Marching for the Jews of Europe:
Or, The Consequences of the
First Jewish Public Relations Campaign in America

Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-present), Fall 2018, Volume 17, Issue 2


Diane Cypkin
Pace University, Pleasantville

On October 6, 1943, hundreds of "black-clad" Orthodox Rabbis "chanting from the book of Psalms" (Baumel 156) marched on the nation's capitol building in Washington, DC. Their mission: to present the president with a petition and to deliver a holy message and appeal. Among other things, they called for the creation of a "special intergovernmental agency to save the remnant of Israel in Europe" from Nazi murder ("The Appeal" 1), even as they reminded the Judeo-Christian society of its responsibility one to another as fellow human beings (King James Bible, Genesis 4: 9-10).  

In this essay, I will argue that the march — the unique and dramatic grand finale of the first Jewish public relations campaign in America, organized by the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe and led by Peter Bergson, an innovative and indefatigable public relations man — was ultimately instrumental in creating the climate that led to the president's creation of the War Refugee Board. Indeed, the committee accomplished what had never been done before. They succeeded in transforming what was viewed until then as only a "Jewish issue" — the suffering of Europe's helpless Jews — into a moral issue of importance to the entire nation, and, finally, into a political issue the president had to address. 

To understand how the march occurred as well as the aftermath, I will examine the historical environment, the organizers, their innovative media campaign, those who participated, as well as the consequences of the event.


The Historical Environment

By the fall of 1943, many knew Germany would lose the war. The Allied position in the Pacific was also improving. Nonetheless, the Nazi murder of Europe's Jews only escalated even though approximately "3 million [Jews] had already been exterminated" (Lookstein 30).  

Did anyone know what was happening to the Jews, especially after 1941 when Hitler invaded Russia and "the annihilation of European Jewry began" (Medoff, The Deafening 74)?  Was anything done by anyone to try to rescue them?  Washington received "authoritative reports of anti-Jewish barbarity" "soon after Hitler took power." Then, in August 1942, a cable sent by Gerhart Riegner, Secretary of the World Jewish Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, and "its subsequent documentation," provided the United States with "its first specific evidence of a German plan for the total extermination of the Jews" (Morse 25), yet no substantive reaction occurred.

The American public began reading about Nazi atrocities against the Jews "in late October 1941" "in a small article" on an inside page of the New York Times where most all such articles would appear (Wyman 20). Then, in November 1942, after a three-month delay, the Riegner cable was made public, revealing the Nazi's deadly goal regarding the Jews — again, buried in the inside pages of various American English language newspapers, including the New York Times. In short, the American public was almost completely unaware of what had befallen the Jews in Europe. Instead, still in the throes of "massive economic suffering" (Breitman and Lichtman 3), Americans had grown anti-immigration and anti-Semitic (Wyman x) — as did most of their elected "restrictionist" representatives (Wyman 136). After the United States entered the war in late 1941, Americans increasingly viewed refugees as dangerous internal security risks (Lookstein 32) — an idea nurtured by Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long, a central figure when it came to immigration and the erection of "visa barriers" (Wallance 67). Interestingly, in 1938, Long, after reading Hitler's Mein Kampf, confided in his diary that "the book was 'eloquent in opposition to Jewry and to Jews as exponents of Communism and chaos'" (qtd. in Wallance 67).

Meanwhile, Jewish Americans who also read the Yiddish or Anglo-Jewish newspapers were privy to earlier and more "detailed reports" (Medoff, The Deafening 75). Almost as soon as Hitler attacked Russia in June of 1941, the American Jewish press began reporting the deadly acts of the Einsatzgruppen, the Nazi murder battalions (Wyman 20). But knowing did not translate into meaningful action. First, anti-Semitism had turned American Jews into an exceptionally frightened community, and, reading various polls of the time, not surprisingly so. For example, a Gallup poll taken in July 1939 indicated that "31.9 percent of Americans thought that Jews had too much power in the business world and that steps should be taken to prevent them from accumulating it; 10.1 percent expressed the view that Jews should be deported from America" (Bauer 39). Worse still, "in July 1942, a Gallup poll showed that one American in six believed that their enemy, Hitler, was 'doing the right thing' to the Jews" (qtd. in Rapoport 44).

