tv Jay Winik on 1944 CSPAN October 4, 2015 3:45am-4:31am EDT
>> thank you very much for that introduction, steve. and i want toi want to give a -- the lights out they're are really bright. i just want to give a quick thanks to our librarian of congress were all he has done as well as my friend laura bush. and more than anything else, i want to thank you, the readers, from this exists. you are the lifeblood of books, and as much as we love this festival, we hope that you love the festival and thank you for coming. [applause]
now, let me just take you right into my knew book, 1944. 1944. it was not inevitable that the war would end as it inevitable that the war would end as it did or indwell at all. along the western line the allies were pinned down against tenacious nazi divisions alarming gustav line. in the east to the soviet union was making threats that they would make a separate peace with the nazi even at this late date. in other words, in 1944 the war and humanity remained in doubt. what would commence would be the most epic year of the war and, indeed, of the 20th century if not modern history, and it is against this backdrop that fdr and winston churchill would meet in egypt to discuss what would happen next in terms of the war, strategy, tactics. as they themselves would meet with the soviet head of state, joseph stalin. consider this remarkable partnership. here was churchill, legendary oratory, strength of we will, character who refuse to give up and given against the german third
reich, churchill who one by one, as euro fell to the nazis, poland, czechoslovakia, holland and france was living under the nazi swastika.swastika. but had no point would he give up or given until the us entered the fray and fought the war along his side. and fdr who was crippled by polio, a legendary charmer whose oratory was the stuff of legend command here was fdr, the man who tamed for depression and uplifted a deeply ailing country when it was in the throes of depression and people worried that revolution could take place.
in the hands of these two great men would come the rest of the war. in fact, briefly as they were meeting in egypt at one point churchill burst into fdr's room and says, mr. pres., i have arranged a trip for us. we must go for us. we must go see the pyramids. indeed, they motored out at sunset, the best of friends and most important of allies as the sun was setting and the pink line fell, they were looking at the sphinx and churchill thought to himself, i wonder what she has to say and he looked over to roosevelt and said, i just lovei just love that man. what did roosevelt say? roosevelt said nothing, as inscrutable as the sphinx which would be telling and the faithful months to come as 1944 would commence. soon they would all meet in tehran as they would gather with the soviet dictator, joseph stalin, and a conference would begin to decide what would happen next in the war. the conference was tumultuous with a lot of back-and-forth, discussions of tactics, strategy, of, strategy, of the pacific,
the normandy invasion that stalin wanted to take place. and at one point something dramatic happens.happened. it was not battle plans are tanks were missiles. roosevelt started to sweat. beads ofbeads of sweat filtering down his face and he felt uncommon pain and could not speak. he was quickly rushed out of the room away from churchill and away for stalin and he met with doctors. the doctors diagnosed it as nothing more than ingestion, but clearly was much more than that. it was an omen of things to come. eventually heeventually he felt better and i finish the conference command as they did they came up with an important decision, that the day would take place after all which would mean the invasion through the western front against the germans that would take place in early june. and then roosevelt also shows dwight eisenhower's as
the commander of forces. so with that the conference was a success. far away from the bloodsoaked battlefields of europe, far away from them and dialing -- dying daily day after day and believe i hopes for the future, hopes of success, fdr returned home feeling that all would be well. he was deeply ailing. i coffee would not go away, doctors said it's nothing more than the after effects of influenza. whatever it was it would not quit. here is a man who obtain depression, held held adolf hitler at bay and was deeply sick. he began to lose his ability to taste food as uniquely
depicted. he will developed a hacking cough it would not stop. stop. his mouth hung open when he signed his correspondence and he could barely do more than a squirrel. when you asked how he felt, this normally stoic president would say rotten or i feel like hell. in other words, he was sick. again, his personal dr. in the white house wrote it off as nothing more than the influenza, but at a workup at the tustin naval hospital he said no, this was advanced heart disease, congestive heartdisease, congestive heart failure, and if dramatic action were not taken he would die within a year, and those words would prove to be prophetic. hereprophetic. here at the most critical part of the war roosevelt was dying. why do i say the most critical part? because what would take place in would be the most important military event of the entirety of this world war ii which would be the impending invasion of d-day. also something that would
take place that was rather profound, not on the military side, with theside, but the humanitarian side, the greatest humanitarian crisis humanity is her face before it was as if every citizen from boston were put on a train and executed one by one. this was all taking place at the same time. he went down south to recuperate at his good friends estate. hehe said i want to rest and rest 12 hours a day indeed he did. hehe was supposed to stay for two weeks. he stayed for a full month. the war itself is going well
the allies prevailed soon thereafter d-day itself a take place. slated for the beginning of june. the greatest armada and history,history, something never before witnessed. imagine the scene. 180,000 soldiers over 5,000 warships carrying these men, 1,000 aircraft that would blanket the skies. it was a military caravan literally without peril.
