FDR's Reaction to the German Victories in Europe - History

FDR's Reaction to the German Victories in Europe - History

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Germans in Poland

The Germans captured Poland in 18 days. Attention then turned westward. Roosevelt exhorted US industry and the armed forces to provide as much aid to the allies as possible. The question was, would they be able to arm in time. The Germans first struck in Norway and Denmark, and then in May, they attacked the low countries and soon overran France. Throughout this period, Roosevelt did his maximum to aid the Allies. After the fall of France, despite concern that Britain would soon fall as well, Roosevelt ordered all possible armaments sold to Great Britain.

After the rapid German victory in Poland, a period in what became known as the phony war began. For a short period the war in Europe lost some of its urgency, although Roosevelt did his best to allow the allies to purchase as much war material as they could. Suddenly, on May 10th, the Germans launched a full scale attack on the west. The Netherlands and Belgium were quickly overrun. It soon became apparent that the French were doomed. Roosevelt immediately asked for the most massive arms buildup in American history. At the same time, he continued to give all possible aid to the British. He used the limited diplomatic leverage at his disposal to try to keep Italy out of the fight, but once it became clear that the French were totally defeated, the Italians attacked. The remaining question was whether Britain would manage to stand alone. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain. Churchill's strong attitude more than anything else, helped convince the President that Britain would stand.

1943: World War II’s Forgotten Year of Victory

The year 1943 opened badly for the once unstoppable Axis forces of Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. And by the close of that unfairly overlooked but momentous year of World War II, the fortunes of the Axis belligerents had become much worse. Although 1942 had been, in Winston Churchill’s phrase, the war’s “Hinge of Fate” – as the Allies, led by the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union, won near-run victories over Japan at Midway in the Pacific, Germany and Italy at El Alamein in North Africa, and Adolf Hitler’s East Front legions at Stalingrad in Russia – it was the global land, sea and air combat in 1943 that proved pivotal to the war’s outcome. As 1942 drew to a close, the Axis powers still had a chance to win the war however, by the end of 1943, that chance had been irrevocably lost. Tellingly, during the crucial 12 months of 1943, the strategic initiative on nearly all the war’s fronts permanently shifted from the Axis to the Allies.

Key events and hard fighting – Allied setbacks as well as successes – in all theaters of the war made 1943 World War II’s vital “forgotten” year of victory.


On January 14, 1943, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met at Casablanca in newly liberated French Morocco. The other Allied “Big Three” leader, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, excused himself from the conference, as the crucial Battle of Stalingrad still raged. Even with Stalin’s absence, the Casablanca meeting produced important decisions regarding how the “Grand Alliance” would prosecute the global war, by establishing the broad outline for the Allies’ 1943 operations on all fronts and on land, sea and in the air. Significantly, the leaders publicly proclaimed the Allies would accept nothing less than “unconditional surrender” from the Axis powers, and they reaffirmed the war’s priorities: First eliminate Hitler’s Nazi Germany, then defeat Imperial Japan.

Although from Moscow Stalin again demanded the United States and Britain launch a “second front” against Germany by invading continental Europe, Churchill convinced FDR to postpone a cross-Channel invasion until 1944. Once Allied armies won the North Africa campaign, they would proceed to Sicily to continue offensive operations in the Mediterranean Theater. However, to strike Germany directly, Churchill and FDR agreed to launch a combined Royal Air Force-U.S. Air Forces strategic aerial bombing offensive.


With two-thirds of the German army engaged in brutal combat with millions of Red Army troops, World War II’s Eastern Front remained the war’s greatest clash of arms in 1943. On January 9, after encircling Stalingrad, Soviet General Konstantin Rokossovsky began Operation Ring, a direct assault on the trapped German forces. A month later, German Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus surrendered the remnants of 6th Army at Stalingrad. The Soviet victory exposed German vulnerability – Hitler’s powerful East Front legions could be beaten by Stalin’s resurgent Red Army.

In the north, Soviet troops opened a narrow corridor to besieged Leningrad, although the deadly German siege continued for another year. Meanwhile in southern Russia, the Red Army’s Voronezh Front broke through 2d Hungarian Army and raced toward Kursk and Kharkov. The Soviet Southwestern Front closed on Rostov, threatening to cut off German forces in the Caucasus yet overextension, stretched logistics, freezing weather and the operational genius of German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein helped the Germans avert a complete disaster.

In the wake of the Stalingrad disaster and Caucasus near disaster, Hitler sought to regain the East Front initiative with Operation Citadel, an attack to pinch off the Kursk salient. Delayed from May until July awaiting new panzer production, German forces attacked July 5 but stalled amid strong multiple Soviet defensive belts. The Red Army launched a counteroffensive on the Kursk salient’s flanks in August, seizing Orel and the much contested city of Kharkov.

The Germans’ failure at Kursk threatened to unhinge their entire East Front line as Soviet counteroffensives carried Red Army troops west to the Dnepr River line. Clearly, by August 1943 the strategic initiative on the East Front had permanently passed to Stalin’s armies.


Despite the fact that German fortunes on the East Front hung in the balance at Stalingrad, Hitler nevertheless diverted Germany’s war effort by rushing reinforcements to Tunisia in the wake of the November 1942 Allied landings in North Africa. The first Allied advance stalled as winter weather reduced roads to quagmires, halting operations for three months with both sides rushing to build up forces.

In February, a renewed Allied offensive into Tunisia faced two German commanders – Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and General Jürgen von Arnim, both under Hitler’s orders to fight to the last. Rommel proved the most dangerous opponent. Before his February 19-25 attack through Kasserine Pass was finally stopped, it overran inexperienced American troops, teaching them and their equally inexperienced U.S. commanders how much they still had to learn about fighting the battle-wise German army.

While an ill Rommel recuperated in Germany, Axis forces in Tunisia were trapped against the coast with no air cover and no hope for reinforcements. On May 7, Allied forces captured Tunis and Bizerte, forcing remaining Axis forces in North Africa to surrender unconditionally.

On May 12, Churchill and Roosevelt met again, at the Trident Conference in Washington, D.C., to review Allied strategy. They discussed the strategic bombing strategy for the Pacific Theater and confirmed planning for the invasions of Sicily, then Italy, and ultimately (based on the situation achieved in Italy) the cross-Channel invasion of France.

On July 10, while the titanic East Front Battle of Kursk raged, American and British forces landed on the coast of Sicily. U.S. 7th Army, under General George S. Patton Jr., took Palermo July 22, prompting Italy’s Fascist Grand Council to oust dictator Benito Mussolini two days later. German combat units successfully evacuated Sicily just days before Allied troops captured Messina, placing all of Sicily under Allied control.

Hitler’s reaction to Sicily’s fall and Mussolini’s ouster was to order German troops to occupy Italy, ensuring the country remained in the Axis camp. In September, the Allies invaded Italy at Salerno but barely managed to hold their bridgehead in the face of fierce German counterattacks – tremendous Allied artillery, naval gunfire and air support proved decisive. By mid-October, Allied armies held a continuous line across the Italian peninsula, from north of Naples to Termoli on the Adriatic. For the next 18 months, the brilliant German defense led by Field Marshal Albert Kesselring would frustrate Allied offensives in Italy and turn the Italian campaign into a costly slugfest fought over some of Europe’s most rugged terrain.


U.S. naval victories at Coral Sea and Midway in 1942 had checked Japanese expansion in the Pacific, opening the way for Allied land, sea and air forces to begin rolling back Japan’s conquests. America’s two theater commanders – Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commanding Central Pacific Area, and General Douglas MacArthur, leading South West Pacific Area – launched offensives in the Solomon Islands (Guadalcanal) and New Guinea (Buna-Gona) in the closing months of 1942 that concluded victoriously in early 1943. (See Battlefield Leader, July 2012 ACG.) Australian and U.S. troops’ victory at Buna-Gona on January 22 marked Japan’s first defeat on land and began MacArthur’s brilliant maneuvers along New Guinea’s northern coastline that would propel his forces back to the Philippines in October 1944.

Despite FDR’s avowed “Germany First” strategy, offensive operations in the Pacific Theater proved irrepressible. Indeed, since Japanese aggression had embroiled the United States in World War II, American public opinion demanded action against Japan. MacArthur and Nimitz were more than willing to oblige.

As MacArthur’s forces moved inexorably along New Guinea’s long coastline, and a Japanese convoy was decisively defeated in March 1943 at the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, Nimitz’s naval and amphibious task forces continued advancing through the Solomon Islands to New Georgia (June-August) and Bougainville (November). Due to another coup by U.S. code breakers, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was ambushed and killed while on an inspection tour when his plane was shot down April 18 by American fighters sent to intercept him.

