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November 4, 2012 6:07 pm

The Shameful Legacy of Rabbi Stephen Wise

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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Left to right: Nahum Goldmann, Stephen Wise, Henry Torres (speaking) at the World Jewish Congress Installation Conference, New York City, June 1942. Photo: wiki commons.

From my early childhood, I remember my mother teaching me about the importance of supporting the Jewish people and the Jewish nation – and not being afraid.  My middle name, David, is after the sole member of my mother’s family, David Waga, who escaped the concentration camps where so many members of my family were killed.  David fought with the partisans during the Holocaust.

Growing up as a member of the community of Rabbi Avi Weiss, from my pre-teenage years I recall demonstrations outside the Soviet Embassy were we yelled “Let My People Go”. We raised a voice of moral conscience on behalf of many other important Jewish related causes as well.  I then became National President of the Betar Movement – the activist movement of Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Today, as I raise my family, I am proud that my children attend yeshiva and that we are involved in numerous Jewish charities and causes.

Because of my background, I declined to allow my children to attend a party program that recently took place at the Stephen Wise Synagogue.  Now, don’t call me an extremist – I have let my kids attend parties at other reform temples.  As CEO of a Public Relations Agency, I represent churches and many different causes – yet I will never walk through the doors of a building that honors Stephen Wise.

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For those that are unaware, Rabbi Stephen Wise was the most prominent leader of the American Jewish community during the 1930s and 1940s, and served as “president of both the American Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress.”  Perhaps there are many fine things that he did in his life, but it is nearly unanimously recognized that the man’s leadership was atrocious when it came to saving Europe’s Jews during the Holocaust. So how could Stephen Wise be regarded as anything other than a despicable human being and a disastrous Jewish leader?

It is true that you cannot judge another man until you walk in his shoes – but through the lens of history we can see that he was woefully inept when it came to doing all he could to help Jews during the Holocaust.  He failed dismally in his role as a Jewish leader, and to regard him as honorable is a disservice to the memories of the 6 Million.

How can the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan or the Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles be proud to carry his name when Professor Mark Raider, chairman of Judaic Studies at SUNY Albany says that Wise was “cautious and ineffective” in response to “the disgracefully slow response of the Allies” to the Nazi persecution of European Jewry?

Wise called President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ‘Boss’ or ‘Chief,’ and advised President Franklin Roosevelt not to meet with the 400 Orthodox Rabbis that marched on Washington in 1943.  To protect their self-interests, Dr. Zohar Segev of Haifa University says Wise and his colleagues “worked actively to tone down any Jewish criticism of the Roosevelt administration.” They “used their influence to restrain, limit, and control any efforts towards greater activism.” They wanted to maintain the liberal status quo.

Rabbi Wise despicably worked against all efforts of Jewish activists who did all they could to raise awareness of the millions being killed in Europe.  Wise referred to Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky as “a ‘traitor” for preaching evacuation for over a million Eastern European  Jews, and said that Bergson Group leader Peter Bergson was “worse than Hitler”. (Bergson worked tirelessly to raise awareness over the fate of Jews in Europe, while Wise claimed it would increase Anti-Semitism in America).

Rabbi Ephraim Kestenbaum, son of Rabbi David Kestenbaum who was active in saving European Jews during the Holocaust recounted that Wise phoned his father on several occasions, telling him that he should stop putting so much pressure on the American government to save European Jews. Rabbi Kestenbaum told of how on one occasion, he took a message for his father from Wise who told him, “Tell your father that he has to be an American and not to fight hard for Jews in Europe. You have to be an American first.”

Wise regarded himself as a servant of Roosevelt – rather than working for the best interests of the Jewish people. Could any other ethnic group honor a man who failed his people in their most dire time of need?  Any Institution which honors Stephen Wise should be ashamed to carry his name. The man’s conduct was despicable and his memory does not deserve to be recognized by Jewish institutions.

6 Million Jews were slaughtered, and it is clear that the Jewish community of the free world did not do enough to prevent one of our people’s greatest calamities. Who knows how many more Jews there would be today if Wise had done the right thing.

Ronn David Torossian is CEO of 5WPR and author of “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations.”

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  • When an individual involves himself in wrongdoing and obstructing Jewish progress, interfering with other Jewish leaders to the detriment of the Jewish people. Whatever good he has done is wiped out and has no bearing whatsoever.

  • Wise

    Leave him alone, you know nothing of his achievements.

  • iris claire blutreich

    To learn about the horror of the holocaust, it is inconceivable that Steven Wise, the one Rabbi who was so close to President Roosevelt hindered the rescue and aid efforts of European Jews.

