Monday, March 28, 2016

Bauer's Anti-Wyman Address

Last week, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, Professor Yehuda Bauer lectured for over 90 minutes, a talk that was a direct attack on Prof. David Wyman and his school.

Wyman, the author of The Abandonment of the Jews, Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis, 1938-1941 and  A Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, America, and the Holocaust, and founder of the institute that bears his name, champions the position that FDR and the Allies could have saved many more Jews than they did.  As noted:

In January 2012, Bauer's article in the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs entitled "The Holocaust, America and American Jewry" precipitated a bitter debate between himself, Rafael Medoff (Wyman Institute) and Alexander J. Groth (University of California, Davis), on what the US Government and the Jews of America could and could not have done to rescue the Jews of Europe.

I was a part of that argument on a parallel issue.  On the argument, see here, too. Also here. And a contra.  Bauer has also been behind the stonewalling over the years of any proper acknowledgement of the Bergson Group's activities by Yad Vashem (there was more success at the US Holocaust Memorial).

Bauer was afforded a very special platform at the Israel Academy of Sciences in its Van Leer hall.

And he used to it to the fullest, going over his earlier arguments and adding more points. For him, it didn't really matter in the end whether FDR and his State Department officials were anti-Semitic or whatever.  The point he made was that it was not possible to save Jews in any significant number.

Points from my notes of the talk:

a. Were FDR, etc. obligated to save the Jews?

b. Wyman assumes, based on the Protestant background, a religious/moral approach rather than an analytical/political one in judging the issue based on the specific time period.

c. Was the US really obligated to Jews more than any other group threatened?  Did the US intervene in the Abyssinia invasion?  Nanking?  Why should we expect the Jews to be treated better than those?

d.  Germany controlled Europe and there was no way Jews could escape.  By ships?  How could they even reach ports?

e.  He went through specific numbers of possibilities which were minuscule.

f.  The fact of the matter that even when reliable information was passed out from occupied Europe on the fate of the Jews, no one believed it, including many establishment Jews.  So why blame FDR, etc.?

g. Was there anything to bomb?  And when?  He charted distances and flying capabilities. This he needed to do after being roundly criticized at an international conference.

h.  The idea that Zionist leaders, foremost among them Jabotinsky, foresaw the Holocaust is not at all exact.  What Holocaust?  Did they knoiw of an industrial murder machine? Actually, it is a fantastical idea.

i.  The ability of the Allies to accomplish any sort of rescue operations was almost zero. No military action could have been put in place.

j. Even the 400,000 claimed by Wyman/Medoff doesn't exist.

k.  Wallenberg was not a War Relief Board appointee by actually a US-sponsored spy.  And that was why the Soviets treated him they way they did instead of a humanitarian mission.

l.  The Holocaust, as such, wasn't even known until late 1942 and by then the numbers left were not large and there were not planes capable at that time of reaching areas to be attacked as that only happened in late 1943-early 1944.  There weren't that many Jews left to save.

My immediate thought was that even within the framework Bauer constructs, even he cannot know what would have been the effect on Germany had some operations been attempted and declarations made.

On this matter, a review of a new book was brought to my attention.  The book, “1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History,” we read that the author thinks that

Roosevelt should have imbued World War II with a higher moral purpose, making it not only a fight against the Axis but also “a war against the Final Solution.” He adds, “In 1944 he had his chances.”

Such arguments sidestep certain realities, beginning with the emphasis on 1944 as a potentially pivotal year for Jewish rescue. 

Was it that

the opportunity to save a sizable percentage of Jews had long since vanished...By the time of D-Day, a vast majority of European Jews were dead. Winik argues that many thousands of Jews in Hungary could have been saved if the Allies had bombed Ausch­witz in 1944, but whether such raids could have had a significant effect is still hotly ­debated.

And the reviewer also notes

In all, the War Refugee Board and its operatives were credited with rescuing more than 200,000 Jews from the Holocaust — an impressive feat, to be sure, but only a tiny fraction of the millions murdered by the Nazis. The success of the board’s 11th-hour effort underscores the haunting question that runs through Winik’s book: How many more could have been saved had America acted sooner?

So, is Bauer the more correct historian?