On November 20, Nimitz launched 2d U.S. Marine Division at Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands during Operation Galvanic. Meeting the Marines at Tarawa’s beaches, 4,500 Japanese defenders fought to the death, killing 1,000 Marines and wounding another 2,000 in 76 hours of savage combat. The Battle of Tarawa stunned the American public, driving home the stark realization of just how costly totally defeating Japan would be. The film With the Marines at Tarawa, featuring authentic, gruesome combat footage of the invasion, required President Roosevelt’s personal approval before government censors would release the movie for public viewing. Even then, it was not released until March 1944.

Meanwhile, Allied fortunes in Southeast Asia and China faltered. In Burma, British and Commonwealth forces were battered by powerful Japanese offensives that threatened to drive north into India. However, the August 24 appointment of British Admiral Lord Mountbatten as that theater’s supreme Allied commander and the November creation of British 14th Army under the brilliant General William Slim would eventually turn the tide against the Japanese – but not until 1944. China continued to face the bulk of Japan’s army as Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists waged both conventional and guerrilla war against Japanese invaders. Allied support to China was key to keeping it in the war, but the tenuous supply line, the Burma Road, remained threatened by Japanese success in Burma.


In early 1943, over 100 of German Admiral Karl Dönitz’s U-boats still prowled the Atlantic convoy lanes, exploiting gaps in Allied air coverage and attacking merchant shipping using “wolf pack” tactics. A total of 107 Allied merchant ships were sunk in March alone, bringing the German navy perilously close to breaking the Allies’ vital North Atlantic supply link. To counter Germany’s strategy, the Allies increased the number of escort vessels, improved the training of ship commanders and crews, capitalized on technical improvements in direction-finding and radar equipment, and redoubled code breakers’ efforts to crack new German naval codes.

Allied countermeasures combined to have a telling effect: In April, the “merchant tonnage lost vs. U-boats sunk” ratio was cut in half in May, radar-equipped escort ships notably destroyed five U-boats within hours. Also during May, the mid-Atlantic air coverage gap was finally closed when Allies stationed Canadian-flown B-24 Liberators in Newfoundland. Time was running out on Germany’s U-boat offensive.

By mid-1943, Allied materiel, tactical and technological superiority dominated the Atlantic struggle – U-boat “wolf packs” had met their match in steadily improving Allied countermeasures. By the end of what German captains called “Black May” (during which 43 German submarines were sunk), Dönitz acknowledged, “We had lost the Battle of the Atlantic.” He withdrew his U-boats from the North Atlantic convoy routes.


Although Stalin continued to pressure the Western Allies for an invasion of Europe in 1943, FDR and Churchill remained committed to invading in mid-1944. The best direct action against Germany they could offer their Soviet ally was to press on with the British-American bomber offensive targeting Germany and Nazi-occupied European countries agreed to at the Casablanca Conference.

Although the air offensive’s directive listed key enemy war industry “priority targets,” Air Chief Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris, commander of RAF Bomber Command, believed the air effort should instead concentrate on destroying German cities, killing enemy workers and wrecking civilian morale. Harris recognized that the difficulty in attempting “precision” aerial bombing was the abysmal lack of accuracy. Even in daylight raids, “pinpoint” bombing from 20,000 feet or higher deposited only half the bombs within a quarter-mile of the aiming point. Under the poor visibility conditions so often encountered in northern Europe, bombs aimed at a three-mile radius target resulted in half the bomb load merely plowing up surrounding farmland.

Harris persisted in concentrating Bomber Command’s efforts in night raids against “area” targets: the Ruhr industrial region, Hamburg, and Berlin. In a weeklong series of raids on Hamburg at the end of July called Operation Gomorrah, 2,500 tons of bombs from RAF bombers created a horrific firestorm that destroyed the city while incinerating 42,000 German civilians, wounding another 37,000, and “de-housing” 1.2 million. It was the most destructive air attack in history to that point. Unfortunately, worse civilian death tolls followed as the Allied strategic bombing campaign progressed against Germany– and Japan from mid-1944 – for the remainder of the war.

U.S. bombers based in England and others flying from bases in North Africa flew daylight bombing raids against targets in Germany and Axis-occupied countries. With General Henry “Hap” Arnold, U.S. Air Forces’ commanding general, single-mindedly pursing strategic bombing as the path to eventual Air Force independence, the American bombing effort sought to bring the German war effort to its knees by attacking key war industries. U.S. bomber targets included submarine construction yards and bases aircraft factories ball bearing factories oil production and storage plants synthetic rubber and tire factories and military transport vehicle factories and stores. Bombing accuracy remained problematic, however, and pinpoint accuracy proved beyond the capability of the era’s air war technology.

Yet despite the rising enemy civilian death toll and the dubious accuracy of attacks on enemy industry, one major impact of the Allied bombing campaign was its attrition of German fighter aircraft strength. By 1943, the German Luftwaffe clearly could not provide effective air cover on all fighting fronts. When by mid-year German fighters were concentrated over Germany confronting the seemingly endless waves of Allied bombers – increasingly accompanied by Allied fighter protection throughout most and eventually all of the bombers’ long missions – Luftwaffe air support to other fronts, particularly the East Front, suffered.

In August, American bombers flew from bases in Libya to the oil fields in Ploesti, Romania, in a costly raid on Germany’s principal oil refineries. The price in aircraft and blood was high, at 54 bombers and 532 air crewmen lost.


Despite the worsening war situation for Axis forces – Hitler’s “strategy” was to issue a series of futile “stand fast” orders that usually proved only preludes to another German retreat – the “dark side” of World War II behind the fighting fronts grew even darker in 1943.

The Nazis’“Final Solution,” the relentless deportation and killing of Jews, intensified throughout German-occupied Europe. Germans’ notorious“efficiency”was applied to the Nazis’ extermination effort, as concentration camps became quite literally“death factories.”Any resistance, such as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April-May, was ruthlessly repressed by both SS and German army units.Yet even as the pace of mass murders in the death camps increased, Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler decided in the summer of 1943 to begin covering up the evidence of the extermination of Jews and Soviet prisoners of war. He sent special squads to every mass murder site to dig up and burn the bodies.

One result was that anti-German partisan activities grew rapidly, to the increasing embarrassment of German forces throughout occupied Europe. Brutal reprisals – shooting hostages, burning villages, deporting survivors to Germany for slave labor – bred more partisans. Behind German lines, the power of partisans and anti-Nazi forces grew in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and the Balkans as Allied armies rolled back Axis conquests.

With German fortunes sagging, anti-Hitler groups appeared. In Munich, a small cell of pacifist German university students and faculty called the White Rose raised a rare dissenting voice, but it was quickly snuffed out by the Gestapo when the group’s members were captured and executed in February. On March 13, however, a potentially more lethal threat to Hitler arose when disaffected German army officers planted a bomb on his aircraft. The assassination attempt failed, but the plotters persevered, eventually trying again July 20, 1944.

In April, the Germans accelerated the roundup and deportation of forced laborers throughout German-occupied Western Europe. Hundreds of thousands worked as slave laborers in German war factories, enduring inhuman and dangerous conditions that killed tens of thousands.

Japanese brutality against the indigenous population in occupied territories was also horrific in China alone, an estimated 12 million Chinese civilians were murdered during the war. Allied prisoners of war suffered horribly in Japanese camps without proper medical care and amid terrible punishments. In October, the Japanese completed the Burma-Thailand railroad that 46,000 Allied prisoners of war had been forced to build. Sixteen thousand POWs died of starvation, brutality and disease, and more than 50,000 Burmese impressed laborers died working on the “Railroad of Death.”

Although various schemes were proposed to the Allies to intervene in the genocidal Axis repression – such as bombing the concentration camps and the rail networks that supported them – Allied leaders determined that the quickest way to end the suffering and torment was to win the war. The air, land and sea campaigns in 1943 went a long way toward achieving that end.


Sandwiched between the “Hinge of Fate” year of 1942 and the stirring campaigns of 1944 (notably D-Day) that set up the Allies’ final victory, 1943 too often unfairly gets short shrift in histories of World War II. Yet those crucial 12 months proved a vital crucible of war during which Allied armies, navies and air forces learned how to fight – and more importantly, how to win. American forces in particular benefitted by learning valuable lessons in tough, demanding combat taught to them by formidable German and Japanese forces that had been hardened during years of unremitting war.

