Truman Harry S.

Truman Harry S.
   Although the Nazi concentration camps were being liberated when Harry Truman inherited the presidency in April 1945, the effects of the Holocaust lasted throughout his two terms in office. The problems he faced, including the prosecution of German war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials, the Jewish refugee crisis in Europe after the war, and the creation of the State of Israel, which Truman recognized immediately after its government’s declaration of statehood, are all issues that grew out of the Holocaust. In August 1945, President Truman appointed Earl Harrison (1899–1955) as his special envoy to inquire into conditions of the Jewish displaced persons (DP) in the American zone in Germany. Harrison was appalled by what he saw, and his report was a devastating indictment of Allied military policy toward the surviving Jews. Based on the report’s findings, President Truman strongly urged the British to grant 100,000 visas to Jewish refugees to enter Palestine. Guided by the provisions of the White Paper of 1939, the British were willing to grant only 6,000 visas.
   In recent years, however, evidence has been disclosed that President Truman was not as sympathetic to Jews as had earlier been believed. Based on his diary entries and other research, it has been disclosed that the 33rd president of the United States expressed antiSemitic sentiments such as in his 1947 diary entry that “the Jews have no sense of proportion,” that “the Jews are very, very selfish,” and that “neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog.” Historian Michael Cohen documented additional examples in his book, Truman and Israel (1991), when he quotes Truman as privately describing New York City as “kike town,” and referring to his friend Eddie Jacobson as his “Jew clerk.” Elsewhere, Cohen cites Truman stating in a private letter about New York City: “This town has 8,000,000 people, 7,500,000 of ’em are of Israelitish [sic] extraction, 400,000 wops and the rest are white people.” During one cabinet session in 1946, Truman had this to say about Jewish criticism of his Palestine policy: “If Jesus Christ couldn’t satisfy the Jews while on earth, how the hell am I supposed to?”
   Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, has noted that during the Holocaust, Truman displayed little interest in the plight of the refugees. When a constituent, a Missouri rabbi, wrote to then-senator Truman urging him to support action to rescue Jewish refugees, Truman replied: “I do not think it is the business of Senators who are not on the Foreign Relations Committee to dabble in matters which affect our relations with the Allies at this time. . . . It is of vital importance that the Jewish Congregations be patient and support wholeheartedly the foreign policy of our government” (the policy of refraining from taking any meaningful steps to aid refugees from Hitler). Medoff also charges that after the war, Truman did urge the British to admit 100,000 Holocaust survivors to Palestine-but that he never took concrete steps to pressure London to do so. Truman did grant diplomatic recognition to the State of Israel just minutes after the state was created, concedes Medoff, but he refused to send Israel weapons to defend itself against five invading Arab armies.
   Despite his critics, it is also true that Truman-a biblical literalist and a Christian Zionist-had long been a fierce believer in Jewish statehood for reasons both religious and moral because the Old Testament stated that the Jews belonged in the “Holy Land.” There is also evidence that suggests that his feelings about the plight of the refugees in the DP camps preceded receiving the Harrison Report, because Truman was concerned about the scandalously poor treatment of postwar Jewish refugees in the displaced persons camps, and so he waged a long and often bitter campaign to help ensure that the Jews got a country of their own.

Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. . 2014.

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