America’s Soul in the Balance by Gregory J. Wallance.

At the height of World War II, four lawyers in the U.S. Treasury Department discovered that the highly-educated, patrician diplomats in the State Department had covered up reports of the Nazi extermination scheme–and then blocked the rescue of 70,000 Romanian Jews forcibly marched into Transnistria in the Nazi-conquered Ukraine and left to die of starvation, disease, and sheer exhaustion.   The Treasury lawyers charged the diplomats with being “accomplices of Hitler.”

The outrage of the Treasury lawyers—tough-minded New Dealers from Christian, middle-class backgrounds—at the State Department’s complicity in genocide precipitated a titanic intergovernmental battle. The stakes were nothing less than the fates of countless European Jews (symbolized by an orphaned girl’s struggle for survival in Transnistria), the historical reputation of FDR, and the soul of America itself.

Journey with author Gregory Wallance into this largely untold story from both the perspective of those in American Government and from a survivor who bears witness to all that happened in Transnistria.

The Jewish Journal: “Wallance tells quite a story and masterfully documents the well-deserved indictment of the World War II-era U.S. State Department.”  (review by Michael Berenbaum, former Director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Holocaust Research Institute and Professor of Jewish Studies at American Jewish University.)

Jewish Book Council: “An important contribution to the debate surrounding the Roosevelt Administration and the politics of rescue.  Reads like a thriller.”  (review by Jack Fischel, Professor Emeritus of History at Millersville University of Pennsylvania and author of The Holocaust and Historical Dictionary of the Holocaust.)

8 thoughts on “Home

  1. dear Gregory, after reading your entry and your article in the Forward, I’m sure this will be another critical and worthewile book! I’m sure to buy one book for myself and another for the wife of my sisters son, both born in Israel, but her parents fled Romania during the war. With best regards from Clara

  2. Do you have a view as to why the yacht club aristocracy of the 1940’s was so antisemitic? Was it nothing more than a legacy inherited from the the Father Coughlins and Henry Fords? If so, why didn’t the same hatred infect men like DuBois, Pehle and Paul?

    • It’s gone into in some detail in the book (spoiler alert), but the patrician diplomats in the State Department were raised and educated in an aristocratic bubble that cut them off from the rest of America; in fact, schools like Groton were founded in part to provide wealthy men’s sons an education without the presence of immigrant children (that’s why they were located outside of cities). Many of these schools refused to admit Jews. In fact, when Louis Auchincloss, who had impeccable WASP credentials, attended Groton in the early 1930s, he was mistaken for a Jew and called “Rebecca” by the other students because of the “Jewish appearance of his nose and kicked and shoved.” Anti-Semitism went hand and hand with scorn for the lower classes (George Orwell, writing of the British upper class disdain for the lower (and even middle) classes: “four frightful words were bandied about quite freely in my childhood. The words were “‘The lower classes smell'”), and the much feared and hated Bolshevism, which was associated with Jews such as Trotsky. And, anti-Semitism peaked in America in 1940 — there were over 100 anti-Semitic organizations in the country at that time.

      I think what made the Treasury Department lawyers different is that they came from middle class backgrounds, they were idealists (that’s why they wanted to be part of a New Deal agency like the Treasury Department), and they were recruited by a Jewish Secretary of the Treasury whose hiring policy, at least by the late 1930s, was based on the questions: “Does he want to lick Hitler? Does he hate Hitler’s guts?”

  3. Congratulations on this very worthwhile addition to the scholarly literature on the Holocaust. Although the Holocaust is one of the most researched topics in 20th Century history, you’ve uncovered a crucial part of the story that, if left hidden, would have permanently distorted our understanding of the US role during World War II. Also, you’ve put on full display the law’s power to enslave or redeem — depending on the lawyer who wields its power. A tremendous achievement.

  4. The answer is partly found in racism. In our era, we tend to think of racism as a white people/ people of color thing. But racism also created strata among those we would now call whites. English and Northern Europeans above the Irish and Italians, above the Slavs and all of them above the Jews. American elites were heavily anti-Semitic until the 50s when large numbers of Jews began to infiltrate American elites.

    The other issue is a cramped sense of self-interest. Unlike Jews who have historically been champions of other groups (thus their important role in the civil rights and union movements), Anglo- and Northern Euro-American elites define self interest, well selfishly.
    If they don’t have one of their dogs in the fight they exit.

    The WASP elites didn’t just do this in WW2. They did the same thing in the Balkans. James Baker, appeased the Serbs, signalling we would allow them to ethnic cleanse with impunity. George H W Bush, Cheney and W didn’t mind when Saddam was committing genocide with Kurds or the Marsh Arabs or Shiites. But when they messed with oil, the hammer came down.

    Another great example of this is John McCloy (WASP banker) veto of request to bomb the rails to Auchwitz. He thought it better to bomb oil fields. This sort of cramped conception of national interest and prioritization of oil over the prevention of genocide was alive and well in the blue blood Bush Iraq policy.

    History repeats . . .

  5. The Mid-Manhattan library lecture was interesting. The title of the book is thought provoking and timely because America is at the cross roads and fighting the battle for her soul. The atrocities and inhumanity of WWII changed the world but did the mindset that gives rise to these crimes against humanity changed? Injustice at the U.S Department of Justice begs me to ask the question…..and I hope this book starts the debate……

    • Thanks so much. I really enjoyed giving the talk. Yes, the mindset in the United States certainly has changed. The State Department now has a bureau devoted to human rights and the personnel of the State Department are no longer drawn from the aristocracy that I wrote about (and that aristocracy really no longer exists). As to the rest of the world, it was the Holocaust that led to the Nuremberg war crimes prosecutions, which in turn gave rise to a body of international human rights law that did not exist during World War II. This is not to say that terrible things don’t happen — they do. But, this body of international human rights law at least has created a standard for judging other nation’s human rights violations and, in some cases, bringing criminal prosecutions.

      • II treasure the current body of international human rights law but it seems that the Western world has forgotten what gave rise to these instruments. When I read some of the State Departments human rights reports on the European country where I come from, I began to question the integrity of that bureau. The reports stated that there was respect for human rights but the day to day reality contradicted that premise. As a student of history I am concerned about the developments in Europe and the United States, especially when it comes to the right of the individual. The current standard is “legal protection for some and not for all” which brings us back to a new aristocracy and it is very disheartening.

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