Indeed, the nearly unbroken string of Allied victories in 1944 is hard to imagine without the devastating attrition inflicted on Axis land, sea and air forces during 1943. When 1942 ended, Axis air forces still maintained rough air parity with the Allies as December 1943 drew to a close, Allied air forces dominated the skies over Europe and the Pacific. Replacing the catastrophic German troop losses on the Eastern Front throughout 1943 weakened Hitler’s Atlantic Wall defenses, greatly increasing the chance of success for the D-Day invasion in 1944. The serious threat German U-boats posed to North Atlantic convoys as 1943 began evaporated in the face of effective Allied countermeasures. Italian forces were knocked out of the war in 1943, while MacArthur’s and Nimitz’s campaigns inexorably penetrated the Pacific defensive ring that Japanese leaders had staked their country’s fortune on holding.

Perhaps 1943’s greatest achievement was gaining time – notably, time for American and Soviet factories to hit their stride in pouring out a flood of tanks, planes, ships, guns and ammunition that would eventually drown Axis forces in a sea of war materiel. A comment made by a German 88 mm anti-tank gun commander who fought against the Americans is telling: “I kept knocking out the American tanks, but more kept on coming. I ran out of ammunition. The Americans did not run out of tanks.”

During World War II’s “forgotten” year of victory, the Allies wrested the strategic initiative from the enemy and held it for the rest of the war. 1943 put Allied armies, navies and air forces on the march to final triumph.

Colonel (Ret.) Richard N. Armstrong, author of “Soviet Operational Deception: The Red Cloak,” is an adjunct history professor at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

Originally published in the January 2013 issue of Armchair General.

FDR's Reaction to the German Victories in Europe - History

From the German Economic Miracle to RAF Terrorism: Three German decenniums. An overview.

End and new beginning: Nazi Germany surrenders unconditionally in May 1945. Twelve years of Nazi dictatorship have plunged Europe into the abyss, led to racial fanaticism and horrific crimes, and cost the lives of almost 60 million people in the war and the extermination camps. The victorious Allies divide Germany into four zones. The western powers foster the development of a parliamentary democracy, while the Soviet Union opens the door for socialism in the east. The Cold War begins. The Federal Republic of Germany is founded in the west with the promulgation of the Basic Law on 23 May 1949. The first Bundestag ­elections are held on 14 August and Konrad Adenauer (CDU) becomes Federal Chancellor. The German Democratic Republic (GDR) is founded in the “eastern zone” on 7 October 1949. Germany is in effect divided into east and west.

The young Federal Republic builds close links with the western democracies. It is one of the founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 and one of the six countries that sign the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community – today’s European Union – in Rome in 1957. In 1955, the Federal Republic joins NATO, the western defence alliance. Economic and social stabilization makes rapid progress. In combination with the currency reform of 1948 and the US Marshall Plan, the social market economy leads to an economic upturn that is soon described as an “economic miracle”. At the same time, the Federal Republic acknowledges its responsibility towards the victims of the Holocaust: Federal Chancellor Adenauer and Israel’s Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett sign a reparations agreement in 1952. Social highlights: victory at the 1954 World Cup and the return of the last German prisoners of war from the Soviet Union in 1956.

The Cold War nears its climax: more and more refugees leave the GDR for the west. Accordingly, the “zonal border” is sealed off and on 13 August 1961 the GDR government ends free access to West Berlin. It builds a wall through the city, and the border with the Federal Republic becomes a “death strip”. During the next 28 years many people lose their lives attempting to cross it. President Kennedy affirmed America’s guarantee of the freedom of West Berlin during his famous speech in Berlin in 1963. It is certainly an eventful year. The Élysée Treaty, the Treaty of Friendship between France and Germany, is concluded in January as an act of reconciliation. The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials begin and confront Germans with their Nazi past. In autumn, Economics Minister Ludwig Erhard (CDU), the “father of the economic miracle”, becomes Federal Chancellor, following Adenauer’s resignation.

Three years later, the Federal Republic is governed by a CDU/CSU and SPD Grand Coalition for the first time: Kurt Georg Kiesinger (CDU) is Federal Chancellor and Willy Brandt (SPD) is Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister. The Federal Republic’s economy flourishes until the mid-1960s and more than two million additional personnel are recruited in southern Europe. Many of these “guestworkers” remain in the country and ask their families to join them.

The protest movement of students and intellectuals against “incrusted structures” and strict values make a strong mark on the second half of the decade. It brings about a lasting change in the political culture and society of western Germany. Feminism, new lifestyles, antiauthoritarian education and sexual freedom, long hair, debates, demonstrations, rebellion and new liberality – democracy in the Federal Republic experiments in many directions. The societal changes of this time still continue to have an impact today. An SPD politician becomes Federal Chancellor for the first time in October 1969: Willy Brandt leads a social-liberal government that implements numerous domestic reforms ranging from the expansion of the social welfare system to the improvement of education.

Willy Brandt kneels down at the monument to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto. It is 7 December 1970 and the picture goes round the world. It becomes a symbol of Germany’s appeal for reconciliation, 25 years after the end of the Second World War. On the same day, Brandt signs the Treaty of Warsaw between the Federal Republic and Poland. It lays the foundation for a new peace architecture as one of a series of treaties with eastern Europe. Brandt wants to follow Adenauer’s successful western integration by opening up to eastern Europe: “change through rapprochement”. The first German-German summit between Brandt and Chairman of the GDR Council of Ministers Willi Stoph had already taken place in Erfurt in the GDR in March 1970. In 1971 Willy Brandt is honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize for his policy of understanding with the countries of eastern Europe. In the same year, with the Four Power Agreement, the Soviet Union in effect recognizes that West Berlin belongs to the economic, social and legal order of the Federal Republic of Germany. It enters into force with the other eastern treaties in 1972 and eases the situation in divided Berlin. In 1973, the Federal Republic and the GDR agree in the Basic Treaty that they will establish “normal neighbourly relations” with one another. Also in 1973, both German states become members of the United Nations. Following the unmasking of a GDR spy in his immediate circle, Willy Brandt resigns as Federal Chancellor in 1974. His successor is Helmut Schmidt (SPD). From 1973 the country’s economy is affected by the oil crisis.

The 1970s are a decade of external peace, but internal tension: the Red Army Faction (RAF) around Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Ulrike Meinhof wants to destabilize the government, economy and society with attacks and kidnappings. The terror reaches its climax in 1977 – and concludes with the suicide of the leading terrorists in prison.

FDR and the Holocaust

September 24, 2013

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Washington, D.C.
In early 1943, at the height of the Holocaust, a prominent journalist denounced President Franklin Roosevelt&rsquos response to the Nazi genocide in harsh terms: &ldquoYou and I and the President and the Congress and the State Department are accessories to the crime and share Hitler&rsquos guilt,&rdquo she wrote. &ldquoIf we had behaved like humane and generous people instead of complacent, cowardly ones, the two million Jews lying today in the earth of Poland and Hitler&rsquos other crowded graveyards would be alive and safe&hellip. We had it in our power to rescue this doomed people and we did not lift a hand to do it&mdashor perhaps it would be fairer to say that we lifted just one cautious hand, encased in a tight-fitting glove of quotas and visas and affidavits, and a thick layer of prejudice.&rdquo
This stunning critique of FDR&rsquos Jewish refugee policy was written by none other than Freda Kirchwey, staunch New Dealer, Roosevelt supporter and editor in chief of The Nation. Evidently journalist Laurence Zuckerman was not aware of the Holocaust record of the magazine for which he was writing when he wrote &ldquoFDR&rsquos Jewish Problem&rdquo [Aug. 5/12]. It completely refutes Zuckerman&rsquos thesis that criticism of FDR&rsquos Holocaust record is all the handiwork of conservatives and right-wing Zionists to drum up support for Israel.

