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H-Diplo Article Reviews http://www.h-net.org/~diplo/reviews/ No. 251 Published on 21 December 2009 -------------------------------------------- H-Diplo Article Review Editor: Diane N. Labrosse Web and Production Editor: George Fujii Assistant Web and Production Editor: John Vurpillat Commissioned for H-Diplo by Thomas Maddux -------------------------------------------- Dean Kotlowski. "Breaching the Paper Walls: Paul V. McNutt and Jewish Refugees to the Philippines, 1938-39." Diplomatic History 33:5 (November 2009): 865-896. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7709.2009.00816.x. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7709.2009.00816.x . URL: http://www.h-net.org/~diplo/reviews/PDF/AR251.pdf -------------------------------------------- Review by Sonja P. Wentling, Concordia College, Minnesota Paul V. McNutt: The Oscar Schindler of the Philippines? Dean Kotlowski's "Breaching the Paper Walls: Paul V. McNutt and Jewish Refugees to the Philippines, 1938-39," discusses a "small but noteworthy" (896) episode in the mostly tragic story of the Jewish refugee crisis by bringing to light a rare example of humanitarianism. At the center of Kotlowski's inquiry stands an unlikely candidate, former governor of Indiana and then U.S. High Commissioner of the Philippines Paul McNutt, who, at a time when U.S. immigration laws were highly restrictive, and no international agreements dealing with the growing refugee crisis produced any tangible results, managed to secure the immigration of 1,200 Jews to Manila. The publication of Frank Ephraim's memoir Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror1 in 2001 first related the fate of the Jewish refugees, but no study to date has attempted to explain why and how U.S. High Commissioner McNutt helped European Jews to a safe haven in the Philippines. Kotlowski does not claim to have a single answer as to why McNutt was willing to respond to Jewish suffering; rather, his explanation looks for clues in McNutt's life and career that might have prepared him for the role of savior. Scouring a wide array of sources, such as State Department records, documents from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and foremost the McNutt Papers, Kotlowski weaves an interesting portrait of the Hoosier politician. Yet despite his best attempts to explain McNutt and his actions, we are still left with somewhat of an enigma: Was McNutt the principled humanitarian, who was looking for ways to rescue European Jews or was he simply a political opportunist, whose involvement in saving lives was more deliberate and calculating, with an eye toward the Jewish vote and future career moves? Kotlowski's assessment appears conflicted; although decidedly sympathetic toward McNutt, he repeatedly expresses doubts about the Indiana governor's humanitarian motivation and commitment. We learn that McNutt's "belief in religious and racial tolerance never became so intense, or so heartfelt, that it led him to undertake serious political risks," whether as governor of Indiana or as high commissioner in the Philippines. (870) Averse to taking risks, McNutt, during his Manila venture, neither departed from governmental guidelines nor violated U.S. immigration laws and quotas. And when a new opportunity presented itself to further his career, the Indiana politician had little qualms about leaving the Philippines rather abruptly and thereby abandoning the more ambitious Mindanao project that would have rescued and resettled 10,000 or more Jews. Thus, it is McNutt's political opportunism - which in no way should overshadow the significance of his humanitarian act - that proves equally intriguing and deserves more elaboration. Not unlike Oscar Schindler, McNutt emerges as an opportunist, who, albeit far from perfect, could also decide to do the right thing at the right time. Kotlowski's search for answers begins with an examination of McNutt as the outsider. Growing up in a middle-class family in Martinsville, Indiana, he was repeatedly bullied as a child; his feeling of being ostracized would continue as a member of the Masonic Order, an organization that had long been vilified in American culture. Through his own experiences as an outsider then, Kotlowski explains, McNutt "might have acquired sympathy for outsiders, for victims of persecution, and for underdogs who fight back despite the odds." (868) While this foray into McNutt's psychology might be somewhat speculative, McNutt's upbringing and affiliation with an ever more diverse Democratic Party madehim more attuned to the injustices enacted against others. With his opposition to the Ku Klux Klan and his decision to join the more inclusive American Legion in Indiana, McNutt embraced an "Americanism" that was more inclusive and "meant that all residents of the United States, regardless of background, must become citizens, enjoy the same rights, and shoulder the same responsibilities, especially during wartime." (870) But there was also McNutt, the political opportunist, who did not want to throw in his hat with Alfred E. Smith, the Democratic candidate for president in 1928, due to the latter's Catholicism and the wide-perceived prejudice against him. Rather, he waited for a more opportune time to run for governor of Indiana, and would, ironically, celebrate his inauguration just three weeks before Hitler was named chancellor of Germany. As governor, Kotlowski avers, McNutt continued to handle issues of race and ethnicity in a rather "opportunistic fashion." (872) He upheld the state tradition of racial segregation in state offices, but also took on Jewish leaders as partners in his administration. Jacob Weiss became a close adviser and kept the governor in step with the situation of Jews in Germany. In fact, according to Kotlowski, McNutt