Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: His published journal entries barely mention Israel or the Holocaust

Historians in the News

In the recently published Journals: 1952-2000 of the late American historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. one finds only a few references to Israel. There are perhaps no more than two or three occasions that the Holocaust is mentioned, and only scant discussion of the Middle East.

In perspective, that picture probably reflected the actual marginal role that those concerns, so close to us, were perceived by Schlesinger and his interlocutors. Yet they are still highly illuminating.

The reader may be partly right, I suppose, in assuming that much more of these special preoccupations to us may be hidden in the 5,000 typed pages that were not included in the published Journals. From my personal experience I could testify that Schlesinger always showed keen interest in what was happening in Israel. Most of the 800-page volume reflects his profound and extensive involvement for almost half a century in American politics and manifests his intense preoccupation with US foreign policy. The extent of what was fit to be published was determined by the editors and the publisher. They may have not been indifferent after all to market considerations.

A personal note might be in order here: I was drawn to these Journals because I had known Schlesinger for almost 50 years. I valued his intelligence and enormous erudition and sustained friendship even when we occasionally disagreed on some matters. I first met him at Harvard when I served in New York as the consul assigned to cope also with Boston and Cambridge Mass. Later on, we met in Washington (when he was one of Kennedy's advisers). After Kennedy's assassination and Lyndon Johnson's succession, Schlesinger resigned and moved to New York to teach and write. From that point on, the Century Club became our meeting place for over 30 years. He passed away last February.

A MONTH after Kennedy's election, Schlesinger recorded in his diary a resume of his conversations with the president-elect. The central topic was the task of shaping the new administration. When they reached the subject of who would be secretary of state, the name of David Bruce, a veteran diplomat, was mentioned, but Schlesinger thought he would "not have too many ideas of his own."

Later, at Kennedy's house, the president-elect talked favorably about senator J.W. Fulbright. For Kennedy, the influence of Fulbright in the Senate "seemed a paramount consideration." Schlesinger asked Kennedy if Fulbright would not "alienate the negroes and the Jews?" and Kennedy said, "I don't care about the Jews" [in this connection].

A few days later, Schlesinger learned that the apparent candidate would be Dean Rusk, who was ultimately nominated. In early December 1960 Schlesinger noted that Harris Wofford (one of Kennedy's advisers) had "succeeded in stirring up the Negroes and Jews so effectively that the uproar killed Fulbright, who was apparently Jack's (Kennedy) first choice."...

comments powered by Disqus