The Nation spoke out early and vociferously for US action to rescue Europe&rsquos Jews. After the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom, it called for admission to the United States of at least 15,000 German Jewish refugee children. (The administration declined to endorse the proposal.) The Roosevelt administration&rsquos refugee policy &ldquois one which must sicken any person of ordinarily humane instinct,&rdquo Kirchwey wrote in 1940. &ldquoIt is as if we were to examine laboriously the curriculum vitae of flood victims clinging to a piece of floating wreckage and finally to decide that no matter what their virtues, all but a few had better be allowed to drown.&rdquo

In 1941, FDR&rsquos administration devised a harsh new immigration regulation that barred admission to anyone with close relatives in Europe, on the grounds that the Nazis might compel them to spy for Hitler by threatening their relatives. The Nation denounced that as &ldquoreckless and ridiculous.&rdquo

Numerous prominent progressives have followed in The Nation&rsquos and Kirchwey&rsquos footsteps by frankly acknowledging FDR&rsquos failings in this regard. Walter Mondale called President Roosevelt&rsquos 1938 refugee conference in Evian, France, a &ldquolegacy of shame&rdquo and said the participants &ldquofailed the test of civilization.&rdquo At the opening of the US Holocaust Museum in 1993, President Clinton pointed out that under the Roosevelt administration, &ldquodoors to liberty were shut and&helliprail lines to the camps within miles of militarily significant targets were left undisturbed.&rdquo

Nancy Pelosi, in her autobiography, recalled with pride how her father, Congressman Thomas D&rsquoAlesandro, broke with FDR over the Holocaust and supported the Bergson Group, which challenged FDR&rsquos refugee policy. George McGovern, in a 2004 interview about the missions he flew near Auschwitz as a young bomber pilot, said: &ldquoFranklin Roosevelt was a great man and he was my political hero. But I think he made two great mistakes&rdquo: the internment of Japanese-Americans, and the decision &ldquonot to go after Auschwitz&hellip. God forgive us&hellip. There was a pretty good chance we could have blasted those rail lines off the face of the earth [and] interrupted the flow of people to those death chambers, and we had a pretty good chance of knocking out those gas ovens.&rdquo

Progressives have a long and admirable record of honestly acknowledging FDR&rsquos failings alongside his achievements. Roosevelt&rsquos response to the Holocaust is no more defensible than his internment of Japanese-Americans or his troubling record on the rights of African-Americans. Recognizing that fact does not endanger the legacy of the New Deal or diminish FDR&rsquos accomplishments in bringing America out of the Depression or his leadership in World War II. It merely acknowledges his flaws as well.

RAFAEL MEDOFF, founding director,
The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies

Laurence Zuckerman suggests that Roosevelt&rsquos critics are judging him harshly with the advantage of hindsight. He writes that &ldquowhen he did learn about the murder of millions of Jews, he had no understanding of &lsquothe Holocaust,&rsquo which came later and is now so embedded in our consciousness that it is hard to imagine what it was like to live without such knowledge.&rdquo

But this does not accurately reflect public awareness at the time. One needs only to read Freda Kirchwey: &ldquoJews in Europe are being killed because they are Jews. Hitler has promised their total liquidation. The ways&hellipthese slaughters are conducted have been reported. The numbers have been verified&hellip. You and I and the President and the Congress and the State Department are accessories to the crime and share Hitler&rsquos guilt.&rdquo

Zuckerman also belittles the contributions of the Bergson Group in the formation of the War Refugee Board, saying that the group&rsquos &ldquobiggest feat is something that Roosevelt created.&rdquo The Bergson Group sponsored legislation in Congress to establish a rescue agency. It is probable that at hearings on the bill, the State Department&rsquos obstruction of efforts by US Jewish groups to rescue their European brethren would become public. Faced with a scandal, Roosevelt got ahead of the situation by creating the WRB&mdashthis was not a moral awakening but a political calculation.

Regarding the bombing of Auschwitz: the WRB investigated bombing the rail lines, gas chambers and crematoriums, but officials claimed that bombing Auschwitz would use air power needed elsewhere. However, US planes were bombing the I.G. Farben complex at nearby Monowitz. Between July and November 1944, more than 2,800 US planes bombed the oil factories, sometimes flying right over the Birkenau death camp.

Military experts and historians continue to debate the issue. Could precision bombing have been done without loss of prisoners&rsquo lives? And would bombing the gas chambers actually have impeded the extermination? Historian Richard Breitman points out: &ldquothe historians&rsquo debate&hellipmisses the main problem&hellip: [the War Department] was opposed to the whole idea of a military mission for humanitarian purposes&hellipand stopped the [WRB] from pursuing it.&rdquo Of course, one cannot ever know if bombing Auschwitz would have had the desired results. But as Breitman concludes: &ldquobombing the gas chambers would have been a potent symbol of American concern for European Jews.&rdquo

MARK GERSTEIN, former instructor in Holocaust Studies, University of Massachusetts

In response to Laurence Zuckerman&rsquos fine article, we might explain the thinking behind our book FDR and the Jews. We wrote the book because, first, scholarship is typically polarized between lauding FDR as the savior of the Jews and condemning him as a bystander or worse to the Holocaust. Second, we sought to analyze FDR&rsquos approach to Jewish issues from the perspective of his entire life and career. Third, we tried to avoid writing history backward and making unverifiable counterfactual assumptions.

The real story of FDR and the Jews is how a humane but pragmatic president navigated competing priorities during the Great Depression, foreign policy crises and World War II. We do not whitewash FDR. &ldquoFor most of his presidency Roosevelt did little to aid the imperiled Jews of Germany and Europe,&rdquo we wrote. Still, FDR was not monolithic in his policies and &ldquoat times acted decisively to rescue Jews, often withstanding contrary pressures from the American public, Congress, and his own State Department.&rdquo Overall, FDR was far better for the Jews than his political opposition at home or any other world leader of his time. Our loudest critic has been Rafael Medoff, a longstanding FDR critic who assails all those who do not follow his party line.

Political decisions during the Holocaust had a moral dimension that still elicits an emotional response. But some judgments&mdashthat FDR blithely sent passengers on the St. Louis to their death in the gas chambers, or that he refused to order the bombing of Auschwitz out of indifference or anti-Semitism&mdashare historical distortions. We hope our readers will be able to judge with more and better information than they had.

RICHARD BREITMAN, ALLAN J. LICHTMAN, Distinguished Professors, American University

Zuckerman Replies

I am familiar with Freda Kirchwey and the articles from which Rafael Medoff quotes. But is he aware of this quote: &ldquoPresident Roosevelt has been a man whose greatness shines brightly in times of crisis. He is the only possible leader for the next four years.&rdquo It is from Kirchwey&rsquos endorsement of Roosevelt&rsquos historic bid for a fourth term, in The Nation of July 22, 1944, long after the condemnations of FDR&rsquos refugee policies that Medoff cites&mdashshowing that the picture of FDR is more complex than Medoff would have us believe. It is disturbing that in his latest book, FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith, Medoff quotes Kirchwey&rsquos criticisms of FDR at length while failing to mention that she still supported him. Emphasizing the former while ignoring the latter illustrates his flawed approach to writing history.

Neither my article nor the book FDR and the Jews, as its authors Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman point out, portrayed FDR as beyond criticism for his handling of the Holocaust. But neither was he a total villain. Medoff&rsquos articles and latest book contain a litany of criticisms of Roosevelt but virtually nothing about his achievements. One can read Medoff and forget that during FDR&rsquos presidency the country was suffering through the worst economic catastrophe in its history, that the fates of Great Britain and the Soviet Union were hanging by a thread, and that America had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Japanese in Asia. In his letter, Medoff writes approvingly that &ldquoprogressives have a long and admirable record of honestly acknowledging FDR&rsquos failings alongside his achievements.&rdquo If only Medoff were equally fair-minded. As I wrote in my article, over the last thirty years a group of ideologically driven activists, of whom Medoff is the most energetic, have made it their business to cast Roosevelt&rsquos handling of the Holocaust in the harshest possible light. These activists have largely had the field to themselves, and so a distorted image of FDR has become widely accepted. It is easy for politicians of all stripes to go along. Their homilies curry favor with Jewish supporters at little or no political cost.

One of my goals for the article was to re-balance the scales and expose the agenda of FDR&rsquos most vociferous critics. Medoff does not address the central question of my piece: What contemporary purpose does it serve to portray Roosevelt as complicit in the Holocaust? Why do so many of Medoff&rsquos articles link Roosevelt to current events in Israel, a country that didn&rsquot exist during FDR&rsquos lifetime? At a time when our country&rsquos leaders and many of its citizens are agonizing over how to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, we might all agree that figuring out the best way to stop mass murder overseas has never been an easy task.

Our Readers Letters to the editor submitted by our readers.

Laurence Zuckerman Laurence Zuckerman, a former New York Times reporter, is an adjunct professor at Columbia&rsquos Graduate School of Journalism.

The Battle of Midway June 1942

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the USA declared war on Japan. On 11th December 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the USA.

The Japanese won a string of victories over the USA for the next six months. In June 1942 however, the USA defeated the Japanese navy at the Battle of Midway. Following this victory, the US navy was able to push the Japanese back.

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How many times was FDR elected President of the United States ?
Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President of the United States four times: 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944. Prior to the third-term election of 1940, it was a presidential tradition set by George Washington that presidents only held the office for two terms. As a result of FDR's unprecedented four terms, the Twenty-second Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1951, limiting all future presidents to two elected terms.

Who were FDR's opponents?
FDR's Republican Party opponents during the four presidential elections were: 1932, President Herbert Hoover 1936, Governor Alfred M. Landon of Kansas 1940, Wendell L. Wilkie of Ohio 1944, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York.