however from the early start it looked as though d-day itself would have to be avoided. dwight eisenhower, the knew commander-in-chief of the forces great stars it kicked up a great guest wins it will make visibility impossible so crucial to the command of the skies, and it seemed virtually inconceivable that they could carry out this invasion covering hundreds of miles so that even if stress is for office were hitler was. so eisenhower put his chin to his chest, based around, sound the couch and called on his officers. he decided to postpone the invasion. then he looked over how long can we let this invasion hang out on a limb like this? eisenhower was in agony.
he decided to reconvene his men, staff and about eight hours. the whether was still looking good and teeseven will meet again in another eight hours. he was told by his meteorologist in 36 hours -- for 36 hours while a break and whether. in other words, small window in which they could carry out the invasion. eisenhower walked back and forth much into chest pacing putting down. right down the middle. and he said let's go. across the way was the head of the german forces.
he said to his officers, we must stop the americans on the beaches and then he said faithfully, it will be the longest day, and it was. soon imagine what it look like to the germans, the german defenders of the atlantic wall looked out of the sea and all of a sudden cannot see any water. all he could see his ships coming. and then all of a sudden there was a series of explosion opening up the skies, as if the guys it opened up the primordial wrath. and there were literally without parallel. the invasion went well it was the kind of casualties that the americans are suffering. the withering fire for the nazis was terrible. severed limbs, arms floating in the water, and it looks like this general put it, a
catastrophe of irreversible proportions. with the see behind them in the beach in front of them retreat was not an option next one of the american spaniard said men, we might as well die on hard ground as we do on the beaches. it was clear that it was fate would soon be sealed, the war would soon be over. along the way along with this relentless pursuit of victory was something else taking place. millions ofmillions of lives at risk. the juice would die at the death of auschwitz. picture if you will auschwitz. the crown jewel for the nazi
empire. no food, no water, little light. it was hot. they were suffocating. many of the people literally died standing up. one of the trains coming to auschwitz they're were 4,000 children. when the train pulled into the station they were all dead. they suffocated along the way. when it typically arrived, especially these bearing the hungarian jews they would look up and see his great plumes of fire reaching 30 feet into the sky. these were the crematoria burning the jews and had
this terrible stench but nothing that ever small before. this was a flash literally being broiled. he understood more what was happening. of what use is aa god in the world in which the only duty as a punishment and the punishment is exactly what the germans would wreak upon the jews. little did they know -- can you all here me? little did they know that within an hour of preaching and to auschwitz station they would all be nothing but ashes and dust. and asand as they stumbled out of the trains ss doctors would be screaming at them,, barking dogs, doberman pinscher's it would be barking at them, and the ss doctors and they would here ross komorowski morels. they were beaten every step along the way.