Then, too, the Jewish community admired President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They praised his "liberalism" (Hecht, A Child 535), his New Deal, and the fact that he gave so many Jews positions in his administration. Moreover, many viewed him as their "bulwark" against domestic anti-Semites (Breitman and Lichtman 182; Bauer 195). Nevertheless, the Jewish community appeared divided. For example, the American Jewish Committee believed in "quiet intercession with political figures" (Medoff, The Deafening 20) while the American Jewish Congress led by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise held rallies and seemed more vocal. Unfortunately, though, the rallies had no concrete results (Medoff, The Deafening 54), and the talk of saving the Jews in Europe was often hesitant. The concept of Zionism also split them. Some, like the American Jewish Congress, were ardent Zionists. They wanted to pressure Britain into letting Europe's Jews create a Jewish State of Israel in Palestine. Sometimes, they talked more about Palestine and life after the war than they did about saving the Jews in Europe (Bauer 192). Others, like the American Jewish Committee, were anti-Zionists who feared any discussion of Zionism, certain it would make them appear unpatriotic Americans (Medoff, The Deafening 21). But then they feared any talk about Jewish issues.

Where in the midst of all this was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt? According to men who knew him well and worked with him daily, President Roosevelt was a very cautious politician, concerned with the tenor of Congress and public opinion (Blum 165; Ickes 548), which meant he would be unwilling to jeopardize his political capital by confronting anyone on contentious issues and that included Jewish suffering in Europe.  Indeed, once questioned about his position on refugees and immigration, he said, "First things come first...I can't alienate certain votes I need for measures that are more important at the moment by pushing any measure that could entail a fight" (qtd. in Roosevelt 62). Some historians believe he "avoid[ed] appearing pro-Jewish" since "that image would only impede his task of mobilizing the country" (Breitman and Lichtman 182). Nor was it very difficult to assuage Rabbi Wise who came to see FDR intermittently about what was happening to Europe's Jews, for the Rabbi adored Roosevelt a bit too much (Wise). Sympathy from the president, some promises — like the unfulfilled promise of the Evian Conference — more than satisfied Rabbi Wise. Once America was in the war, "Rescue through victory" became the mantra and any other activity, it was stressed, would hinder that goal.

The Organizers

In the early 1940s, an Irgun delegation of militant Zionists from Palestine, soon calling themselves the "American Friends of a Jewish Palestine" (Baumel 44), gathered in New York.  Many of them, in the late 1930s — despite Britain's restrictions on Jewish immigration — were rescuing Jews from an increasingly dangerous Europe by smuggling them into Palestine. Their mission in America now was to "raise financial and political support for illegal immigration to Palestine" in order to continue this work (Baumel 38).
Established Jewish organizations in America, especially Zionist ones, viewed them as direct competitors. In response, they closed "almost all synagogues, community centers and organizational halls to the group" where they could "publicize their message" and raise funds (Baumel 51, 28). They also spread rumors about the organization (Ben-Ami 321). But the delegation, determined, "concentrated on organizing meetings in private homes" (Baumel 49). Moreover, they may have been the "first Jewish group of that time functioning in the United States that actively made overtures to the non-Jewish public" (Baumel 41). Thus, they transformed what had been seen as a Jewish issue into a humanitarian one (Baumel 53). And, the delegation would do even more. Hillel Kook, who went by the name Peter Bergson to protect his well-known rabbinical family, joined them and became the group's leader. Considered ingenious by his colleagues, and the possessor of "a certain charisma that drew important people to him" (Rapoport 45), he was, most importantly, a master at public relations (Rapoport 86). Samuel Merlin and Judith Tydor Baumel make some important observations about this skill:

One of the most important innovations of the Bergson Group ...was the use of paid messages, usually in the form of full page advertisements in prominent daily newspapers and weekly magazines from coast to coast. Subsequently this tactic became commonplace...But at the time the Bergson Group did it, it was a sensation in two respects: first, because it was so rarely used before; second, the shock of bringing the Jewish problem into the open in such an uninhibited manner. (Merlin 35-36). 

