WHAT are we to think, now, of Breckinridge Long?"America...


April 20, 1994

WHAT are we to think, now, of Breckinridge Long?

"America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference," the recent PBS show inquiring into this country's slow, small concern for European Jewry as Nazi Germany set about extinguishing it, examined the sources of that national attitude, that governmental policy. And, through the historians David McCullough and David S. Wyman, this 90-minute documentary pinned the most immediate blame on Long, who was the Assistant Secretary of State overseeing the quota and nonquota admission of refugees from Germany and German-occupied Europe.

In a terrible moment, the program put on the TV screen a memorandum from Long bidding U.S. embassy and consular officials "to put every obstacle in the way, which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of visas" to people who were in deadly, day-to-day peril. Another of his memos forbade consuls to accept information from non-official sources on what was happening to Jews, after they had been shipped to the death camps in Germany and Poland.

Breckinridge Long, born in St. Louis, Class of '04 at Princeton, Ambassador to Italy succeeding Baltimore's John W. Garrett, was an adoptive Marylander. In the 1920s, he and his wife had the means to buy Montpelier Manor, a 1760 Georgian showplace outside Laurel. Long rode to hounds, bred racehorses, was prominent in the Southern Maryland Society. Not everyone in the Social Register was a Republican in the 1930s; Long, who had been a Wilson Democrat, supported FDR too. He had a fine career in the Department of State.

"America and the Holocaust" never found Long, the gentleman, ranting in public against Jewish people or any other group. And if Long was inwardly anti-Semitic, it is argued, so were a great many other Americans half a century ago. The program also showed Laura Delano voicing a gratuitous slur -- the Laura Delano who was a cousin of the president's, and a trustee and benefactor of Walters Art Gallery.

Simultaneously, some Jewish people, fearing an increase in U.S. intolerance, opposed protests: viewers heard from Arthur Hertzberg how, on Yom Kippur, 1940, his father was fired as the rabbi of a Baltimore congregation, for complaining that so little was being done in New Deal Washington to help Hitler's victims.

The program was silent about the role of Long's superior as Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, whose own wife was Jewish. It seems that the aging Hull was occupied with plans for the postwar world.

Nor did the program follow Long, "tall, spare, ascetic" in appearance, into retirement (more of the good life, Maryland-style). He died at Montpelier in 1958. Breckinridge Long had 13 postwar years in which to express any changes in outlook, or regrets as to actions past, and inactions.

But the record seems to contain no such contrition.

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