By David Swanson, excerpted from Leaving World War II Behind.
If you were to listen to people justifying WWII today, and using WWII to justify the subsequent 75 years of wars and war preparations, the first thing you would expect to find in reading about what WWII actually was would be a war motivated by the need to save Jews from mass murder. There would be old photographs of posters with Uncle Sam pointing his finger, saying "I want you to save the Jews!"
In reality, the U.S. and British governments engaged for years in massive propaganda campaigns to build war support but never made any mention of saving Jews. [i] And we know enough about internal governmental discussions to know that saving Jews (or anyone else) was not a secret motivation kept hidden from antisemitic publics (and if it had been, how democratic would that have been in the great battle for democracy?). So, right away we're faced with the problem that the most popular justification for WWII wasn't invented until after WWII.
U.S. immigration policy, crafted largely by antisemitic eugenicists such as Harry Laughlin themselves sources of inspiration to Nazi eugenicists severely limited the admission of Jews into the United States before and during World War II. [ii]
The policy of Nazi Germany for years was to pursue the expulsion of the Jews, not their murder. The world's governments held public conferences to discuss who would accept the Jews, and those governments for open and shamelessly antisemitic reasons refused to accept the Nazis' future victims. Hitler openly trumpeted this refusal as agreement with his bigotry and as encouragement to escalate it.
In Évian-les-Baines, France, in July 1938, an early international effort was made, or at least feigned, to alleviate something more common in recent decades: a refugee crisis. The crisis was the Nazi treatment of Jews. The representatives of 32 nations and 63 organizations, plus some 200 journalists covering the event, were well aware of the Nazis' desire to expel all Jews from Germany and Austria, and somewhat aware that the fate that awaited them if not expelled was likely going to be death. The decision of the conference was essentially to leave the Jews to their fate. (Only Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic increased their immigration quotas.)
Australian delegate T. W. White said, without asking the native people of Australia: "as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one."[iii]
The dictator of the Dominican Republic viewed Jews as racially desirable, as bringing whiteness to a land with many people of African descent. Land was set aside for 100,000 Jews, but fewer than 1,000 ever arrived. [iv]
Hitler had said when the Évian Conference had been proposed: "I can only hope and expect that the other world, which has such deep sympathy for these criminals [Jews], will at least be generous enough to convert this sympathy into practical aid. We, on our part, are ready to put all these criminals at the disposal of these countries, for all I care, even on luxury ships."[v]
Following the conference, in November of 1938, Hitler escalated his attacks on Jews with Kristallnacht or Crystal Night a nighttime state-organized riot, destroying and burning Jewish shops and synagogues, during which 25,000 people were sent off to concentration camps. Speaking on January 30, 1939, Hitler claimed justification for his actions from the outcome of the Évian Conference:
"It is a shameful spectacle to see how the whole democratic world is oozing sympathy for the poor tormented Jewish people, but remains hard-hearted and obdurate when it comes to aiding them which is surely, in view of its attitude, an obvious duty. The arguments that are brought up as excuses for not helping them actually speak for us Germans and Italians. For this is what they say:
"1. 'We,' that is the democracies, 'are not in a position to take in the Jews.' Yet in these empires there are not even ten people to the square kilometer. While Germany, with her 135 inhabitants to the square kilometer, is supposed to have room for them!
"2. They assure us: We cannot take them unless Germany is prepared to allow them a certain amount of capital to bring with them as immigrants."[vi]
The problem at Évian was, sadly, not ignorance of the Nazi agenda, but failure to prioritize preventing it. This remained a problem through the course of the war. It was a problem found in both politicians and in the public at large.
Five days after Crystal Night, President Franklin Roosevelt said he was recalling the ambassador to Germany and that public opinion had been "deeply shocked." He did not use the word "Jews." A reporter asked if anywhere on earth might accept many Jews from Germany. "No," said Roosevelt. "The time is not ripe for that." Another reporter asked if Roosevelt would relax immigration restrictions for Jewish refugees. "That is not in contemplation," the president responded. [vii] Roosevelt refused to support the child refugee bill in 1939, which would have allowed 20,000 Jews under the age of 14 to enter the United States, and it never came out of committee. [viii]
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