Why was so little done and still even less accomplished in stopping Hitler’s genocide? The overwhelming focus of this disturbing question has fallen on the United States and the Catholic Church. They were two of the foremost international powers at the time, yet upon closer inspection, it is clear that they failed to do all in their power to stop Hitler’s atrocious quest for his “final solution.” Both the US and Church’s response were severely hampered by internal politics and the fact that there was always something more important, which restricted immigration and Roosevelt’s other efforts as well as foregoing bombing Auschwitz in the US, and caused the Catholic Church and Pope Pius XII to completely ignore the Jewish plight and focus on its own problems, and as a result, both entities failed their moral and primary obligation of protecting their fellow human beings, their kindred.
During WWII, the politics of America were heavily influenced by the virulent strain of anti-Semitism surging throughout the American public. This anti-Semitism is perhaps best seen in the radio shows of Father Coughlin. Broadcast weekly to 3 million listeners, he espoused ideas that Jews were “piercing the very heart of America; yes, driving in the lance to let the last drop of blood flow from the godless, lifeless corpse of our once glorious civilization.”1 These views, while harsh, were by no means the minority. Gallup polls said 44% of Americans considered Jews a threat.2 The American mindset was heavily prejudiced against the Jews. As a result, much of the politics and government actions that occurred were a direct result of this mindset. It was nigh impossible to get elected based on a platform of helping the Jews in Europe. This negative view heavily influenced the immigration policies and other relief efforts that the government could have provided.
To be fair, it must first be mentioned that the US was the leading country in the numbers of Jewish immigrants it allowed in. The 250,000 Jews that immigrated to America were by far more than any other country. It was a staggering 3.5 times more than the number that Great Britain took in.3 At the Evian Conference, many countries either flat out rejected accepting more Jews or gave excuses that they’d already absorbed their capacity. Only the US “announced that she would combine her former annual Austrian immigration quota with her German.”4 In 1939, President Roosevelt, ignoring public feelings, signed a law via executive order that extended the visas of thousands of Jews, which allowed them to stay in America.5 Compared to the rest of the world, the US was among the best at letting immigration of Jews from oppressed Eastern Europe.
However, historians vehemently argue that if America had relaxed their strict immigration laws than thousands and maybe millions of Jews would’ve been saved. One telling example of the constricting immigration policies is the story of the St. Louis. It contained only “900 Jewish refugees aboard, yet was steaming back toward Germany after a tragic week of frustration at Havana and off the coast of Cuba.”6 America refused to relax its policies even for 900 refugees that were literally off the coast. This harsh mindset is what historians believe could have been relaxed and thus saving thousands of lives. But America had a quota system in place that severely limited the number of immigrants that would be able to make it to her shores. The quota system divvied a certain number of immigrants to each country and the number was based on the population in 1890, which favored Western Europe.7 Because the number of Jews in Germany and Eastern Europe vastly outnumbered the limits set by the quota, there was no way nearly enough of the Jews would be able to escape.
FDR was supportive of the Jewish struggles and wanted to relax the laws, but in the end his actions were dictated by the