A Morgenthau Legacy
A new exhibit opened at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. It is titled: The Morgenthaus: A Legacy of Service and will run through December 2010. The Morgenthaus are a unique American family both wealthy and powerful and among them three Morgenthau generations, Henry Morgenthau, Sr., Henry Morgenthau, Jr., and Robert M. Morgenthau, have contributed greatly to America’s history. While all three men were well connected politically, both Henry Morgenthau Sr. and Henry Morgenthau Jr. were in positions of great influence at times when the fate of European Jewry hung in the balance. Raised in Jewish homes, though not particularly observant, both men were esteemed members of America’s German Jewry1.
As an immigrant himself Henry Morgenthau Sr. was determined to make a difference as an American. Having achieved success in law and business by age 55, he was able to devote the remainder of his life to public service. He became a key player on the world stage during World War I as Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, under President Woodrow Wilson. In the first two years of his post, he witnessed the extreme poverty of Jewish settlers in Palestine and the plight of the Armenians. He called international attention to the sufferings of minorities in the Empire, and helped supply direct aid and relief. His work as Ambassador—and his service to humanitarian causes—had a profound impact on the course of history in the first half of the twentieth century.2
Morgenthau Sr., had in fact assimilated into the fabric of America so much so that he became very close to Woodrow Wilson; hence the appointment as ambassador. The museum site3 tells us that as Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, he became greatly concerned about the dire poverty in which the Jews of Palestine were living. To help them, he sent a telegram to Jacob Schiff asking for funds.4
Morgenthau Sr. was in the Ottoman Empire when the massacres of Armenians occurred and was outraged when he learned the details. That became a cause he championed for the rest of his life.
His son Henry Morgenthau, Jr. was born into a family deeply committed to public service. Beginning his career on a farm in Dutchess County, his life’s work would be defined by his passion for agriculture and his friendship with neighbor Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As Secretary of the Treasury, Morgenthau worked to strengthen America’s economy during the Great Depression, and to prepare the Allies for WWII. During the Holocaust, he urged President Roosevelt to take action—leading to the creation of the War Refugee Board in 1944.5
As Secretary of the Treasury from 1934 to 1945 he helped to develop and institute War Bonds.
The first Series ‘E’ U.S. Savings Bond was sold to President Franklin D. Roosevelt by Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau. The bonds sold at 75 percent of their face value in denominations of $25 up to $10,000, with some limitations. The war bonds actually were a loan to the government to help finance the war effort.
The War Finance Committee was in charge of supervising the sale of all bonds, and the War Advertising Council promoted voluntary compliance with bond buying. The work of those two organizations produced the greatest volume of advertising in U.S. history. In the name of defense of American liberty and democracy, and as safe havens for investment, the public was continually urged to buy bonds. 6
The Museum of Jewish Heritage, which publicizes itself as “A Living Memorial to the Holocaust”, declares that its mission is to “tell the story of the Jews before, during and after the Holocaust.” While it has done a masterful job creating a detailed exhibit about this family, in the case of Henry Sr. and Henry Jr., a great deal has been omitted about the “role” of both men before and during the Holocaust, a role that could have saved the majority of the 6,000,000 who perished. A museum that purports itself to be a memorial to the Holocaust ought to tell a complete story but perhaps it is understandable that unflattering information about the Morgenthaus is not part of this exhibit considering that Robert Morgenthau is listed as the museum’s Chairman of the Board. The website does provide the following unexplained insight.
Like his father, Henry Morgenthau, Jr. would be challenged throughout his career to balance American and Jewish agendas, which often seemed at odds with each other. 7
Indeed there were many challenges for the Morgenthaus to balance their American and Jewish agendas. In 1933 E. Finlay Freundlich, an astronomer and an early collaborator with Albert Einstein,8 was forced out of his position as Director of the Potsdam, (Germany) observatory that he had founded, because his wife was Jewish. Soon thereafter Freundlich was invited to Istanbul to help create Turkey’s first observatory.9 The Freundlichs had met the Morgenthaus years earlier and were obviously on friendly terms with the family because upon their arrival in Istanbul in 1933, Freundlich wrote a three-page letter to Morgenthau Sr.10 After dispensing with the social niceties, Freundlich vividly described what was happening to Jewish intellectuals back home and pleaded for help from his well connected friend in America. He asked Morgenthau Sr. to become involved not only by sounding the alarms but by persuading the people in power to act and do something to help those who were going to be mowed down by the Nazis. Morgenthau’s reply is disconcerting. See paragraph 2.
A letter dated February 17th 1934 from Henry Morgenthau Sr. to E. Finlay Freundlich his friend in Istanbul11
Perhaps Freundlich’s pleas presented a challenge to that delicate “balance between American and Jewish agendas” that is mentioned in the exhibit. At any rate, it appears that Sr. was not up to the challenge because he opted out stating in a manner one would call a brush off that he was just too busy with American matters.
