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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Not the first prominent Mormon to come to Jerusalem

And there's the picture of Mitt Romney putting a note (known as a kvittl) in the Western Wall.

Mitt Romney is not the first prominent Mormon to visit Jerusalem, and Rafael Medoff writes in the Los Angeles Times that a previous prominent Mormon who visited Jerusalem went on to save 200,000 Jewish lives.
In 1913, 29-year-old Elbert Thomas and his wife, Edna, wrapped up their five-year stint in charge of a Mormon mission in Japan and prepared to return to their native Utah. They decided to pay a short visit to Turkish-occupied Palestine on the way home.


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 co-chaired 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 PresidentFranklin 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 (D-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 January 1944.

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 unilaterally 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.
Read the whole thing. Let's hope that Romney can do a lot more than Thomas did for the Jewish people. And that Jews will do a lot for him at the polls as well.

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