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Ambiguous Relations: The American Jewish Community and Germany Since 1945

Ambiguous Relations: The American Jewish Community and Germany Since 1945

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Ambiguous Relations: The American Jewish Community and Germany Since 1945

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Feb 5, 2018

Feb 5, 2018

Über den Autor


Ambiguous Relations - Shlomo Shafir

Copyright © 1999 by Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan 48201.

All material in this work, except as identified below, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit

All material not licensed under a Creative Commons license is all rights reserved. Permission must be obtained from the copyright owner to use this material.

The publication of this volume in a freely accessible digital format has been made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation through their Humanities Open Book Program.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Shafir, Shlomo.

Ambiguous relations : the American Jewish community and Germany since 1945 / Shlomo Shafir.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index.

ISBN 978-0-8143-4508-5 (paperback); ISBN 978-0-8143-4507-8 (ebook)

1. Jews—United States—Politics and government.2. Public opinion—Jews.3. Germany (West)—Foreign public opinion, American.4. Holocaust, Jewish (1939–1945)—Germany (West)—Reparations.5. Holocaust, Jewish (1939–1945)—Germany (West)—Influence. I. Title.

    E184.355.S53 1999

Wayne State University Press gratefully acknowledges The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives (AJA) for their contributions to this volume, including the use and publication of a selection of photographs. To access these photographs and many other collections preserved at the AJA, please visit the AJA website at

The Press also thanks the following individuals and institutions for their generous permission to reprint material in this book: American Jewish Committee; Bundesarchiv, Germany; and Bundesbildstelle, Presse, Germany.

Exhaustive efforts were made to obtain permission for use of material in this text. Any missed permissions resulted from a lack of information about the material, copyright holder, or both. If you are a copyright holder of such material, please contact WSUP at






1.American Jews and the German Problem Until the End of the War

2.Morgenthau’s Plan, Supporters, and Opponents

3.Safeguarding the Survivors and Refugees

4.Denazification and the Major War Crimes Trials


5.Advocates of Moderation

6.Critics and Opponents

7.Anti-German Protests at Home

8.Waiting in Vain for a German Change of Heart


9.The Twisted Road Toward Shilumim

10.German Diplomats: The Initial Efforts to Soften American Jewish Hostility

11.Antisemitic Manifestations and Their Abatement


12.The Eichmann Trial and the Quest for Punishment of Nazi Criminals

13.Changing Circumstances and Futile Dialogues

14.Disappointment with the Social Democrats

15.The Growth of Holocaust Consciousness and Its Impact on American Jewish–German Relations

16.Bitburg and Its Repercussions


17.From Grotewohl to de Maizière


18.Expectations and Question Marks

19.An Ambiguous Balance






Fifty years after the end of World War II and the destruction of the major part of European Jewry, many American Jews still distinguish themselves from other Americans in their ambiguous and largely negative attitude toward the German state and its people. The half century that passed since 1945, however, has brought far-reaching changes in the status of Germany. From unconditional surrender and occupation of its territory, and a partition that lasted for forty years, it has reemerged as a first-rate economic power and a united country of close to eighty million inhabitants. Since the breakdown of the Soviet Union, Germany is now considered the strongest nation in Europe. Despite the remaining uncertainties about German national consciousness, the Federal Republic has proved to be the German people’s most—or perhaps only—successful experiment in democracy and in sustaining a stable liberal parliamentary system. It has also evolved as one of the closest and most important allies of the United States.

Nonetheless, the trauma of the Holocaust became an important component of Jewish identity and continues to leave its mark on American Jewry’s relationship with postwar Germany, despite the sociological and generational changes within the community. American Jews found themselves in a quandary soon after the war, having helplessly watched the murder of close to six million fellow Jews, among whom were many of their own relatives. It was therefore not surprising that they favored a hard peace with the vanquished nation, in the internal American discussion about the postwar German settlement. Yet, because of the Cold War between the victorious allies, the larger part of Germany held by the United States, Britain, and France soon came to be regarded as a vital factor in the economic reconstruction of Western Europe, and subsequently in the political and military consolidation of the Western bloc. These political and strategic considerations coupled with the domestic anti-Communist hysteria contributed to a rapidly changing American posture toward Germany that clashed with Jewish demands, at first also shared by other liberals, for a far-reaching denazification of German society and a clean sweep of the German elites who had loyally served the Nazi regime. Furthermore, these demands spelled heavy punishment of all Germans involved in the warfare against the Jewish people.

American governmental records in the late 1940s and early 1950s clearly demonstrate the limits of direct and indirect Jewish pressure regarded as adverse to American national interest on Washington’s German policy. Likewise, that pressure proved ineffective, more than thirty years later, during the Bitburg imbroglio, when President Ronald Reagan rebuffed strong Jewish protests against his visit to the military cemetery where a number of SS soldiers were interred.

However, the pluralistic character of American public opinion and its continuing impact provided American Jewry an opportunity to play a larger role vis-à-vis postwar Germany than on the level of policy formulation, where it was surpassed by much more powerful forces. Germany’s concern with the hostile or at least critical attitude of a number of American Jewish organizations and influential individuals led it to attempt to soften this hostility. Conversely, constant Jewish reminders and criticism, though sometimes exaggerating the dangers of antisemitism and the revival of Nazism, may have contributed to German soul-searching about their past, and their historical responsibility as heirs of the perpetrators of the Holocaust. At the same time, Jewish discontent enabled American Jews to intervene in favor of legitimate Jewish demands such as the postponement and eventual abolition of the German statute of limitations in cases of murder. This resulted in the trial of more Nazi criminals who had been involved in Hitler’s Final Solution.

