Page 222 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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facts. Indeed, reports about Nazi persecution had been reaching
the public since 1933, but now with Kristallnacht fresh in the
memory, the episode o f the doomed voyage o f the
St. Louis
made the front pages o f the American press. Sadly, the Amer­
ican Jewish response, for reasons quite thoroughly explained
by such historians as Henry Feingold or David Wyman, was
less than it might have been. The
however, never waiv-
ered in its sense o f urgency as it published reports on conditions
from Warsaw to Washington. But in 1938 no one yet under­
stood the full implications.
The turning point, however, came in 1942 when the State
Department received a cable from the Geneva representative
o f the World Jewish Congress to be forwarded to Rabbi Stephen
Wise, president o f the American Jewish Congress. The message
contained the truth about Hitler’s plans to annihilate European
Marie Syrkin herself has described both the incredulity o f
the group who first heard this information and her own first
response in the
Jewish Frontier.
As editors o f the
and Hayim Greenberg were invited in August o f 1942 to a small
private meeting o f Jewish journalists where they learned o f the
perplexing report from Geneva that Hiker’s mass extermination
plan was already in force. Despite all that they had been aware
o f for the last nine years, and despite the
reportage o f conditions in Germany and Europe, not alone
Marie Syrkin and Hayim Greenberg, but the entire group were
unable to assimilate this new information. Their immediate re­
sponse was shock and skepticism. This, in the very face o f the
fact that only a week earlier the
itself had received a
document from the Jewish Socialist Bund which was an account
o f mass gassings o f Jews in Chelmno. Marie openly admits that
she and Greenberg were unable to assimilate either account and
she confesses that “we hit on what in retrospect appears a dis­
graceful compromise: we buried the fearful report in the back
page o f the September issue in small type, thus indicating that
we could not vouch for its accuracy.” 12 But by the next issue
the small staff o f the magazine had uncovered enough material
12. Marie Syrkin, “What American Jews Did During the Holocaust,”
Vol. 28, no. 8 (October 1982), p. 6.