Thursday, June 28, 2007

The diaries of James G. McDonald: WSJ review

The Wall St. Journal has a very positive review of Advocate for the Doomed, the first volume of the diaries of James G. McDonald, an American who served as League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and who passionately sought to sound the alarm about the dangers of Nazism. In fact, he was one of those Americans who worked to change American immigration laws to aid Jews' entry into this country... to no avail.

I read the manuscript a few months ago and was mesmerized by the book. McDonald understood the Nazis as did few other commentators at the time, many of whom were inclined to dismiss Nazi antisemitism as rhetoric designed to appeal to the German populace. In contrast, Johnson writes,
McDonald was shocked by the Nazis' rise to power and felt an immediate horror at the prospect of the Nazis carrying out the policies implied by their annihilationist rhetoric.... He knew such rhetoric firsthand. At a meeting with Adolf Hitler on April 8, 1933, at the new chancellor's office, Hitler told him: "I will do the thing that the rest of the world would like to do. It doesn't know how to get rid of the Jews. I will show them."
This is only volume one of the diaries but the reviewer, Ian Johnson, has obviously seen subsequent volumes. The final lines of the the review intrigued me:
The next volume .... will show that International Business Machines -- the American-based company with extensive foreign dealings in the 1930s -- was not, contrary to previous claims, indifferent to the looming genocide.
The book will take aim at Edwin Black, who has long tended towards sensationalism in his books [and some would say I am being very kind]. As Johnson writes in his review:
Edwin Black, in his "IBM and the Holocaust" (2001), alleged that the company had unusually close business relations with Hitler's Germany and that its card-punch machines made it possible for Nazi bureaucrats to identify and track down Jews.

Some historians have already faulted the book -- arguing that IBM had close business ties with many countries at the time and that the perpetrators of the Holocaust did not depend on card-punch machines. But the charges have stuck. McDonald was apparently in contact with IBM Chief Executive Thomas J. Watson, who in turn lobbied on behalf of Jewish refugees, even urging Secretary of State Cordell Hull in 1938 to set up a Jewish homeland.
For this alone I look forward to the next volume of the McDonald Diaries.

1 comment:

May said...

I agree with you that history is indeed on trial..what's become of us?? People more eccentric and weird these days?? We are supposed to be kind understanding and tolerant but really are we??