The ambiguous relationship between the American Jewish community and Germany over the last fifty years cannot be scrutinized without taking into account the impact of Israel. The Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War further served to strengthen the identification of American Jewry with the Jewish state. Within the triangular relationship, the American Jewish community’s skeptical approach toward Germany, based on memory and moral considerations, often bowed to Israel’s pragmatic political and economic needs as a sovereign nation in hostile surroundings. The first example was the active role that the American Jewish community played in the common effort to secure reparations for Israel and its leading part in the Claims Conference. That partnership also affected subsequent dealings between organized American Jewry and the Germans.

In the first years after the war, American Jewish concern mainly centered on the rehabilitation and well-being of the Jewish survivors in Germany and the much larger number of East European refugees who assembled in the American occupied zone awaiting their immigration to Israel, the United States, and other countries overseas. Subsequently, American Jewry displayed its interest in the rights and safety of the surviving Jewish communities in Germany. However, until recently, the Jews there and their institutions played only a marginal role in the American Jewish–German relationship. In contrast, the German government and establishment, keen to present a demonstrative philosemitic stance, paid growing attention to the remaining Jews as compensation for the exterminationist antisemitism of the Third Reich.

The above is a broad outline of the subjects, interactions, and developments to be discussed in this book, which has been arranged mostly in a chronological order. The monograph does not pretend to present a full overview of perceptions and reactions of American Jews in different walks of life. It mainly deals with organized Jewry, its major communal and religious groups, a few committed legislators and intellectuals, as well as a few outstanding individuals who were nevertheless connected to the community. The elements of both continuity and change in the major agencies have been elaborated, as have the different rationales of the agencies’ attitudes toward Germany, the role of the survivors, and even the special case of professed pro-German lobbyists. A caveat must, however, be added: despite the traumatic and emotional effect of the Holocaust, the postwar American Jewish relationship with Germany was not a central issue. Israel, the fate of Soviet Jewry, and the domestic fight for civil rights were the lead items on the community’s agenda.

A review of American Jewish attitudes toward the Federal Republic also requires a scrutiny of the handling of that complex relationship by both German conservative and Social Democratic-led governments, their different emphases and preferences, political aims and moral convictions. In this context, the recurrent efforts from the early 1950s of German diplomats in the United States to assuage American Jewish hostility are being explored. Again, a distinction must be made here between the responses of Jewish organizations, mainly voluntary elite groups and their leaders, as well as public figures, and the attitudes of Jews in general, most of whom seem to have remained more suspicious and negative.

Except for one chapter dedicated to American Jewry’s attitude toward former Communist East Germany, this book deals mainly with the Federal Republic, which until 1990 comprised only Western Germany. American Jewish contacts with the East German Democratic Republic (GDR) were almost nonexistent for thirty years following the end of World War II for a number of reasons: the Cold War; the lack of American–East German diplomatic relations until 1974; the East Berlin government’s refusal to refer directly to the Jewish angle of the Nazi crimes and to share the special historical responsibility of the German people for the Holocaust; its unreadiness to enter talks on restitution and compensation; and its hostility toward Zionism and Israel. Only in the last decade of its existence did a gradual change in East Germany’s attitude take place, as an attempt was made to use Jewish influence to improve GDR relations with Washington and prepare the way for a state visit by Communist leader Erich Honecker. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the East German regime prevented those aims from being achieved.

One of the conspicuous historiographic inadequacies of this study derives from the fact that American, German, and Israeli governmental records, which I used extensively, were open for research only until 1965, because of the customary thirty-year limit. Nonetheless, the records of major American Jewish organizations, a few important collections in Germany and Jerusalem, as well as available printed sources and memoirs, have enabled me to extend the monograph until the 1990s. Thus, such significant events are included as the impact of Israel’s wars of 1967 and 1973, Bitburg, the U.S. Holocaust Museum controversy, the exchange programs between American Jewish organizations and German political foundations since the 1980s, and the momentous year of Germany’s unification.

Some of the topics dealt with in various chapters of this monograph have been discussed in a number of studies that appeared in the last decades, some of which are listed in the select bibliography. These topics include the role of Henry Morgenthau Jr., Jewish concerns in occupied Germany in the first years after the war, restitution and reparations, the Eichmann Trial and its repercussions, Holocaust consciousness among American Jews, Bitburg, and the separate problems of East Germany. Since I began my research in the late 1980s, I have published several articles in English, German, and Hebrew on relevant subjects. In the first part of the introductory chapter, I mainly relied on the writings of historians such as Henry L. Feingold and David S. Wyman, who dealt with American Jewry and the Roosevelt administration. My own unpublished Ph.D. dissertation on the persecution of the Jews in Germany and American-German relations during the 1930s (Georgetown University, 1971) was also of help. Chapter 10 on the initial efforts of German diplomats in the United States to soften American Jewish hostility is based in great part on my essay published in the YIVO Annual 22 (1995) by Northwestern University Press.

Most of the main theses of this study were outlined in my expanded lecture, American Jews and Germany: Points of Connection and Points of Departure, American Jewish Archives Brochure Series #14 (Cincinnati, 1993). Sylke Tempel’s Munich doctoral dissertation, which has since appeared in print, is an honest treatment of organized American Jewry’s postwar relationship with Germany from a German viewpoint: Legenden von der Allmacht: Die Beziehungen zwischen amerikanisch-jüdischen Organisationen und der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Frankfurt, 1995). The Israeli-born German Jewish historian Michael Wolffsohn also referred to the subject in his Eternal Guilt? Forty Years of German-Jewish-Israeli Relations (New York, 1993) and other publications, although I do not share his interpretation of the impact of the German-Israeli–American Jewish triangle and its repercussions.

