Table of Contents
2. The 1930s up to 1939
3. The War Years 1939 - 1945
“War doesn’t put concern for civilians – especially civilians who are not one’s own citizens – anywhere on the agenda.” (Novick, 25) By making this statement, Novick points out that war is a very special state, incomparable to peacetimes – many people only care for themselves and are unaware of the problems of others. But this is just one possible explanation for the fact that three quarters of the U.S. population believed at the end of the war that several hundred thousands of Jews had been exterminated in German concentration camps. As a matter of fact, nearly six million Jews perished in those camps. But why did hardly anyone care, or rather know, about the Jews’ fate in Europe? Many U.S. American people faced severe problems in their own country – the aftermath of the Great Depression was still noticeable. Even between 1938 and 1939 an estimated number of eight to ten million people were unemployed in the USA. Consequently, a latent anti-Semitism existed in the U.S. society and was stirred up by people like W. D. Pelley as well as by Father C. E. Coughlin. Of course, such agitators did not dictate U.S. refugee politics, but they represented the mood of the society. At least in a democracy, citizens may have influence on the president’s decisions by putting pressure on him by demonstrations if they are not satisfied with his politics. But Pelley and Coughlin were not the only ones in opposition to the immigration of Jews; especially the State Department (responsible for immigration quotas) blocked foreign immigration due to bureaucratic inefficiency; the U.S. immigration quotas permanently decreased from 1939 to 1945 and in a way locked up Jews in Europe. Even the different groups of American Jews (e.g. Zionists versus Non-Zionists) were not able to establish a concentrated conglomerate in order to support European Jews.
2. The 1930s up to 1939
Groups in opposition to immigration mainly reasoned with the worsening economic situation within the USA during the early 1930s. According to Wyman (15), they assumed that immigrants would occupy those jobs which were ‘reserved’ for American residents – other opinions, for instance immigrants would be consumers at the same time, were simply ignored. Wyman (19) points out that there were about one hundred anti-Semitic organizations in the USA at that time – the most notorious among them were Coughlin’s National Union for Social Justice, Pelley’s Silver Shirts and the German-American Bund. During their demonstrations they spread anti-Jewish propaganda. Due to these agitations, about one third of the respondents of polls shared the opinion that Jews had too much power (Hertzberg, 286). When the USA entered the Second World War in December 1941, many of the anti-Semitic leaders were hushed; e.g. Pelley was convicted of sedition and sent into prison for fifteen years. But anti-Semitism remained in the minds of such people – some of them rioted (especially gangs of youths) in the cities of New England and smashed windows of Jewish stores. Some of these ghastly events even resembled the anti-Jewish pogroms of German storm troops during the Night of Broken Glass in 1938. Of course, these anti-Semitic attitudes appeared in U.S. politics as a reflection of the contemporary mood of the society – Dinnerstein (127) reports that a poll of 1938 revealed that 77% of the respondents were against a larger immigration of Jewish refugees from Germany. Wyman (16) accuses for example the senators R. Reynolds (North Carolina) and R. Holman (Oregon) as well as the congressman W. Elmer (Montana) of being xenophobic and anti-Semitic. As a consequence of the influence of such attitudes within governmental positions, Roosevelt’s hands were tied – even if he wanted to, he could not increase the immigration quotas – at least if he intended to be elected again. He had already been
 During a celebration of Washington’s Birthday in Madison Square Garden in February 1939, hundreds of swastika flags were waved and about 400 men dressed in storm trooper uniforms (Dinnerstein, 122).