Thursday, December 04, 2008

LBJ – a Hero When it Counted

Once again I come across new information that re-confirms my view about this great country of ours, the United States of America. That’s because once again a great American has been revealed to be one of the Chasidei Umos HaOlam – a righteous gentile.

Who is it this time? An unlikely individual. He was a Texan who was one of the most controversial Presidents in my life-time. He is largely to blame for America’s tragic involvement in the Viet Nam War. While he wasn’t the one who got us involved with Viet Nam, he was certainly the one who is responsible for escalating our involvement there. Albeit he had the best of intentions, over the period of his administration and part of President Nixon’s, that involvement resulted in over 40,000 American soldiers being killed. It was a war that divided this country!

I was an opponent of that war – as was my Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik. But in his defense, that President truly believed he was fighting the spread of communism. He believed that by containing the North Vietnamese, Southeast Asia would not be overrun by Communism (the domino effect) - which if it did - could eventually spread to other continents. He was wrong about that. And he was doubly wrong in the way he executed the war in the limited way he did. It was probably the greatest regret of his life.

So what’s so great about him? That is contained in an article in the Jeruslalem Post. It is dated September 10, 2008. I was not aware of it until now. It was forwarded to me by a friend. This hero put his career on the line when Jewish people needed him most. And he did so in a country that – at the time – was not sympathtic to Jewish concerns and unwilling to believe the news out of Europe it heard. It was the holocaust and immediatly thereafter, the Israel war for independance. That individual was LBJ - Lyndon Baines Johnson.

One wouldn’t think this man – or any man - would be so willing to sacrifice his career ambitions. And it is well known just how ambitious he was. But he did what was right first. Here is are excerpts from the Jeruslalem Post article:

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 US Consulate in Havana to obtain a residency permit. Erich Leinsdorf, the world famous musician and conductor, credited LBJ with saving his life.

That same year, LBJ warned a Jewish friend, Jim Novy, that European Jews faced annihilation. "Get as many Jewish people as possible out [of Germany and Poland]," were Johnson's instructions. 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."

During World War II Johnson joined Novy at a small Austin gathering to sell $65,000 in war bonds. According to Gomolak, Novy and Johnson then raised a very "substantial sum for arms for Jewish underground fighters in Palestine." One source cited by the historian reports that "Novy and Johnson had been secretly shipping heavy crates labeled 'Texas Grapefruit' - but containing arms - to Jewish underground 'freedom fighters' in Palestine."

LBJ was truly a righteous Gentile – among the many in this great country – the Mediah Shel Chesed has. God Bless the United States of America.