This study was essentially completed in 1995, after the fiftieth anniversaries of the liberation of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, and Dachau, as well as many slave labor camps; the Allied bombing of Dresden; Hitler’s suicide; Nazi Germany’s surrender; and the salvation of the surviving camp inmates by the advancing victorious armies in the East and the West. Despite the fear that the crimes of the Third Reich would be overshadowed after Germany’s reunification by the confrontation over the Communist past of the GDR, the murder of the Jewish people in the 1940s still continues to occupy an important place in the mind and consciousness of the German public opinion-molding elites as evidenced by the many publications and public discussions in the media.

At the anniversaries mentioned above, almost all German leaders struck the right tone. Both in NATO and in the European Union, the Federal Republic continues to be a solid and reliable partner. In the long run, the recent emergence of a substantial conservative and right-wing trend in the nation’s intellectual scene could, of course, have negative repercussions on Jewish-German relations. At this point, however, its impact on both the foreign policy of Germany and its political culture has been limited.

While it is not a historical study’s task—or within its ability—to predict the future, the lessons of the developments since the end of World War II do depict the limits that will continue to affect the attitudes of American Jewry toward Germany and the Germans for years to come.


After living in the United States from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, I began work on this monograph during a two-month research period as fellow of the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati in 1987–1988. In its initial stage, my research in the United States and Germany was facilitated by a three-month research grant of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bonn. The Harry S. Truman Library Institute enabled me to spend a week of research at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. I am sincerely grateful to these three institutions for their financial assistance.

Since 1987—unfortunately with many breaks—I have carried out research in many archival collections, record centers, and libraries in the United States, Germany, and Israel, and I owe many thanks for assistance and advice to the directors and staff of the following institutions:


American Jewish Archives and Klau Library, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati; American Jewish Committee Record Center and the Blaustein Library, New York; YIVO Archives, New York; Anti-Defamation League Archives and Resource Center, New York; Special Collections, New York Public Library, New York; Leo Baeck Institute Archives and Library, New York; American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Archives, New York; Columbia University Oral History Collection, New York; Herbert H. Lehman Papers, Columbia University, New York; Jewish Labor Committee Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, Tamiment Institute Library, New York University, New York; American Jewish Historical Society Archives, Waltham, Massachusetts; Goldfarb Library, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts; John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston; Harvard University Archives, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library, Amherst, Massachusetts; U.S. National Archives, Diplomatic Branch, Washington, D.C.; Washington National Records Center, Suitland, Maryland; Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; B’nai B’rith Archives, Washington, D.C.; Jewish War Veterans Archives, Washington, D.C.; Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York; Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, Missouri; Manuscripts and Archives, Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey; Wilson Library, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


Bundesarchiv Koblenz; Politisches Archiv, Auswärtiges Amt, Bonn; Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Archiv der sozialen Demokratie und Bibliothek, Bonn; Ludwig-Erhard-Stiftung, Bonn; Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Archiv für Christlich-Demokratische Politik und Bibliothek, St. Augustin; Archiv des Deutschen Liberalismus, Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung, Gummersbach; Deutsche Bibliothek und Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933–1945, Frankfurt/Main; Max Horkheimer Archiv, Stadt-und Universitätsbibliothek, Frankfurt/Main; Institut für Zeitgeschichte, Archiv und Bibliothek, Munich; Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach a.N.; Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Wiesbaden; Baden-Württembergisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Stuttgart; Landesarchiv Berlin, Berlin; Stiftung Archiv der Parteien und Massenorganisationen der DDR im Bundesarchiv, Berlin; Archiv Stiftung Bundeskanzler-Adenauer-Haus, Rhöndorf.


Israel State Archives, Jerusalem; Zionist Central Archives and Library, Jerusalem; Hebrew University Oral History Collection, Hebrew University, Jerusalem; Ben-Gurion Archive, Kiryat Sdeh Boker; Israel Labor Party Archive, Beit Berl; National and University Library, Jerusalem; Ayala and Zalman Abramov Library, Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem; Wiener Library, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv; Bar-Ilan University Library, Ramat Gan.


Board of Deputies of British Jews, Archives, London; Institute of Jewish Affairs (now defunct), London.

I owe special thanks to Dr. David Singer of the American Jewish Committee for granting me access to recent records of that organization. Thanks are also due to Mr. Alan Schwartz of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith for enabling me to make use of the ADL foreign correspondence files.

Last but not least, I am particularly indebted to Professor Jonathan D. Sarna and Dr. Abraham J. Peck, who read the manuscript before it was submitted to Wayne State University Press and made a number of important suggestions regarding its structure and content. I appreciate the comments and advice given by Professor Alfred Gottschalk, chancellor of the Hebrew Union College, who has served for many years as a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. Dr. Ofer Shiff, my son-in-law, made fruitful suggestions on the chapters dealing with the impact of the Holocaust on American Jewry.

Both Mrs. Dena Matmon in Israel and Mrs. Eleanor M. Lawhorn in Cincinnati did an excellent job in typing the final draft to which Mrs. Jean Peck supplied editorial help. The copyeditor, Ms. Tammy O. Rastoder, meticulously prepared the manuscript for publication. I owe many thanks to all of them.

The book is dedicated to my wife, my beloved lifelong companion, and to both my daughters and their families in the United States and Israel.




American Jews and the German Problem Until the End of the War

From the inception of the German Nazi regime in January 1933, Adolf Hitler’s persecution of the Jews became a permanent and pervading issue on the American Jewish agenda, causing a fundamental change in the attitude of American Jews toward Germany.

Many of the German Jewish elite in America still maintained an attachment to the cultural heritage of their former homeland at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, although these links began to weaken as rapid assimilation in America and the impact of antisemitism in Germany took hold.