the for you, right for you, love for you, right for you. if it was right you would become a slave labor and work to death. to the left, you are usually one of the elderly or a mother or a woman or a four -year-old little child can always the children, and they were taken to the gas chambers. they were told what would happen is they would be disinfected and do nothing more than take a shower, take off their clothes, clothes, some 2,000 of them, herded into these cold and for bidding rooms that had the showerheads, and they would be shivering, terrified, wedged in like bricks in the driveway. 2000, think. 2,000, think of that number 2,000. 2,000 is as many people as died at pickett's charge at
gettysburg and they would be taking care of within one hour. wedged in all of a sudden the gas would filter out and there would be a great traveling, people rush over other people, children get crushed trying to get to doors to get to where there was air and they would be screaming and yelling and soon it would become a rattle and soon the rattle of become nothing more than a small illinois, and within 20 minutes they're would be nothing. they would be all dead. at this point the germans, wasting no time, but take out the teeth of the dead. they one of the gold fillings. they take. they take of the hair because they use it for mattresses. the fertilizer and ashes of the people would be used for fertilizer for the road. as for the living, those who were not taken to the gas chambers would be so emaciated that the hair would fall out. faces will become fleshless and they look like living skeletons and children would
be forced often to urinate into bends which would become the drinking water. this is what was happening on that front. the question is what would fdr do? now that the war was going well and d-day invasion was successful when fdr stop the barbarity taking place? what he put an end to the cruelty? what he finally put a stopa stop to the massacre of one innocent after another. that was unclear yet, but there was someone in auschwitz itself the results he would put it into it, escaping from auschwitz, and along with the comrades from slovakia he did something nobody had done before, escape for three days they had in the cavity or woodpile and then for days,
thousands of soldiers look for them, thousands of ss and out across. they look for them everywhere. eventually they could not find them. the search was called off. they got out of the cavity turned around and ran to never look back. soon surviving nazi patrols, shoot out, and tyson might, they eventually after 15 days tired and exhausted and worn out would make their way to slovakia where they told the story of what was taking place in the dark force. and then that memo would make its way in condensed form it with all hands on
the commander-in-chief. this man was remarkable. the most amazing commander-in-chief that america had had in its history along with abraham lincoln. brilliant tactics, brilliant strategy, brilliant decision-making come out of his fertile imagination that came when lease which to live the british as well as the soviet union. out ofout of his fertile imagination they came the invasion of north africa 1942 which gave season to these young americans. it was out of his fertile imagination i came the arsenal of democracy that would ultimately consume the germans and out of his fertile imagination the can the fireside chats that uplifted the hearts of americans worried about the fate of democracy.
ms. a real paradox here. roosevelt, the world's greatest humanitarian confronting the greatest trinitarian in history to be sure from the beginning it was hard understand the scale and scope grabs in pieces like a real thriller mystery more information leaked out about what was taking place at this terrible death of and in auschwitz. at one point they're was an anti- nazi german industrialist highly placed in the third reich who had an elegant party where women were there finest 1st
among men were there best outfits command in hushed voices he heard for the 1st time talk of the final solution, the attempt to murder and kill every jew in the face of europe. he had met hitler once in a meeting, and a business meeting and so hated him that he risked his own life, boarded a train, went to switzerland, met with prominent jews to get the word to fdr because, as because, as he put it to his prominent contact, there will be giant cemeteries and he must put a stop to it. for 14 months nothing was done. everything he could to prevent jews from escaping to your. as they were cramming the constants of europe, just
desperate to come to our shores. and youshores. and you read the new york times of the day about the migrants have been trying to come here. well, it was not unlike that they knew that it was a death sentence for them. for 14 months nothing was done. ultimately, what would happen is henry morgan felt roosevelt's best friend, the two routinely had lunch every week one-on-one, and he was secretary of treasury. so disgusted by what was taking place that he imperiled his best friendship with roosevelt and decided to write a stern memo to the president, and in this he said he talked about the inaction of the government, his bureaucratic ineptitude, the obstacles put up day after day to prevent the jews from finding some kind of safe haven. andand then he labeled this memo imagine this, the most hard-hitting memo ever written in the nation's history and to fdr, of all people, one of our greatest presidents and talked about
the government acquiescence in the murder of the jews. fdr was so shaken up that he called a rare sunday meeting in the 2nd oval office. he said what do you want and they set up something called the war refugee board whose sole mission was to do nothing but help the jews. in too many cases, in fact millions of cases it was too little too late. having said that nonetheless there was more action. and then it became a great decision, debate. should they bomb auschwitz itself, put an end to the barbarism, make a symbol to the world that this is what the nazis stood for, and the west we will not stand for it. well, it turned out that we would not bomb auschwitz. john mccoy, the.man that roosevelt had in the war department put up one roadblock after another and
said that it was infeasible that this could be carried out, too great a distance but it turns out bombers were routinely flying over and by auschwitz as part of the oil war. and then if we bomb auschwitz it will create even greater predictive miss on the part of the germans. one has to ask what could be greater and more vindictive than the fact that little children were being herded into the gas chambers. so, there is one other thing that was said, it would be a diversion of resources from the war effort which is a serious charge and something to be taken seriously. when the polishwhen the polish home army rose up against the nazis in warsaw and were being butchered in this terrible battle roosevelt actually sent help to them and dated knowing full well that it would have minimal impact, but he did
it. i wanti want to make a symbol to the world that we stand for them, but he was not willing to do that. so auschwitz was not bombed. actually, not totally true. it was bombed that one bombed at one point, but it was bound by mistake. the ss ran into their shelters and did everything they could to shoot down the american planes, but the jews who were there, emaciated people cheered as the nobel prize word said we do not fear death, at least not that kind. and other so we just pray to god that those would come. so what would happen for the rest of the war in 1944 when roosevelt was dying.
