President Franklin D. Roosevelt received 450,000 letters and telegrams during his first week in the White House.1 Although the numbers soon dropped, he continued to receive an average of 5,000-8,000 messages per day for the entire twelve years of his presidency. Americans sent personal messages to the President, to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, to their Congressional representatives, and to other government officials, requesting personal help or promoting causes they cared about.
Maurice Kincler, a Polish Jewish immigrant who arrived in the United States in 1934, was an entertainment news publisher who had worked with the Hollywood Reporter before starting his own service, the "American European News Agency."
Kincler began a 1943 letter to Roosevelt by expressing his support for the president and for the war, but he soon took a more critical tone. Claiming to speak for millions of other citizens, he declared himself "not only restless, but downright rebellious in view of the attitude of the government, especially the State Dept., because of its attitude towards many problems, especially that of the Jews in Europe."
Kincler's letter demonstrates the amount of information an interested American could have read2 about the Nazi persecution of Jews—and his awareness of American action and inaction in response. Kincler referenced the "horror stories coming out of Europe," deportations from France, the necessity of weapons during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Bermuda Conference,3 and a warning from the United Nations of retaliation for any gassing attacks against the Allies.
Kincler also suggested action the United States might take—retaliation, offers of exchange, threats against governments collaborating in Nazi atrocities, and providing havens of refuge for targeted people. "For God's Sake, Mr. President, something must be done AT ONCE, and you must do it NOW."
Like Kincler, many Americans—including many immigrants—petitioned their government to address their grievances. Even when letters were critical, this correspondence reflects a certain faith in the American system of government and its leaders. Kincler's letter suggests that he believed even the President of the United States could be convinced by a recent immigrant. Millions of Americans shared his optimism and faith in American democracy—although not all shared his intense concern for the fate of European Jews.