Roosevelt University hosted the 25th Franklin and Eleanor Distinguished Lecture, which brought in Dr. Daniel Greene to discuss The Roosevelts and their involvement in the Holocaust.
Before Greene’s discussion started, RU’s President Ali Malekzadeh, started off by encouraging all audience members to vote. “Please vote. We better start taking back our country today,” said Malekzadeh.
Malekzadeh soon followed that with a request of silence for all those who were killed in the recent shooting in Pittsburgh. Malekzadeh then thanked all those in attendance for wanting to learn the history of the topic and stated that by being there they were partaking in improvement.
From there, Margaret Rung, professor and director of the Center for New Deal Studies, was brought to the podium to introduce Greene. “He comes to us with an impressive career as a scholar, curator, an intellectual that’s committed to social justice,” Rung said.
Rung furthered talked about Greene’s recent exhibit in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and his various accredited articles. After many praises, Professor Rung introduced Greene to the stage.
Greene started his lecture with a focus of World War One and America’s lack of wanting involvement in international affairs and the lack of empathy for immigrants. In this era, Greene mentioned that America restricted immigration severely.
“Asians are restricted entirely. Europeans are categorized in a hierarchy of light European races based very much on ideas of eugenics science,” Greene said.
“We are a xenophobic nation. You see the rise of the second Ku Klux Klan. Here they are marching outside of Washington D.C.,” said Greene as the projector beside him displayed white hooded men.
Greene said the KKK succeeded in telling the nation what is considered “American” and what wasn’t. “The KKK said the Jews were not considered ‘American,’” Greene said.
“These conditions at home: economic security, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, war weariness (and) pulling back from the war all come before the rise of Nazism, and it’s very much what Roosevelt runs on it in 1932,” Greene said.
Greene explained America knew about the rise of Nazism before World War Two broke out. “There is a misconception to the public that Americans did not have information about Nazism during the 1930s, and the opposite is true. And you didn’t have to be reading the New York Time or The Washington Post. The newsreels covered Nazism widely. The radio covered Nazism,” said Greene. America didn’t prioritize helping the Jews.
However, Greene made sure to distinguish that although America knew about anti-semitism, they had no means of predicting the mass murder that would come with Hitler’s rise of power.
Greene used the example of Kristallnacht, an event where Jews had their business, homes, and establishments destroyed, were brutally abused, arrested and sent to concentration camps. Kristallnacht was all over American newspapers. When it came for Roosevelt to comment on it, he denounced it. When reporters asked him if he was accepting more refugees, Roosevelt answered no.
America had similar sentiment. When asked on a poll how they felt about what was happening to Jews in Germany, they expressed that they did not agree with their treatment, but when asked if they should be allowed as refugees the majority said no.
“Two weeks after Kristallnacht, (the poll) asked Americans this question: ‘Do you agree or disagree with the Nazi treatment of the Jews in Germany?’ 94 percent of Americans disagreed with the Nazi treatment of Jews in Germany,” Greene said. “And so, then they’re asked in the same poll this question: ‘Did they want to allow members of Jewish exiles from Germany into the United States?’ 72 percent said no.”
Greene said it was Eleanor Roosevelt that seemed to be the humanitarian that sympathized with the immigrants. Greene called her the “champion of human rights” due to her progressive views at the time.
Greene said the Eleanor Roosevelt was a voice for those discriminated against during World War Two. Eleanor Roosevelt went to the internment camps where Japanese-Americans were held against their will. After her visit, the First Lady wrote about it saying, “‘Every citizen has a right to freedom, to justice and to equality,’” Greene read aloud. Again, he reinforced the idea of her being “the champion of human rights.”
When it came to America’s involvement to World War Two, Greene said there were two things the States did not want. The first was being involved in that war and the second was allowing refugees.
“When America did get involved, it wasn’t to help,” Greene said.
“Allies are going to rescue democracy from fascism. They are not fighting the war to rescue the Jews. In fact, doing much of anything as far as a humanitarian act to aid Jews is seen as a diversion,” Greene said.
Greene said the focus of FDR’s administration was to win the war and not necessarily save the Jews. Greene said this logic is morally hard for people to grasp now and it brings him moral outrage.
Greene further explained that America denounced the Nazis and decided to punish the perpetrators. Again, reinforcing killing of the bad guy, not necessarily the saving of the Jews. When America is aware of the violence happening in Germany, America, as a country, cannot grasp the scale of the violence, despite being told the numbers. Greene said 76 percent of Americans believed that 2 million Jews had been murdered, the others were left skeptical about the amount killed on the hands of German Nazis.
At the end of the war, FDR was informed that there was an active obstruction towards refugees in Europe. It is then that FDR issues an executive word, creating “The Refugee Board.” The objective was to rescue Jews as long as it didn’t interrupt the war.
“The United States had never had a refugee’s policy. We talked as Americans about refugees in 1934, but it doesn’t mean anything. We didn’t have a refugee’s policy until 1951,” Greene said.
The board allowed roughly 982 Jews into America, but they were held in by barbed wire in New York. While there, they were made to sign papers that made them promise that once the war was over they’d return to Europe. The refugees were held there until Feb. 1946.
Greene then turned the attention to the projector and showed more photos of FDR and gave a brief explanations for each photo. He ended the lecture with Eleanor’s realization of the lack of empathy and the late involvement in aiding refugees.
Criminal justice major Cameron Wicker, junior, said she learned about Roosevelt’s involvement with the Holocaust.
“We only focus on Hitler and what he was doing. Not so much what America was doing, especially with Eleanor Roosevelt and her views compared to most Americans was a shocker but I liked learning about it,” Wicker said.
Dr. Bethany Barratt, professor of political science and the director of the Loundy Human Rights Project said she saw a reflection of what the lecture spoke about now.
“I wasn’t aware of those polls where people were incredibly horrified by what the Nazis were doing but unwilling to accept refugees,” Barratt said. “That feels very, very timely today especially with all the refugees from Syria crisis and the middle east, and those seeking asylum from Central America.”