"The news of the past few days from Germany has deeply shocked public opinion in the United States...I myself could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth century civilization."
- Franklin Roosevelt, press conference comments on the Kristallnacht attacks on German Jews, November 15, 1938
Shortly after seizing power in 1933, Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime began to systematically strip Germany's Jews of legal and political rights. As the decade progressed, the Nazis pursued a policy of ever-widening persecution.
In desperation, many Jews tried to emigrate to America. But strict U.S. immigration laws and natural origin quotas enacted during the 1920s barred all but a few immigrants of any kind from admittance.
FDR was kept informed of the growing refugee crisis by political leaders with ties to the American Jewish community. Through them, he also learned that America's strict immigration quotas were not being fully or fairly administered by the State Department. But because the quota laws enjoyed wide public and congressional support, Roosevelt and his advisers felt he couldn't aggressively pursue policies to admit more Jewish refugees. His actions were largely confined to condemning Germany's behavior.
Torah scroll (fragment)
This manuscript scroll of the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament) was removed from a synagogue in Czechoslovakia for safekeeping after the 1938 Munich Crisis and brought secretly to the United States. The overwhelming majority of Czechoslovakia's Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
On March 14, 1939, the National Council of Young Israel presented it to President Roosevelt to "inspire thousands upon thousands of young people with deeper respect and reverence for the eternal values contained therein."
Under Jewish law, a sacred Torah scroll must be deemed unfit for synagogue use before it can be exhibited. A Jewish religious scribe (known as a sofer) has examined this scroll and confirmed that a portion had been removed before it was given to FDR.
The Torah mantle was made by the National Council of Young Israel and presented to the President with the Torah scroll in 1939.