Roosevelt and the Jews: A Debate Rekindled

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s legacy has been slid back under the microscope recently as his efforts to pull the country out of the Great Depression are scrutinized. Now a piece of his foreign policy is also being re-evaluated in a soon-to-be published book that upends a widely held view that he was indifferent to the fate of Europe’s Jews, and asserts that new evidence shows that the president pushed for an ambitious secret rescue plan before the war began.

The book, an edited collection of official documents, diaries, internal memos and more, contends that Roosevelt hatched a scheme in 1938 to rally the world’s democracies and relocate millions of European Jews to undeveloped areas in Latin America and Africa.

“It is a book that will change the consensus about the role of President Roosevelt,” said Deborah Lipstadt, a leading expert on the Holocaust, who has read some sections. It “compels historians — both those who have vilified F.D.R. and those who have sanctified him — to rethink their conclusions.”

The book, “Refugees and Rescue: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald, 1935-1945,” will undoubtedly reignite the charged debate over whether Roosevelt could have done more to rescue millions of Jews, Gypsies, gay people, dissidents and others who died in Nazi death camps. To his detractors, the refusal in June 1939 to take in any of the more than 900 Jews aboard the ocean liner St. Louis who were seeking a haven after Germany’s deadly Kristallnacht is much more emblematic of the United States’ response. Many of those passengers ultimately died.

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