The Film & More|
Interview Transcripts | Bibliography | Primary Sources
A report written by Adoph Held, the president of the American Jewish Labor
Committee recounting President Roosevelt's 29-minute meeting on December 8,
1942 with a small delegation of American Jewish Leaders.
REPORT ON THE VISIT TO THE PRESIDENT
The committee consisted of Rabbi Stephen B. Wise, of the Jewish Congress; Mr.
Monsky, of Bnai Brith; Rabbi Rosenberg, of the Agudath, and Adolph Held, of the
Jewish Labor Committee.
The meeting with the President was arranged for Tuesday, December 8, 1942, at
12 o'clock. We were originally notified that the President would give us 15
minutes, but the conference lasted 29 minutes. The purpose of the conference
was to present a prepared memorandum on the German atrocities in Poland
consisting of an appeal to the President for immediate action against the
German extermination of Jews, and also a 12 page memorandum citing the facts
that have been gathered on this subject.
We were taken into the President's office in the White House by General Watson,
the President's personal military aide, exactly at 12 o'clock. The President
was seated at his desk; in front of the desk were lined up five chairs for the
The President sat behind the desk smoking a cigarette in a long
cigarette-holder. The desk was full of all sorts of trinkets--ash trays, brass
and porcelain figures, etc. There was not an empty spot on his desk. The
figures were of all shapes and sizes.
As we filed in, the President greeted Rabbi Wise: "How have you been, Stephen?
You are looking well. Glad to see you looking well." Rabbi Wise then
introduced each of us separately. The President shook hands with each of us,
repeated the name, and then asked: "How do you do, Mr. Monsky?," etc.,
following which he asked us to sit down.
When we were seated, the President opened the conversation by saying: "I am a
sadist, a man of extreme sadistic tendencies. When I appointed Governor Lehman
as head of the new Office of Relief and Rehabilitation, I had some very
sadistic thoughts in my head. I know that Governor Lehman is a great
administrator, and I wanted a great administrator for this post. I had another
thought in my mind, however. I had hopes that, when God spares my life and the
war is over, to be able to go to Germany, stand behind a curtain and have the
sadistic satisfaction of seeing some "Junkers" on their knees, asking Lehman
for bread. And, by God, I'll urge him to give it to them."
Rabbi Wise then said: "Mr. President, we have an orthodox Rabbi in our midst.
It is customary for an orthodox rabbi to deliver a benediction upon the head of
his country, when he comes in his presence. Will you, therefore, permit rabbi
Rosenberg to say the prayer of benediction?"
"Certainly" the President answered.
Rabbi Rosenberg rose and put on his scull-cap. We all rose. The President
remained seated, and, as Rabbi Rosenberg commenced to recite the prayer in
Hebrew, the President bowed his head.
"O, God Lord of Kings, blessed be Thy name that Thou bestowest a share of Thy
glory upon the son of men."
"Thank you very much"-- the President said.
The President seemed to be moved, and so were we all.
Rabbi Wise then read the declaration by the committee.
Rabbi Wise did not read the details but simply said: "Mr. President, we also
beg to submit details and proofs of the horrible facts. We appeal to you, as
head of our government, to do all in your power to bring this to the attention
of the world and to do all in your power to make an effort to stop it."
The President replied: "The government of the United States is very well
acquainted with most of the facts you are now bringing to our attention.
Unfortunately we have received confirmation from many sources. Representatives
of the United States government in Switzerland and other neutral countries have
given up proof that confirm the horrors discussed by you. We cannot treat
these matters in normal ways. We are dealing with an insane man-- Hitler, and
the group that surrounds him represent an example of a national psychopathic
case. We cannot act toward them by normal means. That is why the problem is
very difficult. At the same time it is not in the best interest of the Allied
cause to make it appear that the entire German people are murderers or are in
agreement with what Hitler is doing. There must be in Germany elements, now
thoroughly subdued, but who at the proper time will, I am sure, rise, and
protest against the atrocities, against the whole Hitler system. It is too
early to make pronouncements such as President Wilson made, may they even be
very useful. As to your proposal, I shall certainly be glad to issue another
statement, such as you request."
The President turned toward the delegation for suggestions. All, except Rabbi
Rosenberg, put in suggestions. Mine was about the possibility of getting some
of the neutral representatives in Germany to intercede in behalf of the Jews.
The President took notice of that but made no direct replies to the
suggestions. The entire conversation on the part of the delegation lasted only
a minute or two. As a matter of fact, of the 29 minutes spent with the
President, he addressed the delegation for 23 minutes.
The President then plunged into a discussion of other matters. "We had a
Jewish problem in North Africa" -- he said. "As you know, we issued orders to
free all the Jews from concentration camps, and we have also advised our
representatives in North Africa to abolish all the special laws against the
Jews and to restore the Jews to their rights. On this occasion I would like to
mention that it has been called to our attention that prior to the war, Jews
and Frenchmen enjoyed greater rights than Moslems in some of the North African
states. There are 17 million Moslems in North Africa, and there is no reason
why anyone should enjoy greater rights than they. It is not our purpose to
fight for greater rights for anyone at the expense of another group. We are
for the freedom for all and equal rights for all. We consider the attack on
the Jews in Germany, in Poland, as an attack upon our ideas of freedom and
justice, and that is why we oppose it so vehemently." "Now you are interested
in the Darlan matter. I can only illustrate this by a proverb, I recently
heard from a Yugoslav priest--"When a river you reach and the devil you meet,
with the devil do not quarrel until the bridge you cross."
Apparently, at the end of this quotation the President must have pushed some
secret button, and his adjutant appeared in the room. His eyes and broad
shoulders showed determination. We rose from our seats, and, as we stood up,
the President said: "Gentlemen, you can prepare the statement. I am sure that
you will put the words into it that express my thoughts. I leave it entirely
to you. You may quote from my statement to the Mass -Meeting in Madison Square
Garden some months ago, but please quote it exactly. We shall do all in our
power to be of service to your people in this tragic moment."
The President then shook hands with each of us, and we filed out of the room.
Back to Primary Sources | next