In 1938, at the insistence of US President FD Roosevelt, a conference was held in the small French town of Evian to consider what could be done with Europe’s Jews, then under the Nazi threat. Also at this conference was Joseph Kennedy, acting a vice-chairman, whose son, John Fitzgerald, would become the US President in 1961. He was also the US Ambassador to London where he established a reputation for “defeatism” and that is how he is remembered. At the same time, he had a prickly relationship with the President that appointed him, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. One historian called it “sadistic (from Roosevelt’s side)” with Kennedy instructed to give sealed letters to the British King and to Churchill without revealing what was in them. That left Kennedy in the dark, a major diplomatic insult as it shows a lack of confidence in him. In fact, Kennedy was left out of many negotiations and at the same time spoke to German peace emissaries without consulting the President. It came out after the war ended that British Prime Minister Winston C. Churchill turned down numerous offers of peace with Germany in 1940. Arguably, and it is mere speculation since the war continued, if peace came in 1940 the Jewish Holocaust would not have happened and dozens of millions of other lives saved. Nor would the Soviet Union be found inside Western Europe for the next 50 odd years. The world would have been spared much. Churchill would then have disappeared as a failed politician that capitulated.
Kennedy felt that Britain could never defeat Nazi Germany and said so many times. In this he was realistic. If the USA did not enter the fray first with Lend-Lease and then as a warring nation, Britain would have lost the war. Nowhere except at the Battle of El Alamein, a sideshow, and fought with US tanks, did the British side win standing alone against the Germans, nowhere, not even once. Kennedy remarked to new graduates of the renowned Catholic Notre Dame University that “Hitler is the greatest genius of the century. His diplomatic and military ability superior to anything that the British could muster...” Of course, he was a Harvard graduate himself.
But what did he feel about Jews?
Many called him anti-Semitic because he apparently suggested that the European Jews go to Africa if they want a homeland. He was also viciously attacked by Zionists for many of his other questionable comments which entrenched the above view. Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the great Zionist leader, apologised in private. But if you should look at Kennedy’s record as US Ambassador in London, he did more than most to help Jewish refugees. He spoke up in July 1938 at Winchester Cathedral: “Certain nations (Nazi Germany) have attempted to relieve the suffering of some of their people at the expense of others of their inhabitants.” He went on to stress “tolerance, concern for the underprivileged, and an innate sense of fairness to see that these refugees do not perish cruelly and hopelessly.” He was involved in the rescue of 1,400 Jewish children to reach France, Liberia and British and French colonies in Africa. So where lies the truth? Probably in the middle. Kennedy told reporter Joe Dinneen in 1942: “It is true that I have a low opinion of some Jews in public office and in private life. That does not mean that I believe they should be wiped off the face of the Earth. Jews who take an unfair advantage of the fact that theirs is a persecuted race do not help much. Publicizing unjust attacks upon the Jews may help to cure the injustice, but continually publicizing the whole problem only serves to keep it alive in the public mind.”
A man as thin-skinned and not afraid of ruffling feathers will always be judged from many sides. Amusingly enough, or not, he lived in fear of Churchill. After all, the British Prime Minister did say to him in June or July 1940: “You watch, when Adolf Hitler begins bombing London and bombing towns in Britain like Boston and Lincoln, towns with their counterparts in the United States, you Americans will have to come in, won’t you, you can’t just stand aside and watch our suffering.” Thus he believed that the RAF might bomb his embassy in a false flag operation. When he left for the US, he sent a telegram to the State Department saying: “Please, will you announce that if the USS Manhattan is torpedoed and sunk, it will not be considered a casus belli, that the United States will not declare war over this because I have reason to believe that Churchill is planning to torpedo the USS Manhattan knowing that I’m on board!”
Well, he made it safely. About the 1938 Evian Conference I will write a blog in due course. That is where the Jewish Holocaust started.