Grace Coolidge, FDR and the Jewish children

In the coming years, a new tragic chapter may be added to the story of Anne Frank’s diary, as her life could have been saved. In 1938, the Wagner-Rogers Bill was introduced into Congress that would have admitted 20,000 German Jewish children under the age of 14, outside the quota system. Anne, as a German Citizen, could have been among those children. The Bill was heard in Congressional committee a few months after the Nazi’s murdered nearly 100 Jews, burned synagogues and 30,000 more were sent to concentration camps (Kristallnacht). Newly discovered letters from Anne Frank’s father revealed that the family “sought permission to come to the United States, but were turned away.” The tragedy is that “just a short time before, former First Lady Grace Coolidge, and other humanitarians had campaigned to approve the Bill to admit the Jewish refugee children, like Anne, but their pleas were rejected.” Strong supporters of the Bill also included actress Helen Hayes, Catholic leader His Eminence George Cardinal Mundelein, N.Y. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and 1936 Republican presidential nominee Alf Landon. Grace had announced that she and her neighbors would personally care for twenty-five of the children.

Nativists, isolationists and anti- Semites lobbied hard against the Bill. The children were kept out, according to the Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, “not because the quotas were full (which they never were during the war years) but because there were too many people who considered Jewish refugees (even children) as undesirable.” Unfortunately, bigotry was all too common in those years. FDR read the public opinion polls that indicated a negative attitude toward increased immigration. An appeal to FDR by First Lady Eleanor to support the Bill fell on deaf ears. Without FDR’s support, the Bill died in committee. Noted Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, while acknowledging that FDR was not an anti-Semite and sympathized with the Jewish refugee plight, “criticized FDR, his government and his people for not doing more, perhaps when more could have been done, to avert the tide of Nazi racial hegemony that ultimately contributed to the slaughter of millions of innocent European Jews.”

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