By utilizing the press and other public relations tactics to their fullest during and after the Second World War, delegation members became the first Jewish organization in the United States to attempt to sway American government policy primarily by influencing the public mind. (Baumel xix-xx). 

By June of 1941, when smuggling Jews into Palestine became impossible (Kranzler 140), the delegation, often referred to by historians as the Bergson group, "organized a huge rally in New York in order to stimulate awareness of the acute need for a Jewish Army" (Baumel 87). In December that same year, the group renamed the "Committee for a Jewish Army of Stateless and Palestinian Jews," decided to present itself as a "non-sectarian, non-partisan, American organization." According to Eri Jabotinsky — a member of the group and the son of Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky, the father of militant Zionism in all its incarnations (Betar, Revisionism, and Irgun): "We didn't pose as the representatives of any movement or any party. We were just representing an idea and asking those who were in accord with our arguments to give us the support of their name" (qtd. in Baumel 88).

On January 5, 1942, the committee's first full-page advertisement in the New York Times appeared. The headline read, "Jews Fight for the Right to Fight" (Ben-Ami 250; Committee for a Jewish Army, 13). The advertisement bore "133 signatures...three senators, fourteen congressmen, eleven rabbis, five Protestant ministers, and prominent journalist and show business people” (Medoff, The Deafening 84). A donation slip was attached to the ad (Baumel 101; Committee, for a Jewish Army 13). Then came more ads with more donation slips, “propaganda leaflets, radio broadcasts, fund-raising dinners...petitions” (Baumel 94), and meetings. Eri Jabotinsky observed, we "advertised the Committee for a Jewish Army just as you would advertise Chevrolet motor cars" (qtd. in Baumel 101). Because of Bergson, "nearly four hundred congressmen voiced their support for the idea of a Jewish army" (Baumel 105). 
The established American Jewish organizations, and Rabbi Wise especially, were now beside themselves with fear that Jewish issues in the spotlight would have anti-Semitic repercussions. They wondered how the president would react (Baumel 203), and they were angry that this group of interlopers, the Bergsonites — who "demand[ed] rather than “request[ed]" (Baumel 103), was gaining influence and collecting money that should by rights be in their coffers. 
In November 1942, however, with the release of the Riegner cable, and more news coming out of Europe of Jewish suffering at the hands of Hitler's followers, the committee's focus began to change again — back to rescue.  In response to the cable — which received little attention in the general newspapers — the Committee immediately bought large display advertisements in the New York Times and throughout the country, to spread the word of what the Riegner message actually meant.  According to the committee, everyone had to know and see something was done. Soon "thousands" of letters of support "many including financial contributions flowed into the offices of the Bergson Group" (Merlin 60). "Ultimately," "during the Holocaust years," they placed "more than two hundred such ads" (Merlin 62).

The Innovative Campaign

Bergson quickly accepted an idea the well-known playwright, journalist, and screenwriter Ben Hecht, a new member of the group, suggested: a pageant entitled, We Will Never Die — something never before done in the American Jewish world (Baumel 115-116). The "gigantic pageant would simultaneously serve as a memorial to the martyred Jews of Europe and a call to action to save those who were still alive" (Merlin 62). According to Isaac Zaar, "Hecht wrote the script, Billy Rose produced it, Moss Hart directed it, [and] Kurt Weil wrote an original score" (39). Samual Merlin lists the performers, which included "Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni, Stella Adler, and Sylvia Sydney" (Merlin 62).   