    If this is true, his name should be placed alongside Hitler and the murderous, Jew hating Europeans

    • Gerald Goldberg


      “Anti-Communism is Anti-Semitism.” ~ Jewish Voice, July ~ August 1941.

      “My opinion of Christian Zionists? They’re scum, but don’t tell them that. We need all the useful idiots we can get right now.” ~ Bibi Netanyahu

      Does worship of the Talmud pervade Judaism globally? Herman Wouk, Orthodox Jew and famed author of The Cain Mutiny, affirms, “The Talmud is to this day the circulating heart’s blood of the Jewish religion. Whatever laws, customs, ceremonies we observe ~ whether we are Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, or merely spasmodic sentimentalists ~ we follow the Talmud. It is our common law.”

      If a Jew is tempted to do evil he should go to a city where he is not known and do the evil there. ~ Moed Kattan 17a

      “We entered the synagogue, which was packed with the greatest stinking bunch of humanity I have ever seen. When we got about halfway up, the head rabbi, who was dressed in a fur hat similar to that worn by Henry VIII of England and in a surplice heavily embroidered and very filthy, came down and met the General (Eisenhower)…The smell was so terrible that I almost fainted and actually about three hours later lost my lunch as the result remembering it.” ~ General Patton in Germany, diary entry Sept 17, 1945

      The real God of the Universe does not have “Chosen” in the first place because he is perfect as we understand and predilection is a human weakness. The Jews invented the JEWISH BIBLE to fool humanity as always. The real God of the Universe does not send any body to kill, destroy his own creation, to rape, to maim, to create misery and havoc on other people. Don’t you get it? the God in the JEWISH BIBLE is a monster, is another one of the many Gods in the dessert; those sacrifices offered to God are Satanic as their name and the Jews keep offering sacrifices to their God. Last year they immolated thousands of human beings in Gaza to their God Baal, Moloch, Azazel, Satan, Lucifer.

  • Dean

    There is a self-destructive gene that runs through many in leadership positions the Jewish community. Look at some of the recent quotes from an article entitled, “Zionism means not being spectators to decisions that can seal our fate, Netanyahu says (”

    These “leaders” hate when Jews are visible and speak up for their self-preservation – despite the history of Holocaust and all manner of wickedness that has befallen us as a result of silence.

    They want Israel to be silent so that we do not embarrass an Obama they voted for twice and a President who is a friend of Islamists and an enemy of the Jewish people.

    “Seymour Reich, the former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, has also come out against the speech, and the lobbying group J-Street is running a campaign in which it exhorts American Jews to make their voices heard by signing a petition if they do not agree that Netanyahu speaks for them.”

    “Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who heads the Union for Reform Judaism and who said that Netanyahu should “rethink” the speech, calling it a “bad idea””

    “…the media frenzy surrounding the oration “turned the whole thing into a circus,” Foxman said”

  • John

    He just wanted more jews to die to have international support fed by guilt for the zionist/terrorist state of israel

  • Paul L’Heureux

    You GOMER Chazars are not only godless, you are indeed the Synagogue of Satan.
    Abram was of the R1B Y-DNA Haplogroup unlike einstein the plagiarizer and his twin, hitler the actor who studied under Erik Jan HanuSSen.
    Holocaust means Burnt Offering to God. Ever made one? Even if you had, it was not an acceptable Holocaust, ye Antichrists.

  • Dr. Albert Einstein recognized the man’s fight for Zionism. Einstein felt respect, deep admiration for Stephen Wise knowing the man desired wisdom and happiness for ALL Homo sapiens.

  • Richard van Pelt

    I came across the following column by Rabbi Wise in the 11 July, 1914 edition of the Salem, Oregon Capitol Journal. The column is puzzling because of its apparent anti-intellectualism:


    “In the forces of corrupt government there have been found within the last generation almost as many recruits from the colleges as ranged themselves under the banner of good government. The minds of too many COLLEGE TRAINED MEN HAVE BEEN BACK OF THE CORRUPTION that has disgraced the life of American municipalities.

    “Some of the most corrupt and crooked political bosses of America have been served and perpetuated in power through their alliance with politically pliable and morally flexible college men, who have devoted their powers, such as they are, to things that are evil and unholy.

    “The college men of America ought to leave a deep impress upon the social life of the nation so that what they think today shall be prophetic of that which is to deepen down into the life and aspirations of the common people on the morrow.”