When was FDR first inaugurated as President of the United States ?
FDR was first inaugurated as 32nd President on March 4, 1933. The date of March 4 was set by the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Effective in 1937, however, the presidential inauguration date was changed to January 20 by the 20th Amendment.

Who were FDR's Vice Presidents?
FDR had three Vice-Presidents during his four terms in office: John Nance Garner of Texas (March 4, 1933 - January 20, 1941), Henry Agard Wallace of Iowa (January 20, 1941 - January 20, 1945), and Harry S. Truman of Missouri (January 20, 1945 - April 12, 1945).

Who were FDR's Cabinet Officers?
FDR's Cabinet Officers were as follows:

Secretary of State
Cordell Hull, 1933-1944
Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., 1944-1945

Secretary of Treasury
William H. Woodin, 1933
Henry Morgenthau, Jr., 1934-1945

Secretary of War
George H. Dern, 1933-1936
Harry H. Woodring, 1936-1940
Henry L. Stimson, 1940-1945

Attorney General (Department of Justice)
Homer S. Cummings, 1933-1939
Francis W. (Frank) Murphy, 1939-1940
Robert H. Jackson, 1940-1941
Francis Biddle, 1941-1945

Postmaster General
James A. Farley, 1933-1940
Frank C. Walker, 1940-1945

Secretary of the Navy
Claude A. Swanson, 1933-1939
Charles Edison, 1940
William Franklin Knox, 1940-1944
James V. Forrestal, 1944-1947

Secretary of the Interior
Harold L. Ickes, 1933-1946

Secretary of Agriculture
Henry A. Wallace, 1933-1940
Claude R. Wickard, 1940-1945

Secretary of Commerce
Daniel C. Roper, 1933-1938
Harry L. Hopkins, 1938-1940
Jesse H. Jones, 1940-1945
Henry A. Wallace, 1945-1946

Secretary of Labor
Frances Perkins, 1933-1945

What were fireside chats and how many did FDR make during his presidency?
When FDR became president in 1933, he believed that the best way to comfort and inform the public about his administration and its policies was to address them on the radio. He considered it most effective to talk to the people as if he had joined them in their living rooms or kitchens for a relaxed, informal conversation about one or two specific topics. The term "Fireside Chat" was not coined by FDR, but rather was used by a reporter to describe FDR's speech of May 7, 1933. The term was quickly adopted throughout the media and by FDR. There was no solid definition as to what constituted a Fireside Chat. As a result, there is some dispute as to the total number of Fireside Chats that FDR delivered.

The following is a list of the thirty-one speeches that have been identified as Fireside Chats:

* WH= White House HP= Hyde Park

1. On the Bank Crisis (March 12, 1933) WH

2. Outlining the New Deal Program (May 7, 1933) WH

3. First Hundred Days: The Purposes and Foundations of the Recovery Program (July 24, 1933) WH

4. The Currency Situation (October 22, 1933) WH

5. Review of the Achievements of the Seventy-third Congress (June 28, 1934) WH

6. Moving Forward to Greater Freedom and Security (September 30, 1934) WH

7. Works Progress Administration and Social Security (April 28, 1935) WH

8. Drought Conditions and the Plight of Farmers (September 6, 1936) WH

9. Reorganization of the Judiciary (March 9, 1937) WH

10. New Proposals to Special Session of Congress and on the Storm Clouds Abroad (October 12, 1937) WH

11. The Unemployment Census (November 14, 1937) WH

12. Economic Conditions (April 14, 1938) WH

13. The Democratic Party Primaries (June 24, 1938) WH

14. The War in Europe (September 3, 1939) WH

15. National Defense and Military Readiness (May 26, 1940) WH

16. Arsenal of Democracy: The Lend-Lease Program (December 29, 1940) WH

17. Proclaiming a National Emergency (May 27, 1941) WH

18. Freedom of the Seas (September 11, 1941) WH

19. War with Japan (December 9, 1941) WH

20. Progress of the War (February 23, 1942) WH

21. National Economic Policy During War: The Call for Sacrifice (April 28, 1942) WH

22. Food Price Stabilization and the Progress of the War (September 7, 1942) HP

23. Report on the Home Front (October 12, 1942) WH

24. The Coal Strike Crisis (May 2, 1943) WH

25. The Fall of Mussolini and Plans for Peace (July 28, 1943) WH

26. Italian Armistice and Launching the Third War Loan Drive (September 8, 1943) WH

27. Report on the Teheran and Cairo Conferences (December 24, 1943) HP

28. State of the Union: National Service and Economic Bill of Rights (January 11, 1944) WH

29. The Capture of Rome (June 5, 1944) WH

30. Launching the Fifth War Loan Drive (June 12, 1944) WH

31. Fireside Chat (Abridged) Version of Message to Congress on Return from Yalta Conference: Work-or-Fight and Vision for the United Nations (January 6, 1945) WH

Did women play a significant part in FDR's administrations?
During FDR's presidency, women were appointed to positions that were unprecedented in terms of both number of appointments as well as rank in the United States government.

The following is a list of some of the "firsts" achieved by women during the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt:

Frances Perkins, New York: First woman member of a President's Cabinet. Secretary of Labor.

Ruth Bryan Owen Rohde, New York and Florida: First woman U.S Minister. She was U.S. Minister to Denmark and Iceland (1933). (Daughter of William Jennings Bryan)

J. Borden Harriman, District of Columbia: First woman U.S. Minister to Norway (1937).

Nellie Tayloe Ross, Wyoming: First woman Director of U.S. Mint (1933).

Josephine Roche, Colorado: First woman Assistant Secretary U.S. Treasury (1934).

Blair Banister, Virginia: First woman U.S. Assistant Treasurer.

Florence Allen, Ohio: First woman appointed to U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (1934).

Mary W. Dewson, Maine: First woman member of Social Security Board (1937).

Emily Newell Blair, Missouri: Chairman, Consumer's Advisory Board, NRA.

Harriet Elliott, North Carolina: Only woman member of National Defense Advisory Commission first defense agency set up by the President (1940).

Marion J. Harron, California: First woman member of U.S. Court of Tax Appeals.

Carrick H. Buck, New Mexico: First woman Judge Circuit Court, Territory of Hawaii (1934).

Jewell W. Swofford, Missouri: First woman member of U.S. Employees' Compensation Commission.

Margaret Hickey, Missouri: Chairperson of the Women's Advisory Committee, War Manpower Commission (1942).

Josephine Schain, New York: First woman to be named on any United Nations Conference. Served as U.S. Delegate to U.N. Conference of Food and Agriculture.

What was the Good Neighbor Policy?
The Good Neighbor Policy was the common name (first expressed in the First Inaugural Address in 1933) for FDR's foreign policy with regard to Latin America. Under the new policy, the United States pledged that it would treat Latin American nations with respect and avoid intervening in their foreign and domestic affairs.

The goal of the policy was to strengthen the United States economy by increasing trade with Latin America. A necessary prerequisite to increased trade was the improvement of political relations with those countries and the assurance that the United States would no longer interfere in the affairs of its neighbors. As a by-product of the policy, all Latin American countries eventually joined the United States in the war against the Axis Powers.

What was FDR's role in establishing the United Nations?
Even as the United States was moving closer to war, FDR began to formulate his ideas for a post-war world. FDR first discussed a "family of nations" with Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Atlantic Charter conference in August 1941. In January 1942, representatives of 26 nations met in Washington, DC and signed the United Nations Declaration that pledged to win the war against the Axis Powers. FDR suggested the name "United Nations" for the group, and in October 1943 he sent representatives to Moscow to begin preliminary discussions with their counterparts from the Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and China about the structure of a world political organization.

At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, FDR, Churchill and Premier Stalin of the Soviet Union agreed that the "Big Five" nations (United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France and China) would be permanent members of a United Nations Security Council, a special committee with powers to keep the peace. The leaders also agreed to call a conference in San Francisco, California on April 25, 1945 to prepare a Charter for the new organization. FDR planned to attend the opening of the San Francisco Conference, but he died in Warm Springs, Georgia, on April 12, 1945. Despite this loss, the San Francisco Conference reached final agreement, and delegates from fifty nations signed the Charter on June 26, 1945.

On October 24, 1945 the Big Five plus one-half of the other nations had ratified the Charter, and the United Nations was officially born.

Was there ever an assassination attempt on FDR?
There was never an assassination attempt on FDR after he was inaugurated President of the United States. However, after the presidential election of 1932, and before the inauguration in March 1933, FDR nearly lost his life to an assassin's bullet.

