Posted by: coastcontact | July 29, 2012

Mormons in Israel

For those of you who do not read the Los Angeles Times this article will be of interest.  I do not trust Mitt Romney because he has been a serial flip-flopper.  There is hardly a position he took as governor of Massachusetts that he has not changed. If you can believe him, Romney says he would never criticize Israel and would be a steadfast ally to the Jewish state. You could call it politics but there does not appear to be any issue that is core to his beliefs.  Still this article may give you pause to at least listen to his campaign.

Mormons in Israel

By Rafael Medoff

Mitt Romney’s trail to the Holy Land was blazed by a Utah missionary a century ago.

Mitt Romney at the Western (Wailing) Wall in JerusalemMITT ROMNEY’S visit to Israel will gener­ate much specula­tion on the role Jew­ish voters will play in the U.S. presidential election. His visit may also spark discussion about Mormon-Jewish relations in the wake of the recent controversy over a Mormon temple that con­ducted posthumous baptism cere­monies for some Holocaust vic­tims.

But another Mormon’s visit to Jerusalem, 99 years ago, deserves some of the spotlight too. Because that little-known visit ultimately had a decisive impact on Jewish history and America’s response to the Holocaust.

In 1913, 29-year-old Elbert Thomas and his wife, Edna, wrapped up their five-year stint in charge of a Mormon mission in J a­pan and prepared to return to their native utah. They decided to pay a short visit to Turkish-occupied Palestine on the way home.

The Holy Land figures promi­nently in Mormon theological tracts. Thomas was keenly aware of Mormon prophecies about an in- . gathering of the Jewish exiles and the rebirth of the Jewish home­land.

“We sat one evening on the Mount of Olives and overlooked Je­rusalem,” he later recalled. “We read the poetry and the prophecy, the forebodings and the prayers, with hearts that reached up to God.” Under “stars the likes of which you see nowhere else in the world but on our own American desert, out where I grew up,” Thomas read the lengthy “Prayer of Dedication on the Mount of Ol­ives” by Orson Hyde, an early Mor­mon leader and fervent Christian Zionist.

“Consecrate this land … for the gathering together of Judah’s scat­tered remnants … for the building up of Jerusalem again after it has been trodden down by the Gentiles so long,” Hyde had written in 1841. “Restore the kingdom unto Israel, raise up Jerusalem as its capital…. Let that nation or people who shall take an active part in behalf of Abraham’s children, and in the raising of Jerusalem, find favor in Thy sight. Let not their enemies prevail against them … but let the glory oflsrael overshadow them.”

The moment, the mood and the words moved Thomas to feel a deep spiritual connection to the Jewish people and to commit him­self to becoming one of those who would “take an active part in behalf of Abraham’s children.” And three decades later, he was presented with an opportunity to do so.

In the 1940s, as a U.S. senator from utah, Thomas became deeply concerned about the plight of the Jews in Nazi Europe. He joined the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, a lobby­ing group led by Jewish activist Pe­ter Bergson. Thomas signed on to its full-page newspaper ads criti­cizing the Allies for abandoning European Jewry. He also co­chaired Bergson’s 1943 conference on the rescue of Jews, which chal­lenged the Roosevelt administra­tion’s claim that nothing could be done to help the Jews except win­ning the war. Although a loyal Democrat and New Dealer, the Utah senator boldly broke ranks with President Franklin D. Roose­velt over the refugee issue.

Thomas played a key role in ad­vancing a Bergson-initiated con­gressional resolution calling for creation of a government agency to rescue Jews from the Nazis. Sen. Tom Connally CD-Texas), chair­man of the Senate Foreign Rela­tions Committee, initially blocked consideration of the resolution. But when Connally took ill one day, Thomas, as acting chair, quickly in­troduced the measure. It passed unanimously.

Meanwhile, senior aides to Treasury Secretary Henry Mor­genthau Jr. had discovered that State Department officials had
been obstructing opportunities to rescue Jewish refugees. Morgen­thau realized, as he told his staff, that the time had come to say to the president, “You have either got to move very fast, or the Congress of the United States will do it for you.” Armed with a devastating re­port prepared by his staff, and with congressional pressure mounting, Morgenthau went to FDR in Janu­aryI944.

Roosevelt could read the writ­ing on the wall. With just days to go before the full Senate would act on the resolution, Roosevelt pre­empted Thomas and the other congressional advocates of rescue by imilaterally creating the agency they were demanding: the War Refugee Board.

Although understaffed and underfunded, the board played a major role in saving more than 200,000 Jews during the final 15 months of the war. Among other things, the board’s agents per­suaded a young Swede, Raoul Wal­lenberg, to go to German-occupied Budapest in 1944. There, with the board’s financial backing, he undertook his now-famous rescue mission. Thomas’ action in the Senate was an indispensable part of the chain of events that led to Wallenberg’s mission.

The Swedish government, to­gether with Holocaust institutions and Jewish communities around the world, recently launched a yearlong series of events com­memorating this summer’s 100th anniversary of Wallenberg’s birth. One hopes these celebrations will include appropriate mention ofthe role played by Americans such as Thomas in making Wallenberg’s work possible.

And as Romney retraces some of Thomas’ steps in Jerusalem, he will have special reason to feel proud of the role played by a fellow Mormon in helping to save Jewish lives.

RAFAEL MEDOFF is director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and the coauthor with Sonja Schoepf Wentling of the new book “Herbert Hoover and the Jews: The Origins of the ‘Jewish Vote’ and Bipartisan Support for Israel.”

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Responses

  1. i love it, it’s very good.


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