(JTA) — David S. Wyman, author of “The Abandonment of the Jews,” the groundbreaking study of America’s response to the Holocaust, has died.
Wyman, the son of two Protestant ministers, died Wednesday at his home in Amherst, Massachusetts, after a lengthy illness. He was 89.
From 1966 until his retirement in 1991, Wyman taught at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he was a history professor and twice served as chairman of the Judaic studies program.
He spent 15 years researching “The Abandonment of the Jews,” which was published in 1984, according to the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, a research and education institute based in Washington, D.C., established in 2003 to continue Wyman’s scholarship.
The book was a sequel to the critically acclaimed “Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis, 1938-1941,” which was published in 1968.
Wyman’s research determined that there were many ways the U.S. could have aided European Jewish refugees without interfering with the war effort or undermining America’s immigration laws. He also documented how President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his State Department suppressed news about the Holocaust and ignored opportunities to rescue refugees.
Wyman often spoke about how difficult it was for him, as a Christian, to be confronted with the evidence of the meager response by American Christians to news of the Holocaust, the institute said in a statement, and sometimes he “cried for days” and had to take a break from his research.
“It is testimony to David’s greatness that the achievement of which he was proudest was not any of the numerous awards he received for his pioneering scholarship, or the many laudatory reviews of his books, but the fact that ‘The Abandonment of the Jews’ contributed directly to the rescue of more than 800 Ethiopian Jewish refugees,” said Rafael Medoff, founding director of the Wyman Institute.
The refugees were left stranded and starving along the Ethiopian-Sudanese border in early 1985, when an Israeli airlift operation was interrupted. Jewish activists, together with Rep. John Miller, gave copies of “The Abandonment of the Jews” to Vice President George H.W. Bush and his aides, pleading with them to “do now what we didn’t do then.” As a result, the U.S. sent a fleet of C-130 Hercules transport planes to rescue the refugees and bring them to Israel. Bush subsequently sent Wyman a handwritten note of thanks for inspiring the rescue mission.
A public event commemorating Wyman’s life and legacy will be held by the institute in New York City.
Wyman graduated from Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in history, and from Harvard University with a doctorate in history.