Podcast: Rafael Medoff on Franklin Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen Wise, and the Holocaust

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt has long been one of the most admired presidents among American Jews. He led the nation out of the depression and ultimately brought a previously isolationist America into World War II. Together with Churchill and Stalin, he defeated the greatest Jewish enemy of the 20th century—Hitler and the Third Reich that elected him.

And yet questions have always lingered about the president’s conduct. Why would this friend of the Jews close the gates of the country to those fleeing certain death? Why didn’t the Americans bomb the tracks to the concentration camps and disable or destroy the death factories that the Nazis were operating there day and night? Moreover, why was the American Jewish community, so silent in the face of this neglect? Why did they fail to advocate for the Jews of Europe when so much was at stake?

These are the tough questions that historian Rafael Medoff has been thinking and writing about his whole career. In his new book, The Jews Should Keep Quiet: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and the Holocaust, he examines the decisions of President Roosevelt and leading American rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and comes to see the American president as an anti-Semite and Rabbi Wise as a tragic sycophant. (You can read Mosaic‘s review of the book here.) On today’s podcast, he is interviewed by special guest host and Tikvah alumnus Daniel Kane.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble as well as “Ulterior” by Swan Production.

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