showed great adaptability and went far beyond the official policy stance of the Roosevelt administration by actively "advertising" his solidarity with Jews and a Jewish homeland. (873) Nonetheless, there is a degree of uncertainty about McNutt's motives that keep the author asking repeatedly whether the governor's statements against Nazi persecution of the Jews and even his rescue venture later on were politically motivated, in the hope of garnering the Jewish vote and increasing his bid for the top spot on the Democratic presidential ticket. Yet despite such doubts, Kotlowski concludes that by the end of the 1930s McNutt had acquired a "holistic vision of security" for all Americans that included the welfare of Jews at home and abroad and compelled him to bring 1,200 of them to safety in the Philippines. (867) What makes McNutt's initiative so unique, is that the historiography of the Jewish refugee crisis and in particular America's willingness to address this human tragedy is filled with examples of bureaucratic obstruction and inertia, anti-Semitism and lack of political will and urgency.2 As the title of his article suggests, Kotlowski appears to challenge David Wyman's blanket judgment of bureaucratic obstructionism, yet actually picks up on what Rafael Medoff considers one of the more important themes in both Abandonment and Paper Walls, namely "that there existed a variety of options for securing modest increases in Jewish refugee immigration even without directly challenging the immigration laws."3 It is a well known fact that the United States could have done more, at least filled the existing immigration quotas under its already tight immigration laws and thereby enabled the rescue of up to 1,5 million Jews between 1933 and 1945. And Kotlowski makes it abundantly clear that this overall disappointing assessment of America's response to the Holocaust and the preceding refugee crisis makes the examination of the successful rescue of 1,200 Jews and their settlement in the Philippines all the more interesting and worthy of examination. While the Manila venture is certainly not the only example of American efforts on behalf of European Jews, it does stand out because of the active involvement of U.S. High Commissioner McNutt. However, equally noteworthy is the fact, and one that Kotlowski fails to sufficiently highlight, that the Philippine rescue is also praiseworthy for the joined efforts of Jewish organizations in the United States and the Philippines. Such successful Jewish collaboration stands in stark contrast to Jewish disunity overall and an inability to bring about a change in U.S. policy toward European Jewry.4 Kotlowski explains that McNutt's willingness to act was aided by a number of unique circumstances: His position as U.S. High Commissioner of the Philippines, an archipelago that did not have immigration laws of its own and enjoyed a semi-independent status as newly-named commonwealth, McNutt's close relationship with the islands' authoritarian President Manuel L. Quezon, and recent events surrounding Austria's Anschluss and Kristallnacht in both Austria and Germany that had led to a surge of sympathy for Jewish refugees. The idea of using Manila as a safe haven was proposed by Julius Weiss, the brother of McNutt's longtime Indiana political ally Jacob Weiss, and an official of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) as well as a member of the Refugee Economic Corporation (REC). Key to the plan's ultimate success was Manila's small Jewish community under the leadership of Philip Frieder, a Jewish American cigar manufacturer from Cincinnati, who promised to assume responsibility for the Jewish refugees "provided that he and other Jewish leaders in Manila could 'select the type of people who were to come.'" (885) Kotlowski makes clear that the need to integrate the prospective refugees into the existing community was emphasized in order to abide by the 1917 Immigration Act and it's LPC clause (the "likely to become a public charge" proviso). Still - and here Kotlowski seems to inject a degree of doubt again about McNutt's personal level of commitment to getting involved in the rescue of Jews - having the settlement of Jewish refugees handled by Jews themselves, Kotlowski explains, "served to distance the politically ambitious high commissioner from a venture that, at any point, could go awry or spark controversy." (884) Yet the limited immigration program turned out to be a success and inspired both McNutt and President Quezon to aim for a more ambitious colonization plan on the island of Mindanao. Kotlowski assumes that the Mindanao Plan was McNutt's idea, and thereby hopes to offer further proof that the high commissioner was working hard to save Jews. Yet the record remains unclear as to who took the initiative in the first place and to what extent both McNutt and Quezon were committed to seeing it through. The Hoosier would abruptly leave his post in the Philippines in July 1939 and return to the United States in order to head the newly formed Federal Security Agency, thereby positioning himself as a candidate in the Democratic primary for president. President Quezon of the Philippines, after initial enthusiasm for the admission and resettlement of thousands of Jews, began to weaken in his support and bow to various political pressures at home. In the end, the Mindanao experiment failed because, according to Frank Ephraim, "the planners underestimated the potential for opposition from local Filipinos and their representatives."5 The Mindanao Plan would limp along for almost three years without ever coming to fruition and ultimately became a casualty of the outbreak of war in the Pacific. Still, McNutt's story is one that deserves to be told and he should be added to a growing list of U.S. government officials and diplomats who showed