What makes the Holocaust stand apart from other cases of genocide? What could the United States government have done to slow down or stop the slaughter? Could the American Jewish community have done more to save their European brethren? These are among the thorny questions that Henry Feingold grapples with in his collection of essays, Bearing Witness. Feingold, a professor emeritus of history from Baruch College and the author of books on the Roosevelt administration’s response to the Jewish refugee crisis and the history of the American Jewish community, structures the book in three separately themed sections and brings to it his years of scholarship, as well as the personal perspective of a man whose family barely escaped Germany in the 1930s.
In the first section Feingold deals briefly with bedrock issues in Holocaust history, such as its uniqueness, the role of Jewish councils in Nazi-administered ghettos, and the nature and quality of Jewish resistance to the Nazis. The meat of the book begins in the second section, where Feingold’s essays deal largely with how the United States government responded to various opportunities to save Europe’s Jews, firstly through pre-war emigration and later through wartime rescue efforts. Based upon his reading of State Department documents and the correspondence of various participants, Feingold assesses the Roosevelt administration’s performance during the Holocaust and finds it decidedly mixed. For example, he notes the many obstructions to Jewish immigration provided by officials in the State Department, but he duly explains how Depression-era economic conditions made any mass emigration schemes politically difficult for FDR.
In the third section of the book Feingold discusses the history of the American Jewish community during the Holocaust era and its attempts initially to promote emigration to the United States and later to provide any possible assistance to the imperiled Jews of Europe. Feingold notes ironically that if the Jewish community were capable of the international coordination and control of financial resources imputed to it by anti-Semitic rhetoric, then the rescue of European Jewry likely would have been accomplished. The unfortunate reality highlighted in these essays is of an American Jewish community not fully aware at first of the mortal danger faced by European Jews, then unable to agree on strategies for rescue, and finally little able to influence a government more powerfully swayed by the isolationist and anti-immigration sentiments held by large segments of its population.
Bearing Witness brings together essays published over a twenty-five year period in a variety of journals. It provides an introduction that describes the essays, along with the historiographical debates that fostered them, and includes extensive notes, a bibliography, and an index.
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|TABLE OF CONTENTS|
|1. The Uniqueness of the Holocaust||19|
|2. Like Sheep to the Slaughter: The Judenrat||41|
|3. The Resistance Question||54|
|4. Allied Foreign Policy and the Holocaust||59|
|5. Roosevelt’s New Deal Humanitarianism||73|
|6. Could Mass Resettlement Have Saved European Jewry?||94|
|7. The American Effort to Save the Jews of Hungary||141|
|8. Governmental Response to Human Crisis||169|
|9. PBS’s Roosevelt: Deceit and Indifference or Politics and Powerlessness?||183|
|10. Was There Communal Failure Among American Jews?||205|
|11. Jewish Leadership During the Roosevelt Years||225|
|12. Rescue and the Secular Perception||243|
|13. Who Shall Bear Guilt for the Holocaust?||255|