Opening at Madison Square Garden, on the evening of March 9, 1943 — with two showings necessary because of the huge audience ("We Will Never Die") — the pageant began in dim ethereal lighting with two towering tablets containing the Ten Commandments on stage. As David S. Wyman explains, "Suspended over them was an illuminated Star of David" (91). When the lights went up on the tablets, a Cantor began singing "Kol Nidre" (a Yom Kippur eve prayer), a shofar was blown, and a Rabbi appeared offering an incantation and prayer ("We Will Never Die," acetate audio recording; Hecht, "We Will Never Die" 2). The ninety-minute presentation "concentrated on three themes: Jewish contributions to civilization from Moses to Einstein; the role of Jews in the Allied armed forces; and a vision of the postwar peace conference at which groups of Jewish dead told of their extinction at the hands of the Nazis" (Wyman 91). In the last segment, as groups told their heartbreaking tales, they concluded with the words, "Remember us" (Hecht, "We Will Never Die" 25-30).
We Will Never Die was a hit: "Highly successful performances [also] took place in Washington DC, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, and Hollywood" (Wyman 91). Yet, from the start, the committee was undermined by enemies. In short, while there had been hopes of taking the pageant to more cities, those hopes were dashed. Nonetheless, a certain substantial amount of public grass roots pressure had built up forcing the American and the British government to do something about the Jews of Europe. The result was the Bermuda Conference in April 1943 — unfortunately, no action plan developed.
Regardless of all the obstacles, however, Bergson stated that in the spring of 1943, rescue became his definitive wartime purpose (Baumel 139). With that, he did what some historians of the period say "should have been done" at the Bermuda Conference: he organized an "Emergency Conference to Save the Jewish People of Europe." The goal of this conference: to present "practical plans for rescuing Jews from Hitler" (Wyman and Medoff 39). Put simply, "Rescue through victory," an idea that Roosevelt and the Allies had been floating as the only way to halt the murder of the Jews in Europe was simply too frightening, for victory might come when there was no longer anyone to rescue.
The five-day conference convened on July 20, 1943, at the Commodore Hotel in New York City with "some one hundred and twenty-five experts, American and other, in international law, diplomacy, military affairs, transportation, and relief work, as well as men and women from the literary and artistic communities, representing various shades of political opinion and social philosophy" coming together to study every aspect of Jewish rescue. Just a short list of those who participated includes the following: "former president Herbert Hoover; William Randolph Hearst; Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes;...Senators Guy Gillette, Edwin Johnson and Elbert Thomas" (Merlin 83), plus "New York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, Dean Alfange of the American Labor Party, [and] author Dorothy Parker" (Baumel 146). In all, "More than 1,500 delegates attended the general sessions" (Merlin 84). Most importantly, the press was invited — "consistent with...[Bergson's] formula that whatever had no press coverage did not exist" (Baumel 148). The conclusions reached were as follows:

  1. That saving the Jewish people of Europe constitutes a specific problem which should be dealt with as such, and not as part of the general refugee problem.

  2. That most of the surviving Jews of Europe can be saved from annihilation prior to the cessation of hostilities, without detriment to the successful prosecution of the war.

  3. That a specific government agency should be created for that purpose.

    ("Findings" 13)

Then followed more specific steps:

Convincing Axis satellite governments to treat Jews humanely and persuading Axis countries to allow Jewish emigration, providing Jewish refugees with temporary asylum in nonbelligerent countries and at the same time pushing for their admission to Palestine...and...a public campaign to inform Americans of the extermination of European Jewry. (Baumel 147)

On July 26, the final day of the gathering, conference members, realizing that their work had really only just begun, became the "Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe." The next activity was starting up chapters in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles (Peck 376). 
The Emergency Committee was doing a lot, but still not enough as far as Bergson was concerned, to move the United States government to action.


