Tuesday, September 20, 2022




On October 6, 1943, a group of hundreds of Orthodox rabbis came to Washington DC to plead for the lives of their brethren in Europe.

They presented a letter to Vice President Wallace asking for a government agency to help save the remaining Jews from the Holocaust. The letter demanded that the US open its doors to Jewish refugees, that the UN create a passport that could be used for Jews to travel, and for Britain to "open the doors of Palestine."

Some of the details about this trip are outrageous. 

Dressed in long, dark rabbinic attire, the rabbis walked from Union Station to the Capitol Building. There, Rabbis Eliezer Silver, Israel Rosenberg and Bernhard Louis Levinthal led a recitation of Psalms. Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook), who was head of the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, introduced them to Vice President Henry Wallace and a number of Congressmen.

Bergson enlisted the rabbis and the American Jewish Legion of Veterans for the march. He expected American clergy would join, but none did. Only the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the U.S. and Canada, the Union of Hassidic Rabbis and a commander of the Jewish Legion participated. The modern Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America sent Rabbi David Silver, Rabbi Eliezer Silver’s son.

White House adviser Judge Samuel Rosenman told the president that those “behind this petition” were “not representative of the most thoughtful elements in Jewry.” The “leading Jews” Rosenman knew opposed the march, but he admitted failing to “keep the horde from storming Washington.”

A number of Jewish congressmen had attempted to dissuade the rabbis from marching. This backfired when Congressman Sol Bloom, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, argued that “It would be undignified for these un-American looking rabbis to appear in the nation’s capital.”

At the Lincoln Memorial, the rabbis—who had declared a fast day—prayed for the welfare of the armed forces and the Jews of Europe and a quick Allied victory. Then they walked to the White House and prayed outside the gates. Though they expected to meet with the President, they were told he was unavailable. Later they learned he went to Bolling Field Air Force Base for a minor ceremony to avoid meeting them.
The era’s most prominent American Jewish leader, Rabbi Stephen Wise, criticized the march in somewhat similar terms. Wise, who headed the American Jewish Congress, the World Jewish Congress, and the American Zionist movement, wrote that “the orthodox rabbinical parade [ sic]” was a “painful and even lamentable exhibition.” He derided the organizers as “stuntists” and accused them of offending “the dignity of [the Jewish] people.”
The oh-so-dignified Jews were aghast that Orthodox rabbis would make a scene while pleading for the lives of Jews in Europe.  

And these self-appointed leaders were dead wrong. They thought that since they had their own access to corridors of power, they had influence in those corridors. In fact, Roosevelt didn't want to meet the rabbis specifically because he didn't want to be pressured to help save the Jewish refugees from Europe. FDR knew the power of public pressure. (His schedule that afternoon was remarkably open.) 


The vice president issued a vague, meaningless statement of support meant to get rid of these strange Jews.

And there was a more than a little self-hating from the American secular Jews in this event, as these supposed defenders of Jews in America did not want to be associated with people who looked like their grandfathers did. The Orthodox embarrassed them. Public tears to help save millions of lives is not the image they want Americans to see. 

They thought of themselves as superior, at having left their visible Judaism behind. And their conceit that they are better, and know better, than other Jews, indirectly resulted in more European Jews being murdered.

It is the same conceit that kept the daily attacks on Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn out of the news cycle for so long.






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