- Blowing the Whistle on Genocide: Josiah E. DuBois, Jr. and the Struggle for a U.S. Response to the Holocaust
The decades-long, transformative scholarly debate over American policy toward Europe's Jews during the era of the Holocaust has shaped both the historical literature and contemporary policymaking and popular historical consciousness not only about the Holocaust but also about contemporary genocide. The inquiries and debates spurred by Arthur D. Morse's While Six Million Died (1968) and Henry L. Feingold's The Politics of Rescue (1970) and widened immeasurably by the publication of David S. Wyman's The Abandonment of the Jews (1984) focused on questions of policymaking, American antisemitism, the response of American Jews, Roosevelt's opinions and behavior, and many other issues. However, the most serious studies have underlined the key role of individuals in the drama, most especially one villain and one hero: Breckinridge Long of the State Department and Josiah E. DuBois, Jr. of the Department of Treasury.
The actions of each man have come to symbolize the difference a single person possessing power or the ear of power might make in defining actions attributed to an entire nation. Long's antisemitism and his key role in blocking immigration of refugees have been centerpieces around which scholars have offered differing explanations of his motives and the typicality of his attitudes. Josiah E. DuBois, Jr., who angrily battled within the Roosevelt administration against Long and others and spurred the creation of the War Refugee Board, has, oddly enough, received less attention. We know what he did but have had [End Page 160] relatively little insight into the man himself, this despite an interesting career that ranged beyond World War II.
Rafael Medoff 's Blowing the Whistle on Genocide begins to remedy that situation, though the author acknowledges that the work is not a biography of DuBois but rather an expanded account of what he "did to help bring about the rescue of Jews from the Holocaust." Medoff, founding director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, mixes a compressed presentation of the familiar "Wyman thesis" concerning America and the Holocaust with extensive quotations from oral history and contemporary documents highlighting and personalizing DuBois's role in implementing the late but important efforts of the War Refugee Board.
Medoff begins with a brief introduction to DuBois's life and times, and a basic account of antisemitism in America in the 1930s and 1940s. Then, in chapter after chapter, he presents, sometimes with very little introduction, a mixture of long excerpts of retrospective oral interviews with DuBois and his compatriots, excerpts of archival material such as the diary of Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., and other contemporary documents illustrating the campaign DuBois and others waged to get the American government to aid in the rescue of European Jews. The book concludes with summaries of War Refugee Board actions and accomplishments.
Taken document by document and interview by interview, Medoff has assembled material that amplifies and humanizes DuBois's struggle within the Treasury Department and with the Roosevelt administration. Yet, the book as a whole seems confused as to its purpose and audience. It is clearly not written for scholars who have followed the decades-long debate over American actions before and during the war, though they especially will appreciate the previously unpublished or hard-to-find oral histories and sources excerpted here. At the same time, the odd mixture of summaries and sources does not adequately prepare the lay reader or student to glean the fullest benefit from the DuBois story. It moves too quickly and abruptly from micro to macro views, from the personal to the general, from Medoff 's comments to the sources themselves. In short, while containing some wonderful resources, the presentation of the material has not been adequately considered. It seems more like preliminary scaffolding than a finished book, the storyboard for an epic tale.
Still, one hopes that Blowing the...