Gregory Wallance has just published a fascinating – and contrarian – new book. Titled America’s Soul in the Balance: The Holocaust, FDR’s State Department, and the Moral Disgrace of an American Aristocracy, the book shines an uncomfortable spotlight on a rather unsavory moment in American history during World War II. Lawyers for the U.S. State Department became aware of the Nazi’s growing extermination of Jews, and rather than actively publicizing this fact, actually conspired to cover it up. At around the same time, the State Department blocked the rescue of 70,000 Romanian Jews on a death march in the Ukraine.
Wallance’s book paints a devastating portrait of the State Department at this crucial moment in time. In so doing, it adds much to the historical record regarding U.S. governmental conduct during the time period. In particular, it avoids the quick and facile reduction of a state’s government into a single agent with a unified approach to a complex situation. Instead, it provides a micro-analysis of how different departments -- and different lawyers all presumably serving the same organizational client -- were responding to the increasingly disturbing reports of Nazi atrocities.
The book includes some measure of redemption, at least for the U.S. government and for the practice of law. While the State Department was busy burying news of the growing Nazi extermination program, four Treasury Department attorneys were discovering the State Department cover-up and started working to expose the truth. Wallance’s book provides an in-depth examination of why some departments – and individuals – reacted so differently when confronted with the same information.