FRESNO, Calif. — Why wasn’t more done to stop the genocidal slaughter of 6 million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust? This question is the focus of a traveling exhibit “Americans and the Holocaust” on display across the country, shown at the public library here Nov. 5 to Dec. 30.
Sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., the exhibit contains damning documentation of the calculated decision of the U.S. government under Franklin Roosevelt to refuse to open the borders to save Jewish lives. Photos and videos portray the horror of the Nazis’ killing machine, massacres in every country they conquered and mass murder in their concentration camps. Yet only a tiny minority of Jews were allowed into the U.S.
The November 1938 pogrom known as Kristallnacht, when Nazi thugs destroyed thousands of Jewish businesses and hundreds of synagogues, raped Jewish women and sent 30,000 to concentration camps, announced a sharp escalation on the road to Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution.” But quotas on Jewish immigration set in 1924, intended to limit entry of people the capitalist rulers considered “racially undesirable,” were strictly enforced.
Jews seeking entry needed to show proof of identity, police certificates, medical clearances, tax records, a ticket for travel and government exit permits. Most had to show an American financial sponsor. These barriers meant that even Washington’s stringent quotas went unfilled, while waiting lists grew to hundreds of thousands.
As the second imperialist world war spread across Europe in 1941, the Nazis began mass killings, including a massacre of 25,000 Jews outside Riga in Latvia and 33,000 shot over one weekend at Babyn Yar in Ukraine. The next year Nazi officials began to implement plans to annihilate all the Jews.
The exhibit includes correspondence proving the State Department blocked information about the mass murders from reaching the public. Moreover, as Washington entered the war after Tokyo’s bombing of Pearl Harbor, pro-war propaganda rarely mentioned the Nazi slaughter of Jews. The War Department rejected proposals to order the bombing of rail lines into the Auschwitz concentration camp, claiming this would divert the war effort.
Today, supporters of Hamas and other opponents of Israel argue the Holocaust is irrelevant to the war in Gaza or the Oct. 7 anti-Jewish pogrom by Hamas, where 1,200 people were killed, many women raped and thousands wounded. But without knowledge of the Holocaust and how Washington, as well as London, Moscow and “democratic” capitalist rulers from Canada to Australia refused entry to Jews during and after World War II, it is impossible to understand why Israel exists. Before World War II the majority of Jews did not look to Palestine as an answer. This changed with the Holocaust and the doors closed elsewhere.
While presenting many useful facts, the exhibit doesn’t explain why Hitlerism conquered and that fascism is a deadly threat to the working class and our unions today, as well as to Jews. And why, with the right leadership, the working class is the social force that can defeat fascism and eliminate Jew-hatred.
In times of deep crisis, the capitalist class turns to scapegoating Jews for the calamities its system fosters. Fascist thugs are recruited from ruined middle-class layers and unleashed against Jews, as well as the organizations of the working class, seeking to prevent revolutionary action against the real culprit, the capitalist dog-eat-dog profit system.
In 1917, when workers and peasants under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party made a revolution in Russia, they ended anti-Jewish pogroms. The possibility of a revolution was also posed when Germany was gripped by a deep crisis in the 1930s, but this was prevented by the counterrevolutionary policies of the leaders of the Social Democratic and the Stalinized Communist parties, which had mass followings in the working class. The CP’s slogan was, “After Hitler, our turn.”
‘Americans’ and the Holocaust
The exhibit features polls showing a majority of Americans opposed opening the borders to Jewish refugees, implying working people were to blame. It doesn’t include actions that showed the potential for organizing workers and the unions to challenge the deadly policies of the Roosevelt administration.
In the 1930s and ’40s, the Socialist Workers Party organized a movement calling for opening the doors to the Jews. It received significant union support, despite opposition by the Communist Party as well as many union officials and spokespeople for the Jewish community who supported Roosevelt.
When a second economic depression hit in the late 1930s, fascist movements began to grow. The exhibit refers to a rally of 20,000 organized by the fascist German American Bund at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The Socialist Workers Party led 50,000 workers protesting outside the arena, showing the potential for the labor movement to take on the fascist threat.
In 1938, the Silver Shirts, a fascist outfit gaining support from the bosses, came to Minneapolis with the aim of arming thugs to attack union halls. But their organizing drive was stopped cold by a show of force by the Teamsters union’s defense guard.
So long as capitalism exists Jew-hatred will be used as a weapon against the working class. Capitalist rulers worldwide — including in the Middle East — have used it to divide and conquer working people long before the establishment of Israel. Jew-hatred is the driving force behind the relentless efforts to destroy Israel today, organized by the reactionary clerical rulers in Iran and their proxies, including Hamas.
Despite claiming to defend Israel, the U.S. rulers do not care about Jews today anymore than they did in the 1930s, or about Palestinians or working people of any nationality, race or religion. What concerns them is protection of their imperialist economic and political interests. Over all else, they seek stability for capitalist exploitation.
The “democratic” capitalist rulers cannot be relied on to stop fascism or end Jew-hatred anymore than they will end national oppression of African Americans or the exploitation of the working class. This will take building revolutionary leaderships and parties capable of uniting workers across religious and national differences to take political power away from the capitalists here, across the Middle East and worldwide.