On February 15, 1933, FDR was in Miami, Florida at a public rally accompanied by Anton Cermak, the Mayor of Chicago. Joseph Zangara, a thirty-three year old disillusioned Italian immigrant jumped onto a park bench and fired four shots towards FDR's car. FDR was not hit, but Mayor Cermak was wounded mortally and died a few weeks later.

The public and press hailed FDR's courage in refusing to allow his driver to leave the scene before first attending to the wounded Mayor Cermak and driving him to the hospital. Zangara later stated that he did not hate FDR personally, but rather he hated all government officials and all rich people no matter from which country they came. Zangara was executed for the murder of Mayor Cermak.

The Armistice

The Allies’ armistice terms presented in the railway carriage at Rethondes were stiff. Germany was required to evacuate not only Belgium, France, and Alsace-Lorraine but also all the rest of the left (west) bank of the Rhine, and it had to neutralize that river’s right bank between the Netherlands and Switzerland. The German troops in East Africa were to surrender the German armies in eastern Europe were to withdraw to the prewar German frontier the treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest were to be annulled and the Germans were to repatriate all prisoners of war and hand over to the Allies a large quantity of war materials, including 5,000 pieces of artillery, 25,000 machine guns, 1,700 aircraft, 5,000 locomotives, and 150,000 railroad cars. And meanwhile, the Allies’ blockade of Germany was to continue.

Pleading the danger of Bolshevism in a nation on the verge of collapse, the German delegation obtained some mitigation of these terms: a suggestion that the blockade might be relaxed, a reduction in the quantity of armaments to be handed over, and permission for the German forces in eastern Europe to stay put for the time being. The Germans might have held out longer for further concessions if the fact of revolution on their home front had not been coupled with the imminence of a new blow from the west.

Though the Allied advance was continuing and seemed in some sectors even to be accelerating, the main German forces had managed to retreat ahead of it. The Germans’ destruction of roads and railways along the routes of their evacuation made it impossible for supplies to keep pace with the advancing Allied troops a pause in the advance would occur while Allied communications were being repaired, and that would give the Germans a breathing space in which to rally their resistance. By November 11 the Allied advance on the northern sectors of the front had come more or less to a standstill on a line running from Pont-à-Mousson through Sedan, Mézières, and Mons to Ghent. Foch, however, now had a Franco- U.S. force of 28 divisions and 600 tanks in the south ready to strike through Metz into northeastern Lorraine. Since Foch’s general offensive had absorbed the Germans’ reserves, this new offensive would fall on their bared left flank and held the promise of outflanking their whole new line of defense (from Antwerp to the line of the Meuse) and of intercepting any German retreat. By this time the number of U.S. divisions in France had risen to 42. In addition, the British were about to bomb Berlin on a scale hitherto unattempted in air warfare.

Whether the Allies’ projected final offensive, intended for November 14, would have achieved a breakthrough can never be known. At 5:00 am on Nov. 11, 1918, the Armistice document was signed in Foch’s railway carriage at Rethondes. At 11:00 am on the same day, World War I came to an end.

Activity 1. Revision of the Neutrality Acts

The Neutrality Acts passed in 1935, 1936 and 1937 were an attempt to keep the United States out of foreign conflicts. After war broke out in Europe in 1939, however, President Roosevelt asked Congress to lift the arms embargo provisions of those laws. In this activity, students will look at three contemporary documents to determine whether this revision was justified.

To begin, have students read excerpts from the president's radio address of September 3, 1939, in which he officially declared the neutrality of the United States. It is available in its entirety at the EDSITEment-reviewed site American President, but excerpts may be found on pages 1–2 of the Text Document that accompanies this lesson. As they read, they should answer the following questions, which may also be found in worksheet form on page 1 of the Text Document.

  • What is Roosevelt's purpose in making this speech?
  • What role does Roosevelt see for the United States relative to the European war?
  • Why, according to Roosevelt, should Americans care about what is going on in Europe?
  • Why does the president make a point of saying that he "cannot ask that every American remain neutral in thought"?

Next hand out excerpts of the following documents, located on pages 3–6 of the Text Document (or in their entirety at Teaching American History):

These documents either could be read orally in class or assigned for homework. While students read the documents, they should complete the worksheet, on page 6 of the Text Document, in which they list both the reasons for and against lifting the arms embargo.

After students have read the documents, have them engage in a silent debate in which they imagine that they are members of Congress who must decide on whether or not to do as the president asked. Students should be placed in pairs, with one in each pair supporting revision and the other opposing. Using the worksheet on page 7 of the Text Document, the student supporting revision should begin by writing in the left-hand column a reason why he or she believes it is a good idea. Then the student opposing revision should write in the right-hand column a reason why he or she thinks it is a bad idea. This silent debate should continue until one side or the other runs out of reasons.

Conclude this activity by holding a class discussion in which students deliberate this important issue. Would lifting the arms embargo support or threaten the national interest? Would it make U.S. involvement in the war more or less likely?

FDR’s Four Historic Inaugurations

Franklin D. Roosevelt is the only person who will ever have FOUR presidential inaugurations (thanks to the 22nd Amendment.) And each and every one of his inaugurations was historic in its own way. Every president from Washington to Roosevelt had been inaugurated in March. Why? Because the U.S. Constitution originally stipulated that the Federal Government would start on March 4 th each year. FDR’s first inauguration in 1933 was the last inauguration held in March. The inauguration date was changed with the passage of the 20 th Amendment, which moved the date up to January 20 th . During his first inauguration President Roosevelt delivered one of the most famous lines in American history – “The only thing we have to fear, is, fear itself.” But that line does not appear until the 7 th draft of the speech. You can find all of the drafts of the speech here.

President Roosevelt taking the oath of office at his first Inauguration. March 4, 1933.

FDR’s second inauguration in 1937 was historic because it was the first one held on January 20 th (again, thanks to the 20 th Amendment.) FDR’s 1936 victory was the largest landslide in American history, winning 523 electoral votes which equaled 98.49%! His inauguration was also the first time the vice president was inaugurated at the same time as the president. His second inaugural address is best known for his description of the victims of the brutal economic conditions of the Great Depression. “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.”

President Roosevelt watching the Inaugural Parade from a replica of Andrew Jackson’s “Hermitage” in front of the White House. January 20, 1937.

Roosevelt’s third inauguration in 1941 was historic because no one had ever been elected to a third term before, so it was the first, and will be the only, third inauguration. War had broken out in Europe when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939. London had been reduced to rubble by the German Blitz. Despite FDR’s best efforts the American people were still strongly isolationist. But FDR knew that America would eventually join the global conflict. His speech challenged Americans to live up to their ideals. “In the face of great perils never before encountered, our strong purpose is to protect and to perpetuate the integrity of democracy. For this we muster the spirit of America, and the faith of America. We do not retreat. We are not content to stand still. As Americans, we go forward, in the service of our country, by the will of God.”

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt riding in an open car, returning to the White House from FDR’s third inauguration. January 20, 1941.

Franklin Roosevelt’s fourth inauguration is historic for a number of reasons. No other person has or ever will be elected to a fourth term. The ceremony was held on the South Portico of the White House for the first time, allegedly because of the austerity created by the war. But FDR was a sick man and his declining health may have contributed to the change of location. FDR’s fourth inaugural address was perhaps the shortest ever given, just a little over five minutes long. But FDR’s spirit is clear. ”Our Constitution of 1787 was not a perfect instrument it is not perfect yet. But it provided a firm base upon which all manner of men, of all races and colors and creeds, could build our solid structure of democracy. And so today, in this year of war, 1945, we have learned lessons, at a fearful cost, and we shall profit by them.”

FDR delivers his fourth inaugural address from the balcony at the White House. January 20, 1945.

Timeline of the German Military and the Nazi Regime

This timeline chronicles the relationship between the professional military elite and the Nazi state. It pays specific attention to the military leaders’ acceptance of Nazi ideology and their role in perpetrating crimes against Jews, prisoners of war, and unarmed civilians in the name of that ideology.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Germany’s military generals claimed they had fought honorably in World War II. They insisted it was the SS—the Nazi elite guard—and the SS leader, Heinrich Himmler, who were responsible for all crimes.

This myth of the German military’s “clean hands” was largely accepted in the United States, where American military leaders, embroiled in the Cold War, looked to their German counterparts for information that would help them against the Soviet Union. And because the few available Soviet accounts of the war were deemed untrustworthy—and most of the crimes committed by the German military had taken place in Soviet territory—the myth remained unchallenged for decades.

