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June 4, 2015 12:36 pm

When a Piece of Paper Meant Life or Death

avatar by Rafael Medoff / JNS.org

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FDR. Photo: Frank O. Salisbury.

FDR. Photo: Frank O. Salisbury.

JNS.org – “It is a fantastic commentary on the inhumanity of our times,” journalist Dorothy Thompson wrote at the height of the 1930s European Jewish refugee crisis, “that for thousands and thousands of people a piece of paper with a stamp on it is the difference between life and death.”

Seventy-five years ago this month, president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s newly appointed assistant secretary of state sent his colleagues a memo outlining a strategy to “postpone and postpone and postpone” the granting of that “piece of paper” to refugees. Breckinridge Long’s chilling memo, more than any other single document, has come to symbolize the abandonment of the Jews during the Holocaust.

Long, a personal friend of Roosevelt’s and a major donor to his first presidential campaign, was rewarded with the post of U.S. ambassador to Italy. Long’s dispatches to Washington from Rome in the early and mid 1930s praised the Mussolini regime for its “well-paved” streets, “dapper” black-shirted stormtroopers, and “punctual trains.” Eleanor Roosevelt once remarked to the president about Long, “Franklin, you know he’s a fascist”—to which an angry FDR replied, “I’ve told you, Eleanor, you must not say that.”

In early 1940, Roosevelt promoted Long to the position of assistant secretary of state, putting him in charge of 23 of the State Department’s 42 divisions, including the visa section.

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Long joined a department that was well-schooled in suppressing immigration. From 1933-38—the first five years the Nazis were in power—the Roosevelt administration had gone out of its way to restrict Jewish immigration from Germany to levels far lower than what the law allowed. By adding extra requirements and layers of bureaucracy, the German quota of 25,957 was only 5 percent filled in 1933, and 14 percent filled in 1934. The only year that Roosevelt permitted the German quota to be filled was 1938-39, and only then because of tremendous international pressure, following the German annexation of Austria and the Kristallnacht pogrom.

By the time Long assumed his post at the State Department in early 1940, the old practice of actively suppressing immigration below the quota had returned. In addition to the administration’s general hostility toward immigration—especially Jewish immigration—there was now the added fear of Nazi spies reaching the U.S.

The quick collapse of France in the spring of 1940 triggered a wave of alarm in the U.S. about German “fifth columnists” undermining the U.S. from within. The press was filled with wild stories about Hitler planning to send “slave spies” to America. Attorney General Robert Jackson complained to the cabinet about “the hysteria that is sweeping the country against aliens and fifth columnists.”

But FDR himself was fanning the flames. In a series of remarks in May and June, he publicly warned about what he called “the treacherous use of the ‘fifth column’ by persons supposed to be peaceful visitors [but] actually a part of an enemy unit of occupation.”

The notion that German spies would reach America disguised as refugees was baseless. There was only one instance in which a Nazi successfully posed as a Jewish refugee in order to reach the Western hemisphere—and he was captured in Cuba and executed.

On June 26, 1940, assistant secretary Long composed a memo explaining to his colleagues how to keep out the Jews.

“We can delay and effectively stop for a temporary period of indefinite length the number of immigrants into the United States,” he wrote. “We could do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way and to require additional evidence and to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas.”

Long’s plan was to use the “postpone and postpone” method as a temporary measure, until a way could be devised to make it permanent. And that’s exactly what happened.

Three days after Long’s memo, the State Department ordered U.S. consuls abroad to reject applications from anyone about whom they had “any doubt whatsoever.” The new instruction specifically noted that this policy would result in “a drastic reduction in the number of quota and non-quota immigration visas issued.”

It worked as intended. In the year to follow, immigration from Germany and Austria was kept to just 47 percent of the quota, and the following year it was held to under 18 percent.

