Harry and Bess: Never in My House

Following the death of the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1945, he was succeeded by his Vice-President, Harry Truman, of Independence, Missouri. Before he entered politics, Truman had been in the haberdashery business with a Jewish partner, Eddie Jacobson.

When the United Nations was discussing the partition of Palestine in 1947, a representative of the provisional government in Eretz Yisrael came to Jacobson and urged him to speak with his former partner, now the new President, and request that he support the Jewish right to a state in Palestine.

Eddie Jacobson met with Harry Truman on the doorsteps of Truman’s home in Missouri. He was not invited to enter the house and had to speak at length to the President outside on the steps of the house.

Bess Truman refused to let Jews into her house, even Jews whom she knew and may have liked. She remarked, “no Jew ever entered my mother’s house and no Jew will ever enter my house”.

Harry Truman was a “mild” anti-Semite. In his diary, he wrote an entry on July 21, 1947:

“The Jews, I find are very selfish. They have no concern for Poles, Estonians, Latvians and other Displaced Persons; they are only interested in themselves. When they have power, physical or political, neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog”.

Former Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., a Jew, spoke with President Truman about the sad state of affairs of Holocaust survivors, passengers of the ship Exodus, who were turned away from the shores of Palestine by the British and were sent back to Europe. Morgenthau asked the President to intervene with the British to allow the Jews entry into Palestine.

Of this request, Truman wrote in his diary: “He had no business whatever to call me. The Jews have no sense of proportion nor do they have any judgement on world affairs. Henry brought one thousand Jews to New York on a supposedly temporary basis and they stayed.”

He often called New York City “kike town”; he referred to his Jewish partner, Eddie Jacobson, as his “Jew clerk” and he wrote to Bess about someone in a poker game who had “screamed like a Jewish merchant”.

However, strange as it seems, Harry Truman was more sympathetic to the creation of a Jewish state than was his State Department and, in particular, his Secretary of State, George Marshall. When he gave recognition to the new State of Israel in 1948, George Marshall resigned in protest.

There was another reason for Truman’s hasty recognition of Israel. On May 14, 1947, Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations, proposed the idea of partitioning Palestine into a Jewish State of Israel and an Arab State of Palestine.
Fearful that the Soviet Union would be the first nation to recognize the State of Israel in 1948, Truman acted quickly and gave American recognition to the State of Israel, the first country to do so. It was followed by the Soviet Union’s recognition, the second country to do so.

Once, in 1953, the television host, David Susskind, asked the ex-President why he had never been invited to the Truman home in spite of their many interviews.

Truman replied: “You’re a Jew, David, and no Jew has ever been in our house. Bess runs it and there’s never been a Jew inside the house in her or her mother’s lifetime”.

In spite of everything, Harry Truman was friendly to the State of Israel and was warmly regarded as a friend by David Ben-Gurion and other Israeli leaders. But no Jew ever entered his house.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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