However, quite a number of American Jews of German origin continued to visit the old home; a few studied at German high schools, earned degrees at German universities, and intermarried with German Jewish sons and daughters. Before World War I, despite the semiautocratic traits of the Wilhelmian Empire and the antisemitism of its society and establishment, Germany was regarded as the lesser evil as compared to czarist Russia. Thus, in response to the discrimination against Jews in Russia, German-born Jacob Schiff, one of the most prominent figures in the Jewish community, played a leading role in the campaign for the abrogation of the eighty-year-old American-Russian treaty of commerce. After the outbreak of the war in Europe, Schiff at first refused to float Anglo-French loans because of the partnership of the Western nations with Russia. The masses of recent Eastern European immigrants loathed the czarist oppressor of their fellow Jews; whereas some of the socialists opposed both sides in the conflict because of their pacifist convictions, others cherished the strength of the German Social Democratic party, the strongest in Europe.¹

Nonetheless, this partly emotional preference of some American Jews for Germany and the Central Powers came to an end with the Russian revolution and the breakdown of the czarist regime in March 1917. From the moment of President Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war in April 1917, the community fully endorsed the United States’ active partnership in the anti-German alliance. In addition, the hostility of the Turkish empire to the small Jewish settlement in Palestine and Zionist expectations of British support for their aims reinforced the pro-Allied trend among American Jewry. After the end of World War I, American Jews took notice of the social and cultural achievements of German Jewry under the short-lived parliamentary democratic government; both individual and organizational contacts between the two communities were fostered. Beginning with the late twenties, however, the major American Jewish organizations watched with growing concern the increasing antisemitic agitation of the Nazis and the implications for Germany’s Jews during the tottering Weimar Republic.²

After Weimar’s collapse in 1933, the American Jewish community became a consistent anti-German factor on the American political scene. Admittedly, serious tactical and ideological differences existed among American Jews on how to confront the Nazi danger abroad, as well as the rise of antisemitism at home. On the one hand, activists of the American Jewish Congress and the Joint Boycott Council, which included the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), as well as the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League to Champion Human Rights, favored public appearances and boycotting German products. On the other hand, the prestigious, moderate American Jewish Committee (AJC) and in part B’nai B’rith preferred quiet backstage efforts and concentrated on information and on educational activities. Beside the rise of Nazism and fascism in Europe, the depression and the increase of antisemitism at home also enhanced pro-Communist influence among the Jewish population. Altogether, Jews of liberal, democratic, and leftist convictions and different political orientations tried to present national socialism as a threat not only to themselves but to all Americans and to world peace. However, ethnic feelings and fear of the Jewish masses, of first- and second-generation citizens, persisted. Many of these Jews had family in the old countries of the European continent who could not be brought over because of the economic crisis and the nation’s restrictionist immigration policy.³

To most American Jews, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt represented the great antagonist to Hitler, even during the early years when he still refrained from challenging the noninterventionist policy of his predecessors. Quite naturally, with few exceptions, they supported President Roosevelt’s shift toward confrontational policies aimed at quarantining the aggressors before the United States’ entry into the war against Nazi Germany and its allies. Subsequently, they unconditionally endorsed FDR’s leadership during the war years and the priority he attached to victory over Hitler, the arch-enemy of the Jewish people. In their great majority, they remained an anti-German element after the end of the war, when, because of the East-West conflict, Washington’s attitude toward the former enemy nation was reversed and the United States began to regard West Germany as a potential ally against the Soviet-led Eastern bloc. However, in contrast to the direct and indirect contribution of American Jewry to shifting American public opinion from isolationism to facing the Nazi threat, the Jewish community did not influence the making of wartime policy, and its impact on the handling of Germany was rather marginal.

The main exception in that context was the role of Henry Morgenthau Jr., secretary of the Treasury Department since 1934. But the secretary acted as a member of the administration and not as a spokesman for the Jewish community.

The continuous support of American Jews for Roosevelt originated from his domestic, social, and economic policies that benefited many of them, and in which a number of Jewish brain trusters were involved. FDR’s anti-Nazi stand increased his popularity among Jews at a time when most European leaders preferred appeasing the anti-Communist dictators of Germany and Italy and the majority of the American people were afraid of new entanglements overseas. Yet, the balance sheet of his administration’s handling of the two main special Jewish concerns with regard to the German problem was not a positive one. Admission of larger numbers of refugees until the war and rescue of Jews from Hitler’s Europe thereafter were not high on the administration’s agenda, at least until the belated establishment of the War Refugee Board (WRB) early in 1944.⁵ In comparison to what the majority in pre-pluralistic America and the administration regarded as the national interest, the Jewish case proved the limits of ethnic influence. In a way, these limits remained valid also in various cases in the era of postwar pluralism, with the important exception of the successful Jewish campaign in persuading the U.S. government to recognize and support the new State of Israel.

In the 1930s the large majority of the depression-ridden isolationist-minded public opposed any enlargement of immigration. A strong restrictionist attitude prevailed in both houses of Congress, and the president and his advisers took these factors into account. Only in 1938–39 was the full German and Austrian quota used up for the admission of refugees. At the Evian conference in summer 1938, Roosevelt’s main prorefugee initiative after Germany’s annexation of Austria, that increase was presented as the American contribution to the refugee problem. The conference concluded with the setting up of the Intergovernmental Committee on Political Refugees (ICR), under a British chairman and an American executive director. However, even though different views prevail about the German motives in launching the Schacht-Wohlthat proposal—financing the emigration of Jews by increasing German exports to the United States and other Western nations—no feasible emergency programs existed to cope with the rapidly growing number of Jewish refugees.

A few months after Evian, in response to the so-called Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass) pogrom against German Jews on November 9–10, 1938, FDR recalled from Berlin the last American prewar ambassador, Hugh R. Wilson, who himself happened to be an outspoken supporter of appeasement of Nazi Germany. Yet, in spite of the Jewish community’s hearty welcome of the president’s action, the recall did not come about because of Jewish pressure, but reflected Roosevelt’s desire to use the pogrom’s impact on American public opinion to advance a tougher policy against the expansionist Greater German Reich.⁷ Contrary to the German propaganda about American and world Jewish power, the Jews’ unsuccessful prewar efforts to prevent persecution in Germany and enlarge somewhat the numbers of immigrants from there demonstrated their weakness.