Then, in June 1941, the Roosevelt administration adopted a harsh new policy, known as the Close Relatives Edict. It barred the entry of anyone who had close relatives in German-occupied territory, on the grounds that the Nazis might hold those relatives hostage in order to force the immigrant to become a spy for Hitler. No such cases were ever discovered, but in the meantime, countless Jews with relatives in Europe were automatically declared ineligible for immigration to America. Another “piece of paper” helped trap millions of Jews in Hitler’s Europe.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

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  • howard hammer

    Irv…for your info.

  • Ernie Lofthouse

    AS A CHRISTIAN AND ONE WHO WAS BORN IN GREAT BRITAIN AND HAS RESIDED IN AMERICA SINCE THE LATE 40’S.I HAVE ALWAYS THOUGHT OF BOTH COUNTRIES AS STANDING FOR TRUTH AND THOSE LIVING UNDER DEPLORABLE CONDITIONS A WAY OF IMMIGRATING. UNTIL I READ AS A YOUNGSTER ABOUT THE ST LOUIS. I THEN READ RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH BY WILLIAM SHIRER WHICH APPALLED ME. LATER I READ TWO BOOKS THAT I WOULD HIGHLY RECOMMEND UNHOLY TRINITY AND THE SECRET WAR AGAINST THE JEWS BY JOHN LOFTUS AND MARK AARONS THEY SHOW THE DEPTH OF DEPRAVITY THE MAJOR GOVERNMENT PLAYERS SUCH AS THE DULLES BROTHERS AND OF COURSE FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT AND SO MANY OTHERS BOTH IN THIS COUNTRY AND THROUGHOUT EUROPE. WHEN I REALIZED THE DEPTH OF INVOLVEMENT OF ENGLAND IN THIS MONSTROUS CABAL I WAS DEVASTATED MY FATHER FLEW IN THE RAF AND DIED D-DAY PLUS SIX MY UNCLE HAROLD INTERVIEWED EVERY MAJOR NAZI AT NURENBURG THE ONLY TIME I EVER WITNESSED THIS TOUGH MI-5 SOLIDER CRY WAS WHEN HE DESCRIBED SEEING BERGAN BELSEN AND DACHAU. THAT WAS AN EYE OPENER FOR ME AS A TEENAGER IT SPURED ME ON TO LEARN MUCH MORE. AND NOW I AM REVOLTED BY MY OWN PRESIDENT AND WHAT I FEEL IS HIS OPEN HOSTILITY TO ISRAEL AND BENJAMAN NETANYAHU HIS BLATANT ANTI SEMITISM IS THERE FOR THE WORLD TO SEE AND AGAIN HE DOES NOT TRY TO HIDE IT. EVEN GIVING AN INTERVIEW TO A ISRAELI NEWSPAPER WHERE HE OPENLY DENIGRATES THE PRIME MINISTER! I AM ASHAMED OF HIM AND MY COUNTRY FOR ALLOWING THIS TO GO ON, AND THE MAIN STREAM MEDIA GIVE HIM A PASS ON HIS STAND JUST AS THEY DID TO ROOSEVELT ANOTHER DEMOCRAT, I CONTINUE TO BE AMAZED WHY THE JEWISH VOTERS IN THIS COUNTRY OVERWHELMINGLY VOTE DEMOCRAT! BUT AS SCRIPTURE AS SAID FROM EZEKIEL ONCE THEY HAVE BEEN BROUGHT ONCE AGAIN INTO THEIR LAND THEY WILL NEVER BE DRIVEN OUT AGAIN. NO MATTER THE EVIL PLANS OF MAN THEY WILL NEVER OVERCOME THE GOD OF ABRAHAM ISSAC AND JACOB!!! PRAY FOR THE PEACE OF JERUSALEM.

    • Mireille Mechoullam

      Mr Ernie,

      Thank you for expressing yourself beautifully. I also red the book of John Loftus that I met in an affair in Miami. He is a fine man. Sadly not too many have the courage to stand up against the cruelty of others..

