Breckinridge Long (1881-1958)
Before and during World War II, a high ranking official in the State Department in charge of granting U.S. visas actively obstructed the immigration of refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe.
Due to the efforts of Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long, 90 percent of those eligible for emigration to the United States were not admitted, and 190,000 refugees with valid U.S. visas perished.
In an intra-department memo in 1940, Long spelled out how State Department officials were to keep European refugees, many of them Jewish, out of the United States:
"We can delay and effectively stop for a temporary period of indefinite length the number of immigrants into the United States.
“We could do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way and to require additional evidence and to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas."
In 1943, Zionist Peter Bergson appealed to Will Rogers, Jr., a U.S. Congressman from California and son of the humorist, and Senator Guy Gillette of Iowa. After meeting with Bergson, the legislators introduced a joint resolution calling for the admission of more refugees.
In secret testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee which was considering the resolution, Long lied, claiming that most of the half million European refugees already in the U.S. were Jewish.
Long’s claim appealed to widespread anti-Semitism in America as well as nativism, which the American Civil Liberties Union defines as “an irrational prejudice against immigrants, and in favor of the native-born members of a particular culture.”
Charles Lindbergh and his America First Committee may have been the best known nativists. The idolized aviator was vocal about his objection to Jews in general, native-born or immigrants.
Long hid his bigotry by claiming immigrants might be Fifth Columnists – Nazi spies masquerading as Jews who would commit sabotage in their adopted nation.
Ironically, some left-wing Americans of the era believed that Lindbergh’s Committee was a Nazi front because of its opposition to America’s entry into World War II. The allegation first appeared in a book, The Plot Against the Peace, by A. E. Kahn and M. Sayers, published in 1945.
Long also believed that some immigrants were subversives in the pay of the Soviet Union. The economic situation at the time added strength to Long’s claims of subversion.
When Roosevelt was elected to his third term in 1940, unemployment in the U.S. was still high, at 14 percent. Long and many others justified efforts to close the door to immigrants because they believed the newcomers would take jobs from Americans.
In 1941, Roosevelt seemed to share Long’s fear of Fifth Columnists and signed a bill that allowed consular officials to deny entry visas to anyone who might “endanger public safety.”
Holocaust historian Saul Friedländer dismisses the threat: “In real terms the possibility of Nazi agents entering the United States as Jewish refugees and becoming a ‘threat to public safety,’ although existent, was minimal. On the eve of crucial elections, Roosevelt’s own considerations in this matter were probably political first and foremost.”
Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (1891-1967)
When the Jewish Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., learned of Long’s secret testimony before the House Committee, he sent President Roosevelt proof of the State Department’s continuing efforts to impede immigration.
Morgenthau also offered evidence that the State Department was hiding information about the slaughter of European Jewry.
In response to Morgenthau’s information, Roosevelt set up the War Refugee Board in January 1944. It was administered by a subordinate of Morgenthau who coordinated and accelerated rescue efforts by cutting through the red tape Breckinridge Long had created.
But FDR’s directive was too little, too late. The Simon Wiesenthal Multimedia Learning Center on line notes that by late 1944 most of the Jews under Nazi occupation had perished. The President’s tardy change of heart was particularly tragic for Hungarian Jews.
They had had been protected by the government of the dictator Admiral Miklós Horthy until German troops occupied the country in March 1944. By mid-May of that year, 550,000 Hungarian Jews had been deported and gassed at Auschwitz. Many of these Jews held U.S. visas made worthless by Long’s stalling tactics.
Long’s friendship with the future President dated back to World War I, when Roosevelt served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Woodrow Wilson and Long worked in the State Department.
During Roosevelt’s first presidential race in 1932, Long made large financial contributions to the campaign. The President rewarded Long by naming him ambassador to Italy, where he served from 1933 to 1936. During his tenure, he publicly praised the Fascist dictatorship of Mussolini.
When Il Duce invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Long opposed Roosevelt’s oil embargo on Italy but failed to influence his long-time friend. Three years after resigning as ambassador, Long received an appointment to the State Department.
Roosevelt’s friendship with both Long and Morgenthau was typical of “country-club anti-Semites,” the type that say, “Some of my best friends are Jewish.” But in the President’s case it was true.
Fifteen percent of FDR’s highest-ranking appointees were Jewish although Jews represented less than three percent of the population at the time.
Roosevelt appointed the first Jewish Secretary of the Treasury, Morgenthau. Felix Frankfurter, another Roosevelt appointee, became the second Jewish Supreme Court Justice. (Louis Brandeis was the first, appointed by Woodrow Wilson in 1916 despite fierce resistance in the Senate and by the public.)