In part, American Jewish capability to come to the assistance of German or other European Jews and to pressure the administration in that direction was inhibited by the substantial increase of domestic antisemitism in the late 1930s.⁸ Whereas in the early and mid-1930s nativist and pro-Nazi antisemitism had been marginal, the renewed recession and the Coughlinite hate campaign had a major impact in the great cities, where Jews were confronted with hostile Catholic masses, many of them first- and second-generation Americans. In addition to the Christian Fronters, there were the militants and sympathizers of the Nazi German-American Bund, twenty thousand of whom packed New York’s Madison Square Garden at a so-called patriotic George Washington rally in February 1939. Even when employment and business conditions improved, antisemitism continued to rise, persisting during the war years. At least indirectly, the successes of Nazi Germany before the U.S. entry into the war, too, fostered the anti-Jewish sentiments.

Because of the impact of antisemitism, which did not subside until the end of World War II, Roosevelt preferred to play down the common ground between his policies and the desires of the overwhelming majority of American Jews in the two critical years between the beginning of the war in Europe and Pearl Harbor. Thus, in spite of strong Jewish support for turning the United States into an arsenal for democracy, the role of Jews in interventionist organizations was usually muffled in order not to complicate the president’s task of convincing the American people of the national interest in confronting and defeating Hitler’s Reich. After all, a great part of them did not want to go to war against Germany. At one point Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, the leading representative of the American Jewish Congress and the Zionist camp and a loyal FDR supporter, complained to Clark Eichelberger, head of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, about the trend of ghettoization, asserting that Jews should not be shut out even at the risk of incurring the charge of warmongering. That exchange took place a few weeks before Pearl Harbor.

Quite naturally, the U.S. entry into the war in December 1941 enjoyed the full support of American Jews, who had long awaited the day when their nation would take the lead to rid the world of the Hitlerite enemy. Subsequently 550,000 Jewish soldiers fought in the armed forces against the German Reich and its Japanese and (until 1943) Italian allies in Europe, the Far East, and North Africa.

In the government’s view, the fateful battle against the Axis powers required that all American citizens subordinate any special group interest to the goal of a rapid and full military victory, which would also put an end to the Jewish torment in German-occupied Europe. Even though the Jews were Hitler’s chosen victims, the administration wanted to ensure that the war undertaken for America’s national interest would in no way be regarded as a Jewish war, as German propaganda tried to put it. American Jews, whose opposition against the Nazis had now become an all-American endeavor, unequivocally endorsed the nation’s war aims, including the demand for unconditional surrender. But as Hitler’s Final Solution was revealed, Jewish community leaders desperately searched for some American and Allied intercession to stop the murder and to rescue at least some of their fellow Jews. However, neither the appeal to the president, with whom a high-ranking Jewish delegation met for half an hour in December 1942, nor the efforts to make the American public conscious of the slaughter of European Jewry bore any concrete results. Mass meetings by Jewish organizations to protest Nazi massacres started in July 1942 and continued with a Day of Mourning in December but had no major impact on the non-Jewish majority.¹⁰

The accumulating news about the murder of hundreds of thousands in the East seldom made headlines in the American press; radio coverage was sparse, and the Hollywood film industry avoided the subject. Because of the exaggerated German atrocity stories of World War I, in January 1943 30 percent of the American population still dismissed the news that two million Jews had already been killed by the Nazis. In March 1943, both the AJ Congress rally Stop Hitler Now as well as the pageant We Never Die, presented by the anti-establishment Committee for a Jewish Army (the predecessor of the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe), gained more publicity than earlier protests. Still, the issue of saving Jews drew support mainly from the liberal section of the public and from a few liberal and left-wing publications. In October 1943, the only Jewish demonstration in the capital, the Rabbis Pilgrimage for Rescue, was coldshouldered by the president who found no time to see them.¹¹ The one-sided Jewish love affair with FDR had its shortcomings, but because of the Republicans’ policies and preferences in the 1930s and 1940s, that party could not be considered a more promising alternative.

On different occasions, the United States and Great Britain took into consideration the hostile reaction to their rescue of Jews that they expected from Arab Moslem nations from Casablanca to the Persian Gulf region, through which vital supplies were being shipped to the Soviet Union. The British especially were afraid that any large-scale rescue effort might flood Palestine with more Jews and thus undermine the May 1939 White Paper aimed at a permanent Arab majority there, and America’s policy was influenced by the growing importance of its Middle Eastern oil interests. No wonder that the Anglo-American conference in Bermuda, which convened in April 1943 as the murder of European Jews reached its climax, was nothing but a diversionary exercise designed to pacify the few who had criticized the indifference of the American and British governments.¹² Most prominent Jewish insiders close to the president, such as Supreme Court Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter, presidential counsel Samuel Rosenman, and Governor Herbert H. Lehman, who after his defeat by Republican Thomas Dewey became executive head of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA)—not to mention influential outsiders such as Bernard Baruch—did not attempt to challenge the administration’s attitude on what was mainly regarded as a sectarian ethnic concern, just as they had refrained from questioning it before the war.