This led to two long-lasting distortions of the historical record of World War II. First, German generals came to be seen as models of military skill rather than as war criminals complicit in the crimes of the Nazi regime. Second, the German military’s role in the Holocaust was largely forgotten.

This timeline addresses these distortions by chronicling the relationship between the professional military elite and the Nazi state. It pays specific attention to the military leaders’ acceptance of Nazi ideology and their role in perpetrating crimes against Jews, prisoners of war, and unarmed civilians in the name of that ideology.

World War I (1914-18)

World War I was one of the most destructive wars in modern history. Initial enthusiasm on all sides for a quick and decisive victory faded as the war devolved into a stalemate of costly battles and trench warfare, particularly on the western front. Over 9 million soldiers died, a figure which far exceeded the military deaths in all the wars of the previous hundred years combined. The enormous losses on all sides resulted in part from the introduction of new weapons, like the machine gun and gas warfare, as well as from the failure of military leaders to adjus t their tactics to the increasingly mechanized nature of warfare.

The Great War was a defining experience for the German military. Perceived failures on the battlefield and the homefront shaped its beliefs about war and informed its interpretation of the relationship between civilians and soldiers.

October 1916: The German Military’s Jewish Census

During World War I, approximately 100,000 of the roughly 600,000 soldiers who served in the German military were Jewish. Many were German patriots who saw the war as an opportunity to prove their loyalty to their country. However, antisemitic newspapers and politicians claimed that Jews were cowards who were shirking their duty by staying away from combat. To prove this claim, the Minister of War began an investigation into the number of Jews serving in the front lines. For reasons that are not clear, the results were never published, which allowed antisemites to continue to question Jewish patriotism after the war.

November 11, 1918: The Armistice and the Stab-in-the-Back Legend

After more than four years of fighting, an armistice, or ceasefire, between defeated Germany and the Entente powers went into effect on November 11, 1918. For the German people, the defeat was an enormous shock they had been told that victory was inevitable.

One way some Germans made sense of their sudden defeat was through the “stab-in-the-back” legend. The legend claimed that internal “enemies”—primarily Jews and communists—had sabotaged the German war effort. In truth, German military leaders convinced the German emperor to seek peace because they knew that Germany could not win the war, and they feared the country’s imminent collapse. Many of these same military leaders then spread the stab-in-the-back legend to deflect blame for the defeat away from the military.

June 28, 1919: The Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, was signed on June 28, 1919. Germany’s newly formed democratic government saw the treaty as a “dictated peace” with harsh terms.

In addition to other provisions, the treaty artificially limited German military power. It restricted the German army to a 100,000-man volunteer force, with a maximum of 4,000 officers, who were each required to serve for 25 years. This was intended to prevent the German army from using rapid turnover to train more officers. The treaty forbade production of tanks, poisonous gas, armored cars, airplanes, and submarines and the import of weapons. It dissolved the elite planning section of the German army, known as the General Staff, and closed the military academies and other training institutions. The treaty demanded the demilitarization of the Rhineland, forbidding German military forces from being stationed along the border with France. These changes greatly limited the career prospects of German military officers. 1

January 1, 1921: The German Military is Reestablished

The new German republic, known as the Weimar Republic, faced many difficult tasks. One of the most challenging was the reorganization of the military, called the Reichswehr. The government reinstituted the Reichswehr on January 1, 1921 under the leadership of General Hans von Seeckt. The Reichswehr’s small and homogenous officer corps was characterized by antidemocratic attitudes, opposition to the Weimar Republic, and attempts to undermine and circumvent the Treaty of Versailles.

Throughout the 1920s, the military repeatedly violated the treaty. For example, the disbanded General Staff simply transferred its planning to the newly established “Troop Office.” The military also secretly imported weapons that had been banned by the Treaty of Versailles. It even signed an agreement with the Soviet Union, which allowed it to conduct prohibited tank exercises in Soviet territory. The Reichswehr’s mid-level officers later became the leaders of the military under Hitler.

July 27, 1929: The Geneva Convention

On July 27, 1929, Germany and other leading countries signed the Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War in Geneva. This international agreement built on the earlier Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 to increase protections for prisoners of war. The convention was one of several important international agreements regulating war in the 1920s. The Geneva Protocol (1925) updated restrictions relating to the use of poison gas. In 1928, the Kellogg-Briand Pact renounced war as a national policy.

These postwar agreements were an attempt to update international law in a way that would prevent another conflict as destructive as World War I. However, the dominant attitude within the German army was that military necessity always outweighed international la w. L ike many other nations, Germany bent or broke the rules when it found it advantageous to do so .

February 3, 1933: Hitler Meets with Top Military Leaders

Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. Just four days later, he met privately with top military leaders to attempt to win their support. This was especially important because the military had historically played a very important role in German society and therefore had the ability to overthrow the new regime.

The military leadership did not fully trust or support Hitler because of his populism and radicalism. However, the Nazi Party and the German military had similar foreign policy goals. Both wanted to renounce t he Treaty of Versailles, to expand the German armed forces, and to destroy the communist threat. In this first meeting, Hitler tried to reassure the German officer corps. He talked openly about his plans to establish a dictatorship, reclaim lost land, and wage war. Almost two months later, Hitler showed his respect for the German military tradition by publicly bowing to President Hindenburg, a celebrated World War I general.

February 28, 1934: The “Aryan Paragraph”

Passed on April 7, 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service included the Aryan Paragraph. The paragraph called for all Germans of non-Aryan descent (i.e. Jews) to be forcibly retired from the civil service.

The Aryan Paragraph did not initially apply to the armed forces. On February 28, 1934, however, Defense Minister Werner von Blomberg voluntarily put it in effect for the military as well. Because the Reichswehr discriminated against Jews and blocked their promotion, the policy affected fewer than 100 soldiers. 2 In a memorandum to high level military leaders, Colonel Erich von Manstein condemned the firings on the basis of the traditional values of the German military and its professional code, to little effect. Blomberg’s decision to apply the Aryan Paragraph was one of many ways that senior military officials worked with the Nazi regime. They also added Nazi symbols to military uniforms and insignia and introduced political education based on Nazi ideals into military training.

June 30- July 2, 1934: “The Night of the Long Knives”

In 1933-1934, Hitler put an end to efforts by SA leader Ernst Röhm to replace the professional army with a people’s militia centered on the SA. Military leaders demanded that Röhm be stopped. Hitler decided that a professionally trained and organized military better suited his expansionist aims. He intervened on the military’s behalf in exchange for their future support.

Between June 30 and July 2, 1934, the Nazi Party leadership murdered the leadership of the SA, including Röhm, and other opponents. The murders confirmed an agreement between the Nazi regime and the military that would remain intact, with rare exceptions, until the end of World War II. As part of this agreement, military leaders supported Hitler when he proclaimed himself Führer (leader) of the German Reich in August 1934. The military leaders immediately wrote a new oath that swore their service to Hitler personally as the personification of the German Nation. 3

March 1935-March 1936: Creating the Wehrmacht

In early 1935, Germany took its first public steps to rearm, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. On March 16, 1935, a new law reintroduced the draft and officially expanded the German army to 550,000 men.

In May, a secret Reich Defense Law transformed the Reichswehr into the Wehrmacht and made Hitler its Commander-in-Chief, with a “Minister of War and Commander of the Wehrmacht” under him. The name change was largely cosmetic, but the intent was to create a force capable of a war of aggression, rather than the defensive force created by the treaty. In addition, the conscription law excluded Jews, much to the disappointment of those Jewish men who wanted to prove their continuing loyalty to Germany. Military leaders worked with the Nazi regime to expand arms production. In March 1936, the new Wehrmacht remilitarized the Rhineland.

November 5, 1937: Hitler Meets with Top Military Leaders Again

On November 5, 1937, Hitler held a small meeting with the foreign minister, the war minister, and the heads of the army, navy and air force. Hitler discussed his vision for Germany’s foreign policy with them, including plans to absorb Austria and Czechoslovakia soon, by force if necessary, with further expansion to follow. 4 The Commander-in-Chief of the Army Werner Freiherr von Fritsch, Minister of War von Blomberg, and Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath objected, not on moral grounds, but because they believed Germany was not ready militarily, especially if Britain and France joined the war. In the days and weeks that followed, several other military leaders who learned of the meeting also expressed their disapproval.

January-February 1938: The Blomberg-Fritsch Affair

In early 1938, two scandals involving top Wehrmacht leaders allowed the Nazis to remove commanders who did not fully support Hitler’s plans (as laid out in the November meeting). First, Minister of War Blomberg had recently married, and information came to light that his wife had “a past,” involving, at the least, pornographic pictures. This was completely unacceptable for any army officer. Hitler (with the full support of the other senior generals) demanded Blomberg’s resignation. Around the same time, Commander-in-Chief of the Army von Fritsch resigned after Himmler and Reichsmarshal Hermann Göring trumped up false charges of homosexuality against him.

