FDR, Contempt for the Jews ?

by Jerold Auerbach
September 23, 2014

Like everyone else I knew in the Forest Hills of my boyhood, my parents were the American–born children of immigrants from Eastern Europe. But my grandparents, who left Russia and Romania in their desperate quest for freedom, opportunity and children who would become genuine Americans, always remained foreigners. They spoke Yiddish, brewed tea in samovars schlepped from Odessa, and shrieked hysterically – doubtlessly reminded of the Czar’s army – when my beloved uncle was drafted during World War II.

Their allegiance to the United States was pledged every four years when, like the overwhelming majority of American Jews of their generation, they voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt. During my childhood I believed that Roosevelt’s first name was “President”;  he was the closest thing to a Savior that our brand of Americanized Judaism permitted. We listened to his “fireside chats” and during the 1944 presidential campaign my mother dragged me to Queens Boulevard in  pouring rain to cheer his passing motorcade. I vividly remember glimpsing his delightful dog Fala, but not the President. At my father’s suggestion, I even wrote to the White House to ask him to buy a war bond to support our school’s patriotic campaign.

Six months later, the impact of his death registered only with the arrival of Life magazine. It displayed the photograph of a mournful black accordionist, weeping as he played “Going Home” when Roosevelt’s body left Warm Springs for burial in Hyde Park. That image ranked in memory – and still does – with the Jewish boy in Warsaw, my age exactly, raising his arms in terror as he confronted Nazi soldiers; and with the first horrific Life photos of emaciated survivors in the extermination camps……


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