The Jews Should Keep Quiet President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and the Holocaust

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  • Rafael Medoff (author)
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About the Book

Based on recently discovered documents, The Jews Should Keep Quiet reassesses the hows and whys behind the Roosevelt administration’s fateful policies during the Holocaust. Rafael Medoff delves into difficult truths: With FDR’s consent, the administration deliberately suppressed European immigration far below the limits set by U.S. law. His administration also refused to admit Jewish refugees to the U.S. Virgin Islands, dismissed proposals to use empty Liberty ships returning from Europe to carry refugees, and rejected pleas to drop bombs on the railways leading to Auschwitz, even while American planes were bombing targets only a few miles away—actions that would not have conflicted with the larger goal of winning the war.

What motivated FDR? Medoff explores the sensitive question of the president’s private sentiments toward Jews. Unmasking strong parallels between Roosevelt’s statements regarding Jews and Asians, he connects the administration’s policies of excluding Jewish refugees and interning Japanese Americans.

The Jews Should Keep Quiet further reveals how FDR’s personal relationship with Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, American Jewry’s foremost leader in the 1930s and 1940s, swayed the U.S. response to the Holocaust. Documenting how Roosevelt and others pressured Wise to stifle American Jewish criticism of FDR’s policies, Medoff chronicles how and why the American Jewish community largely fell in line with Wise. Ultimately Medoff weighs the administration’s realistic options for rescue action, which, if taken, would have saved many lives.


“This highly original work addresses the U.S. government’s unwillingness to undertake serious rescue efforts and the deep divisions within American Jewry over how to respond to U.S. indifference to European Jewry’s plight. Expanding on David S. Wyman’s pathbreaking work on America’s response to the Holocaust, using new archival materials and interviews with persons then on the scene, Medoff provides the best assessment to date of the relationship between America’s foremost Jewish leader, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.”Professor Stephen H. Norwood, author of The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower and coeditor of Encyclopedia of American Jewish History

“The Jews Should Keep Quiet reveals in troubling detail how FDR manipulated American Jewish leaders to suppress criticism of his abandonment of Europe’s Jews during the Holocaust. Our family was certainly impacted. I was two years old on January 30, 1933, the day Hitler became Reichschancellor and my Dad told my Mom: ‘We are leaving Germany forever.’ It took us two and a half years of seeking a sympathetic American consul to overcome the barriers of FDR’s State Department. We need to learn from Dr. Medoff’s disturbing but necessary and enlightening study of moral failure and its consequences.”—Rudy Boschwitz, U.S. Senator (1978–1991)

“The Jews Should Keep Quiet conclusively documents, far better than anything else I have read, how Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s private attitude towards Jews motivated him to close America’s doors to Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Medoff adroitly exposes how FDR suppressed Jewish immigration with the unwitting assistance of Rabbi Stephen Wise. This book is a revelation—courageous, scholarly, and chillingly honest. You will never think of FDR the same way after reading it.”Irving Abella, president of the Academy of the Arts and the Humanities of Canada

“The Jews Should Keep Quiet is of lasting importance for the teaching and understanding of the Holocaust. Dr. Medoff’s incisive examination of the complex relationship between the US president and America’s foremost Jewish leader shines a light on troubling aspects of American history that many would prefer to ignore. This book is must reading.”Dr. Zsuzsanna Ozsvath, director of Holocaust Studies, Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies, The University of Texas at Dallas

“The Jews Should Keep Quiet is a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of elite complicity with government inaction. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise regarded Franklin D. Roosevelt as a friend, even though the Roosevelt administration was unfriendly to the plight of Jewish refugees, opposed the bombing of extermination camps, and remained ambivalent toward Zionism. Meticulously researched, engagingly written, and eminently fair-minded, The Jews Should Keep Quiet deserves a wide audience.”Dean J. Kotlowski, author of Nixon’s Civil Rights and Paul V. McNutt and the Age of FDR

“In this important volume, Medoff shows there was a great deal Roosevelt could have done despite the various political circumstances and limitations. The new material and analysis he brings to light are vital study in a field rife with apologetic, consensus historians—and dare not to be forgotten.”Allen H. Podet, professor emeritus, Philosophy and Religious Studies, Buffalo State, State University of New York

“The Jews Should Keep Quiet is a meticulously researched and disquieting history of the reasons behind America’s failure to rescue Europe’s doomed Jews. Readers may rightly conclude that if there is a Roosevelt they can admire, it is Eleanor and not Franklin.”Dr. Alan L. Berger, Raddock Family Eminent Scholar Chair in Holocaust Studies, Florida Atlantic University

“An essential study shedding further light on a watershed period, attempting a challenging balanced approach with irrefutable evidence condemning two major figures whose close collaboration ultimately carried disastrous consequences.”—CCAR Journal/The Reform Jewish Quarterly

Rafael Medoff

Rafael Medoff is founding director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and the coeditor of the institute’s online Encyclopedia of America’s Response to the Holocaust. He has written more than twenty books about American Jewish history, the Holocaust, and related topics, including The Jews Should Keep Quiet: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Stephen S. Wise, and the Holocaust (JPS, 2019).

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