Those Who Participated in the March

According to David Kranzler, "The secularist organizations generally refused to go as far as breaking the law to provide aid or attempt rescue...The Orthodox groups, on the other hand, were bound by the higher moral laws of the Torah's imperative of pikuach nefesh (saving a life)" (3). Because the Orthodox community in America still had very close ties with Europe, news of the Nazi persecution of Jews came early to them, as did an active response. In the early fall of 1939, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, "the world-renowned leader of Orthodox Jewry and the leading rabbinic figure in Vilna" (Zuroff 27), appealed to his "former student Rabbi Eliezer Silver of Cincinnati, one of the leading Orthodox rabbis in the United States" (Zuroff 28), for funds to help the many refugee rabbis and their students who had escaped Nazi occupied Poland and come to Vilna. In response, Rabbi Silver, a member of the presidium of Agudat ha-Rabbanim (the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada) — "known for his...intensive involvement in Jewish communal affairs" (Zuroff 38) — immediately saw to organizing an emergency conference of the Agudat ha-Rabbanim. As a result "a special organization for the rescue of rabbis and yeshiva students" was created—the "Emergency Committee for War-Torn Yeshivot"—and "a national campaign to raise funds for this specialized rescue work" was launched with Rabbi Silver  head of the project (Zuroff 30-31). Before long "the Emergency Committee," hard at work, became known as Vaad Hatzala (The Rescue Committee).   
The Vaad's fundraising campaigns would stretch from coast to coast in the United States and Canada, wherever there was an Orthodox Jewish population. Moreover, resolute in their sacred mission, the Vaad thought nothing of utilizing both legal and illegal means to send the money raised where it was needed. When Rabbi Abraham Kalmanowitz, a rabbi from Poland and president of the Mirrer Yeshivah, arrived from Lithuania and joined Rabbi Silver at the helm of the Vaad in 1940, that determination and single-mindedness was redoubled. For example, at one point Rabbi Kalmanowitz believed the FBI was about to prosecute him for "illegally transferring money to Shanghai after the Pearl Harbor attack." His response was, "If I am arrested and ever get out, I'll do it again. Lives are at stake" (qtd. in Kranzler 34). 
The Vaad would approach anyone if there were a chance they could help. Both Rabbi Silver and Rabbi Kalmanowitch were forever in Washington, DC "exerting immeasurable influence on countless government officials" (Kranzler 139-140). They even approached Rabbi Wise if they thought he might assist — a move especially astonishing considering the fact that the Jewish Reform movement is anathema to the Orthodox. Indeed, the "brilliant" Rabbi Aaron Kotler, "dean...of the famed yeshivah in Kletzk, Poland" (Kranzler 143), who became part of the leadership of the Vaad in 1941 when he arrived from Lithuania (Kranzler 135), issued a psak (Rabbinical legal decision) at that time. It "direct[ed] all Jews to set aside partisan differences, to stop all political bickering, and unite instead in the holy cause of rescue" (Kranzler 145). That edict meant no in-fighting vis-à-vis Reform vs. Orthodox or Zionist vs. non-Zionist Jews. Following his own ruling, he went to speak to Rabbi Wise whenever he felt it was necessary. "Criticized by some overzealous Orthodox" for meeting with Wise, Rabbi Kotler simply stated, "I would prostrate myself before the Pope, if I knew it would help to save even the fingernail of one Jewish child!" (qtd. in Kranzler 146).  
In keeping with Rabbi Kotler's hope that all Jews work together, when the Vaad in September 1942 learned, by way of their own connections, of the suffering all Jews were experiencing in Europe — before the Riegner Cable was made public in November — they immediately contacted their co-religionists in America, including Rabbi Wise. The cable they received — unlike the Riegner Cable — was not about a "'plan' to exterminate" Europe's Jews, but "about the mass murders that were going on for weeks and the deportation of a hundred thousand Jews from Warsaw" (Friedenson and Kranzler 90).     
So, how did Rabbi Wise react? Since he actually already knew about the Riegner Cable in August from his sources, but unlike the Vaad, had gone to the State Department — that also knew but tried to suppress the cable (Morse 14) — Rabbi Wise felt he had to keep his word to them first. The State Department had asked him to delay making the cable public. They claimed they had to confirm what was in the message. That delay would last three months — untill November 24. Aside from making it public, Rabbi Wise, pressured by the Vaad and others, was also forced to arrange a meeting with Roosevelt for December 8, 1942. The outcome: President Roosevelt stated he knew what was happening. Not long after, on December 17, 1942, "the Allies issued what was to be their sole proclamation of condemnation specifically mentioning Jewish victims" (Kranzler 136). But no action as regards the rescue of Europe's Jews was discussed or taken.
The Vaad was now increasingly concerned with saving all of European Jewry and not just the rabbis and their yeshiva students, for it was obvious that all of Israel was in mortal danger. Thus, a strange "marriage" soon took place, most probably expedited by the lay leader, Irving Bunim, who worked with the Vaad and knew the Bergson group (Kranzler 140). The result: a group of militant Zionists, the Bergson group, and a group of Orthodox Jews, not just from the Vaad, but their larger mother organization, the Agudath ha-Rabbanim — most all, if not all of them not Zionists — got together to fight for what they both fanatically believed in: the Rescue of Europe's Jews. 


