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© The Boston Globe 2001.  Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II

by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / July 1, 2001

Page 5 of 8

Continued from page 4

Hitler's persecution of the Jews was no secret. The Nazis ordered a boycott of Jewish shops shortly after Hitler came to power in 1933 and barred Jews from civil service jobs and universities. A 1933 Boston Globe headline on an Associated Press report noted ''Anti-Jewish Rules Are Issued,'' albeit in the fifth tier of a five-tier headline. And when the Nazis seized Jewish property five years later, The Washington Post headline said ''President Says U.S. Is 'Shocked' by War on Jews.''

Yet historians say rampant anti-Semitism, skepticism, and efforts by Allied leaders to portray Hitler as a threat to the world, not just the Jews, prevented interest groups and press reports from having much impact. Few officials believed the genocidal campaign would be carried to such incomprehensible levels.

The Chilean dispatch shows that the British learned of systematic plans first and shared the information with the United States earlier than previously thought, Breitman said. Though he believes some action should have been taken with this early warning sign, others argue that Britain was fighting for its survival at the time, and its most vital weapon was its ability to break German codes. Officials often feared that reacting to an intercepted decrypt too early would let the other side know that its code had been cracked.

Breitman noted that the Chilean report likely wasn't an intercepted transmission, but something probably filched by a British agent. And he believes there were ways to camouflage the origin of information, though he says whether the Holocaust could have been minimized is almost a moot point.

''This is an argument that will never be conclusively answered,'' Breitman said.

Hebrew University's Aronson believes that Western leaders, particularly Roosevelt, were ''trapped'' into winning public support by emphasizing that the war was being waged not for the Jews - as Nazi propaganda insisted - but for the world.

Politically, Aronson said, FDR couldn't relax his immigration policy lest he stoke anti-Semitism, leaving the Jews no place to flee. This resulted, most infamously, in the US refusing in 1939 to allow sanctuary to Jews aboard the St. Louis, a ship that was forced to return to Europe after being denied permission to dock off Florida. Most were sent on to the death camps.

Even in the OSS under Donovan, many of the top researchers were German Jews, such as research and analysis chief Francis Neuman, who considered the Holocaust an ''annoying side issue,'' Aronson said.

''Francis Neuman told Roosevelt that the Holocaust should be played down, that to emphasize it would be playing into the hands of the Nazi [propaganda] that the war is being fought for the Jews,'' said Aronson. ''You have to do two things: defeat Hitler, no negotiations. There were rescue efforts that failed because the Allies wouldn't negotiate with the Nazis.''

This created a box from which the Jews could not escape. ''The Jews were maneuvered into a hopeless trap by Hitler and the Allies,'' he said. ''He pushes them out and they refused to take them. The Allies fear it will bring more anti-Semitism in their countries.''

That thinking explains the secret OSS effort to cool the debate over a Jewish army and Jewish state, which appears to have begun on Dec. 7, 1942, when an organization of Reform rabbis took out a two-page advertisement in The New York Times.

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