Throughout 1944, evidence of the vast war crime being committed by the Nazis against the Jews of Europe continued to grow.
That July, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill endorsed specific action against camps like Auschwitz, telling Anthony Eden, British foreign secretary, to gather what air force resources he could.
The response from the White House, author Jay Winik says, was silence.
“By 1944, we the U.S. had more options to help the Jews,” Winik says. “It was clear it was just a matter of time before Hitler was defeated, and we had mastery of the skies.”
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Yet President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t act.
“He flinched,” Winik says. “And the big question is why.”
Winik, the author of “1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History,” has several educated guesses as to why Roosevelt didn’t directly address the humanitarian crisis. One option under discussion was a bomb strike of the Auschwitz complex.
Some evidence, Winik says, holds that Roosevelt was worried that the almost inevitable deaths of Auschwitz inmates in any such raid could render the United States complicit in the Nazi crimes against them.
Roosevelt did, in 1944, establish the U.S. War Refugee Board, which rescued Jews from occupied territories and provided relief to inmates of Nazi camps.
“But that was too little, too late,” Winik says.
“In 1944, Roosevelt was consumed with winning the war at all costs, and the D-Day invasion was that June,” Winik says. “Also, he was virtually a dying man.”
Roosevelt died in April 1945.
Winik speaks at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza branch, 4801 Main St. Winik’s appearance is being co-presented by the Truman Library Institute with funding from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
The draw of the West
Arna Bontemps, a writer often associated with the Harlem Renaissance, always remembered his first impression of that New York City district in 1924.
Emerging from a subway tunnel at 125th Street and Lenox Avenue, Bontemps found the sights at sidewalk level sufficiently vivid that, he once wrote, they left him “blinking in the sun.”
And yet Bontemps, who grew up in California, often wondered why the American West was not just as inspiring to him and his renaissance colleagues.
“Why have most of the serious writers of this generation turned up their noses at America’s greatest source of material: the West?” he asked one of them in a 1956 letter. “We’ve missed a bet.”
His correspondent, writer Langston Hughes, had no such hesitations.
A Joplin native who spent much of his youth in Lawrence, Hughes — perhaps the writer most associated with the Harlem Renaissance — intimately knew the impact of place upon personal freedom for African-Americans in the mid-20th century, Emily Lutenski says.
The St. Louis University American Studies assistant professor is the author of “West of Harlem: African American Writers and the Borderlands,” published earlier this year by the University Press of Kansas.
Lutenski details how Hughes, Bontemps and other writers so specifically associated with Harlem routinely felt at home on the range.
Wallace Thurman grew up in Utah. Jean Toomer often traveled to New Mexico.
Hughes, meanwhile, roamed all over the West and wrote about the intimate knowledge he gained regarding what African-Americans traveling the continent then could expect.
His travels through Texas in the early 1930s revealed a state often more Southern than Western, he once wrote.
But upon his arrival in El Paso, he found a city so diverse that Jim Crow practices often proved impossible to impose. Everyone rode the streetcars, regardless of race. The American West was to Hughes a profoundly liberating and mysterious place, and his constant travel through it tended to erode parochial attitudes.
“Hughes knew that places could offer him opportunity as well as circumscribe his station in life,” Lutenski says. “Growing up in Kansas, Hughes knew other stories about the way that places could structure black experience. His grandmother had moved to Kansas with the concept that things would be better there.”
Lutenski speaks at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 8 at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
For more info about both events, go to KCLibrary.org.