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Goldberg: Nothing U.S. Jews Could Do Would Have Deterred Hitler

May 11, 1983
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Arthur Goldberg chairman of the American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust, recently revealed his personal experiences and emotions during the Hitler era to a standing-room only audience at Chicago’s Kent College of Law.

Born in the U.S. of parents who came to this city in 1894, the former Supreme Court Justice and Ambassador to the United Nations said that were it not for that event, he too “would have been in Auschwitz or in one of the other 1,000 death camps. “For that reason, he said, he feels as if he had the concentration camp numbers tattooed on his arm “almost physically.”

Goldberg dealt directly with the sensitive issues of what the American Jewish community knew 40 years ago about the Holocaust, and what they could have done. The “verdict is beyond challenge that nothing the American Jews could do would have deterred Hitler, ” he said.

The Allied governments certainly had some power of deterrence which was not used, Goldberg said. But even that might not have stopped the murder machine, as evidenced by Adolf Eichman’s use of railroad facilities to send Jews to death camps, when the German army was in a desperate retreat to the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin.


Goldberg revealed that in 1943 he was stationed in London as a member of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, when he was approached by Shmuel Ziegelman, a member of the Polish government-in-exile. Ziegelman showed him photographs and affidavits from Auschwitz, smuggled out of Poland by a brave non-Jewish Pole, disguised as an Esthonian policeman. Ziegelman begged Goldberg to convince the Allies to bomb the rail-line to Auschwitz.

After William Donovan, head of the OSS, had seen the evidence, he told Goldberg that American planes could not be “diverted” — although planes were bombing a German war plant only five miles away. The day after Goldberg gave Ziegelman news of the refusal, Ziegelman committed suicide.

Goldberg said European Jews had not realized the danger until too late because they were “benumbed.” And so were American Jews who might have done more, he added. In his view,only the American Orthodox Jews were sufficiently vigorous in their protests, which were ineffective to the general public because they conducted their meetings in Yiddish.

The American Jewish community, which then did not have the political influence it has today, was intensely loyal to President Roosevelt, who “couldn’t stand up to the pressure, including from labor and the isolationist public,” who were all against relaxing immigration restrictions, Goldberg said.


For Goldberg, the “lesson is broader than the Holocaust”: unbridled violation of human rights should never be countenanced and so-called “quiet diplomacy is singularly ineffective.”

He cited his own experience as a U.S. delegate at the Belgrade Conference on the Helsinki Treaty. There he had approached the Soviet delegates and “offered a deal”: if the dissidents would be released, the voices against the USSR in the U.S. would be lifted. But the Russians kept up the harassment, in fact sending to forced labor or psychiatric institutions all the Soviet members of the Helsinki Watch Committee.


After the meeting, Goldberg was asked by this reporter to comment on the rescue efforts of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee during the Holocaust. He replied that he was aware of their work, but JDC was able to function only from 1933-39.

It was pointed out to him that JDC did, in fact, work throughout the entire Hitler period, as for example, JDC’s financing of Raoul Wallenberg’s rescue of 100,000 Hungarian Jews, Goldberg replied that he knew JDC had provided the necessary funds, but only 2,000 not 100,000 had been saved by Wallenberg.

This statement was surprising, since it is generally accepted that over 100,000 Jews were rescued by Wallenberg. In fact, Prof. Yehuda Bauer of Hebrew University, a leading authority on the Holocaust, has stated in his book “American Jewry and the Holocaust–The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1939-1945,” that through its Swiss representative, Saly Mayer, JDC provided the bulk of the funds which enabled 119,000 Hungarian Jews to survive.

Bauer states: “The conclusion is that JDC financed most of the rescue activities in Budapest – the direct feeding, the upkeep of the children’s homes, the protection papers, and unknowingly, even the (Zionist) youth movements’ underground activities.” Bauer also points out that the JDC was instrumental in saving hundreds of thousands of European Jews, with the all too limited funds made available by American Jewish communities.

Emanuel Ringelblum, the martyred historian of the Warsaw Ghetto who was a JDC representative, wrote in his famous diary, discovered after the war and now in the archives of YIVO and Yad Vashem:

“Through the active and generous aid of the American Joint Distribution Committee, a network of institutions for communal welfare was spread throughout Warsaw and in the country … The ORT, too carried on considerable work. Tens of thousands of adults and children were able to survive for a longer period because of the help of these institutions and of the ramified network of house committees which cooperated with them. These organizations conducted their self-sacrificing work up to the last minute, as long as even the slightest spark of life still burned in the Jewish group.”

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