Henry Morgenthau Jr., like other administration officials, was aware of the plight of European Jews and as a friend of the President’s he was in a unique position of both influence and assistance. But here again, the delicate balance between a Jewish agenda and an American agenda was challenged.
On May 13, 1939 the luxury liner St. Louis left Germany with 900 passengers, most of them German Jews with documents for entry into their destination, Cuba. When the ship arrived, however, Havana refused to allow the passengers to disembark. The St. Louis sat in the harbor for days, running out of fresh food and water for the 900 people who were terrified that they would be returned to Nazi Germany. After frantic international negotiations that were meant to allow all the refugees to disembark, only 29 passengers were permitted to land in Havana. The ship was then ordered to leave, which it did, maneuvering slowly and tantalizingly near the coast of Florida hoping for permission to disembark its passengers somewhere on American soil. The U.S., led by Secretary of State Hull and President Roosevelt, ordered the U.S. Coast Guard12 to keep the ship from port. So, it changed course and sailed for Europe.
In his book, While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy, Arthur D. Morse13 claimed that the U.S. Coast Guard cutter CG-244 “shadowed the St. Louis, with orders to prevent any refugees from jumping overboard and swimming ashore.”
While the Coast Guard has pictures of all of the ships that were ever in its service and logs of other incidents, all archivists contacted at the USCG claim to have no logs, nor any other record of USCG Cutter 244. Nor does the Fort Lauderdale USCG Station have any archival documents pertaining to the 244, not even a photo, which would correspond to the transcripts.
Transcripts of two telephone conversations, one initiated at 3:54 PM on June 6, 1939 by the Secretary of Treasury to Commander Earl G. Rose at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters14 followed by another call at 3:59 PM15 show that above all else, Morgenthau wanted to make sure that “[t]here would be nothing in the papers”16
Morgenthau wanted no publicity about this incident that would make the United States government appear heartless or unfeeling to the plight of refugees or cause any backlash among Roosevelt’s Jewish supporters. Yet according to the New York Times of June 8, 1939,
After extensive negotiations, the St. Louis docked at Antwerp on June 17, 1939: 214 passengers remained in Belgium, 224 went to France and 181 to the Netherlands. Another 288 passengers went ashore in Britain on June 21.
History tells us that as the years went on and America entered the war, the United States did nothing to help European Jewry, a fact which several decades later still boggles the mind. The American Jewish community, still extremely wary of encouraging widespread anti-Semitic and anti-alien sentiments, felt their own situations would become more difficult if a flood of poor, eastern European immigrants came into their communities. American Jews were ambivalent and timorous when lobbying for rescue efforts and they were torn by bitter infighting principally between Zionists and non-Zionists. Influential and well connected German American Jews consistently underplayed the perils of their fellow Jews in Europe while wishful thinking, sloth and business-as-usual attitudes undermined whatever efforts were made.17
Led by Rabbi Stephen Wise (1874-1949), the American Jewish Congress encouraged a boycott of German goods in 1933. Later, during the war, a different group of Jews led by the Warburgs, bankers whose German branch of the family had helped found the chemical giant I.G. Farben (makers of Zyklon B gas used in the death camps) in the 1920’s and members of Roosevelt’s inner circle visited the President and told him (via German American Jews' requests) that “things aren't all that bad in Germany.”18
… ''Jews who were close to the President did very little to encourage rescue action.'' Samuel Rosenman, Special Counsel to the President and his principal adviser on Jewish matters, ''considered the rescue issue politically sensitive, so he consistently tried to insulate Roosevelt from it.'' Rosenman opposed formation of a rescue agency, deliberately watered down a war-crimes declaration so as to eliminate what he considered ''excessive emphasis on the Jews'' and argued consistently that ''government aid to European Jews might increase anti-Semitism in the United States.''19
As the museum correctly states Morgenthau Jr. “urged President Roosevelt to take action—leading to the creation of the War Refugee Board in 1944.” Why did this happen at such a late date? Lawyer Josiah DuBois Jr., a non Jewish junior staffer at Treasury was going through some State Department documents and happened upon papers that spelled out virulent anti-Semitic immigration policies including a document signed by Breckinridge Long, State’s Under Secretary, immigration Czar and a rabid anti Semite.20
These documents sent to all staff at State and to all US embassies and consulates gave complete, how-to instructions on keeping Jewish immigrants out21 especially with such “Catch 22-type” regulations in place like the “criminal record” prohibition which by definition considered those who had been released from concentration or labor camps criminals and therefore excluded them from immigration. The “LPC” (likely to become a public charge) prohibition excluded many Jews since they were not allowed to take any wealth with them when they left Nazi territory and would arrive destitute. Finally the “contract labor” prohibition cut off those who could not show that they would become LPC because they did not have a guaranteed job offer America. There were other rules to obstruct visas. “American consuls in Germany [were instructed] not to give visas to Germans [Jews] without passport or without permission to leave the country ... not to issue immigrant visas to anyone without evidence of a booking on a ship due to sail within four months … have the ability to pay for passage and affidavits of support from American relatives.”22 This left many Jews stuck in Germany as Hitler rose to power.
