How America Tried to Save the Jews From the Holocaust

The Holocaust is the greatest crime in world history. But one U.S. agency fought tirelessly to save the Jews from Nazi terrorism. On January 26, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society will host a special webinar to recognize International Holocaust Remembrance Day. During our event, we will share the remarkable—yet largely unknown—story of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s War Refugee Board. Our featured speaker to lead this important conversation is Holocaust historian, Dr. Rebecca Erbelding, who authored the subject’s authoritative history, Rescue Board: The Untold Story of America’s Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe.

According to Dr. Erbelding, the War Refugee Board represents, “the only time in American history that the U.S. government founded a government agency to save the lives of non-Americans being murdered by a wartime enemy.” We will therefore discuss the extent to which U.S. leaders knew that the Holocaust was happening, the heroic response of the War Refugee Board, and yet, why its first director believed the Board’s efforts were “little and late” compared to the systematic murder of six million Jewish people and millions of others.

Finally, with antisemitism again on the rise, we’ll discuss which lessons from America’s response to the Holocaust can still be learned from today.

Dr. Erbelding is an historian, educator, curator, and archivist at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. She recently served as an historical advisor and on-camera expert in Ken Burns’ documentary, “The U.S. and the Holocaust.” As part of her work, she’s given presentations on Anne Frank, Holocaust-era diaries, U.S. immigration policy during the 1930s, as well as the “Hoecker album,” which depicts Nazi life at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Her book on the War Refugee Board won the 2018 National Jewish Book Award for Writing Based on Archival Material.