The two resignations became known as the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair. They gave Hitler the opportunity to restructure the Wehrmacht under his control. The position of Minister of War was taken over by Hitler himself, and General Wilhelm Keitel was appointed as the military head of the armed forces. Fritsch was replaced with the much more pliable Colonel-General Walther von Brauchitsch. These changes were just the most public. Hitler also announced a series of forced resignations and transfers at a cabinet meeting in early February.

March 1938-March 1939: Foreign Policy and Expansion

From March 1938 to March 1939, Germany made a series of territorial moves that risked a European war. First, in March 1938, Germany annexed Austria. Hitler then threatened war unless the Sudetenland, a border area of Czechoslovakia containing an ethnic German majority, was surrendered to Germany. The leaders of Britain, France, Italy, and Germany held a conference in Munich, Germany, on September 29–30, 1938. They agreed to the German annexation of the Sudetenland in exchange for a pledge of peace from Hitler. On March 15, 1939, Hitler violated the Munich Agreement and moved against the rest of the Czechoslovak state. These events sparked tension within the military’s High Command. General Ludwig Beck, Chief of the General Staff, had long protested the prospect of another unwinnable war. However, his colleagues refused to back him up—they were willing to hand over the reins of strategy to the Führer. Beck resigned, to no effect.

September 1, 1939: Germany Invades Poland

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded and quickly defeated Poland, beginning World War II. The German occupation of Poland was exceptionally brutal. In a campaign of terror, German police and SS units shot thousands of Polish civilians and required all Polish males to perform forced labor. The Nazis sought to destroy Polish culture by eliminating the Polish political, religious, and intellectual leadership. These crimes were perpetrated mainly by the SS, although Wehrmacht leaders were in full support of the policies. Many German soldiers also participated in the violence and looting. Some in the Wehrmacht were unhappy with the involvement of their soldiers, shocked by the violence, and concerned about the lack of order among the soldiers. Generals Blaskowitz and Ulex even complained to their superiors about the violence. However, they were quickly silenced. 5

April 7-June 22, 1940: The Invasion of Western Europe

In the spring of 1940, Germany invaded, defeated, and occupied Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France. This string of victories—especially the astoundingly quick defeat of France—greatly increased Hitler’s popularity at home and within the military. The few military officers who had objected to his plans now found their credibility destroyed and the potential to organize opposition to the regime reduced. After the victory in Western Europe, Hitler and the Wehrmacht turned their attention to planning an invasion of the Soviet Union.

March 30, 1941: Planning the Invasion of the Soviet Union

On March 30, 1941, Hitler spoke secretly to 250 of his principal commanders and staff officers on the nature of the upcoming war against the Soviet Union. His speech emphasized that the war in the East would be conducted with extreme brutality with the aim of destroying the communist threat. Hitler’s audience knew he was calling for clear violations of the laws of war, but there were no serious objections. Instead, following Hitler’s ideological position, the military issued a series of orders that made it clear they intended to wage a war of annihilation against the communist state. The most notorious of these orders include the Commissar Order and the Barbarossa Jurisdiction Decree. Together these and other orders established a clear working relationship between the Wehrmacht and the SS. In addition, the orders clarified that soldiers would not be punished for committing acts contrary to the internationally agreed upon rules of war.

April 6, 1941: The Invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece

The Axis powers invaded Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941, dismembering the country and exploiting ethnic tensions. In one region, Serbia, Germany established a military occupation administration that exercised extreme brutality against the local population. During the summer of that year, German military and police authorities interned most Jews and Roma (Gypsies) in detention camps. By the fall, a Serbian uprising had inflicted serious casualties upon German military and police personnel. In response, Hitler ordered German authorities to shoot 100 hostages for every German death. German military and police units used this order as a pretext to shoot virtually all male Serbian Jews (approximately 8,000 men), approximately 2,000 actual and perceived communists, Serb nationalists and democratic politicians of the interwar era, and approximately 1,000 Romani men.

June 22, 1941: The Invasion of the Soviet Union

German forces invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Three army groups, consisting of more than three million German soldiers, attacked the Soviet Union across a broad front, from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.

In accordance with their orders, German forces treated the population of the Soviet Union with extreme brutality. They burned entire villages and shot the rural population of whole districts in retaliation for partisan attacks. They sent millions of Soviet civilians to perform forced labor in Germany and the occupied territories. German planners called for the ruthless exploitation of Soviet resources, especially of agricultural produce. This was one of Germany’s major war aims in the east.

June 1941-January 1942: The Systematic Killing of the Soviet POWs

From the beginning of the Eastern campaign, Nazi ideology drove German policy towards Soviet prisoners of war (POWs). German authorities viewed Soviet POWs as inferiors and as part of the "Bolshevik menace.” They argued that because the Soviet Union was not a signatory to the 1929 Geneva Convention, its regulations requiring that POWs be given food, shelter, and medical care, and forbidding war work or corporal punishment, did not apply. This policy proved catastrophic for the millions of Soviet soldiers taken prisoner during the war.

By war’s end, over 3 million Soviet prisoners (about 58 percent) died in German captivity (versus about 3 percent of British or American prisoners). This death toll was neither an accident nor an automatic result of the war, but rather deliberate policy. The army and the SS cooperated in the shooting of hundreds of thousands of Soviet POWs, because they were Jews, or communists, or looked “asiatic.” The rest were subjected to long marches, systematic starvation, no medical care, little or no shelter, and forced labor . Time and again German forces were called upon to take "energetic and ruthless action" and "use their arms" unhesitatingly "to wipe out any trace of resistance" from Soviet POWs.

Summer-Fall 1941: Wehrmacht Participation in the Holocaust

Most German generals did not see themselves as Nazis. However, they shared many of the Nazis’ goals. In their opinion, there were good military reasons to support Nazi policies. In the eyes of the generals, communism fed resistance. They also believed the Jews were the driving force behind communism.

When the SS offered to secure the rear areas and eliminate the Jewish threat, the army cooperated by providing logistical support to the units and coordinating their movements. Army units helped round up Jews for the shooting squads, cordoned off the killing sites, and sometimes took part in shootings themselves. They established ghettos for those whom the shooters left behind and relied on Jewish forced labor. When some troops showed signs of unease, the generals issued orders, justifying the killings and other harsh measures.

February 2, 1943 German 6th Army Surrenders at Stalingrad

The Battle of Stalingrad, which lasted from October 1942 to February 1943, was a major turning point in the war. After months of fierce fighting and heavy casualties, and contrary to Hitler’s direct order, the surviving German forces (about 91,000 men) surrendered on February 2, 1943. Two weeks later, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels gave a speech in Berlin calling for radicalization of mobilization measures and total war. The speech acknowledged the difficulties the country was facing and marked the beginning of increased desperation on the part of the Nazi leadership.

Their defeat at Stalingrad forced German troops on the defensive and was the beginning of their long retreat back to Germany. This retreat was marked by widespread destruction as the military implemented a scorched earth policy on Hitler’s orders. There was also an increased emphasis on maintaining military discipline, including ruthless arrests of soldiers who expressed doubts about Germany’s final victory.

July 20, 1944: Operation Valkyrie

Although generally unconcerned about Nazi crimes—several of the conspirators had even taken part in the killing of Jews—a small group of senior military officers decided that Hitler had to die. They blamed Hitler for losing the war and felt that his continued leadership posed a serious threat to Germany’s future. They attempted to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944, exploding a small but powerful bomb during a military briefing in his East Prussian headquarters at Rastenburg.

Hitler survived and the plot fell apart. He quickly took his revenge for this attempt on his life. Several generals were forced to commit suicide or face humiliating prosecution. Others were tried before the infamous People’s Court in Berlin and executed. While Hitler remained suspicious of the remaining members of the German officer corps, most continued to fight for him and for Germany until the country’s surrender in 1945.

1945-1948 Major War Crimes Trials

After the German surrender in May 1945, some military leaders were tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The highest ranking generals were included in the trial of 22 major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremberg, Germany beginning in October 1945. Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl, both of the German armed forces high command, were found guilty and executed. Both sought to blame Hitler. However, the IMT explicitly rejected the use of the superior orders as a defense.

Three subsequent IMT trials before an American military tribunal at Nuremberg also focused on the crimes of the German military. Many of those convicted were released early, under the pressure of the Cold War and the establishment of the Bundeswehr. Unfortunately, most perpetrators of crimes against humanity have never been tried or punished.

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