The Jew Who Defeat­ed Hitler: Hen­ry Mor­gen­thau Jr., FDR, and How We Won the War

Peter Mor­eira
  • Review
By – February 26, 2015

Vic­to­ry in World War II was nev­er a sure thing for the Allied pow­ers. If, for instance, the Unit­ed States had not been able to get its indus­tri­al capac­i­ty quick­ly up to speed, things could have rapid­ly gone wrong on the bat­tle­field, per­haps irrev­o­ca­bly. The oppor­tu­ni­ty to turn the tide against Ger­many, Japan, and Italy might well have been lost in the first year of the War, which is impor­tant to bear in mind when dis­cussing the work of men like Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Hen­ry Mor­gen­thau, Jr. and this new book about him.

Mor­gen­thau helped get the Unit­ed States back on indus­tri­al foot­ing in time to assist the forces aligned and allied against Adolf Hitler even before Pearl Har­bor, then saw to it that Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roosevelt’s effort did not lack for funds as the most cost­ly war in mod­ern his­to­ry went on. Mor­gen­thau led the var­i­ous under­tak­ings that raised bil­lions of dol­lars to pay for all the troops and weapons, as well as aid to Britain, the Sovi­et Union, Chi­na, and others.

A non-reli­gious Jew for much of his life, Mor­gen­thau also led the fight against apa­thy and delib­er­ate obstruc­tion in the U.S. gov­ern­ment (par­tic­u­lar­ly in the State Depart­ment) when it came to efforts to res­cue Europe’s Jews. There were not many avenues open dur­ing World War II — the iron fist of Ger­many by 1941 con­trolled the fates of mil­lions of Europe’s Jews — but Morgenthau’s War Refugee Board has been cred­it­ed with help­ing to res­cue some 200,000 Jews. The author chron­i­cles this work, along with Morgenthau’s awak­en­ing Jew­ish identity.

That being said, the title The Jew Who Defeat­ed Hitler does seem like an over­reach. Mor­gen­thau is cer­tain­ly praise­wor­thy, but the author clear­ly does not care much for FDR, whose eco­nom­ic poli­cies and his lead­er­ship are assailed in the book, and thus seems eager to overex­tend cred­it to the Trea­sury Sec­re­tary. It’s a flaw that occa­sion­al­ly dimin­ish­es the book, which is unfor­tu­nate, because oth­er­wise this is a fine­ly researched and infor­ma­tive work on a man under­rat­ed by historians.

Bib­li­og­ra­phy, Charts, Foot­notes, Index, Photos.

Relat­ed content:

David Cohen is a senior edi­tor at Politi­co. He has been in the jour­nal­ism busi­ness since 1985 and wrote the book Rugged and Endur­ing: The Eagles, The Browns and 5 Years of Foot­ball. He resides in Rockville, MD.; his wife, Deb­o­rah Bod­in Cohen, writes Jew­ish children’s books.

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