The March

On Wednesday, October 6, 1943, three days before Yom Kippur — "the only demonstration of its kind during World War II by Jewish leaders" (Zuroff 260)—the Rabbi's March on Washington, DC took place. A "media tactic to draw attention to the rescue issue" (Baumel, 156), the march was organized and directed by Peter Bergson, head of the "Emergency Committee to Save the Jews of Europe" in conjunction with Agudath ha-Rabbanim, and other sympathetic Orthodox groups. Washington, DC had to be the immediate backdrop to the march — all the world was looking toward the capital. Bergson was convinced that hundreds of Orthodox Rabbis dressed in their religious garb "marching on the White House while engaged in reciting a prayer on behalf of European Jewry and its rescue" would have an "immense visual and emotional impact" (Baumel 156). While the rabbis were not accustomed to participating in such "high profile tactics" (Zuroff 257), the drive to fulfill their mission eclipsed all doubts.
Every aspect of the march was planned for maximum effect. From the collection point at Union Station at 12:35pm — where hundreds of rabbis from everywhere were joined by local colleagues — the "imposing" procession (Zaar 62), which journalists quickly labeled a "pilgrimage," started out for the Capitol Building (Zuroff 258). The editor of the Yiddish daily Der Tog (The Day), who was there, Dr. Samuel Margoshes, described it in his paper as "grand and glorious." He continued:

Tens of thousands of...passersby got to know...that millions of Jews were done to death in Nazi-held Europe, and that millions more are in jeopardy, and that the Jews of America profoundly agitated...are appealing to the Government and people of the United States for help in saving their brethren from imminent doom...What was even more the 500 rabbis, wearing their Chassidic garb of long silk and gabardines and round plush hats, moved along Pennsylvania Avenue,...[people] watched in wonderment...The traffic stopped,...I myself saw many a soldier snap to salute, as the oldest Rabbis remarkably reminiscent of the patriarchs in Dore's Bible, passed in review. There was something of the quality of a religious procession that characterized the Rabbinical Pilgrimage and compelled the respect of every passerby.