Henry Feingold, the foremost analyst of the Roosevelt administration’s policies and relations with American Jewry during the Holocaust years, was the first to point out that Henry Morgenthau Jr. was the only member of FDR’s inner circle who finally dared to confront the State Department with its hostile indifference to the annihilation of the Jews in Europe. Morgenthau was overwhelmed by the Jewish catastrophe and its dimensions; and after the Bermuda conference and the revelation of further procrastination on opportunities of rescue, he challenged the government’s policy. Since the beginning of 1943, one of the objectives of the AJ Congress and of the Joint Emergency Committee on European Jewish Affairs had been to gain congressional support for rescue. Stephen Wise and AJC president Joseph M. Proskauer served as co-chairmen of that committee. Subsequently, the effective public relations campaign of the separate Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe made its impact. The American Jewish Conference, for its part, espoused the importance of a Zionist solution for Palestine. With the personal involvement of Randolph Paul, John Pehle, and Josiah DuBois, three committed senior members of the Treasury staff, and the support of an aware portion of the American public, Morgenthau eventually brought about the creation of the War Refugee Board. It was established as a special government agency that became engaged in rescue work early in 1944. Unfortunately, a major part of European Jewry had already been murdered by that time.¹³

In the context of the American Jewish response to the German Final Solution for European Jewry during World War II, two questions that have often been asked still dominate the discussion: Would a more unified Jewish community have been able to achieve better results from the administration in Washington, and would a more articulate emphasis on rescue instead of on the Zionist aim of establishing a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine have resulted in saving many more Jews during the Holocaust?¹⁴ While these questions are legitimate, the answer in both cases is no. Even though the internal divisions and the lack of a powerful American Jewish leadership sometimes made it easier for the Roosevelt administration to evade the refugee and rescue issue until the creation of the WRB at a rather late date, it is not certain that a united community would have been much more successful in the circumstances that prevailed at least until 1944. As for the American Jewish Conference’s resolutions in summer 1943, a stronger emphasis on rescue might have been preferable, at least for the record. But it is doubtful whether that actually mattered very much, since no shelters were in sight.

However, postponing the Zionist demand for a Jewish state might have prevented the subsequent mobilization of a major part of American Jewry after the war for achieving the movement’s political goal and a safe haven for the survivors. The growing support for the Zionist Biltmore program, its endorsement by a large majority of the American Jewish Conference, as well as the ascendancy of the militant Cleveland Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver over the moderate and accommodating Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, were in part reactions to the helplessness of American Jews who watched the murder of millions of fellow Jews in Europe. The more radical direction caused the withdrawal of the influential AJC from the Conference and brought forth strong opposition from the American Council for Judaism (ACJ), a group of anti-Zionist Reform rabbis and lay leaders. But despite its negative impact, that split did not substantially change the general trend. Together with the wartime experiences, the massive pro-Zionist drive that peaked a few years later also contributed to a stronger and more self-conscious Jewish community at home. After the end of the war in Europe, this drive would, together with the Jewish Agency for Palestine and later the government of Israel, play a central role in the successful fulfillment of Jewish demands from postwar Germany, contrary to the failure of its efforts in favor of refuge and rescue until the collapse of Nazi Germany.

* * *

With the outbreak of hostilities in Europe in 1939, the major Jewish organizations in America began preparing drafts for the postwar era, after the expected victory over Nazi Germany. The AJ Congress and the World Jewish Congress (WJC), which had been founded upon Stephen Wise’s initiative in 1936 to confront the growing Nazi and fascist threat, sponsored the Institute of Jewish Affairs (IJA). With headquarters in New York, established in 1940, the Institute was directed by two eminent lawyers, the brothers Dr. Jacob and Dr. Nehemiah Robinson, both recent immigrants from Lithuania. Initially, the two organizations invited several other major Jewish groups, such as the AJC, the Alliance Israelite Universelle, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews in London, to set up a common institute with the task of preparing a Jewish peace program that would secure international protection of Jewish rights at a future peace conference after the successful conclusion of the war. But the attempt to provide for unified Jewish action failed because of the substantial ideological differences between the pro-Zionist Congress movement supporting Jewish peoplehood and the integrationist AJC opposing Jewish nationalism.¹⁵

During the war, the WJC diverted much of its energy to immediate rescue activities. However, the IJA, with its staff of trained scholars, continued its research program and published a number of important studies, such as Starvation Over Europe (1943), Hitler’s Ten Year War on the Jews (1943), The Racial State (1944), and The Jewish Catastrophe (1944). Among other issues, it began to deal with the problems of postwar restitution of Jewish property and compensation for Jewish suffering. The idea that the Jewish people as a whole were entitled to reparations was first raised by Dr. Nahum Goldmann, who, besides Stephen Wise, was the leading figure of the WJC. Goldmann raised that demand at the organization’s Western Hemisphere conference in Baltimore in November 1941, a few weeks before Pearl Harbor.

The IJA and the WJC, its parent body, also became involved in another major topic pertaining to postwar Germany: the punishment of Nazi criminals who had committed crimes against the Jewish people.

In January 1942, the London St. James conference of nine governments-in-exile strongly denounced German crimes and acts of brutality but evaded the special Jewish aspects of the mass killings in the East. The argument was that identifying the suffering of the Jews might be equivalent to an implicit recognition of the racial theories. In response to that declaration, the WJC appealed to the Allies for an explicit condemnation of German atrocities against the Jews. Roosevelt and Churchill referred to this subject in July 1942; more explicitly it was included in the United Nations declaration of December 1942. However, to the disappointment of American Jewish leaders, it was not mentioned at Allied conferences in Quebec and in Moscow in 1943. Thanks to a demand from the WRB, the topic reappeared in a statement by FDR in March 1944, in spite of adversary advice by counsel Samuel Rosenman that it might stir antisemitic reactions and hurt the Chief in an election year.¹⁶

In 1943 and 1944 the WJC and subsequently the newly established American Jewish Conference continued to call for punitive action against Nazi German criminals and also tried to obtain the help of the exile governments in that aim. Still, Jewish sensitivity prevailed in the advice of Abba Hillel Silver, the stalwart Zionist leader who was not afraid of challenging the White House and the State and War Departments on Palestine, that the American Jewish Conference change the original name of its Statement on Retribution to Statement on the Punishment of the Nazi Criminals. He warned that the average non-Jewish American would react negatively if the Jews were first to talk about retribution. Although the Jewish tragedy was the greatest of all, Silver thought it preferable that the Jewish statement come second or third after the Czechs or the Poles and suggested that a joint statement might be better.¹⁷

