More Evidence of LBJ's "Illegal" Activity to Save Jews;
Help Find Survivors or their Descendants

Action items:

- Help locate descendants of Jim Novy, Jack Baumel of the Texas Railroad Commission, and Jesse Kellam who helped LBJ save Jews 70 years ago.

- Adrian Levy served as mayor of Galveston from 1935 to 1939. He was a close friend of LBJ's, and probably played a role in smuggling Jews into Galveston. A Galveston library has some 10 inches of Levy's papers. We need to find a Levy descendant who may have more information and someone to look at those papers. (Pictured: Roosevelt, Johnson and Levy in 1937)

- Still looking for Dr. Louis S. Gomolak and his PhD dissertation, "Prologue: LBJ's Foreign Affairs Background, 1908-1948," Dept. of History, Univ. of Texas, 1989.
6/21/08 We have a copy thanks to Jay Cristol. We'll start to analyze the data there.

How ironic. In some countries, citizens investigate their national leaders’ criminal actions in order to throw them out of office. In the case of Lyndon Johnson and his efforts to rescue European Jews from the Holocaust, we are searching for evidence of wrong-doings in order to honor the president during the year of his 100th birthday celebrations.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial rightfully guards its list of Righteous Among the Nations with strict criteria for membership. Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews are enshrined in the holy pantheon, and their actions must have collaborating evidence and testimony. One small loophole exists for those who did not risk their lives but broke the law and risked their livelihood to save Jews.

These are some of Yad Vashem’s criteria, as provided by a senior official:

  • For our purposes it is not enough to have statements in general terms by people saying that a certain person helped Jews and rescued them. It is only with an exact description (and substantiation by primary sources) that the commission can rule if a certain deed accords with the Righteous program criteria.

  • It is claimed that Johnson helped Jewish refugees from Europe to get into the U.S. after they had already left Europe. This of course would have been most significant for those refugees, but is not something that falls within the framework of our program. Therefore we need more information and documentation.

  • In some cases, the Commission also bestows the title on people who did not risk their lives, but took grave risks in order to assist Jews in danger of deportation and death. In latter cases it has to be shown that the nominated persons acted against the law or contrary to their professional instructions, thus risking severe punishment.

Historian Robert Dallek suggests in his 1991 book Lone Star Rising, that Johnson did break the law to save Jews and that some of his efforts were carried out in Europe, not just after the Jews departed the cursed continent. Here are excerpts (pages 169-170):

One of Lyndon's constituents in Austin was Jim Novy, a successful Russian-Jewish businessman who had come to the United States in 1913 at the age of seventeen. A leader of Austin's four hundred Jews, Jim and his brother Louis were also active in Texas politics. …In the spring of 1938, when Lyndon heard that Jim was planning a trip to Poland and Germany, he urged Novy to "get as many Jewish people as possible out of both countries." Attending to the necessary affidavits in Washington and calling the U.S. consul in Warsaw, Lyndon's efforts allowed Novy to arrange for forty-two Polish and German Jews, including four relatives, to come to the United States later that year.

Early in 1940, four months after the outbreak of World War II, Johnson began helping hundreds of Jewish refugees from Hitler's persecution reach Texas through Cuba, Mexico, and countries in South America. Working with Jim Novy, Jack K. Baumel, a chief engineer at the Texas Railroad Commission and an Austin Jewish leader, and Jesse Kellam, Texas director of the NYA, Lyndon and the others helped Jews get false passports and one-way visas in Latin America and then brought them to NYA training camps in Texas. Because it was illegal to house and train noncitizens at the camps, even though Novy reimbursed camp directors for all costs, Operation Texas, as the rescue effort was called, was kept a strict secret for over twenty years.

Help Us Find Survivors --
More Information Is Required

A Response from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library

According to Claudia Anderson, Supervisory Archivist at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library:

"Stories circulate in the Austin Jewish community that LBJ helped a number of Jewish refugees enter the United States just before and during World War II.

"The LBJ Library has very little documentation concerning this. In 1989, a student at the University of Texas, Louis Gomolak, wrote a dissertation in which he said Johnson assisted many refugees. His main sources were interviews he conducted with members of the Austin Jewish community.

[Does anyone have more information on and email address for Dr. Gomolak?]

"The key document cited by Louis Gomolak is a short speech given by Jim Novy on December 30, 1963, when he introduced President Johnson who was speaking at the dedication of the Agudas Achim Synagogue in Austin.

"The LBJ Library have a copy of the notes that Novy used that day, The notes are from the Personal Papers of Jim Novy, and the folder is 'Papers of Jim Novy [3 of 3].' Jim Novy was a friend of Lyndon Johnson's and a member of the Agudas Achim congregation. "

Click on the pictures to zoom in on the notes:

Conductor Erich Leinsdorf's testimony on
how LBJ prevented his deportation to Nazi Austria

Erich Leinsdorf Interview

Help Make the Case for the Title of “Righteous Gentile”

The reaction to the original May 28 blog calling LBJ a “righteous gentile” has been very moving. The site continues to receive dozens of “hits” a day. And at the behest of several readers I began a dialogue with the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem to see if LBJ could be officially recognized as a “Righteous Gentile.”

