Laurence Zuckerman: FDR Holocaust revisionism serves right-wing agenda

tags: Israel, The Nation, FDR, Zionism, Richard Breitman, Laurence Zuckerman, Allen Lichtman, Rafael Medoff



David Austin Walsh is the editor of the History News Network.

It's a cliche, but it's true: historical controversies are as much about contemporary politics as they are about history.

Laurence Zuckerman, a former reporter for the New York Times and currently an adjunct professor at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, just published a feature article in the The Nation that profiles the dispute between Richard Breitman and Allen Lichtman on the one hand and Rafael Medoff on the other about President Franklin D. Roosevelt's response to the Holocaust and his failure to save European Jews.

Roosevelt's critics, argues Zuckerman, are motivated less by the historical evidence and more by contemporaries challenges faced by Israel. "The not-so-subtle message" of critics like Medoff, Zuckerman writes, is "like the Jews of Europe in 1939, Israel is under an existential threat and cannot count on anyone for help -- even the United States, even liberals, even Jews in the United States."

Zuckerman, along with Breitman and Lichtman, are largely dismissive of the efforts of the so-called "Bergson Group," an association of right-wing Zionists who pressured Roosevelt to create a dedicated agency, the War Refugee Board, to save European Jews in 1944. But the WRB, Zuckerman writes, was established as the result of a broad-based lobbying effort by more moderate Jewish groups:

One of the supposed lessons of the Bergson story claimed by Medoff and others is that “unity” among American Jews during the 1930s and ’40s would have saved more Jewish lives. The implication is that today’s American Jews should not allow themselves to be divided on Israel. But Medoff’s framing ignores the legitimate disagreements at the time about the best way to combat the Nazi persecution of Jews, just as it ignores today’s disagreements among American Jews regarding the policies of the Israeli government. Actions such as a boycott of German goods and a proposal to ransom German Jews during the 1930s had their costs and benefits; well-meaning people were on both sides. Which policy should Jews have unified behind? And which policies should Jews unify behind today? Most American Jews support a two-state solution. Are right-wing supporters of Israel prepared to support a settlement freeze and a withdrawal from the West Bank for the sake of American Jewish unity? 

Read the full article here.



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