ironically really he would die the same time of day as would fdr. the germans surrendered and meantime the soviet union would liberate auschwitz and the americans themselves would liberate a small little satellite death camp. when they got there they were stunned by the images and again think of what you saw with that little boy in the new york times the other day. stunned by what they saw. human beings reduced to bony stakes, human beings, dead, bloated corpses stacked with eyes that were nothing but sockets.
when they saw the americans they cheered like mad. what was the response? he said now we finally know what we were fighting for. imagine those words ringing in their heads. now we finally know. they danced and reward. people danced in london, paris, new york, washington, and this was as winston churchill put it, the greatest outburst of joy in mankind. roosevelt and what the war and he was one of the triumphant. and then there was the fact that one other thing took
place. roosevelt in a way missed what i would call his emancipation proclamation moment. think about abraham lincoln for 2nd. in the throes of this terrible war that consumed 620,000 lives. he did this despite opposition in the north, and his own political party, despite opposition and his own cabinet he issued the emancipation proclamation which would free the slaves are make the war not just about keeping me in together for something more profound, freedom, liberation. roosevelt never quite did that. there are millions of deaths the torment us. this was the other fruit of 1944.
1944 is a story of great triumph a story of heroic actions and magnificent biters and soldiers of america, fdr's magnificent readership, the most profound war that america ever fought and the story of readers -- leadership and decisions made. it's also a story of decisions not made, tragedy, there's millions of lives who somehow slipped through our fingers. in the end 1944 is the greatest of years we can imagine, but it is also one of the saddest. thank you very much. [applause]
>> i was wondering what you think would have changed. if you could paint a broad picture. henry wallop remained on on the ticket in the 1944 democratic convention and succeeded roosevelt instead of chairman. >> well, i have got to say, that is a funny thing because it is a question my guide asked me. what do you think would have happened? >> you asked about burns. well, wewell, we have david mccullough here at the festival, so we should ask him. well, it is not the subject of my book, but i certainly think that we would be living in a different world.
i feel strongly. steve from the "washington post" said that readers make a difference in history which is the reason why we fight so much over -- we have elections, why they are so hotly contested because one reader does run thing, one reader does another thing. there's only one george washington, one abraham lincoln,one fdr. and, one fdr. and i guess because it is only one harry truman. german laid out the architecture for the cold war, that forty-year struggle. if it were wallace or anyone else it's not clear that whatever happened. so it is your question revealing just how important individual leaders are. >> two quick questions. one of my professors at georgetown university was john tarski.
was he the polish diplomat you described just now as an escaping and bringing word to london and washington? or did he escape and bring the news of the death camps? >> okay. did all of you here the question about jan who actually taught at georgetown for many years and was a polish official and part of the underground and was not the one who escaped. the one who escaped is rudolph the 19 -year-old slovakian who was a register in the camp. and this is worthy of a hollywood movie. we're already talking about it now. i mean,, he had a phenomenal memory,, phenomenal health and was like a cat with nine lives. he prevailed enough so that he could do something no one else had done,done, escape from this horrific camp in these watchtowers and machine guns, these 2,000 members of the gestapo and assess. what he did was infiltrated the satellite camp and was
bowled over by what he saw. it was like nothing ever witnessed in humanity. people stumbling along with living skeletons, literally like the walking dead. he came back and had a meeting with roosevelt. a meeting wasa meeting was supposed to be half an hour and turned out to be a full hour. it is reported that very few things shook up roosevelt, but after this meeting roosevelt apparently was shaken up and said you go back and tell your people they have a friend in the white house. he came out and was impressed by that. we have a friend of the white house. the polish ambassador said yes.yes. when it comes to the jews said nothing the platitudes. roosevelt was a great charmer and very careful never to over commit himself , and this is one of those instances. >> hi. thank you for your talk.
