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Henry Feingold

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5060 | Film ID: 4606, 4607, 4608

Henry Feingold, author and professor of American Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, discusses, in an interview with Claude Lanzmann, the American response to the Holocaust with particular importance on the failure to admit refugees and to create a resettlement option.

FILM ID 4606 -- Feingold (NY) -- Camera Rolls 145-148
146 (01:00:43) Claude Lanzmann and Henry Feingold sit at a cluttered office table, in Feingold’s New York City apartment. Feingold begins by discussing the unique and even affluent status of American Jewry as an ethnic group during the 1930s. He then raises the question why American Jewry was not able garner support from the Roosevelt Administration to act on the rescue issue, particularly provided that several Jews were in Roosevelt’s inner circle. He says that the several Jewish communities that existed in the United States during this period were divided on the approach to tackle the crisis. (01:02:34) Lanzmann questions Feingold to clarify the terms Uptown and Downtown Jews. Feingold explains that it is an old classification that differentiates the original Jewish migration that moved to the West side known as Uptown Jews and the new arrivals known as the Downtown Jews. (01:03:55) Discusses shtadlanut as a traditional form of soft diplomacy and how the American Jews formed a Kehila. Points out that American Jewry had a degree of power that gave them responsibility, but to claim American Jews betrayed European Jews is unjust. (01:07:55) Discusses that that the “spirit of civilization” was not mobilized by Jews.

147 (01:10:30) Discusses the common, antisemitic illusion that Jews held excessive power within society and aspired to ‘rule the world’ which Feingold rebukes by claiming the Holocaust is the surest evidence that it is indeed just an illusion. (01:12:10) Further discusses the “Jewish love affair with Roosevelt” and notes that although American Jews had political leverage, it was a disproportionate amount unable of changing major policy. Claims that the American Jewry treated not as badly as other ethnic minorities such as the Germans and the Irish from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. (01:15:30) Lanzmann then questions if American Jewry was afraid of antisemitism in the 1930s. Feingold explains how this brings up the underlying topic of what power American Jewry really had during this period. Claims that antisemitism coupled with isolationism and the followers of Charles Lindbergh legitimized the anti rescue and anti refugee view of the general American public. (01:18:56) Feingold adds that it should also be noted that the American Jewish community in 1938 was American first then Jewish, thus at times more concerned with domestic issues. (01:19:34) He explains from a bureaucratic level that the State Department led by Breckinridge Long made it extremely difficult to obtain a United States visa in 1940.

148 (01:20:43) Feingold touches on Roosevelt and the refugee issue further with the notion of “politics of gesture”. (01:21:50) He provides the example of the Evian Conference where none of the attending countries had the intention of raising refugee quotas. He explains it was a policy intended to seduce the the Jewish voting public and that in reality did little to help the European Jews. (01:24:30) Discusses James Dunn who was an undersecretary at the State Department who is quoted to have had the power of indefinitely postponing immigrant entrance into the United States. He explains that a common narrative used by the State Department and even Roosevelt was that German spies had infiltrated the refugee stream. (01:25:55) Describes American consulates in 1938 and 1939 as unreceptive to issuing European Jews visas. Gives one example of a Polish Jew who is told to come back in eight years with another request. Says that today as it was then, the American Jewry is powerless based on the lack of options open to the community.

FILM ID 4607 -- Feingold (NY) -- Camera Rolls 149,151,153
149 (02:00:18) Discusses the ‘very’ American idea of philanthropy and how it was often associated to Jews and money.

150 (02:02:45) He explains that the stereotype of Jews being wealthy was shared among Nazi Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. (02:02:54) He adds that Roosevelt is quoted wanting a list of 1,000 of the richest Jews in the United States to pay for a new “United States of Africa”. Says that many believed Jewish wealth could bail out the Jewish problem. (02:06:20) Explains how the Roosevelt Administration prefered the euphemized term “political refugee” in place of Jew. Adds that one proposal of getting money out of the German Jewry pioneered by finance minister Hjalmar Schacht was to use the German Jewry as ransom.

151 (02:14:40) Makes a key point on if there had been a successful resettlement effort, then perhaps history would be different. Discusses how the initial phase of inaction by world leaders to save the Jews propelled Nazis to carry out the Holocaust.

152 (02:17:30) Feingold goes on to discuss different resettlement ideas ranging from Alaska to Tanganyika in Africa that were disliked by Zionists. (02:20:50) Discusses the emergence of the group referred to as “territorialists” which was an ancient enemy to Zionists.

153 (02:25:45) Discusses how the 1943 Bergson group separated the homeland issue from the rescue issue and gave priority to the rescue issue. Further explains how the revisionists viewed resettlement broadly as the Zionists were exclusive to Palestine. (02:27:34) Explains from the Allied point of view the fastest way to save the Jews was through victory and nothing could impede that including rescue attempts, thus, the rescue of the Jews was never a war aim. Further discusses the importance of the Holocaust in World War II and how its effects reached beyond just Jews.

FILM ID 4608 -- Feingold (NY) -- Camera Rolls 154-158, 160 Coupe
154 (03:01:00) Discusses the growth of Zionism in response to the Holocaust. (03:07:40) Describes the Bermuda Conference in 1943 which Feingold describes as a “mockery conference”.

155 (03:08:30) Describes the conference as a continuation of Evian and the “politics of gesture” where there was a deliberate attempt to do nothing to help the Jews.

156 (03:10:00) Claims that at the Bermuda Conference, the U.S. and British delegates agreed to ‘rescue’ Jews from North Africa rather than Hitler’s death camps. Explains that the Allies did not want the war to appear to be about the Jews. (03:10:50) Describes the old euphemism of a refugee problem compared to the Jewish problem.

157 (03:13:10) Explains that food could not be sent to the camps because it was viewed as the Germans’ obligation to feed the prisoners and that negotiations with Berlin were never considered an option because it would be viewed as “criminal” to negotiate with Nazis. (03:15:10) Claims that since a press release was not released from the Bermuda Conference, Jewish public opinion became more concerned and active which resulted in action from congress. (03:17:20) Describes that in a sense with the Final Solution, the Germans were solving a problem for the Western world of what to do with the Jews. States that “every Jew killed in a death camp in the East meant one less Jew who required a haven in the West”. (03:18:40) Discusses Roosevelt and the push to devise the refugee center in Oswego, New York. Assess the efficacy of the War Refugee Board particularly with the Jews of Budapest.
(03:21:35) Discusses the concept of bombing Auschwitz. Explains reasons given by the Allies for choosing not to bomb such as the creation of a greater terror.

158 (03:23:00) Further explains that the bombing of Auschwitz was viewed as “doubtful in efficacy” even though Allied planes were bombing other sites five miles away. (03:24:30) Discusses in March 1943 that the rescue advocates with their twelve point program at Madison Square Garden failed to raise the idea of retaliatory bombing.

160 (03:26:50) Camera turns to Lanzmann.

Event:  1979 February
Production:  1985
New York, NY, United States
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Record last modified: 2023-11-07 13:20:57
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