Eventually, after Washington and London had agreed to the establishment of the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC), the WJC demanded that the notion of war crimes be extended both in space (to cover crimes committed against Jews not only in occupied territories but also in Germany and Austria) and in time (to extend them back to Hitler’s accession to power in January 1933). This was finally agreed upon only in early 1945, after the administration’s long procrastination and the State Department bureaucracy’s objections to Herbert Pell, the U.S. representative to UNWCC, an outspoken supporter of Jewish demands.¹⁸ Usually the WJC and the American Jewish Conference, which encompassed the great majority of American Jewish organizations and a large number of local communities, maintained close ties in preparing for the postwar era. The Conference was granted priority in contacts with the administration in Washington, whereas the WJC was the first to make representations to foreign governments and intergovernmental bodies. On such issues the WJC, at that time and for years to come, also spoke for the AJ Congress.¹⁹

The WJC postwar demands were drafted at its Atlantic City War Emergency Conference in November 1944 when victory in Europe was already in sight. In addition to the Americans, delegates from Europe, Palestine, Latin America, and other nations attended. The conference called for abrogation of all discriminatory measures against Jews, the full restoration of their rights, the granting of international relief for the rehabilitation of the remnants of the Jewish population in Europe, and the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine. It endorsed the idea of setting up international and national tribunals to try war criminals, discussed at that time by the Allies, and demanded that all forms of persecution of racial, religious, and political minorities committed since January 30, 1933, be prosecuted. The gathering also requested that in the list of crimes made punishable, the annihilation of the Jewish people in Europe and all acts of violence against Jews in the occupied territories and within the territory of the enemy nations should find their explicit and proper place. The delegates refrained from proclaiming a total all-Jewish boycott of Germany. But the representatives of German Jewish emigrés affiliated with the WJC insisted that no Jew who had escaped from Germany would be compelled to return and that no former Jewish citizen of Germany would ever again have to acquire German citizenship except at his or her own request.

In his keynote address, Nahum Goldmann reiterated the demand that the Jewish people as a whole should be regarded as the heirs to those of its children who have been murdered. However, difficulties arose in devising a common approach with regard to restitution and indemnification, especially the future use of heirless property outside its original country of location. The resolutions drafted by Jacob Robinson, the IJA’s founding director, on which agreement was reached by the delegations, distinguished between restitution of property and compensation for losses suffered by Jewish communities and the claims of individual Jewish victims. The conference suggested that heirless property and rights belonging to organizations and institutions that had ceased to exist be turned over to an international Jewish Reconstruction Commission. That body would use the funds for the rehabilitation of European Jews and their communities, as well as for the development of Palestine through the Jewish Agency. According to Nehemiah Robinson’s study Indemnification and Reparations: Jewish Aspects, which reflected the views of the WJC, the extent of Nazi Germany’s spoliation of Jewish assets amounted to $8 billion, excluding Soviet territory. Robinson’s pioneering proposal for a Jewish Agency for Reconstruction subsequently served as a basis for the international Jewish successor organizations.²⁰

As a matter of fact, comparable proposals—regarding restitution of individual as well as of heirless property and some kind of collective recompense—had been drawn up in Palestine by Dr. Georg Landauer of the Jewish Agency and in detail by Dr. Siegfried Moses, the chairman of the Association of Central European Immigrants there.²¹ Moses himself attended the Atlantic City conference as a delegate of the Yishuv (the Jewish community of Palestine). The resolutions passed at the WJC’s War Emergency Conference were included in the American Jewish Conference’s postwar program and comprised the main Jewish demands from Germany and the victorious Allies: restitution payments for individual claims and claims of Jewish communities and organizations, as well as collective reparations linked with Palestine, which had absorbed a great number of refugees and survivors. These demands were the subject of continuing Jewish efforts until the signing in September 1952 of the Luxembourg Treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany and Israel, as well as the additional protocols with the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference).

Because of ideological and organizational differences, the elitist American Jewish Committee refused to cooperate with the WJC in a joint body dealing with postwar reconstruction. Despite its small numbers, at that time and for the next decade or more the AJC was the most prestigious of American Jewish organizations, thanks to the socioeconomic standing of its members and their political connections. Instead, it preferred to set up its own Research Institute on Peace and Postwar Problems as an independent venture. The institute, headed by Dr. Max Gottschalk, brought together a number of prominent Jewish scholars and experts in international law and the social sciences, and was designed to investigate and publish data pertaining to the rehabilitation of European Jewry after the victory over Nazi Germany. In line with AJC’s tradition and standards, it cooperated with governmental and nonsectarian peace-planning groups and published a great number of memoranda and pamphlets on the future abolition of discriminatory legislation in Germany and other Axis countries, human rights in general, migration, war crimes, Palestine, restitution, and indemnification. But as Naomi W. Cohen observed in her history of the Committee’s first sixty years, the underwriting of the Research Institute’s programs already reflected its revised views about Jewish survival and the tempering of its traditional emancipatory philosophy by mid-twentieth-century realities. Its postwar guidelines stressed calling Jewish needs to the attention of statesmen and international councils and, above all, making certain that the catastrophe that befell the Jewish people would never be forgotten.²²

After the end of the war in Europe, the AJC, which in the past could not overcome its basic disagreements with the pro-Zionist elements in the community, joined forces with the American Jewish Conference, the WJC, the Jewish Agency for Palestine, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (hereafter JDC or Joint) in the framework of the Five Cooperating Organizations (after the demise of the American Jewish Conference in 1948, only four). That ad hoc group dealt primarily with issues concerning the survivors and other Jewish displaced persons (DPs) in the American occupation zone of Germany and with demands for restitution and compensation. The AJC’s new cooperative trend also found expression in the communal field. For a number of years it was an active member of the newly established National Community Relations Advisory Council (NCRAC), in contrast to its withdrawal in 1943 from the American Jewish Conference because of the Conference’s endorsement of the Zionist Biltmore program. After a break of more than thirteen years, it rejoined NCRAC in 1966.