To Bauer's claim of "how would the Jews have gotten to the ports?" and "Would the British could have opened Palestine to Jewish refugees?", the Wyman/Medoff school would reply

Some would have managed to find a way, many wouldn't; we don't have to produce some foolproof method. What's important is that the Allies obstructed the possibility of rescue - not because they thought not a single Jew could escape, but because they didn't want the "burden" of having Jewish refugees on their hands.

To Bauer's doubt that even if the Roosevelt administration had established the War Refugee Board in 1943, instead of fighting tooth and nail against its creation, and establishing it only in 1944, how could the WRB staff found ways to rescue more refugees? the reply would be

The exact same way that they did in 1944--sending funds to Europe for bribing and sheltering, sending emissaries to negotiate the opening of blocked-off escape routes, etc; but they would have been doing it for a whole extra year, so more would have been accomplished.

Other responses:

- if the War Refugee Board had been appropriately funding by the U.S. government instead of 90% of its budget supplied by private Jewish organizations, rescue attempts would have benefited from more money = more staff, more funds for bribes, more funds for sheltering Jews underground in Europe, and in general more rescue work.

- as for the claim that the American public was so anti-Semitic that it prevented FDR from setting up numerous temporary shelters for Jewish refugees, instead of just the one token camp in Oswego, New York, where 982 refugees were housed, Bauer knows that the White House commissioned a Gallup poll in April 1944 which found that 70% of Americans were willing to admit an unlimited number of Jewish refugees temporarily until the war ended.

- that a bombing option, which Bauer agrees is but a "moral" matter, is really one of efficacy is answered so: what's not an open question is this: the reason the Allies turned down the bombing requests was not because they thought bombing the camps or the railway tracks wouldn't be effective. They never did study to determine if it would be effective. Instead, the War Department lied and claimed it had done a study and bombing would divert planes from the battlefield. They knew that planes didn't have to be diverted because they were already bombing targets within five miles of the gas chambers. But they lied because they didn't want to use even the most minimal resources for a humanitarian objective--and they didn't want to be left with hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees to deal with.

I can only presume that issue will continue to be contentious.



I was reminded by a comment about something Bauer said which, to me, indicated he is still motivated by a personal political approach.

He recalled that he had appeared on the same platform as then PM Yitzhak Shamir at a Holocaust memorial event and Shamir had declared the lesson of the Holocaust was that Israel had to be strong.  That last part, Bauer said with a bit of denigration and scornful disrespect.

But he also added a description of the event, saying that "Shamir ascended the speaker's p[odium to his full height".  That brought smirks from the audience.  Why?  Because we all know that Shamir was quite short.  Bauer was simply making fun of a physical characteristic that had nothing to do with his point, unless you grasp that Shamir was Lechi and Bauer was Palmah.

He also said something condescending about Barak and his wish that the IDF be a small and compact fighting force but I don't recall the exact words.  But the intent was similar - making fun of him rather than a point of dispute.


1 comment:

YMedad said...

I received this comment from CF:-

I read your blog about Bauer's speech. I'm not sure that I would call it an attack on Wyman. I think that the question of the US attitude in general and FDR's in particular is a legitimate discussion. My sense was that he refrained from analyzing the attitude of the Jews in greater detail because then he would have had to address the Bergson group more seriously. The one sentence I recall was begrudgingly complimentary.

I understood him to basically say what did you expect? The Jews were not important enough to deserve greater attention. After all, others were ignored as well. If this is so, then he contradicted his own conclusions at the end. FDR was not an anti-Semite. Maybe. But as Erich Fromm wrote, the opposite of love (in this case philo-Semitism) is not hate (i.e. Anti-Semitism) but apathy. So if the world was and may still be apathetic to the plight of Jews then should not the conclusion be that Jews need to be strong? We will not be bailed out so we have to look for ourselves. In this context the worst part of his speech was the gratuitous mocking of Shamir's stature.

and my reply:

a. thanks for reminding me about his personam attacks on Shamir and Barak.

b. i do think he specifically attacked Wyman. not only his school, but as I mentioned his religion-based attitude which Bauer, the atheistic socialist disdains, noted dominated Wyman's reading of the history of the era and his approach to his attacks on FDR, attacks Bauer wouldn't make.