Outraged, Du Bois and two of his asssociates wrote their findings in a report,23 presented it to Morgenthau Jr. and threatened to go public with the damaging information in an election year unless FDR swiftly changed matters at the State Department. Within a week FDR issued an order proclaiming the War Refugee Board mentioned by the Museum.24 Why did it take so long for action? Could this have been yet again another challenge to the balance between Jewish and American agendas?
About his father’s conversion “to the cause,” Henry Morgenthau III wrote:
In this climate of Jewish evasiveness it is significant that the initial breakthrough to my father’s conscience [late in 1943] was achieved by three zealous Christian Treasury lawyers he trusted and respected. The most senior member of the triumvirate was Randolph Paul whom my father brought into the Treasury to draft tax reform legislation. The two junior members were John Pehle, then thirty-five director of the Foreign Funds Control Board (subsequently director of the War Refugee Board), and Josiah E. DuBois the thirty-two-year old assistant to the general Counsel.25
According to the Museum website:
The exhibition explores the fascinating ways in which three generations of a family raised awareness of tragedy around the world, and in doing so changed the course of world events, American politics, and Jewish history.
From its video transcripts we obtain these insights into the individuals.
Lazarus Morgenthau (Father of Morgenthau Sr.) was determined to make it as an American. (narrator.)
Henry Morgenthau Sr. was determined to insure a greater level of success. (narrator)
And significantly, Joan Morgenthau Hirshborn, daughter of Henry Morgenthau Jr. stated "My father changed enormously as a result of what went on during the Holocaust. He got very much interested in Israel as a sanctuary for Jews. Totally changed our feeling about, you know, our heritage." (emphasis added)
One can understand that the enormity of the Holocaust would have an impact on Jr. who did too little much too late. This, too, is part of the Morgenthau Legacy.
1 For at least three generations this community considered itself at the top of the social strata among American Jews with their own elite golf clubs and synagogues. Intermarriage with establishment Protestants was more acceptable than marriage to any east European Jew no matter how accomplished or wealthy.
8 Anonymous “Einstein to Modify Theory of Relativity As Light Study Shows Calculations Wrong, Photographic Method Explained.”
Special Cable to THE NEW YORK TIMES. June 13, 1931
9 Reisman,A. Turkey's Modernization: Refugees from Nazism and Atatürk's Vision (Washington, DC: New Academia Publishers. 2006) pp191-5
10 Courtesy E. Finlay Freundlich Archives St. Andrews University, St Andrews Scotland.
11 Courtesy E. Finlay Freundlich archives St. Andrews University, St Andrews Scotland. For a further explanation see Reisman A. Turkey's Modernization: Refugees from Nazism and Atatürk's Vision (Washington, DC: New Academia Publishers. 2006) pp 26, 34, 39, 40, 191-7, 227, 232, 233, 235, 266, 284-6, 320, 330, 331, 335-65.
12 The US coast Guard has always been an agency of the Department of the Treasury.
13 Morse, A.D. While six million died; a chronicle of American apathy (New York, Random House 1968)
14Coast Guard History: http://www.uscg.mil/history/faqs/St_Louis.asp
16Coast Guard History: http://www.uscg.mil/history/faqs/HullMorgan2.asp
17 Sherman, A.J. DOOMED BY THE INDIFFERENCE-AND WORSE, The New York Times, December 16, 1984.
18 Geidner, Chris "A Question of Integrity: The United States' Treatment of Jewish Refugees During World War II" 2000, http://www.geocities.com/crgeidner/refugees.html
19 Sherman, A.J. DOOMED BY THE INDIFFERENCE-AND WORSE
20 A full transcript of the document appears in Reisman,A. SHOAH: Turkey, The US and the (Charleston, SC: BookSurge Publishing. 2009), The actual photocopy of the document will appear in Reisman A. PERFIDY: Britannia and her all-Jewish army units.
