The elderly Rabbi Ephraim Kestenbaum, son of Rabbi David Kestenbaum who was active in saving European Jews during the Holocaust, recently spoke publicly for the first time regarding the American Jewish leadership’s outrageous actions during that period.
Rabbi Kestenbaum spoke at Mosdot HaRav Aharon Soloveichik in front of a large crowd in Ramat Beit Shemesh at a Yom HaShoah commemoration. He spoke of his knowlege and experiences regarding the action and inaction of the American Jewish leadership during the Holocaust.
Rabbi Kestenbaum corroborated past accounts of the misdeeds of Reform Rabbi Stephen Wise, who was the most powerful Jewish leader in America during the Holocaust years.
Rabbi Kestenbaum provided what may be the most damning evidence yet of Stephen Wise’s treacherous actions. Rabbi Kestenbaum stated that Wise phoned his father, Rabbi David Kestenbaum, on several occasions, telling him that he should stop putting so much pressure on the U.S. government to save European Jews.
Rabbi Kestenbaum told of how, on one occasion, he took a message for his father from Wise who told him, “Tell your father that he has to be an American and not to to fight hard for Jews in Europe. You have to be an American first.”
Rabbi Kestenbeaum spoke of how Wise would commonly proclaim, “I am the leader of the Jews in America.”
He was also the leader of American Zionism. A founder of the New York Federation of Zionist Societies, he led in the formation of the nationwide Federation of American Zionists and served as honorary secretary until 1904, in close cooperation with Theodor Herzl. At the Second Zionist Congress (Basel, 1898), he was a delegate and secretary for the English language. Rabbi Wise's support for, and commitment to Political Zionism was very atypical of Reform Judaism, which was decidedly non-Zionist during
Wise, joining U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, and others laid the groundwork for a democratically elected nationwide organization of 'ardently Zionist' Jews, 'to represent Jews as a group and not as individuals'.
During the war years, Wise was elected Co-Chairperson of the American Zionist Emergency Council, a forerunner of AIPAC
Reb Ephraim Kestenbaum accompanied his father to the White House on one occasion begging President Roosevelt to stop the Hungarian leader Horthy’s plans to deport Hungarian Jews into the Nazi’s hands. In their presence, Roosevelt immediately told his assistant Kelly that a message be sent to Horthy that “if he deports a single Hungarian Jew to Auschwitz, I will send my bombers over Budapest and other Hungarian cities and wipe them off the face of the Earth…I hope that Horthy will get killed in the process.”
Within a few days, Rabbi Kestenbaum received word that Horthy had cancelled the evil decree. As is known, about 600,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered at a later stage of the war.
Rabbi Kestenbaum stated that he feels that were it not for Wise’s actions against saving European Jews, Roosevelt would have done more to save Jews from the gas chambers.
In his book Holocaust Victims Accuse, Moshe Shonfeld asserts that Wise prevented the shipment of food packages from American Jews to Poland due to fear that it would be interpreted by the Allies as giving aid to the enemy. This allegation is also made by historian Saul Friedlander, who writes: "In the spring of 1941 Rabbi Wise had decided to impose a complete embargo on all aid sent to Jews in occupied countries, in compliance with the U.S. governments's economic boycott of the Axis powers (whereby every food packages was seen as direct or indirect assistance to the enemy)... Strict orders were given to World Jewish Congress representatives in Europe to halt forthwith any shipment of packages to the ghettos, despite the fact that these packages did usually reach their destination, the Jewish Self-Help Association in Warsaw. 'All these operations with and through Poland must cease at once,' Wise cabled to Congress delegates in London and Geneva, 'and at once in English means AT ONCE, not in the future.'"
Authors David Wyman and Rafael Medoff, in their book A Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, America, and the Holocaust, make a further allegation that Wise displayed a lack of leadership that hindered the Holocaust rescue attempts of others. He is also alleged to have advised President Franklin Roosevelt not to meet with the 400 Orthodox Rabbis that marched on Washington in 1943 and to have attempted to squelch the broadcast of "We Will Never Die" an attempt to bring attention to the slaughter of Jews in Europe.
Wise's obstruction of rescue efforts during the Holocaust was not unique among Zionist leaders of the time. The irony is that the Zionists today have set aside a day to mourn the Holocaust, and use the Holocaust as a major argument for the necessity of a Jewish state.