American Jewish History 89.1 (2001) 1-2
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Rafael Medoff, Contributing Editor
In the brief period since the publication, in March 2000, of part I of this "America and the Holocaust" theme issue of American Jewish History, six new books 1 and four film documentaries 2 pertaining to aspects of this topic have appeared. One of the books 3 received national news coverage; one of the films premiered with a special screening at the White House; and another was featured on The History Channel. One prominent university has even introduced a course on American media coverage of the Holocaust. 4 These developments indicate a continuing high level of interest among both scholars and the general public regarding the question of how the American government, media, and public responded to news of Hitler's atrocities. With the publication of this second part of our "America and the Holocaust" theme issue, American Jewish History meets the ground-swell of scholarly and popular interest with another offering of cutting edge research that will, hopefully, both stimulate and guide future studies.
The essays in this issue fall into two categories, those dealing with the years just prior to World War II, and those concerning the years of the Holocaust itself. The first of those focusing on the 1930s is Bat-Ami [End Page 1] Zucker's "Frances Perkins, American Jewry, and the Refugee Crisis." While other historians have written about the officials in the Roosevelt administration who obstructed the rescue of Jews from Hilter, Professor Zucker examines the one cabinet member who fought to liberalize America's tight restrictions on immigration during the 1930s. Felicia Herman's "Hollywood, Nazism and the Jews, 1933-1941," reveals how some American Jewish organizations, anxious to minimize public discussion of Jewish matters, pressured Hollywood producers to avoid the issue of Hitler's persecution of German Jewry. By contrast, Rona Sheramy, in "'There Are Times When Silence is a Sin': The Women's Division of the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Nazi Boycott Movement," chronicles the efforts of a group of American Jewish women who sought to focus public attention on the need to oppose the Nazis. Professor Sheramy's essay also explores the impact that the anti-Nazi boycott had on the lives of the boycotters themselves; her essay is at once a significant contribution to the field of women's studies as well as the history of American Jewish responses to Nazism.
The essays focusing on the 1940s begin with David S. Wyman's previously unpublished interview with Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook), leader of a maverick activist group that lobbied the Allies to rescue European Jews. Bergson's recollections offer a unique, insider's perspective on the events of the era, and Wyman's introduction provides valuable context and background for the events discussed in the interview. The Bergson group's in-house artist, renowned illustrator Arthur Szyk, is the subject of Joseph Ansell's essay, "Arthur Szyk's Depiction of the 'New Jew': Art as a Weapon in the Campaign for an American Response to the Holocaust." My own contribution to this issue reveals new evidence concerning the Allies' failure to bomb Auschwitz or other death camps in 1944, and examines recent literature on the subject in light of the latest evidence. Finally, Walter Laqueur rounds-out the issue with a review of two new documentary films about America's response to the Holocaust.
Although many important areas of this topic remain to be researched, this issue of American Jewish History should make a significant contribution to the study of a controversial but compelling period in American, and American Jewish, history.
Rafael Medoff is Visiting Scholar in the Jewish Studies Program at Purchase College, the State University of New York. His publications on American responses to the Holocaust include The Deafening Silence: American Jewish Leaders and the Holocaust (1987) and essays in numerous scholarly journals.
1. Edwin Black, IBM and the Holocaust (New York: 2001); Gulie Ne'eman Arad, America, Its Jews, and the Rise of Nazism (Bloomington: 2001); Michael J. Neufeld and Michael Berenbaum, eds., The Bombing of Auschwitz: Should the Allies...