Samuel I. Rosenman (1896-1973), a justice of the New York State Supreme Court and prominent member of the American Jewish Committee, was a senior speechwriter and adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and in 1943 became the first White House Counsel. Rosenman believed it was inappropriate for American Jews to ask the president to intervene on behalf of European Jews persecuted by the Nazis.
After the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938, Rosenman advised the president against admitting more German Jewish refugees to the United States, fearing such an influx would “create a Jewish problem in the U.S.” In 1943, he counseled Roosevelt to snub the “medieval horde” of 400 rabbis who had marched to the White House to plead for rescue. Rosenman also tried to undermine the campaign by Jewish activists that brought about the creation of the War Refugee Board.
In March 1944, the Board asked President Roosevelt to issue a declaration warning Hungary against collaborating with the Nazi persecution of Jews. Rosenman told the Board’s director, John Pehle, that he “advised the president not to sign the declaration because of its pointed reference to Jews.” According to Rosenman, such explicit references to Jews “would intensify anti-Semitism in the United States.” Rosenman then rewrote the proposed declaration, omitting a paragraph which acknowledged that the Jews were being slaughtered “solely because they were Jews.” Altogether, three of the statement’s six references to Jews were deleted. A pledge to give refugees temporary haven in America was watered down to”We shall find havens of refuge for them,” without specifying the United States as a haven. Three paragraphs were added at the beginning of the statement about the German mistreatment of “Poles, Czechs, Norwegians, Dutch, Danes, French, Greeks, Russians, Chinese Filipinos–and many others,” but not Jews. The plight of the Jews was pushed down to the fourth paragraph. The fate of the declaration foreshadowed the obstacles the War Refugee Board would face from within the Roosevelt administration itself in trying to carry out its mission.