This isn’t really new, but some of the most interesting material comes from Rafael Medoff’s demonstration of how the material was buried and misreported by historians sympathetic to liberal presidents.
When FDR endorsed quotas for Jews in the US and even North Africa, liberal historians claimed that he was being “practical” or actually trying to help Jews. And then there’s the story of the efforts to bury and lie about FDR’s exchange with Stalin about the Jews.
The first inkling that FDR’s private attitude toward Jews was less than amiable came during the mid-1950s debate over the publication of the transcripts of Roosevelt’s February 1945 conference with Josef Stalin and Winston Churchill at Yalta. In 1953, Republican senators began pressing for publication of the full transcripts of the conference.
The State Department opposed publishing the records, on the grounds that they contained sensitive information that might be harmful to the United States or its allies. Eventually, in March 1955, the Yalta transcripts were released as part of the Foreign Relations of the United States series. Two passages that appeared in the original Yalta minutes were deleted from the published version. One had to do with a conversation between American and Soviet military commanders. The other pertained to an exchange between FDR and Stalin concerning Jews.
Had the State Department simply left in the passage about Jews, it might have attracted less notice. Instead, the obvious omission intrigued observers. The New York Times reported that Roosevelt and Stalin discussed Soviet Jewry, Zionism, and the Soviet attempt to establish a Jewish “homeland” in the Siberian region of Birobidzhan.
The Times correspondent then added: “It is not entirely clear from the text why Stalin began talking about the Jewish problem. A line of asterisks preceding Stalin’s statement seems to raise the possibility that one of Stalin’s high-level colleagues may have initiated the discussion of Jews with a statement that has been censored from the published text.”
As it would turn out, it was a statement by Roosevelt, not one of Stalin’s aides, that had been censored
The mystery deepened two days later, when the Washington Post published an editorial criticizing the deletions as “pernicious” and an attempt to “doctor history.” It noted that among the deletions were “some remarks by President Roosevelt about the Jews,” although it did not spell them out. “In historical perspective, President Roosevelt will have to be judged as a whole man, indiscretions and all,” the Post argued.
Three days later, the text of FDR’s censored statement was published, by U.S. News and World Report. It reported that when Roosevelt mentioned he would soon be seeing Saudi Arabian leader Ibn Saud, Stalin asked if he intended to make any concessions to the king; “The President replied that there was only one concession he thought he might offer and that was to give him the six million Jews in the United States.”
It didn’t end there, because media figures began lying about the quote and when they couldn’t do that anymore, they claimed that FDR had been using anti-semitism as an icebreaker.
Roosevelt told a joint session of Congress on March 1, 1945, “I learned more about the whole problem, the Moslem problem, the Jewish problem, by talking with ibn Saud for five minutes than I could have learned in an exchange of two or three dozen letters.”
“The choice of the desert king as expert on the Jewish question is nothing short of amazing,” Colorado Senator Edwin Johnson averred. “I imagine that even Fala [the president’s dog] would be more of an expert.”
What Ibn Saud told him was that the Arab world would never accept a Jewish state of any size in the Holy Land. Saud also “objected violently” to proposals to create a temporary haven in Libya for Jews fleeing the Nazis.
But it wasn’t just about Israel. It was also about who FDR was.
Published last year in this author’s FDR and the Holocaust, it derives from a conversation in 1939 between President Roosevelt and Senator Burton Wheeler (D-Montana), concerning possible Democratic candidates for president and vice president in 1940. Towards the end of the meeting, the president expressed doubt that a ticket composed of Secretary of State Cordell Hull for president and Democratic National Committee chairman Jim Farley for vice president could be elected. Wheeler responded (according to a memorandum he composed following the meeting):
I said to the President someone told me that Mrs. Hull was a Jewess, and I said that the Jewish-Catholic issue would be raised [if Hull was nominated for president, and Farley, a Catholic, was his running mate]. He said, “Mrs. Hull is about one quarter Jewish.” He said, “You and I Burt are old English and Dutch stock. We know who our ancestors are. We know there is no Jewish blood in our veins, but a lot of these people do not know whether there is Jewish blood in their veins or not.”
While liberal Jews worshiped FDR, this is what he really thought of them.