President Roosevelt had many opportunities to save Jewish lives from the Nazis. One such instance was his failure to support the Wagner-Rogers Bill of 1939. Had he supported the Bill, 20,000 Jewish children in Germany could have been saved.
When Herbert Hoover was sworn into office as President of the United States in 1929, his presidency marked the end of the Roaring Twenties. By the time he left office, the Great Depression had begun. During his 4 years in office, immigration tightened as both Republicans and Democrats believed it would help bring an end to the economic difficulties that existed. It was not until 1945 that immigration loosened to allow more people into the United States.
Roosevelt was sworn into office in 1933, which was the same year Hitler was sworn in a Chancellor of Germany. President Roosevelt’s response to rising anti-Semitism in Germany was to do nothing to increase the numbers of German immigration. Calling on Congress to increase numbers for those who could legally enter would have enabled Jewish refugees to escape the rising violence. To put it simply, it would have saved lives.
On November 9 – 10 of 1938, Kristallnacht occurred after several years of increasing repressive policies against German Jews by the Nazis. It should not have come as a surprise to anyone when, as History sums it up, “Nazis in Germany torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools and businesses and killed close to 100 Jews. In the aftermath of Kristallnacht, also called the “Night of Broken Glass,” some 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to Nazi concentration camps.”
Most American news outlets reported what had happened with vivid headlines and the gruesome details of the horrors. Americans were, for the vast majority, angered by what had happened. The majority of Americans saw it for the evil action that it was and viewed the Nazis as something to be despised and hated.
Not everyone agreed with the majority, including those in power who could have done a great deal following the incident. According to History, “During a November 11 press conference, he was asked if he had anything to say about the violence. “No, I think not,” he answered.” This was the President of the United States who refused to say a single negative thing about the horrors of Kristallnacht.
The Shoah Resource Center has a response to the events from German Ambassador Dieckhoff 3 days after President Roosevelt let his position be known. “As for now, a hurricane is raging here and no regular work can be done. It is well known that a large part of the American press has been attacking Germany in the most hateful and vicious way… However, it is to be taken seriously that people like Dewey, Hoover, Hearst and many others who in the past were relatively reserved and even sometimes expressed sympathy to Germany, are now publicly adopting such a violent and bitter attitude against us.” Roosevelt was not considered to be among those expressing anything negative towards the Nazis, because he made his position clear to the world.
There were members of Congress who did act to save lives. The Wagner-Rogers Bill was proposed in 1939, which would have saved 20,000 lives of Jewish children in Nazi Germany. The Jewish Virtual Library does a good job of summing up the tremendous support the Bill had. “The Wagner-Rogers bill was supported by a wide range of clergymen, labor leaders, university presidents, actors such as Henry Fonda and Helen Hayes, and political figures such as 1936 Republican presidential nominee Alf Landon and his running mate, Frank Knox. Former First Lady Grace Coolidge announced she and her friends in Northampton, Massachusetts would personally care for 25 of the children… The most prominent, and unexpected, political figure to back Wagner-Rogers was former President Herbert Hoover.”
President Roosevelt did nothing to support the Bill. It was similar to how he refused to condemn the horrors of Kristallnacht. When Roosevelt did not publicly condemn or support an action, as was shown throughout much of his life, he took the less than popular position without having to worry about backlash from the media.
From the same Jewish Virtual Library, “Ironically, a year later, when British children were endangered by German bombing raids, President Roosevelt and Congress joined hands to rush through legislation enabling thousands of those children to receive temporary haven in the United States.”
It was not irony, but anti-Semitism in action. Roosevelt did not see Jewish children as children. His hatred for Jews was on full display when he refused to act. Had he shown the same support that he did a year later with British children, 20,000 German children who were Jewish would have survived.