  • Jerry Hersch

    I have felt the same for the past few years as Republican candidates again and again have had to prove their “Christianness” to be nominated within the party.
    Not a single Jewish organization-nor any Jew of prominence spoke out …spoke out-screamed out that this is a secular nation.
    A secular nation that has evolved after generations of Jews fought to make it so..Now in just the past few years-all that was fought for is being lost.
    Where are the Jewish fighters..cowering in fear..Fear that any protest against this injustice will jeopardize Evangelical support for Israel.
    Living in fear is not living.
    Those same Evangelicals who predominate in that party-outside of the Northeast,South Florida and a dozen or so hubs..the party faithful..the mass of the Republican electorate are in places your parents feared to traverse–Look at the map..all that Red area -how often have you been really through it-stayed there..and yet we are putting both American and Israeli Jews in a position of being beholden…and in fear of upsetting the applecart..
    The Jewish silence is the end we and the Israelis will be the losers

  • Joey A.

    Shameful response by the Stephen Wise people. Hindsight is 20/20 – so why is the name of a bad man on a Jewish insitution ? he failed the Jews.

    • For the record, my comments are my own and do not represent those of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. Though I am a “Stephen Wise person”, I am not “The Stephen Wise people.”

      • Joey A.

        Even 60 years after the fact, Stephen Wise & their representatives cant get the facts straight. Of course you speak for Stephen Wise. We all know Wise abandoned Jews.




  • As the archivist of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York, and with all due respect, I feel I should respond to Mr. Torossian’s one-sided indictment of Rabbi Wise. We must remember that we are looking back into history – always easy to use a ‘retrospectoscope’ to accuse and condemn. The difficult problems of personalities and politics of the time, are well analyzed and described in David Wyman’s book “The Abandonment of the Jews,” as well as a number of others.

    If one must find guilty parties among the players of that time, let us not forget names like Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Breckinridge Long, Sumner Welles, Sol Bloom, Emmanuel Cellar, Samuel Rosenman, Herbert Lehman, Bernard Baruch, Cordell Hull, Winston Churchill, Pius XII, to list a few. Rabbi Wise was persistent in his attempts to bring the stories of the massacres of European Jewry to Roosevelt, but, rightly, or wrongly, felt that Bergson’s “mass movement” tactics would be counter-productive, given the degree of anti-Semitism in the United States at that time.

    So many factors were also at play. Bergson, after all, was a successor to Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who many, including Wise (and the Zionist movement in general) considered a fascist. A major issue confronted Jews at the time – radical Zionism seemed to be competing with rescue effort, affecting not only whether armies should be sent in to rescue Jews, but where these rescued masses should be sent.

    Yes, Wise had a massive ego, so did Roosevelt and many other “greats”. But Wise was unquestionably dedicated to the plight of European Jewry, brought it to the attention to people he felt he could trust to respond appropriately. Given the politics of the time, it is difficult, if not impossible, to feel that the Bergson movement would have altered the outcome.

    How best to have handled a horror that totally changed the history of the world is not retrospective condemnation of those who made significant efforts to save European Jewry. Rabbi Wise was hardly always correct, but to treat his failed attempts with such contempt, I believe, does not provide his legacy proper justice.

    • (@kashapero)

      Nice try Dr Steeg, you are an apologist for a terrible man. Shame on you

    • Dr. Albert Einstein respected Stephen Wise. He knew that behind all of Wise’es undertakings was the want for all of us Homo sapiens to be wiser, happier.

    • ricardo

      While it is so tolerant and noble to focus on what were undoubtably Wise’s good intentions, in reality it is results that count, particularly when lives are at stake. My mother was killed when I was three by an obstetrician with no doubt the best intentions. But those good intentions were mired in some superstition and a bunch of unconscious, selfish greed, all of which was shared among his colleagues in the fad of the day which resulted in a huge number of deaths from this process. I refuse to give them a pass for this purportedly well-intentioned but ultimately tragic actions. This particular ob/gyn procedure was finally altered to eliminate the enormous post-partum mortality. Shouldn’t we employ that same style of outcome analysis to judge the efficacy of actions taken by leaders rather than merely the intentions they espouse?

      Lots of well-intended folks do horrible things due to lack of analytical ability, critical insight, misunderstanding of fact, incomplete information, and a host of other rationalizations, including, of course, luck. What counts most in the end is what happens as a result of the actions or inactions of those self-appointed leaders who take strong positions and drive the course of important events. Wise was not. Period.

    • Joshua M Melamed

      If he was so concerned about the well being of European Jewry, why then didn’t he support the Slattery Report?

    • Jack bender

      To argue that other leaders also failed to act to save Jewish lives very dis.ingenuous ..fact remains that wise was Roosevelt’s hand maiden in the greatest disaster in Jewish history ….that is a fact .rabbi wise memory will rest in infamy .and no matter how foolish and blind people try to excuse him from his horrendous actions