YORK, Maine — York historian and author Neil Rolde remembers as a child being taunted for being Jewish, being in fights and being chased by mobs. So, his most recent book about an American who denied visas to Jews fleeing the Holocaust hits home to him.
“I’ve read a lot about the Holocaust over the years, and in my reading, I kept coming across one name quite a lot — the villain who kept the refugees out of the United States,” Rolde said.
Historian and author Neil Rolde will talk about his book, “Breckenridge Long, American Eichmann?” at the York Public Library this Tuesday, June 25, at 7 p.m.
That name — State Department Assistant Secretary Breckinridge Long — led him to the Library of Congress, to Missouri and to other archives and led to the publication of his book: “Breckinridge Long, American Eichmann??? An Enquiry into the Character of the Man Who Denied Visas to the Jews,” which he will speak about at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the York Public Library
The provocative title is purposeful, Rolde said, even though “I’ve gotten a lot of flak for that.” Nazi SS Lt. Col. Adolf Eichmann is widely regarded as one of the major organizers of the Holocaust. When he was tried on charges years later, he said he was “just following orders,” Rolde said.
“I put Long into that class. He said he thought he was following orders, and what he was really doing is sending people to the gas chambers,” Rolde said.
Long came from a long line of senators and Confederate officers and one of his relatives, John Campbell Breckinridge, was even the vice president of the United States.
“That was part of his makeup. He was going to be as famous as his forbears,” Rolde said.
During World War II, Long found himself at the State Department in charge of handing out visas worldwide. Long was able to essentially create his own guidelines unimpeded by Secretary of State Cordell Hull, whom Rolde called weak.
“He said the Nazis would let Jews come over here if they became spies, which is an outright lie. I suppose he believed it or taught himself to believe it,” Rolde said. “Meanwhile, Hull rubber-stamped everything he did.”
In all the documentation Rolde unearthed about Long, he never read Long write or say anything overtly anti-Semitic. However, Rolde said he was a wealthy man who did talk about the unwashed “hordes” in Europe.
“He was doing everything he could to block them from entering. The State Department was letting in certain Jewish people, like Einstein, but very few,” he said. In fact, the son of Macy’s Department Store owner Nathan Strauss petitioned for his friend, Otto Frank, to be able to leave Amsterdam, but the visa was denied. Frank’s daughter was Anne Frank.
Rolde said he does not know the precise number of visas Long denied to European Jews, but said there were “thousands and thousands.”
Rolde said President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s role during this time was interesting.
“One of his great fears was that if he showed too much slant toward the Jewish people, Hitler would pick that up as a propaganda piece and Americans would start saying, ‘Oh, the Jews got us into this war,'” Rolde said. “He didn’t want to step into that, so he kept saying, ‘Brick Long is taking care of all that.'”
Over time, as word leaked out about the extermination of Jews throughout Europe, pressure was put on the State Department to open up its visa process. By 1943, Long was gone.