Keynote address of the fifth annual Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Distinguished Lecture, held October 17, 1996 at Roosevelt University in Chicago, Illinois.
For those who share Winston Churchill’s judgment, and I do, that the Holocaust “is probably the greatest and most terrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world,” there can be no greater indictment than to allege complicity with that crime. There are some whose legitimate concerns over those grievous events leads them to try and make America and Americans feel guilt and responsibility for the Holocaust. They write and talk with barely a reference to the colossal military struggle known as World War II in which 67 million people were killed, where nations were decimated, where democracy’s survival was in the balance. The Holocaust was part of World War II. Any discussion of the Holocaust must put events, values and attitudes in their time and place.
The scholarship that informed a documentary presented on the Public Broadcasting System on April 6, 1994, entitled “America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference” made our country and its leaders “accomplices” to the Nazi barbarism. It is such scholarship that has caused many young American Jews to criticize and even condemn their grandparents and parents for being “passive observers” of the Nazi genocide, accepting the inference that they did not want to know what was happening to Europe’s Jews, that they were so absorbed in their effort to be accepted or assimilated in American society that they chose silence rather than public outrage at the Nazi crimes, that they gave their overwhelming support to a President who was indifferent to the fate of Europe’s Jews despite his knowledge of what was happening to them. Accusing the United States not only of abandoning the Jews but of complicity in the Holocaust, one eminent spokesman for this viewpoint has written: “The Nazis were the murderers but we”–and here he includes the American government, its president and its people, Christians and Jews indiscriminately–“were the all too passive accomplices.”
I am here today to offer a different point of view.
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