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FDR wanted Jews ‘spread thin’ and kept out of U.S., documents reveal

New documents revealed by the FDR library shows the president's secret plans to resettle Jews out of Europe.

By Daniel J. Roth - May 2, 2018

‘No sensible American wants this country to be made a dumping ground for foreigners of any nation … a little new European blood of the right sort does a lot of good in every community.’ —FDR, 1925

NEW YORK - New evidence suggests that as the Jews of Europe were being slaughtered across continent during the Holocaust, President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not want them seeking refuge on American shores.

Tucked away in a secret vault inside the White House during his 12 year tenure as commander-in-chief, the newly revealed documents [click to open and read the original 1944 Annual Report describing the magnitude and secrecy of the "M" Project .ed] recently made public via the FDR Library paint a portrait of the President’s plan to ‘spread thin all over the world’ the remains of European Jewry. 

Among the files in Roosevelt’s safe was evidence of a secret initiative dubbed the “M Project,” a study he commissioned that outlined options for post-war migration of the millions of Europeans, especially Jews, expected to be displaced by the war, according to Tablet Magazine.

The project was first proposed in the summer of 1942, with Roosevelt enlisting the assistance of former diplomat and writer John Franklin Carter, who ran an informal secret intelligence service for the President, along with Carter’s colleague Henry Field.

“I know that you and Henry Field can carry out this project unofficially, exploratorially, ethnologically, racially, admixturally, miscegenationally, confidentially and, above all, budgetarily,” FDR wrote to Carter in a secret memo authorizing the plan in July 1942.

 “Any person connected herewith whose name appears in the public print will suffer guillotinally,” the memo added.

The White House plan called for Carter and Field, a trained anthropologist, to seek the assistants of academics and geographers to survey “the vacant places of the earth suitable for post-war settlement,” specifically in Africa and South America, and the “type of people who could live in those places.”

Roosevelt’s initial choice to lead the clandestine resettlement plan was the curator of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Aleš Hrdlička.

A prominent public intellectual and disciple of the eugenics theory - the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics - Hrdlička was convinced of the superiority of the white race and obsessed with racial identity.

Roosevelt’s relationship with Hrdlička existed years before the presidency, with the two exchanging letters for more than a decade. The documents show Hrdlička’s zeal for theories on racial mixtures and notions of human racial “stock,” ideas that appeared to strike a chord with the President.

Roosevelt asked Carter to reach out to Hrdlička and convince him to lead M Project team that would study the “ethnological problems anticipated in post-war population movements.” Hrdlička would be tasked with finding “agreed opinions as to problems arising out of racial admixtures and to consider the scientific principles involved in the process of miscegenation as contrasted with the opposing policies of so-called ‘racialism.’”

The President outlined a number of questions the study would attempt to answer, such as: “Is the South Italian stock—say, Sicilian—as good as the North Italian stock—say, Milanese—if given equal economic and social opportunity? Thus, in a given case, where 10,000 Italians were to be offer[ed] settlement facilities, what proportion of the 10,000 should be Northern Italians and what Southern Italian?”

Roosevelt “also pointed out… that while most South American countries would be glad to admit Jewish immigration, it was on the condition that the Jewish group were not localized in the cities, they want no ‘Jewish colonies,’ ‘Italian colonies,’ etc.”

Keeping with this theme, the president also tasked the committee with determining how to “resettle the Jews on the land and keep them there.”

Hrdlička ultimately refused to participate in the President’s plan after the White House made clear he would not have absolute control of the project.

The next choice was Isaiah Bowman, president of Johns Hopkins University, geographer and outspoken anti-semite. Upon becoming head of the university during the second World War, Bowman fired a number of prominent professors, believing that“There are already too many Jews at Hopkins.”

He was also quoted as saying “Jews don’t come to Hopkins to make the world better or anything like that. They came for two things: to make money and to marry non-Jewish women.”

He later instituted a quota limiting the number of Jewish students allowed into the school and restricted the number of Jewish students allowed to pursue degrees in the fields of science and math

Experts say Roosevelt was well-aware of Bowman’s prejudices, having started a correspondence with him years earlier. In 1938, Roosevelt asked Bowman undertake a study examining how Jewish Europeans resettling in South America would acclimate to the environment.

“Frankly, what I am rather looking for is the possibility of uninhabited or sparsely inhabited good agricultural lands to which Jewish colonies might be sent,” the President wrote to Bowman. He added that “such colonies need not be large but, in all probability, should be large enough for mutual cooperation and assistance—say fifty to one hundred thousand people in a given area.”

Describing the M Project to UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1943, Roosevelt said the  study is focused on “the problem of working out the best way to settle the Jewish question,” adding that the solution “essentially is to spread the Jews thin all over the world,” rather than allow them amass in large numbers in one specific place. The conversation was recorded in the diary of Vice President Henry Wallace, who was present at the meeting.

The M Project would eventually produce thousands of pages of reports, maps and analysis examining the characteristics of multiple racial and ethnic groups, and theorizing about optimal proportions in which to combine them in their new homelands.

The M Project would finally be scrapped by President Harry Truman, who took over as commander-in-chief after Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. Truman saw the study as a colossal waste of money, which was granted $10,000 a month, and ordered the State Department to pull the funding soon after becoming President. 

A previous version of this story erroneously identified the documents to be apart of a physical exhibit at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.