Yad Vashem’s initial reaction was not very promising:

“The title of Righteous among the Nations is awarded by a special Commission … that operates according to a well-defined set of rules and criteria. The Righteous, as defined by the Yad Vashem Law enacted by the Israeli Knesset in 1953, are non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. In some cases, the Commission also bestows the title on people who did not risk their lives, but took grave risks in order to assist Jews in danger of deportation and death. In latter cases it has to be shown that the nominated persons acted against the law [emphasis added] or contrary to their professional instructions, thus risking severe punishment. From what I could glean from the article, Johnson helped Jews who had managed to leave Europe in their attempts to get to the U.S. and settle there. Based on the article this proved to be an admirable attitude and may have greatly helped the Jews at their time of need, but it seems at first glance that this case is not in line with the program’s criteria. At any rate, in order for a file to be submitted to the Commission we need to have survivor testimony or archival documentation that attests to the nature of the rescue activity.”

In reaction to the Yad Vashem note, I began consultations with several eminent historians and LBJ scholars. Prof. Robert Dallek, author of Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960, gave me some valuable leads. After all, already in 1991, Dallek told a Time Magazine reporter, “During 1938 and 1939, Johnson secretly helped Jewish refugees from Europe enter the U.S., through Galveston. I don't know of any other Congressman who did that. Out of 400,000 constituents, his district had only 400 Jewish voters. Something deep in this man's psyche, probably harking back to his Texas hill-country boyhood, made him identify with the underdog.”

Prof. James Smallwood, whose research was vital to the first blog posting, responded, “It is correct that Johnson did not risk his life but he committed illegal acts to save the Jews. It can be proved that LBJ saved some 42 from the Nazis….Indirect evidence says he probably saved about 400. From my research, I agree with the larger number. However, there are problems, since much of what went on was illegal, Johnson knew better than to leave a ‘paper-trail.’”

To move forward on the campaign to get Lyndon Johnson recognized as a “Righteous Gentile,” I am launching this website. The site invites scholars, survivors and survivors’ children to submit historical accounts of LBJ's actions. We particularly invite the participation of the Texas Jewish community, the Houston Holocaust Memorial, and the Johnson Library. We will present the data to Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, and with God’s help, provide the well-deserved recognition during the commemoration of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s 100th year, which begins August 27.

Recognize LBJ as a Righteous Gentile --
The Blog that Started this Campaign

The Associated Press published a few details on May 28 about LBJ’s “personal and often emotional connection to Israel.” Based on newly released tapes of the president’s conversations, the news agency pointed out that during the Johnson presidency (1963-1969) “the United States became Israel's chief diplomatic ally and primary arms supplier.” LBJ is quoted in one conversation, “"I sure as hell want to be careful and not run out on little Israel."

The news report does little to reveal the full extent of Johnson’s actions on behalf of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Indeed, the title of “Righteous Gentile” is certainly appropriate in the case of the Texan. Most students of the Arab-Israeli conflict can identify Johnson as the president during the 1967 war. But few know about LBJ’s actions to rescue hundreds of endangered Jews 30 years earlier, actions that could have thrown him out of Congress and into jail.

The Texas congressman’s district had only 400 Jews, but clearly the Johnson family’s Christian teachings had given him a strong affinity for Jews and their return to the Holy Land.

Five days after taking office in 1937, LBJ broke with the “Dixiecrats” and supported an immigration bill that would naturalize illegal aliens, mostly Jews from Lithuania and Poland. In 1938, Johnson was told of a young Austrian Jewish musician who was about to be deported from the United States. With an element of subterfuge, LBJ sent him to the U.S. Consulate in Havana to obtain a residency permit. Erich Leinsdorf, the world famous musician and conductor, credited LBJ for saving his live.

Johnson Saved Hundreds of Jews

That same year, LBJ warned a Jewish friend that European Jews faced annihilation. Somehow, Johnson provided him with a pile of signed immigration papers that were used to get 42 Jews out of Warsaw. But that wasn’t enough. According to historian, James M. Smallwood, Congressman Johnson used legal and sometimes illegal methods to smuggle “hundreds of Jews into Texas, using Galveston as the entry port. Enough money could buy false passports and fake visas in Cuba, Mexico, and other Latin American countries. … Johnson smuggled boatloads and planeloads of Jews into Texas. He hid them in the Texas National Youth Administration…. Johnson saved at least four or five hundred Jews, possibly more..”

On June 4, 1945, Johnson visited the Dachau concentration camp. According to historian Smallwood, Lady Bird later recalled that “when her husband returned home, he was still shaken, stunned, terrorized, and ‘bursting with an overpowering revulsion and incredulous horror at what he had seen.’”

As President, Johnson met with Israel’s Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and undertook to replace the recalcitrant France as Israel’s principal arms supplier, providing Patton tanks and Skyhawk jets and Phantom jets.

Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin once asked Johnson why the United States supported Israel when there are 80 million Arabs and only three million Israelis. “Because it is right,” responded the straight-shooting Texan.