Once at the Capitol Building, "a delegation of seven rabbis was taken in to meet Vice President Henry Wallace who received them in the presence of all the Jewish members of Congress" (Zuroff  258; Jabotinsky). Tailored to its official audience, Wallace was presented with a petition addressed to President Roosevelt and signed by a cross-section of countless Americans — Jews and non-Jews. The petition began by noting that an entire people was being exterminated. Then, utilizing mythos, or the shared story of what America has always stood for, the petition went on to emphasize how America and Americans had always been "on the side of humanity, civilization and democracy." Thus "the undersigned" "call upon the Executive Branch of our Government to create a special inter-governmental agency to save the Jewish people of Europe," to pressure Britain to undo an injustice, and to open the gates of Palestine to "European Jews escaping the death trap of Europe." It ended by asking the President and the Congress of the United States, "the guardians of America's humanitarian tradition, to take this action at once" ("Petition" 24).  
Following that, while the petition given Congress may have been read on the steps of the Capitol as well, what all remember is the heartfelt holy message and appeal offered up by an emotional Rabbi Silver, first in Hebrew, and then in English by Rabbi Wolf Gold. Meant for a mass audience, it was a presentation of "public theology" (Rybacki and Rybacki 196) in which the religious and public were melded into one simple message. Thus Rabbi Gold, speaking in English after Rabbi Silver concluded, began by noting the Holy Torah command: "Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor." Then he spoke of "a voice on high...the voice of our brothers' blood — innocent souls by the tens of thousands, children, infants and sucklings — the aged men and women, cry[ing] out unto us: 'Save us!'" Because of that command and that voice, the rabbis had "come broken-hearted to ask...the President to hear the cries of our brethren, now in the hands of the murderous Nazi government which singled out the people of Israel as its target and has decreed their annihilation and oblivion."  "In view of this tragic emergency," he continued, "it is a holy obligation to take drastic steps to save the Jewish people." Here he noted a number of points suggested at the Emergency Conference to Save the Jewish People of Europe. The speech concluded in the hopes that the president "recognize...the responsibility which the Divine Presence has laid upon the leaders of this great Nation...and that the rabbis would pray...for the triumph of...the United States of America" ("Appeal").
At twilight, the march came to its next stop, the Lincoln Memorial. Here "prayers for the Jewish victims of the war were recited as well as a prayer for the United States and its leaders" (Zuroff 259). The marchers then set off for their final destination, the White House.
The Emergency Committee had hoped that a delegation of marchers would meet with the president, but that was not to be. According to historians, the president, especially influenced by his close Jewish presidential advisor and prominent member of the American Jewish Committee, Judge Samuel Rosenman, decided against it. Rosenman had communicated to Roosevelt that the marchers were "not representative of the most thoughtful elements in Jewry" and that "the leading Jews of his acquaintance opposed the march on the Capitol" (Hassett 209). Instead, the president "went off to Bolling Field where he dedicated four Liberator bombers for a Yugoslavian combat unit serving with American forces" (Breitman and Lichtman 230).  Bergson and a few of the leading rabbis met with presidential secretary Marvin H. McIntire at the White House, handed him the petition they had earlier presented to the Congress, and asked that it be delivered to the president — an inauspicious and disheartening end to the day.
While President Roosevelt succeeded in avoiding an in-person meeting with the marchers, he could not avoid all the press the march got the following day. He could also not avoid the negative comments occasioned by his snub of their pilgrimage, so pious, and their holy words. The rabbis, by alluding to the murder of Abel at the hands of Cain, had reminded the public of the important moral tenet, a part of the Judeo-Christian tradition: we are our "brother's keeper"; we are responsible for the welfare of each other (Medoff, The Deafening 130; Zuroff 260).

The American English language newspapers wrote about the cool reception the rabbis received at the White House while Yiddish language newspapers questioned whether the president would have treated leaders of the Protestant or Catholic Church as he had the rabbis, and wrote too, about how American Jews were beginning to wonder just what kind of friend Roosevelt was to them (Medoff, The Deafening 174-175). The Der Tog editors wrote the following:

Our capital witnessed an entire people in entire people helpless against the greatest evil in human history...if there are still strings of humanity remaining in the world, the march awakened them and they played the song of tragedy and compassion.   
The rabbi's march in Washington was one of the most powerful expressions of pain and anguish our people have demonstrated, and in the place where there are those who can help. ("Der rabonim-tog" 6)

On the heels of the largest media event they had ever mounted, the committee arranged that Sunday, October 10, 1943, the day following Yom Kippur, be proclaimed a "Day of Intercession." Thus countless church leaders, sympathetic to the rabbis' pleas as well as those of the committee (Kelman), on that day had their membership "beseech Him to ameliorate the lot of...Jewish people" (Tucker, McDonnell, and Coffin).


