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Emet m'Tsiyon

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Liberal Franklin Roosevelt Urged Keeping Vichy Anti-Jewish Laws in Place

Many, probably most, American Jews were great admirers of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was considered a great Liberal. He was said to have brought America out of the Great Depression that began in 1929. He showed his Liberalism by formally recognizing the Communist Soviet Union and establishing diplomatic relations with it. He quietly helped labor unions to organize previously unorganized industries. His time was the heyday of the CIO. What most Jews were unaware of at the time or did not understand was how Roosevelt and his Administration, including some Republicans prominent in the Administration's foreign policy & foreign relations establishment (notably the Dulleses, John Foster, Allen, and their sister Eleanor), were allowing Nazi mass murder of Jews to proceed unhindered during the war that the US and Britain were fighting against Nazi Germany. Yet helping the Jews by interfering with railroad transports of Jews to the death camps, bombing the crematoria and gas chambers, supplying weapons to partisans in the forests and the ghettoes could have severely interfered with the German war effort. As we know, these actions were not taken nor was any substantial number of Jewish refugees allowed into the United States or its dependencies nor was significant pressure put on Britain to obey its commitment to foster Jewish immigration into the internationally designated Jewish National Home, Israel, instead of excluding Jews from the National Home.

Raphael Medoff has recently come up with the shocking story of how Roosevelt actually encouraged French authorities in North Africa to maintain Vichy Nazi-inspired anti-Jewish laws in effect in that region after its liberation from Vichy control in late 1942-early 1943. This info is new even to me. Its relevance for today is what Jews and Israel can expect from so-called Liberal American politicians. Obama has often been described by his own supporters and admirers as a Liberal in the grand tradition of FDR. This new revelation by Medoff shows us what the grand tradition of FDR actually meant for the freedom and the very lives of Jews.

The following is the introduction to Medoff's article by Bataween of the Point of No Return blog, followed by Medoff's own article:

At Purim in 1943, Jews in North Africa were celebrating their liberation by US troops from Vichy and Nazi occupation with their very own Megillat Hitler. But Dr Raphael Medoff, in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, reveals how the US authorities dragged their feet when it came to repealing the Vichy regime's anti-Jewish measures :

Among the more remarkable documents of the Holocaust is a scroll, created in North Africa in 1943, called “Megillat Hitler.” Written in the style of Megillat Esther and the Purim story, it celebrates the Allies’ liberation of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, which saved the local Jewish communities from the Nazis. What the scroll’s author did not realize, however, was that at the very moment he was setting quill to parchment, those same American authorities were actually trying to keep in place the anti-Jewish legislation imposed in North Africa by the Nazis.On November 8, 1942, American and British forces invaded Nazi-occupied Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. It took the Allies just eight days to defeat the Germans and their Vichy French partners in the region.

For the 330,000 Jews of North Africa, the Allied conquest was heaven-sent. The Vichy regime that had ruled since the summer of 1940 had stripped the region’s Jews of their civil rights, severely restricted their entrance to schools and some professions, confiscated Jewish property, and tolerated sporadic pogroms against Jews by local Muslims. In addition, thousands of Jewish men were hauled away to forced-labor camps. President Franklin Roosevelt, in his victory announcement, pledged “the abrogation of all laws and decrees inspired by Nazi governments or Nazi ideologists.”

But there turned out to be a discrepancy between FDR’s public rhetoric and his private feelings.

On January 17, 1943, Roosevelt met in Casablanca with Major-General Charles Nogues, a leader of the new “non-Vichy” regime. When the conversation turned to the question of rights for North African Jewry, Roosevelt did not mince words: “The number of Jews engaged in the practice of the professions (law, medicine, etc) should be definitely limited to the percentage that the Jewish population in North Africa bears to the whole of the North African population… The President stated that his plan would further eliminate the specific and understandable complaints which the Germans bore toward the Jews in Germany, namely, that while they represented a small part of the population, over fifty percent of the lawyers, doctors, school teachers, college professors, etc., in Germany, were Jews.” (It is not clear how FDR came up with that wildly exaggerated statistic.)

Various Jewish communities around the world have established local Purim-style celebrations to mark their deliverance from catastrophe.

The Jews of Frankfurt, for example, would hold a “Purim Vintz” one week after Purim, in remembrance of the downfall of an antisemitic agitator in 1620. Libyan Jews traditionally organized a “Purim Ashraf” and a “Purim Bergel” to recall the rescue of Jews in those towns, in 1705 and 1795, respectively.

The Jewish community of Casablanca, for its part, declared the day of the 1942 Allied liberation “Hitler Purim,” and a local scribe, P. Hassine, created the “Megillat Hitler.” (The original is on display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.) The seven chapters of the scroll poignantly blend the flavor of the tale of ancient Persia with the amazing stroke of fortune that the Jews of Casablanca had themselves just experienced. It uses phrases straight from Megillat Esther, such as “the month which was turned from sorrow to rejoicing” and “the Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor,” side by side with modern references such as “Cursed be Hitler, cursed be Mussolini.”

The Jews of North Africa had much to celebrate. But after the festivities died down, questions began to arise. The Allies permitted nearly all the original senior officials of the Vichy regime in North Africa to remain in the new government. The Vichy “Office of Jewish Affairs” continued to operate, as did the forced labor camps in which thousands of Jewish men were being held.

American Jewish leaders were loathe to publicly take issue with the Roosevelt administration, but by the spring of 1943, they began speaking out. The American Jewish Congress and World Jewish Congress charged that “the anti-Jewish legacy of the Nazis remains intact in North Africa” and urged FDR to eliminate the Vichy laws. “The spirit of the Swastika hovers over the Stars and Stripes,” Benzion Netanyahu, director of the U.S. wing of the Revisionist Zionists (and father of Israel’s current prime minister) charged. A group of Jewish GIs in Algiers protested directly to U.S. ambassador Murphy. Editorials in a number of American newspapers echoed this criticism [here]
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Rafael Medoff is director of the David Wyman Institute which specializes on research into Roosevelt Administration policy towards the Jews during the Holocaust [here]

For info on the coup d'etat --mainly carried out by Algerian Jews-- to ease the American landing at Algiers as part of Operation Torch, see:
Elliot A Green, "Jewish Anti-Nazi Resistance in Wartime Algeria," Midstream (January 1989)

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