During World War II, rescue of Jews and other victims of the Nazis was not a priority for the United States government. Due in part to antisemitism (prejudice against or hatred of Jews), isolationism, the economic Depression, and xenophobia (prejudice against or fear of foreigners), American policy made it difficult for refugees to obtain entry visas to the United States. The US State Department also delayed publicizing reports of genocide. In August 1942, the State Department received a cable revealing Nazi plans for the murder of Europe's Jews. However, the report was not passed on to its intended recipient, American Jewish leader Stephen Wise. The State Department asked Wise, who had almost simultaneously received the report via British channels, to refrain from announcing it.
The United States failed to act decisively to rescue victims of the Holocaust. On April 19, 1943, US and British representatives met in Bermuda to find solutions to wartime refugee problems. No significant proposals emerged from the conference. That same year, Polish underground courier Jan Karski informed American President Franklin D. Roosevelt of reports of mass murder. Nevertheless, American authorities did not initiate any action aimed at rescuing refugees until 1944, when Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board. At that time, four fifths of the Jews who would die in the Holocaust were already dead. By the spring of 1944, the Allies knew of the killing operations using poison gas at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Some Jewish leaders pleaded unsuccessfully with US government officials to bomb the gas chambers and rail tracks leading to the camp. American officials argued that their aircraft did not have the capacity to conduct air raids on these targets with sufficient accuracy, and that the Allies were committed to bomb exclusively military targets to win the war as quickly as possible.