U.S Foreign Policy Toward Jewish Refugees During 1933-1939

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U.S Foreign Policy Toward Jewish Refugees During 1933-1939

PART I HISTORICAL REVIEW AND ANALYSIS

In reviewing the events which gave rise to the U.S.'s foreign policy toward Jewish refugees, we must identify the relevant factors upon which such decisions were made. Factors including the U.S. government's policy mechanisms, it's bureaucracy and public opinion, coupled with the narrow domestic political mindedness of President Roosevelt, lead us to ask; Why was the American government apathetic to the point of culpability, and isolationist to the point of irresponsibility, with respect to the systematic persecution and annihilation of the Jewish people of Europe during the period between 1938-1945?

Throughout the years of 1933-1939, led by Neville Chamberlain and the British, the United States was pursuing a policy of appeasement toward Hitler. They had tolerated his military build-up and occupation of the Rhineland, both violations of the Treaty of Versailles, as well as the annexing of Austria and the take-over of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Hitler realized early on in his expansionist campaign that Western leaders were too busy dealing with their own domestic problems to pose any real opposition. In the United States, Americans were wrestling with the ravages of the Great Depression. With the lingering memory of the more than 300,000 U.S. troops either killed or injured in World War I, isolationism was the dominant sentiment in most political circles. Americans were not going to be "dragged" into another war by the British. The Depression had bred increased xenophobia and anti-Semitism, and with upward of 30% unemployment in some industrial areas1, many Americans wanted to see immigration halted completely. It was in this context that the democratic world, led by the United States, was faced with a refugee problem that it was morally bound to deal with. The question then became; what would they do?

Persecution of the Jews in Germany began officially on April 1st 1933. Hitler had come to power a few weeks earlier and he immediately began the plan, as outlined in his book Mein Kampf, to eliminate "the eternal mushroom of humanity - Jews".2 German Jews were stripped of their citizenship by the Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935 and had their businesses and stockholdings seized in 1938. Civil servants, newspaper editors, soldiers and members of the judiciary were dismissed from their positions, while lawyers and physicians were forbidden to practice. Anti-Jewish violence peaked on 9 November 1938, known as the "Night of the Broken Glass" or Kristallnacht, when over 1000 synagogues were burned. Jewish schools, hospitals, books, cemeteries and homes were also destroyed3.

The mistreatment of non-Aryans in Germany was common knowledge in the U.S. in 1938. After the anschluss, the flow of refugees exceeded the capabilities of both the Nansen Office and the Autonomous Office of High Commissioner for Refugees. The commission had been formed in response to the anti-Jewish persecution and had but the "tacit endorsement of the United States". In light of the League's incapability, President Roosevelt and then Secretary of State Cordell Hull, invited the representatives of more than 30 nations and 39 private organizations to an international conference at Evian, to discuss the refugee problem. Myron C. Taylor, past chairman of U.S. Steel Corporation, was named the chairman of the American delegation. In the weeks before the conference, Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, in London, felt the growing concern in the British Foreign Office as to the American position on the conference and the refugee question in general. He cabled the U.S. State Department expressing his concern, and received an evasive reply from Secretary Hull. Hull explained that it was the French, that had assumed control of the planning of the conference and that he would be advised of their position "in the near future". No reply ever...
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