Christina’s Review: FDR and the Jews by Richard Breitman & Allan J. Lichtman

FDR and the JewsFDR and the Jews by Richard Breitman, Allan J. Lichtman

Published: March 19, 2013 by Belknap Press
Format/Source: Purchased Hard Copy
Genre: Historical Non-Fiction
Pages: 433


The FDR who emerges here is concerned with the fate of European Jewry, but also exquisitely sensitive to the demands of the situation: in short, he is the ultimately political man, and his approach shifts with each turn of major events. This comprehensive work will become the definitive word on the subject. — Noah Feldman, author of Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices.Review: A penetrating analysis of the historical record, uncovering new sources and answering haunting questions that still linger after 75 years. A must read!–Richard Ben-Veniste, Senior Partner, Mayer Brown Llp, And Commissioner, 9/11 Commission


FDR and the Jews was a dense book addressing the “Jewish Question” and the four different Roosevelts who emerged and developed over FDR’s presidential terms, laying at the base of Breitman’s and Licthman’s argument of their book. The four Roosevelts included:

  1. The cautious man who stood back from the Nazi violence in Germany as he entered the presidency and prepared for a long political future
  2. A concerned man who became more active in aiding the Jews
  3. A preoccupied man focused on the growing hostilities in Europe, and the safety of the US
  4. A man whose concerns diverted back to the Jewish Question and the need to protect the Jews in Europe who were experiencing confirmed horrific brutalities

The authors’ argument of the multiple Roosevelts that emerged during his time as presidency was difficult to follow through the amount of material covered, but it was an interesting one focused particularly on Roosevelt’s relationship with the Jewish people both abroad and in the United States, including those who were his advisories.

A couple of areas that caught my particular attention through the book included the issues of Jewish settlement ideas and the role played by Eleanor Roosevelt through the book when it came to Jewish affairs. The ideas around Jewish immigration and where to settle was new to me, particularly the concept of quotas in place to determine entry into the United States. (ex 110 with Germans and Austrians) The debates over where to send Jewish immigrants, the money needed to aid in settlement, and the continued relocation efforts and trial runs with colonization in places like the Dominican Republic. (131) These debates brought me back to the American Colonization Society’s efforts to recolonize African Americans around the years of the Early Republic in the United States. The relocation efforts to find the Jewish people a place for immigrating to also reminded me of the Mark Twain quote I heard from a friend: “History doesn’t repeat itself; but it rhymes.” These debates were new and interesting to me during this period.

I was also surprised to see how much agency was given to Eleanor by the authors in FDR and the Jews. Throughout the book, the authors’ mention some of the advice given by Eleanor to her husband, for example her advice on the children’s aid bill “to ‘get two people of opposite parties in the House and in the Senate and have them jointly get agreement on the legislation.'” (147) She also endorsed bills publicly and had people seeking out her support. (149, 218) The authors also noted towards the end her influence following FDR’s death in human rights activism, stating how she “emerged in the postwar period as a more forthright and prominent advocate for Jewish concerns.” (307) The authors’ attention to Eleanor’s role during FDR’s presidential terms was interesting and contributed to a fuller understanding of how the Jewish Question was addressed in the US.

Overall, and interesting book, although complex and with an argument difficult to follow for me at times.
pj - christina

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