compassion toward the unfolding Jewish tragedy. Recent research by Melissa Jane Taylor reveals that American consuls, while working hard to fulfill their bureaucratic tasks, did not remain unaffected by the sheer volume of petitions and the human despair that surrounded them.6 In a recent article for Diplomatic History, Taylor contends that while American consular officers were not famous for having saved Jewish lives, foreign service officers (FSOs) in Vienna, for instance, "paved their own path between restrictionists and diplomatic rescuers." Her research uncovers the human side of the FSOs - as in the case of Consul General John Cooper Wiley, whose personal correspondence "reflected the tension between his desire to be a humanitarian and his need to follow the letter of the law."7 Not unlike McNutt, many FSOs appeared willing to help within the confines of the law, but unwilling to bend or break the rules. The question that arises then, is whether McNutt actually "breached the paper walls," as Kotlowski asserts, or simply found a temporary loophole to enable the rescue of 1,200 Jews. In his position as high commissioner of the Philippines he never questioned or violated existing immigration laws or quotas. McNutt certainly did not go as far as to tear at the foundation of these paper walls. If Kotlowski can be faulted for anything, it would be for a portrait of the Indiana politician that is perhaps a tad too sympathetic. He spends much time explaining McNutt's motives for initiating the rescue of European Jews and breaching the proverbial paper walls, but little time evaluating the fall-out from the high commissioner's decision to abruptly leave his post in the Philippines. He devotes a good part of his essay to characterizing McNutt as a caring, thoughtful individual, largely unburdened by the prejudices of his day and sensitive to the injustices around him, yet he barely touches on the fact that McNutt's sudden departure was a big blow to the more ambitious resettlement plan on the island of Mindanao. The Hoosier politician had directed his eyes toward greener pastures and left the Philippines in the hope of ousting FDR as presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket. Maybe the biggest irony lies in the fact that the position of high commissioner, which Mc Nutt considered to be an "excellent springboard to the presidency of the United States,"8 did not prove as politically opportune for the ambitious Indiana politician, but rather turned into a vehicle for saving Jewish lives. In the end, though, it was McNutt's political opportunism that prevented him from saving even more. Sonja P. Wentling received her degrees from the University of Vienna, Southern Illinois University, and Kent State University. She is an Associate Professor of History at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and has published articles on Herbert Hoover's relations with American Jewish non-Zionists, the role of Zionism in U.S. interwar foreign policy, and American perspectives on the Jewish Question in Poland. She is currently working on a book project with Rafael Medoff titled Herbert Hoover and the Jews, covering Hoover's entire career and his interaction with American Jews on questions of Jewish relief, Zionism, immigration, and the Holocaust. Copyright (c) 2009 H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for non-profit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author(s), web location, date of publication, H-Diplo, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses, contact the H-Diplo editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Notes 1 Frank Ephraim, Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2001). 2 David S. Wyman, Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1968; Ibid., The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-45 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984); Henry L. Feingold, The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938-1945 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1970); Richard Breitman and Alan M. Kraut, American Refugee Policy and European Jewry (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987); Saul S. Friedman, No Haven for the Oppressed: United States Policy toward Jewish Refugees, 1938-1945 (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1973). 3 Rafael Medoff, "America, the Holocaust, and the Abandonment of the Jews," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 40, no. 4 (2003): 350-369. 4 See also Henry L. Feingold, Bearing Witness: How America and Its Jews Responded to the Holocaust (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1995). Judith Tydor Baumel, Unfulfilled Promise: Rescue and Resettlement of Jewish Refugee Children in the United States, 1934-1945 (Juneau, AK: Dial Pres, 1990). Efraim Zuroff, The Response of Orthodox Jewry in the United States to the Holocaust (Hoboken, NJ: KTAV Publishing, 2000). Rafael Medoff, The Deafening Silence: American Jewish Leaders and the Holocaust (New York: Shapolsky Publishers, 1987). 5 Frank Ephraim, "The Mindanao Plan: Political Obstacles to Jewish Refugee Settlement." Holocaust and Genocide Studies 20, no.3 (Winter 2006): 411. 6 Melissa Jane Taylor, "Bureaucratic Response to Human Tragedy: American Consuls and the Jewish plight in Vienna, 1938-1941," Holocaust and Genocide Studies 21, no. 2 (Fall 2007): 243-267. 7 Melissa Jane Taylor, "Diplomats in Turmoil: Creating a Middle Ground in Post-Anschluss Austria," Diplomatic History 32 no. 5 (November 2008): 812, 824. 8 I. George Blake, Paul V. McNutt: Portrait of a Hoosier Statesman (Indianapolis: Central Publishing Company, Inc., 1966), 175. ----- For subscription help, go to: http://www.h-net.org/lists/help/ To change your subscription settings, go to http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=h-war -----