In the decades immediately after World War II and the Holocaust, the prevalent perception among American Jews was that the U.S. government and President Franklin Roosevelt played a heroic role in bringing the Nazis’ murder of European Jewry to an end.
It took a courageous scholar outside the Jewish community to shatter that belief.
David Wyman, who died last week at 89, criticized the U.S. response to the Shoah in “The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941-1945,” which documented how political expediency and latent anti-Semitism at the highest levels of the Roosevelt administration enabled the Final Solution to continue.
The grandson of Protestant ministers, Dr. Wyman, who received his Ph.D. in history from Harvard University and taught for a quarter century at the University of Massachusetts, uncompromisingly challenged the noble image of the U.S., and FDR, in World War II.
“One does not wish to believe the facts revealed by the documents on which it is based,” Wyman wrote in his groundbreaking book’s introduction. “America, the land of refuge, offered little succor” to threatened Jews. “American Christians forgot about the good Samaritan. Even American Jews lacked the unquenchable sense of urgency the crisis demanded. The Nazis were the murderers, but we were the all too passive accomplices.”
Wyman’s book, which grew out of his research for “Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis 1938-41” in 1968, was not the first voice to criticize the U.S. government’s inadequate response to Nazi Germany’s murder of Jews in occupied Europe. But it was the first to do it so thoroughly and effectively.
The book is credited with motivating then-Vice President George H.W. Bush to support the airlift of hundreds of stranded Ethiopian Jews in Sudan in 1984.
Two Jewish institutions here, Hebrew Union College and Yeshiva University, honored Wyman with honorary doctorate degrees, and an institute for Holocaust studies in Washington bears his name.
These are guarantees that David Wyman and his commitment to historical truth and Holocaust research will not be forgotten.