The Consequences of the March

Borne on the momentum of  public sentiment whipped up by the march, the petition, and especially the holy moral reminder and appeal all could relate to — a stirring momentum Bergson felt he needed for his next move (Medoff, The Anguish 106) — on November 9, 1943, the fifth anniversary of Kristallnacht, Guy Gillette (D-Iowa) in the Senate as well as Will Rogers, Jr. (D-California) and Joseph Baldwin (R-New York) in the House, introduced a resolution "urg[ing] the creation by the president of a commission of diplomatic, economic, and military experts to formulate and effectuate a plan of immediate action designed to save the surviving Jewish people of Europe from extinction at the hands of Nazi Germany" (United States Senate).   
Still, the Gillette-Rogers resolution ran into difficulty — even though both Gillette and Rogers knew "that an overwhelming majority in both houses would favor the measure" (Merlin 99). In the House of Representative, three individuals opposed it — Congressman Sol Bloom (D-New York), Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long — each for their own reasons. Congressman Bloom, one of the delegates to the Bermuda Conference, was still smarting from the wounds he received at the hands of the Bergsonites regarding the lackluster results of that conference. Now as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he "delay[ed] and [hoped to] undermine the resolution by insisting on holding full hearings" (Medoff, The Anguish 109). Rabbi Wise, undoubtedly in keeping with his feelings for the Bergsons — testified that the resolution was "'inadequate' because it did not refer specifically to Palestine and did not call for the immediate lifting of all British restrictions on immigration there" (qtd. in Merlin 101). Bergson purposely left the issue of Palestine out knowing that congressmen might see it complicating matters in regard to America's wartime alliance with Britain and thus think twice about passing the resolution. Assistant Secretary of State Long testified that such a resolution was simply unnecessary. Since 1933, according to Long, America had let in "580,000 Jewish refugees" (Medoff, The Anguish 112).
The Wise and Long testimony, particularly, led the House Foreign Affairs Committee to shelve the resolution without voting on it. However, to validate what they had done before a public that had become concerned with the rescue of Europe's Jews, the committee publicized Long's testimony. Unfortunately, that move "backfired" (Wyman and Medoff 45): "Two leading political affairs journals, The Nation and New Republic, sharply refuted Long's statistics" (Medoff, The Anguish 112). While "Long claimed 580,000 had been admitted since 1933...not more than 250,000 had come, and many of them were not Jews." This information outraged "mainstream organizations, the media, and a number of Congressmen" (Wyman and Medoff 45). It also resulted in "the resolution" being "passed unanimously" through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and slated to come up for a vote on Monday, January 24th before the full Senate (Medoff, The Anguish 113).
On January 16th, however, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., the only Jewish cabinet member, went to see the president. He had with him a report authored by his staff clearly outlining all manner of obstructionist activities the State Department had been responsible for as regards its handling of Jewish refugees and their rescue. This staff had also been paying attention to what was happening with the Gillette-Rogers resolution and, in fact, prodded Morgenthau to talk to the president (Wyman and Medoff 155).

While Morgenthau had always been concerned with Jewish rescue, confronting the president as regards the issue was something he was not eager to do. Moral suasion, he knew, would not work. Others had attempted it and failed. On the other hand, Morgenthau had come to realize that the president was "one who act[s] if there [is] a political payoff, or to prevent a political setback" (Rapoport 161). So, with the climate right for a political argument, Morgenthau gave the president the report and also made clear to him, referring to what was then happening in the House, that should this exposé regarding the State Department become known the damage to the administration would be great — especially in an election year, and especially, too, since the "leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, Wendell Willkie and Thomas Dewey were actively pursuing Jewish votes." Thus, with "a potentially explosive Senate the offing and public criticism of the administration's lack of rescue action..reaching a crescendo" (Wyman and Medoff 48), Morgenthau convinced the president "to preempt Congress" (Wyman and Medoff 48-49). On January 22, 1944, FDR, by way of Executive Order No. 9417, created the War Refugee Board (WRB). Interestingly, one who would help save many Jews while working for the WRB was Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg (Baumel 182) — forfeiting his life because of it. Indeed, he remains so beloved and admired by the Jewish people that the U.S. Holocaust Museum named the street it is on after Wallenberg.
What would be the board's wartime accomplishments? According to Wyman, the WRB

sav[ed] approximately 200,000 Jews. About 15,000 were evacuated from Axis territory (as were more than 20,000 non-Jews).  At least 10,000, and probably thousands more, were protected within Axis Europe by WRB-financial underground activities and by the board's steps to safeguard holders of Latin American passports. WRB diplomatic pressures, backed by its program of psychological warfare, were instrumental in seeing the 48,000 Jews in Transnistria moved to safe areas of Rumania. Similar pressures helped end the Hungarian deportations. Ultimately, 120,000 Jews survived in Budapest. (285) 

One could only wish all this had happened sooner, but neither the time nor the people were ripe in knowledge, interest, or willingness to act. Then again, in the Talmud it is said that when you save even one life, it is as if you saved a world entire (Mishna Sanhedrin 4:9; Yerushalmi Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a).


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