Book Review: FDR and the Jews


by Richard Breitman & Allan J. Lichtman

Cambridge, Ma.: Belknap Press Harvard, 2014. Pp. viii, 436. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 0674416740

The Complex Problem of How Much Did – or Could – Roosevelt Do?

FDR has been both condemned and praised for his efforts on behalf of the Jewish people during the Holocaust.  Professors Breirman and Lichtman (American University) avoid both extremes as they explore Roosevelt’s actions. 

In their introduction the authors suggest that there were “Four Roosevelts,” that is that FDR’s actions changed as conditions changed , a characteristic that certainly applied to the man’s actions with regard to other matters as well, such as intervention in the Second World War .  Breirman and Lichtman see the President as personally concerned about the fate of European Jews, but observe that he was also aware of the strength of isolationist sentiment and of widespread virulent anti-Semitism in the country, championed by such public figures as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh , matters well known to the President’s Jewish friends and supporters.  Particularly during the 1930s, Roosevelt had to balance efforts to help persecuted Jews in Europe with the need to prepare the nation for war, and any attempt to energetically do both could well have led to doing nothing.

Breirman and Lichtman are by no means uncritical of Roosevelt, who as a man of his times, would sometimes make anti-Semitic jokes, and they discuss situations in which he might have done more at little political risk.  Breirman and Lichtman also rebut many other criticisms, such as his rejection of several Nazi offers to ransom Jews or the very contentious question of proposals to bomb Auschwitz.   In the end they note that the actions FDR did take were more that those of any other world leader. 

FDR and The Jews is a valuable contribution to the literature of the Holocaust and of the politics of global war.  

Note: FDR and the Jews is also available in hardback, $29.95, ISBN 978-0-674-05026-6

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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