21 There are excellent secondary sources for the reader to consider. Among them are: Richard Breitman and Alan M. Kraut, American Refugee Policy. Berenbaum, M. The world must know: the history of the Holocaust: and Laquer, W. and Baumel, J.T. The Holocaust encyclopedia. Morse, A.D. While six million died; a chronicle of American apathy; Feingold, H.L. The politics of rescue; the Roosevelt administration and the Holocaust, 1938-1945; Gilbert, M. Never again: a history of the Holocaust; Friedman, S. S. No haven for the oppressed; United States policy toward Jewish refugees, 1938-1945; Perl, W. The Holocaust conspiracy: an international policy of genocide; Wasserstein, B. Britain and the Jews of Europe, 1939-1945; Bolchover, R. British Jewry and the Holocaust. The list can go on and on. However, in The Myth of Rescue, William D. Rubenstein provides much statistical data to support his premise that America and the UK did do all that could have been done to save Jewish lives, an unorthodox point of view indeed. Interestingly the word “Turkey” does not appear in his lengthy and detailed index.
22 Richard Breitman and Alan M. Kraut, American Refugee Policy: p 75
23 Specifically the “Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of this Government in the Murder of the Jews,” written by Josiah E. DuBois, Jr. , (1913-1983) a Treasury Department official, played a pivotal role in exposing State Department obstruction of efforts to provide American visa to Jews trying to escape Nazi Europe. In no uncertain terms the report said that FDR was "guilty not only of gross procrastination and willful failure to act, but even of willful attempts to prevent action from being taken to rescue Jews from Hitler." One of many facts in the report: "By the act of 1924, we are permitted to admit approximately 150,000 immigrants each year. During the last fiscal year only 23,725 came as immigrants. Of these only 4,705 were Jews fleeing Nazi persecution." None of these facts should surprise the more knowledgeable.
24 For further information on this episode see Reisman, SHOAH: Turkey, the US and the UK, (BookSurge, 2009)
25 Morgenthau H. III, Mostly Morgenthaus: (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1991) p 323.
comments powered by Disqus
Fahrettin Tahir - 11/24/2009
There is very little documantation about the cruelties to which Turks were subjected. The people who did it were not proud of what they have done, the official Turkish policy has been one of letting bygones be bygones and forgetting history, not only in the case of Armenians, but also in what the Turkish people have suffered. This has let to limited literature on the subject. It was done to make peace last by preventing Turks from demanding to be given back what had been Moslem majority areas annected to foreign countries but is bad for scientic historiography.
My knowledge is first what I have heard in Turkey from people who are descended from those who suffered and second from press reports which in Turkey are the first source for information. I got drafted into the Turkish army when I was 30 and met there for the first time in my life a Turk who did not have ancestors deported from former Ottoman provinces in Europe. The only exception to that were Jews whose ancestors were deported from Spain after 1492, another large group of refugees. One friend of mine could actually speak Spanish (Ladino). Some of them became refugees for a second time when Saloniki, which was a city with a majority population of Jews was annexed to Greec after 1912.
My own grandmother was a Cretan Moslem who got deported when Greece annexed the Island in 1913. Until the middle of the 19th century Moslems had been the a majority on Crete, today not a single one has been left.
The only book I have available about the time of the Balkan war 1912-1913 is a collection of newspaper articles by Leo Trotzki who worked as a journalist at that time. It is very interesting for showing what the climate of the time was. Later books make events appear far more hygenic than they were. L Trotzkii sochineniya tom VI, balkani i balkanskaia voina moscow leningrad 1926. In German translation the Balkankriege 1912-13 Arbeiterpresse Verlag Essen 1996.
HNN - 11/23/2009
Dear Fahrettin Tahir
This is not intended to question your comments but I for one, and I suspect the other readers as well, would welcome any and all documentation attesting to the assertions you have made. The best would be to reproduce some archival documents. Absent that perhaps citations of respectable sources would help. Clearly you need not bother bother documenting what the US has done to America's native peoples.
Fahrettin Tahir - 11/23/2009
Mr Morgentau was US ambassador and wrote a book to justify a US war against Turkey and Germany. That was his duty as a servant of his state.
He a German immigrant to the US goes on and on about the Armenians and forgets that he represents a country which at that point in living memory had done the same to the Indians of America.
He does not mention that his master Mr Wilson had not wanted to send an ambassador to Turkey because he said there soon would be no Turkey left needing an ambassador. In the balkan war 1912 Euroepan Turkey had been erased from the map and more important hundreds of thousands of Euroepan Turks Bosnian Albanians etc had been killed and millions forced to emigrate.
At the point where this gentleman was ambassador plans had been made to repeat the same crime in Abnatolia, extinguishing the Turkish people for once and for all. Armenians were to get the ethnically cleaned territories.
No mention of that either.
Later when peace was made the US of A refused to sign the peace treatry refusing to accpt the existence of Turkey.
So much for Mr Morgentau and his country.
- Stephanie Coontz’s work on the history of marriage cited by the Supreme Court.
- How Does It Feel To Have One’s Work as a Historian Cited by the Supreme Court? Cool. Very Cool. Thank You Very Much.
- NYT History Book Reviews: Who Got Noticed this Week?
- David Hackett Fischer wins $100,000 prize for lifetime achievement in military writing
- Russian historian slams Putin