Roosevelt’s professional relationships and friendships with Jews didn’t keep him from making bigoted remarks. When Morgenthau and Leo Crowley, a Catholic member of the administration, begged Roosevelt to do more to rescue Europe’s Jews, the President told them, “You know this a Protestant country, and the Catholics and Jews are here under sufferance.” He added that it was up to them to “go along with anything I want.”
Publicly, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were perceived as champions of minorities – for political advantage.
A vicious doggerel made the rounds during FDR’s fourth presidential race in 1944. The University of Chicago’s James T. Sparrow includes the doggerel in his Warfare State: World War II and the Age of Big Government:
“You kiss the niggers / and I'll kiss the Jews / and we'll stay in the White House / as long as we choose."
Whoever composed the verse was inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt’s support for black civil rights and her husband’s friendship and political alliances with Jews like the financier and philanthropist Bernard Baruch and Samuel Irving Rosenman, the first White House Counsel:
The Simon Wiesenthal Center describes the relationship between Roosevelt and American Jews as “a love affair.” The alleged affection kept most “mainstream Jewish leaders from [admitting] not enough had been or was being done” to save Europe’s Jews, according to Saul Friedländer, the author and professor of history at UCLA.
The majority of American Jews believed criticizing FDR might cost him votes and his reelection. Complaints were dismissed as unpatriotic and disloyal, representing “Jewish moaning and whining,” according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
A small minority of Jewish leaders did speak out and condemned the Roosevelt administration’s inaction. Rabbi Israel Goldstein said at the American Jewish Conference in 1943 that his co-religionists were afraid of rocking the boat, politically and socially:
“Let us forthrightly admit that we American Jews, as a community of five millions, have not been stirred deeply enough, have not exercised ourselves passionately enough, have not risked enough of our convenience and our social and civil relations…in order to lay our troubles upon the conscience of our Christian neighbors and fellow citizens.”
But even as Goldstein criticized American Jews for their inaction, he shared their affection for Roosevelt and didn’t mention the President by name in his address to the American Jewish Conference.
Other prominent Jews were even more reticent about Roosevelt and his Administration’s shabby record on immigration. One of these was Rabbi Stephen Wise, president of the World Jewish Congress.
Eduard Schulte (1891-1966)
Wise remained silent even after receiving a telegram that originated with the German industrialist Eduard Schulte, a secret opponent of the Nazi regime.
During a trip to Switzerland in 1942, Schulte told a Jewish business associate and friend about Hitler’s plan to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Nazi-occupied Europe. The Fuehrer believed that could be accomplished by the end of the year.
The information about the Final Solution was conveyed through successive intermediaries until it reached Rabbi Wise in a telegram that stated:
“Received alarming report that in Fuehrer’s headquarters plan discussed [to kill] all Jews occupied or controlled by Germany…after deportation and concentration in East to be exterminated at one blow to resolve once and for all the Jewish question in Europe STOP Action…planned…under discussion including prussic acid STOP.”
The infamous insecticide Zyklon B was the brand name for prussic acid, also called hydrogen cyanide. In a grim case of poetic justice and symmetry, Hitler used a pistol and a cyanide capsule to commit suicide. The same chemical that had destroyed European Jewry also ended the life of the man responsible for their destruction.
After Wise received the telegram, Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles asked the Rabbi to keep the contents of the message secret. Wise agreed.
As for the bureaucrat who kept nearly 200,000 European refugees out of the United States, his fate was emblematic of a time when anti-Semitism was widespread and accepted. It was an era when FDR could silence his non-WASP critics by reminding them they were in America “on sufferance.”
After Long’s memo about obstructing visas was leaked to the press, he was demoted but not fired. Following his voluntary resignation from the State Department in November 1944, he retired and devoted himself to collecting antiques and building model ships. Long also kept a stable of thoroughbred horses and served as the director of Maryland racetrack. He died in 1958.
The Simon Wiesenthal Learning Center has posted a virtual epitaph for Long, saying he “obstructed rescue attempts, drastically restricted immigration, and falsified figures of refugees admitted…He has become the major target of criticism of America’s refugee and rescue policy.”
Friedlander, Saul. Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945: The Years of Extermination. HarperCollins, 2007.
Laquer, Walter and Richard Breitman. Breaking the Silence: The German Who Exposed the Final Solution. Tauber Institute, 1994.
Sayers, Michael and Albert E. Kahn. The Plot Against the Peace: A Warning to the Nation! Book Club, 1945.
Sparrow, James T. Warfare State: World War II and the Age of Big Government. Oxford University Press, USA, 2011.
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On this date in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II succeeded her father, George VI, and in 1778, France and the United States formed an alliance against Britain during the American Revolution.
Causes Frank Sanello Supports
ACLU, ASPCA, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders