President Roosevelt and the Holocaust
A lecture sponsored by the Seattle Holocaust Center of Humanity at the Big Picture Cinema
"I've always loved history," says Laurence Stern, a former professional photographer who decided to pursue his dream and devote his time to historical-political research. "It's important to have a patient wife, because you get consumed by this,” says 83 years old Laurence. During a study of the writings of Presidents Truman and Roosevelt, Laurence discovered interesting documents that painted a different light on President Roosevelt's attitude towards the Jews during World War II and the Holocaust. Some of his findings, found on microfilm, were received and accepted for documentation at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust center in Jerusalem.
Much criticism was voiced about Roosevelt and his policy on Jewish immigration to the United States before and during World War II. Was everything possible done to help the Jews in Europe?
Roosevelt, who spoke fluent French and German, read Mein Kampf in both German and English and recognized the Nazi threat early on. He predicted that a war with Germany would take place at some point. In 1933, he told the Jewish leaders in the States to warn the Jews of Germany and urge them to leave the country. On the other hand, immigration laws for many countries, including the United States, were strict and included immigration quotas. Various documents and letters from the president revealed that his attitudes towards the Jews were favorable. In fact, his initiatives to increase immigration quotas failed due to lack of support in the Congress and Senate.
Among the famous examples to the congress objection to help Jewish European immigrants during World War II, Laurence recalled the story of the ship St. Louis. The ship, carrying close to a 1000 Jewish refugees, fled Germany in 1939 for Cuba. After Cuba denied its entrance the ship sailed for Florida and was rejected by the US government. After Cuba and the U.S denied entry, Roosevelt asked Canada to allow the vessel to refuel so that it could return to Europe. He pressured four countries to hold a lottery to accept the refugees that nobody wanted. Finally, Holland, Belgium, France and England each accepted 25 percent. Miraculously, about 75% of the ship’s passengers survived the war. Another initiative to bring twenty thousand Jewish children from Europe to the United States failed as well.
Even though Roosevelt's closest advisors included a relatively large number of Jews, this did not help his pro-Jewish initiatives. Antisemitism was prevalent in the United States and around the world before and during World War II. Although no official laws existed, Jews were prevented from moving into certain neighborhoods, working in certain companies or belong to different organizations. There were even quotas in Universities.
Laurence concluded his lecture with the establishment of the State of Israel and recalled that Roosevelt met with three major Arab kings, the king of Saudi Arabia, the king of Egypt and the Ethiopian Emperor, towards the end of World War II and asked for their support in the idea of a Jewish state. Roosevelt, one of the most popular presidents in US history and the only one elected to four terms, passed away shortly after, but the State of Israel was established after all.
Laurence Stern’s lecture was both engaging and informative. The audience was quite impressed with the incredible variety and amount of historical memorabilia Laurence brought to illustrate his points and explain this period in our history. The lecture was part of a fund raiser for the Seattle Holocaust Center for Humanity, and the end of the successful event, Laurence presented the donation check to Dee Simon, the Center’s executive director.
The Big Picture Cinema is a well-kept Seattle gem, hidden on the basement floor of an old building on First Avenue. The intimate cinema features up-to-date movies and hosts private events with a well-stocked bar and a saloon-vibe hospitality area. Mark Stern, co-founder and Laurence's nephew, says the cinema has been going strong for 20 years now.