KEN BURNS’S ANGRY NEW FILM: The director acknowledges The US and the Holocaust was inspired by America First.
Explicitly acknowledging that he was inspired to make the film by the rise of the America First movement, Burns said, “I have been making films for almost 50 years about the US, and also about us. When anyone tells you there’s a ‘them,’ that’s authoritarianism. All such distinctions are biological, scientific and political fictions. They are designed to create grievances.” Burns has regularly denounced Donald Trump, saying that his presidency took the country backwards, and has now attacked Ron DeSantis, saying that the Florida governor’s scheme to send migrants to Martha’s Vineyard* was “basically saying that you can use a human life… and to put it in the position of becoming a political pawn in somebody’s authoritarian game.”
Note that while Burns is using “America First” as an attack on The Bad Orange Man and those eeeeevil Rethuglicans, the original America First group was a broad coalition of ideologies: “Like any mass political movement, America First was an amalgamation of groups and fellow travelers who sometimes shared little more in common than an opposition to America’s entry into the war. The ranks of the antiwar movement included pacifists and communists (at least until Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941), wild-haired liberals, straight-laced conservatives and everything in between.”
The Times of Israel interviewed historian Rafael Medoff on Sunday: PBS Holocaust documentary perpetuates well-worn myths to glorify FDR, says historian.
Early in his new film “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” documentarian Ken Burns claims the United States admitted more Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany than any other country on Earth.
The problem with this statement, according to historian Rafael Medoff, is that it flies in the face of publicly available data on refugees from that period.
Clocking in at six hours, “The U.S. and the Holocaust” begins airing on PBS this week. In recent press interviews, Burns said he attempted to handle Roosevelt “more critically” for “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” compared to the previous, somewhat glowing treatments of FDR in his other documentaries on the period.
Calling Burns “seriously mistaken” about the issue of Jewish refugees, Medoff told The Times of Israel that the discrepancy is connected to several other “well-worn myths” that appear in “The U.S. and the Holocaust.” These myths, said Medoff, run the gamut from why the US could not rescue Anne Frank to Roosevelt’s role in the “St. Louis” affair, alongside the perennial debate on bombing the tracks to Auschwitz.
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You were one of the historians consulted on a new Jerusalem memorial to James G. McDonald, the first ambassador of the US to Israel. As the key adviser to President Roosevelt on refugee issues, McDonald resigned his position in 1935 out of frustration for being unable to convince FDR and other leaders to take action. Why would Burns omit McDonald from a film focused on refugees?
More than a decade ago, the US Holocaust Museum published McDonald’s diaries. Subsequent research by the Wyman Institute revealed that McDonald had been much more critical of Roosevelt’s refugee policy than the editors of the diaries had acknowledged. So when the museum decided to start creating exhibits and programs promoting the notion that FDR tried to rescue the Jews, McDonald’s story became a problem — it contradicted the museum’s new narrative. McDonald was completely omitted from the museum’s 2018 exhibit on “Americans and the Holocaust” — despite the museum director’s explicit written promise to the McDonald family that he would be included.
Ken Burns has said his film is based on that exhibit, and the museum’s staff members were his consultants, so it appears that Burns’s omission of McDonald is consistent with the museum’s approach.
It’s tragic that the exhibit and the film would exclude this noble American statesman, whose efforts to help the Jews deserved to be highlighted, not ignored.
From an earlier Times of Israel article quoting Medoff on James McDonald: New Evidence Shows FDR’s Bigotry Derailed Many Holocaust Rescue Plans.
Flashback: New Documents Reveal FDR’s Eugenic Project to ‘Resettle’ Jews During World War II. As the Holocaust raged, the American president secretly asked his government to study the possible resettlement of remaining European refugees in Africa and South America. His goal: for Jews to be ‘spread thin all over the world.’
* I too confuse Martha’s Vineyard and Auschwitz. Notice that Burns isn’t angry with President Biden for re-opening the floodgates on illegal immigration — and turning illegal immigrants into political pawns in the first place, but he’s quite cross with DeSantis for exposing the utter hypocrisy of the Martha’s Vineyard wine and cheese lawn sign crowd:
As Karol Markowicz writes: DeSantis was right to send migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. We need to bring border crisis to Democrats.
The surest sign that public policies are simply virtue signals is when the messages don’t cost anything. The easiest way to tell when that signal starts to fail is to watch politicians flounder as the costs start to rise and voters demand relief.
It was free—and meaningless—for progressive churches to post banners calling themselves “nuclear free zones” during the Reagan era. Their dwindling congregations loved it. It was free, after George Floyd‘s murder, to post woke catechism signs on your front lawn, proclaiming “In this house, we believe: Black Lives Matter, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal” and so on. Maybe the neighbors gave you high-fives. And for years it has been free for deep-blue cities to proclaim themselves “sanctuaries” for illegal immigrants. That’s changing now that voters want some sanctuary for themselves.
Changes like this happen when voters realize the old virtue signals actually entail serious costs—and that they will have to pay them. That is exactly what’s happening in New York City and Washington D.C. now that Texas governor Greg Abbott is sending those cities a few busloads of illegal immigrants from his state.
These progressive bastions were silent when the Biden administration flew planeloads of illegal immigrants to suburban airports in the middle of the night. TV coverage was prohibited, and the arrivals were secretly dispersed. Abbott’s buses, by contrast, arrive downtown greeted by local TV crews. Now you can hear the politicians screech.