In its 1945 statement To the Counsellors of Peace that was published before the founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco, the AJC did not go as far as the WJC, the American Jewish Conference, or the Jewish Agency in demanding collective reparations for the Jewish people, a concept it still did not recognize. It called for the return of individual Jewish property and the use of heirless property for the reconstruction of religious, welfare, educational, and cultural institutions as well as for the rehabilitation of Jewish victims of Nazi persecution. Yet, these differences did not prevent the AJC’s future cooperation with other major Jewish organizations on restitution and recompense. In the most critical postwar period the majority of its leadership joined in support of the creation of a Jewish state in a part of Palestine. The AJC also shared the American Jewish consensus with regard to trial and punishment of Nazi criminals. It cited statements issued by the Allies and the governments-in-exile that spoke of vengeance against the guilty. Especially it referred to Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew promising to punish German leaders and their associates for the whole broad criminal enterprise, devised and executed with ruthless disregard of the very foundations of law and morality.²³

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was the main philanthropic agency of American Jewry. With its lay leadership of upper-class German American background, it resembled the AJC in its general outlook. However, during the war and thereafter, the growing influence of the professionals, mainly second-generation East Europeans, contributed to a change of the agency’s policy toward more support for the Jewish national home in Palestine and afterwards the State of Israel. Since 1939 it was a part of the United Jewish Appeal, financed together with the United Palestine Appeal by the local Jewish communities, and received 60 percent of the sums allocated for overseas needs. During the war years its professionals and contacts in Europe engaged in desperate efforts to assist persecuted Jews in the Nazi-occupied continent. As soon as victory was in sight, teams were trained in the United States to help the survivors and refugees in the liberated areas. According to its tradition, the JDC refrained from making political statements on Germany. But in addition to its immediate most urgent task of rehabilitating the Saving Remnant, it came to play an important role in the fight for restitution of Jewish property and afterwards for reparations from Germany, in the framework of the Claims Conference.²⁴

Altogether, the impact of statements and demands by American and international Jewish organizations on policymakers in Washington and other Allied capitals in regard to postwar Germany was in the best case short-lived. Even before the final stages of the war, the future of Germany and its interrelationship with the reconstruction of Europe had emerged as the most important problem of American postwar planning, to be decided according to U.S. national interest. The limits of Jewish ethnic pleading became clear after the rapid breakup of the anti-Nazi alliance and the beginning of the Cold War. The initially harsh treatment of occupied Germany, the attempted clean sweep of German elites, and the planned punishment of all Nazi activists, which more or less corresponded with Jewish demands, gave way to more moderate and accommodating policies.

On the other hand, with the wartime changes in American society and the replacement of the former ideal of the melting pot by cultural pluralism, Jews became more self-conscious and influential and they carried more weight in American public opinion than in the 1930s and before 1945. As a keen observer of the postwar American Jewish scene stated in retrospect, never would American Jews feel more physically and psychologically secure than after World War II: for perhaps the first time in their history they came to believe that they had at last become full Americans and that the relationship between the Jewish and American identity was to be one of symbiosis and not of conflict.²⁵ The future government of the non-Communist part of Germany would take this development into account for many years to come, and it was to play an important role in satisfying at least the other focal Jewish demands with regard to restitution, indemnification, and collective recompense.


Morgenthau’s Plan, Supporters, and Opponents

As mentioned in the preceding chapter, American Jewish spokesmen called for stern punishment of Nazi war criminals and murderers, and the major organizations drafted proposals for future restitution of Jewish property, individual indemnification, and even collective reparations. However, their impact on postwar American policy with regard to Germany—except the constant reminders of retribution for Nazi crimes—was very limited. The most far-reaching plan to punish Germany and prevent any further recurrence of German aggression did not emerge from any group of the organized community but evolved in the mind of Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr., the only Jew in Roosevelt’s cabinet. Morgenthau’s most important adviser, Harry Dexter White, a left-wing economist of East European Jewish origin, played the key role in formulating these proposals. Other high-ranking non-Jewish members of the Treasury staff were involved in preparing the drafts, among them John Pehle and Josiah DuBois. All those who took part resolved to recommend the necessary measures to put an end to the German threat for the next generations.¹

Nevertheless, many Americans and many more Germans came to regard Morgenthau’s recommendations as the clear-cut expression of Jewish vindictiveness. From the beginning, Morgenthau’s opponents in the administration decried Jewish vengeance as his motive, and such references reverberated in the 1944 election campaign and thereafter. As for the German side, Morgenthau was the most detested Jew, not only in Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels’s hate campaign during the last months of the war, but also for years to come. The American Jewish attitude toward postwar Germany, especially in the first stages, was linked to the secretary’s legacy, although his plan soon faded away.² Early in 1949 Konrad Adenauer, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and soon to be elected as West Germany’s first chancellor, condemned the Morgenthau plan as a crime against humanity that could be compared to Nazi wrongdoing and might have caused the death of thirty to forty million people.³

Early in his life Henry Morgenthau Jr., whose grandfather Lazarus had immigrated from Mannheim in 1866, inherited anti-German feelings. Henry Morgenthau Sr., his father, served in World War I as American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, then a German ally, and had been one of the first to alert the world to the deportation and mass killings of the Armenian people by the Turks, with

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