huddled masses” and did so with prejudice. Not necessarily an unusual thing, because many nations do it, but it does put to bed our totally false mythology about the glory of our ‘nation of immigrants.’

4 thoughts on “FDR’s State Department And The WWII Obstruction Of Jewish Refugees

  1. I have read quite a bit of The Jews Should Remain Quiet. Even before 1940, the State Department was hostile to the idea of Jews Immigrating to the U.S.

    Back then, there were immigration quotas for each country. It was known that the Nazis were persecuting German Jews, especially after the events of Kristallnacht. However, because of State Department restrictions, slow walking applications, and the like the quotas for Germany were almost never even close to being fulfilled.

    Sadly, we were not immune to anti-semitism back then (and it seems to be rising here once again), and I’ve always understood that the State Department was a hotbed of that sentiment. We could have saved tens of thousands of Jews before the war, but FDR the leaders at State, our ambassadors would not act to do so. Rabbi Wise didn’t want to raise a public furor over these matters because he was a)An ardent supporter of FDR on most other matters and b)Was afraid it would provoke pogroms in the U.S.

    It was not one of our finest moments, to say the least — and at the same time we also have to acknowledge that the Jews who lived here and who were able to come here were allowed to live in America. They weren’t subject to the persecutions that historically went on in Europe, and they were able to avail themselves of the American opportunity.

    We have to accept that we had a chance to salvage some good out of the savagery engulfing Europe back then and we largely didn’t grasp it.

    It is a lesson worth remembering when we read of anti-semitic attacks happening now in the U.S. and United Kingdom.

  2. E2’s guest post and Diego’s comments are some of the most informative I have seen.

    For the absolute life of me I cannot understand anti-Semitism. I recognize that there is rivalry among religions of the world – I don’t see a need for any rivalry but I know it exists – but what the hell have Jewish people been perceived to have done to warrant such visceral hatred by so many?

    I understand the economic history which led to their role in banking and finance but that cannot be why. Nor can it be that Jewish rabbis pushed for the crucifixion of Jesus because so many other faiths are equally anti-Semitic. Seems to me the only thing we can blame them for are those pesky ten commandments.

    • Recall that in 1290 King Edward I expelled all Jews from England… Because they loaned him money for the Crusades and he/the kingdom couldn’t pay it back. Easy solution even then: get rid of them! I do not know if this is the beginning of Western anti-Semitism, but it’s a good enough historical fact to warrant some attention.

  3. Sharing CM’s questions about the reason anti-Semitism exists in the west. Just as confusing is other people, apparently not anti-Semites, rush in to minimize or memory hole the originating/perpetuating anti-Semitism. What goes on in the minds of Jewish Democrats when members of their own party espouse (racist) anti-Semitism when no one comes to their defense; when no one is willing to denounce it?
    I don’t even know what stereotypical behavior allegedly exhibited by Jews is being cited for the Cause of anti-Semitism. Is it just a different form of class warfare?

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