World War II (WW2) was a military conflict that began in 1939. It came to be the worst war in human history based of the loss of lives and material destroyed. Though it began as a European conflict between Germans and the French coalition, it spread to include other nations of the world like the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the United States of America (US). Boundaries and lines between combatants and non-combatants blurred with wars being waged on entire enemy territories and their populates’. Nations fought against each other with Germany, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler, being on the forefront. Germany’s aggression continued to rise but the US was impaired against acting against any aggression by the passing of a neutrality law. This law prevented them from offering assistance to any country involved in foreign conflict.
The worst act against human kind and the most memorable one was the holocaust in Germany. The German Nazi party ordered the killing of over 5.7 million Jews during WW2. 1.5 million of them were children. Before the holocaust, there was already hatred toward the Jewish population in Europe. Many Germans put blame on Jews for their defeat in WW1 and, Hitler blamed Jews for his country’s short-comings. He referred to them as a plague that needed to be eradicated and believed that they were pulling down the modern society (Microsoft Encarta, 2008). Also, he strongly opposed the Bolshevik leadership that most of the Jews of USSR practiced. Jews were forced to move and live in concentration camps and Jewish reservations. Also, they were forced to carry out German orders, labor without pay and wear yellow stars on their clothing to distinguish them. They did all this while living in atrocious conditions. They had very little to eat, lived in dirty areas and they didn’t have access to medical supplies.
Soon afterwards, Hitler decided to exterminate what he thought of to be the biological source of Bolshevism. A military campaign started in 1941 with masses of Jews shot in front of mass graves that they had dug themselves. By late 1941, the target extended from USSR Jews to those in Serbia and Poland. They were asphyxiated in storage areas with poisonous gases. Jews were not the only victims. The Nazi regime moved from cultural racism to scientific racism. This broadened the span of victims to include the Roma, homosexuals, soviet soldiers and those with physical or mental disabilities (Microsoft Encarta, 2008). The Nazi doctors murdered over 70,000 disabled people in their euthanasia program. Also, some 200,000 Roma were murdered and 3.5 million soviet soldiers.
While the genocide was taking place, the US did not make serious attempts to stop it. Eugenics (proposed improvement of the human species by allowing reproduction between people whose traits are considered desirable) played a major role in contributing to the holocaust. The practices and attitudes of doctors in Nazi Germany allowed them to slaughter over 300,000 patients. Psychologists and psychiatrists in the US mirrored the same attitudes and practices. Organizations rooted in eugenics were cited as a defense against the so called ‘cleansing’ of humanity. The Rockefellers’ Kinsey-based Model Penal Code is one such organization (Messall, 2005). This organization was founded by the Rockefeller family who owned Standard oil which was a giant in the oil industry. The senior member of Rockefeller had wealth peaking at just under $ 1 billion.
Rockefeller money had been funding eugenics long before Hitler decided to turn the theories into practical solutions. They influenced mainstream coalitions to support eugenic practices. The wealth they possessed gave them great political influence and by convincing influential figures to join their cause, they further advocated eugenic policies (Messall, 2005). Using these ideas and policies, the Nazis killed even their own countrymen to ensure that Germany had a population that was free of anything Hitler did not like.
There have been many arguments that Americans did not know about the holocaust as it was being carried out. Though this may be true to the extent of the greater population, there were some Americans who knew what was going on. The government and some of the media knew about the holocaust but decided to keep the information under wraps. Whenever this information was shared with the public, key pieces of information were left out like the fact that Jews were the major target. Newspapers did not print holocaust information so that the readers could fully understand the extent of the holocaust.
The American government was aware of Hitler’s atrocities and they even heard his threatening speeches. Also, they carried out negotiations with Germany for resettling Jews who would be known as political refugees. By remaining neutral, they did nothing to improve the conditions during the holocaust yet they could have tried. It was unclear to policy makers how they could orchestrate rescue operations behind German boundaries. Also, it was difficult for refugees to obtain visas because of the US state refugee policies. US doors were barred to aliens.
Reports on the genocide were delayed by the US state department. In 1942, they received a cable from Switzerland telling them of Nazi plans to murder Jews. The information was from Gerhart Riegner who was a representative of World Jewish Congress. He had received this information from a German industrialist with connections to top Nazis. However, it was not given to the intended recipient who was the American Jewish leader, Stephen Wise (Holocaust Encyclopedia, 2011). Riegner had also told the British consulate about the plan and they sent a cable to the London foreign office. It was then passed on to Samuel Sydney, a member of parliament who then sent it to Wise. Having learned of this information, Wise, being distressed, passed it on to the undersecretary of state, Sumner Welles, who told him to refrain from revealing it to the press till it was confirmed. He did not know that the US had already received this information (Holocaust Encyclopedia, 2011).
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Welles received more cable from Switzerland about mass murders of Jews in Poland. The State department sent a memo about banning the American Legation from sending information to private citizens. Also, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was reluctant to help European Jews. He kept advocating for the US to postpone granting visas, he held a meeting for 29 minutes with Jewish leaders in America, he did not object to negotiating with Hitler and he did not meet with orthodox rabbis.
Out of growing concerns of Jews being slaughtered in Europe, the Bermuda conference was held between allies. However, the American delegation arrived with discreet directives to contribute little or nothing to the solution. In addition, American Jewish leaders who had wanted to be part of the conference were denied access. Consequentially, the conference came up with no plausible proposal. The report was kept a secret.
The US did not act decisively to rescue Jewish refugees and, efforts were started in 1944 after more information about mass murders were given to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A war refugee board was established. The allies learned of the killing operations and their locations through reports from Riegner, R.E. Shoenfeld, Henry Morgenthau Jr, Thomas T. Handy and other world organizations. They decided to bomb Auschwitz (where Jews were forced to labor) and railways. They worked to bomb military targets so as to win the war. However, they did not hit the gas chambers. WW2 ended in 1945 and the Nazi regime was defeated. Some refugees in the camps died soon after. The other Jews had no family to return to, only unfriendly neighbors who were afraid that the survivors had come back for their property (Williams, 1993). Their determination to get home contributed to their return to Israel and immigration to other countries.
The constrained immigration policies were not lifted during the holocaust and only about 30,000 Jews managed to get into the US every year (Holocaust Encyclopedia, 2011). However, this number could have been 190,000 - 200,000 had the policies been changed. But, the policies were changed in 1948. Since numerous American Jews fought in WW2, Jews continued to be assimilated with a rise in the number of intermarriages. Also, the suburbs they lived in kept growing and school enrollment numbers went higher. In addition, synagogues were affiliated with others. Following WW2, America became the largest and richest center for practice of Judaism. As a result, smaller groups turned to the American Jewry for support and Jewish refugees from other Arab nations came to the US.
For 12 years, Germany was ruled by the Nazi party. Jews were almost completely wiped out from Europe. People suffered unimaginable torture while other nations stood by and watched. There is no telling whether interference by the US would have made a difference but, the feeling is that they could have at least tried to do something about it. The war ended and Nazi regime fell and holocaust survivors were free of oppression. This is not to say that the beliefs that fueled the holocaust are dead because, the ideology behind cleansing of humanity is still at large and it should be tamed. Jews have immigrated to many areas mostly the US. American Jews now enjoy civil and human rights and are considered as part of the population of the US. Though America may have ignored the atrocities during WW2, their attitude towards Jews now is welcoming and supportive.