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.

No comments: