- Herbert Hoover and the Jews by Sonja Schoepf Wentling and Rafael Medoff
This illuminating book provides many new insights into Herbert Hoover’s political career. It examines his responses to the horrific pogroms in Poland immediately after World War I and to the Arab slaughter of Jews across Palestine in 1929. Most importantly, the book documents how Revisionist Zionists persuaded prominent Republicans, including former president Hoover, to join them in pressing for U.S. government action to rescue European Jews during the Holocaust.
Hoover’s role administering European food relief sensitized him to Jews’ intense suffering after World War I, the result of savage anti-Semitic persecution and severe economic distress. He enabled the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJJDC) to evade Polish government restrictions on Jewish organizations sending aid to Polish Jewry by having his own relief organization funnel AJJDC funds into Poland. Hoover’s Jewish aide Lewis Strauss praised him as “the only U.S. government official to effectively press Poland and its prime minister to act against the pogromists” (14). The authors also show that Hoover’s empathy for Polish Jews was limited by his fear that they were not sufficiently enthusiastic about Polish nationalism.
Hoover maintained an isolationist stance during the 1929 Palestine pogroms, the first serious foreign policy crisis of his presidency. He neither [End Page 456] intervened to protect Palestinian Jewry nor pressured the British to do so. The authors note, however, that he at least “remained steadfast in his support for the upbuilding of Jewish Palestine” (58). In 1928, Hoover extolled the work of Zionist settlers in transforming Palestine, which, in his words, had remained “desolate and neglected for centuries” (48). As president, he sent statements of support to the Zionist Organization of America and to the American Palestine Committee, a Christian Zionist organization, when it was established.
Notably, days before leaving the White House, Hoover instructed U.S. ambassador to Germany Frederick Sackett “to exert every influence on the Hitler regime” to stop the persecution of German Jewry (64). Although hundreds of thousands of Americans had already staged massive street demonstrations and rallies to protest Nazi anti-Semitism, President Roosevelt told his ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, appointed in June 1933, that Nazi persecution of Jews was not a matter with which the U.S. government should be officially concerned. After Kristallnacht, ex-president Hoover moved away from his earlier support for immigration restriction and endorsed the Wagner-Rogers bill to admit 20,000 refugee children from Germany into the United States, above the annual quota for Germany. He lobbied members of the House Immigration Committee to support the bill, which President Roosevelt did not endorse.
Hoover’s most important contribution during his post-presidential career was the backing he gave the Revisionist Zionists in their campaign to persuade the U.S. government to initiate immediate measures to rescue as many European Jews as possible from annihilation and to mobilize the public in that effort. Leading this effort was Hillel Kook (Peter Bergson), head of the Bergson Group, and Eliahu Ben-Horin and Benzion Netanyahu, directing the New Zionist Organization of America. President Roosevelt’s lack of interest in rescuing Jews led the Revisionists to turn to prominent Republicans for assistance. Roosevelt’s indifference was dramatized at the Bermuda Conference in April 1943, ostensibly called to address refugee issues. The Roosevelt administration made no effort to relax immigration quotas for countries whose Jews were being annihilated. It would not even use troop ships returning empty from Europe to transport Jewish refugees to the United States.
Hoover was willing to challenge the Roosevelt administration publicly on the refugee issue. As the nation’s only living ex-president during World War II, his views drew attention. Hoover’s contribution to the rescue campaign included signing an appeal that the Bergson Group placed in newspapers denouncing the Bermuda Conference as a “cruel mockery” and calling for immediate action to rescue as many European Jews as [End Page 457] possible from the “Nazi Death-Trap...