  • richard mallin

    Roosevelt was an anti-Semite. Not until his death in 1945, did things loosened up a little. Truman with the Atom bombs over Japan, sealed a surrender in the East.
    Eisenhower and allied troops basically the English, fought bravely from Normandy and liberated Concentration camps on the march to Berlin, closing the war with Germany.
    Truman, was prodded by his old partner, Eddie Jacobson from Kansas City. Jacobson pleaded on behalf of the Jews (remnants) of the holocaust to grant Israel statehood and acceptance to the United Nations. The rest is history.

  • Markus E Brajtman

    Pity this did not come out in the open at the time.
    When that bastard Roosevelt died, the Jews cried, They thought that he was a real lover of Jews.
    We must also not forget that Rabbi Abner wise, was a Roosevelt suppoter and agreed with Roosevelt not to “import” Jews.
    Rabbi??? Abner Wise was a bastard who had hundreds of thousands of Jews lives/blood on his hands.
    Anver Wise, Roosevelt and Long, should be remembered as Hitler supporters, and as we have on Purim, their names should be mentiobed and we should spit, every time their evil names are mentioned.

    We need another name for these bastards and it should be a religious servise to damn those bastards.

  • Fritz Kohlhaas

    In reality, Roosevelt was a nasty piece of work!

  • Geoff

    How often does the Left today declare that FDR was the greatest if not one of the greatest Presidents of the modern era.

    As FrontPageMag banner states, “Inside every Liberal is a Totalitarian screaming to get Out”.

    I guess greatness is in the eye of the beholder.

    It doesn’t seem that we have progressed very far from the anti-Semitism of the 1930-1940s. The journey has taken America from the callousness of FDR regarding his thoughts and actions about Jews to the actions and behavior of the current resident of the White House who is bringing new meaning to anti-Semitism.

  • I am not Jewish, nor do I live in Israel. I was born in 1942, so the death camps, their liberation, the films, photographs and newspapers of 1945 are part of my own memory, as are the Nurenberg Trials. There are no words for the horror of merely seeing it at one remove. A later school friend’s mother, older sister & father all wore long-sleeved clothes, even in summer. The first time I saw the numbers on their forearms stand in my memory as being in contact with something so evil that one cannot describe it. It was only by about then that I began to learn of the complicity of the USA, GB & the Arabs … and the sheer sickness never goes away.

    • Mireille Mechoullam

      and till today many people are denying the Holocaust.

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    What is so incredibly sad to me as an American citizen one generation after the Holocaust is that this American president has the audacity of condescension to threaten Israel with either abstention or even affirmation of motions to force her to a situation compromising her security at the UN. Has history repeated itself–or even worse, has history run amok!

    • I am saddened that I voted for Obama. Next go around I will not vote party but will vote for who supports Israel as a top priority.

  • Roosevelt himself was, as most American elite at the time, antisemitic. Unfortunately this is a trend which, on and off has continued to this day.

  • Dr. Steven Goldenberg

    1930-1940’s American Jews were duped into thinking FDR was their champion. Little did they know the behind the scenes antisemetism of the Whate House.

    • It is the same now days, 80% of the Jews voted for Obama, it was so clear from the beginning, who he was, anti Semitic and anti Israel.

  • Fred

    It was known that anti Semitic Roosevelt shut the doors on Jews desperately trying to escape death. That edict was still implemented after the war, where considerable delay was still used not to allow Jews from DP camps to enter the US. I thought having family in the US would facilitate a quicker Visa but I was wrong so I decided for another country. Many opted for countries surrounding the US to wait for as long a 5 years or more to get in. When I saw the sculpture of the embattled Jewish refugees near Battery Point, NY allowed into the US, I could not help but laugh at this bad joke.

    • J. Brooks

      England took in Jewish children in the Kindertransport. The USA could have saved many Jewish children as well as adults. After the United States turned away the St. Louis from the coasts of Florida the Germans knew that no one would interfere with their plans. They were right. The Allies were asked to bomb the train lines going into the camps which they did not agree to. I grew up after WWII thinking FDR was a friend of the Jews. My dad a Vet and I have learned the truth.

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