As a resident of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I am proud that my children attend an Orthodox day school and have many friends of many different backgrounds. Working at a PR firm, 5WPR, I and my children live in a modern world, and interact daily with non-Jews and people of many different backgrounds. I believe my children should see many different things and learn from many.
Yet, this weekend, for the first time, I wouldn’t permit my children to attend a friend’s birthday party in a Jewish institution, as no one in this family will set foot inside of the Stephen Wise Synagogue – even though it is only steps away from our home. As the grandson of Holocaust survivors who lost countless relatives in the camps, to me it is simply absurd that Jewish institutions are named after Wise, and that anyone can consider the man a hero.
Rabbi Stephen Wise was “president of both the American Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress,” and undoubtedly the most prominent leader of the American Jewish community during the 1930s and 1940s — yet he was completely ineffectual and non-existent in efforts to save Jews from the Holocaust. His name should not appear on any building.
The facts on Wise are indeed very clear:
- Prof. Mark Raider, chairman of Judaic Studies at SUNY Albany, says that Wise was “cautious and ineffective” in response to “the disgracefully slow response of the Allies” to the Nazi persecution of European Jewry.
- Dr. Zohar Segev of Haifa University says that Wise and his colleagues “worked actively to tone down any Jewish criticism of the Roosevelt administration.” Wise “used their influence to restrain, limit, and control any efforts towards greater activism.”
- Dr. David Kranzler says Wise dismissed early reports of the Final Solution as propaganda.
- Authors David Wyman and Rafael Medoff, in their book “A Race against Death: Peter Bergson, America, and the Holocaust,” allege that Wise displayed a lack of leadership that hindered the Holocaust rescue attempts of others. Wise allegedly advised President Roosevelt not to meet with the 400 Orthodox rabbis that marched on Washington in 1943 and to squelch the broadcast of “We Will Never Die,” a bid to bring attention to the slaughter of Jews in Europe.
Historian Saul Friedlander wrote:
In the spring of 1941 Rabbi Wise had decided to impose a complete embargo on all aid sent to Jews in occupied countries, in compliance with the U.S. government’s economic boycott of the Axis powers (whereby every food packages was seen as direct or indirect assistance to the enemy)… Strict orders were given to World Jewish Congress representatives in Europe to halt forthwith any shipment of packages to the ghettos, despite the fact that these packages did usually reach their destination, the Jewish Self-Help Association in Warsaw. “All these operations with and through Poland must cease at once, “Wise cabled to Congress delegates in London and Geneva, and at once in English means AT ONCE, not in the future.
- Wise had a hatred for Revisionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, whom he called “a traitor” for preaching evacuation of over a million eastern Jews. Furthermore, Wise claimed, Jabotinsky’s Revisionist movement was guilty of bringing unselected, “unsuitable” Jews to Palestine. As the United Palestine Appeal’s director Henry Montor [an ally of Wise] wrote, “No responsible person has ever said that Palestine could hold all the millions of Jews who need shelter.”
- Wise also hated Peter Bergson of the Bergson Group, and said he was “worse than Hitler.” Even Rabbi David Ellenson, president of the Reform Movement, Hebrew Union College in Manhattan, said the explanation came in Wise’s “absolute and complete love” for president Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as his antipathy toward Jabotinsky, and toward the Bergson Group, whose leaders were followers of Jabotinsky, — something that “helped blind him” to the need for more activism.
- Wise called President Franklin Delano Roosevelt “boss” or “chief,” and it is said Wise regarded himself as a servant of Roosevelt.
After 6 million Jews were slaughtered, it is clear that the Jewish community in the free world did not do enough. Who knows how many more Jewish children would be in the world if Wise did the right thing for the Jewish people. The name of Stephen Wise doesn’t belong on any buildings, let alone Jewish institutions. The man’s conduct was despicable – and hindsight is indeed 20/20 – so why not remove his name from all synagogues, day schools, and Jewish institutions?
In this lifetime I will not enter any building with his name on it – and I urge others to join me. It’s never too late to do the right thing.