you mentioned that fpr made some commitment. >> that he? >> that he dithered a little bit. there are some that have suggested they're might be anti- semitism. and then the 2nd question i had is the allies were closing in on the concentration camp i have heard there were efforts by the ss speed up the execution. >> well, as the allies were liberating a camps in winning the award of the speed up the effort? and the other was, was there any anti- semitism? and i look at this carefully you know, when they were very young fdr and eleanor
who came from a very high society of america moving from one black-tie affair to another were prisoners of the time and there may have been a hint of not wanting to be socially around jews, but by the time the war came i think it is safe to say that fdr did not have one anti- somatic on his body, and many of his top advisers were jews. i find this very enlightening and profound. i don't care whether your jewish, christian, catholic. what matters is that we have a spiritual side and that we care about god and humanity. that is what matters. and so i don't think in any sense. however, it is certain that within the state department there were elements of anti-semitism, particularly among breckenridge, head of the visa department, so crucial to helping them get out and enough so that at one point the treasury secretary dramatically
confronted breckenridge in a meeting and said, frankly, i must tell you that there are a number of people who think you are a little bit have to somatic. that was among the state department. and then eleanor was a passionate defender of the jews. she recalled after calm and later said that the inability of the administration to do more to help the jews was the greatest mistake that they had made. in terms of the german speeding up the execution, yes. when the day was one in the allies were closing in, the soviets were coming in, when the americans and the british are coming in from the west and there was this pants orpincer movement that was going to put a chokehold finally on the nazis, they tried to cover up their crimes and dismantle the gas chambers.
a membera member were great death marches as they were moving the jews into the satellite camps in germany itself from poland, and there were long columns of people. i wrote about robert e lee's escape from richmond is the end of the war. 30,000 men and long columns stretching out. imagine what itimagine what it was like for the jews with no food or water, and if they stumble they would get shot in the head, and they would be the workers that would help in hitler's fanciful world. >> i recently read brightman and litman fdr and the jews. one of the impressions i got , one of the issues was that fdr was on a lot of the. he would appoint someone of pick the personality and let go and then just sort of balance between people in the cabinet.
>> what he asked is, was fdr hands are not? did that have anything to do with all of this? and, i mean, fdr was a brilliant politician. at one point in the book essay that he had the charms of thomas jefferson, the persona of george washington , the wily instincts of an abraham lincoln, and the populist instincts of an andrew jackson. he was an incredible politician and an incredible leader. what is interesting is that however hands-on he may or may not have been -- and frankly almost every day at five or 6:00 o'clock he had something called the children's hour or the cocktail hour we would have his advisors are good friends command, and he would makes the drinks. hehe loved to mix the drinks and they would never talk about politics.
his days were not always tough. he sometimes a-uppercase-letter schedule, but it is safe to say that on all of the major decisions they came out from his staff, not from from his generals, not from his military advisers but as i put it earlier come out of his fertile imagination. indeed, the invasion of north africa that came in 1942 was done in spite of what eisenhower and marshall said. that invasion would go down as the blackest day in american history. how wrong can they have been? roosevelt was able to peer out into the distance, and in so many of the major decisions it was is doing. even lend lease, which was giving assistance to britain and the soviet union whenever running out of money and running of weapons and this kept him alive until americans entered the war, he was aboard a ship,
sunning himself for days, looked at a note from ernest hemingway that gave them tips on how to fly fish, but it was on that ship that he came up with the idea of then please all by himself. i think it's safe to say that whatever happened happened because roosevelt want it to happen. >> there were two other leaders in the world, stalin and churchill. churchill had an air force. stalin might not have, but he had some plans that could get over they're. stalin would have known. he would have had a motivation. did you get anything out of the history? >> no. heno. he asked if these efforts ever came up before stalin churchill. in stalin's case stalin and brutally murdered millions of people. as he put it, what is one or 2 million people?
no one we will remember the riffraff generations from now. on the other hand, churchill had a different response than fdr did when he heard about the final solution. he called ithe called it the greatest crime that humanity has ever seen or witnessed in its entire history, and then he told his foreign minister, let's bomb those camps. use my name and get everything you can. in the into did not happen because of bureaucratic crossed wires and because they could not do. i think we are near the end. you have all been great. thank you for coming. enjoy the rest of your day. [applause]