President Roosevelt doesn’t know whether his remote ancestors in Holland were or were not Jews.
In a letter to Philip Slomovitz, editor of the Detroit Jewish Chronicle and correspondent of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the President had this to say concerning its forebears:
“In the dim distant past they may have been Jews or Catholics or Protestantsâ€”what I am more interested in is whether they were good citizens and believers in Godâ€”I hope they were both.”
This statement was elicited by a letter which Slomovitz sent to Mr. Roosevelt asking for information as to the truth or falsity of charges made from time to time by foes of the President that he is of Jewish descent.
QUOTES CHASE OSBORN
The Jewish journalist advised Mr. Roosevelt of a magazine article which ascribed to Chase S. Osborn, former governor of Michigan, an account that the President “is a descendant of the Rossacampo family expelled from Spain in 1620.”
“It so happens that this is not the first time that we have seen your name coupled with the Jews, especially in the efforts of anti-Semites to label you as a tool of Jews and Catholics,” Slomovitz wrote.
Mr. Roosevelt’s reply was as follows:
“I am grateful to you for your interesting letter of March 4. I have no idea as to the source of the story which you say came from my old friend, Chase Osborn.
DIM ON ORIGINS
“All I know about the origin of the Roosevelt family in this country is that all branches bearing the name are apparently descended from Claes Martenssen Van Roosevelt, who came from Holland sometime before 1648â€”even the year is uncertain.
“Where he came from in Holland I do not know, nor do I know who his parents were.
“There was a family of the same name on one of the Dutch islands and some of the same name living in Holland as lately as thirty or forty years ago, but, frankly, I have never had either the time or the inclination to try to establish the line on the other side of the ocean before they came over here, nearly three hundred years ago.
“In the dim distant past they may have been Jews or Catholics or Protestantsâ€”what I am more interested in is whether they were good citizens and believers in God â€”I hope they were both.
“Very sincerely yours,
Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
The Chronicle, commenting editorially, said this explanation “reaffirms the faith which all unbiased citizens must have in the President’s lack of prejudice and in his desire to foster good-will and harmony among groups in our population.”
Mr. Roosevelt’s letter, the editorial continued, will come as a severe blow “to those who encourage race hatred and religious prejudice.”
Former Governor Osborn was reported to have referred to the President’s Jewish ancestry in a newspaper interview during a recent visit to St. Petersburg, Fla.
Seeking safety following their banishment from Spain, Osborn said, members of the Rossacampo family went to Germany, Holland and other countries, where they changed their name to Rosenberg, Rosenbau, Rosenblum, Rosenvelt and Rosenthal.
“The Rosenvelts in north Holland finally became Roosevelt,” Osborn continued, “soon becoming apostates with the first generation and others following suit until, in the fourth generation, a little storekeeper by the name of Jacobus Roosevelt was the only one who remained true to his Jewish faith.”
Slomovitz related this story to the President and then concluded with the following remarks:
“It is with a sense of considerable regret that I must comm### that we have grave doubts as to whether we may hope to feel so deeply honored with the truth of your lineage as traced by former Governor Osborn.
“However, there is always a chance that there is an honor in store for us somewhere, even though unexpected. I am therefore just wondering a bit whether your family records or albums somewhere lend affirmation or denial to these fantastic stories. Perhaps you will be able to find occasion some day to make your own comment on this story.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.