By Jim Tuck
Holocaust Accomplice: The Appalling Story of Breckinridge Long
In the Middle Ages, it was customary for kings to dig up bodies of previous monarchs they disliked, clothe their skeletons in royal robes, and then try them for a variety of crimes. If such a legal proceeding could be instituted today, a logical candidate would be a former Assistant Secretary of State named Breckinridge Long. It is now known that Long’s relationship to the Nazis was that of tower guard to executioner: one keeps prisoners from escaping and the other kills them.
Samuel Miller Breckinridge Long was born to a wealthy St. Louis family in 1881. He soon dropped the first two names; he obviously considered “Breckinridge” more aristocratic. Following education at the snobby-WASP St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire (an institution that never would have admitted the Jewish tent maker for which it is named) he graduated from Princeton in 1904.
There is little in Long’s early career to foreshadow what would happen later. A personal friend of Franklin Roosevelt, he made an unsuccessful Senate bid as a Democrat in 1920 and generously contributed to FDR’s 1932 presidential campaign. In 1933 Long was appointed ambassador to Italy, a post he held three years. It was during this tour of duty that his true sentiments began to emerge. Describing Fascism as “the most interesting experiment in government since the formulation of our Constitution,” Long endorsed Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia and advised the president against imposing an embargo on oil shipments to Italy.
Long did his greatest damage during the wartime years, while in charge of the Visa Division. A paranoid anti-Semite, he believed himself under attack from “Jewish professional agitators.” A Treasury Department official would later characterize Long as the leader of “an underground movement to let the Jews be killed.”
Particularly contemptible was Long’s cowardice. Where other anti-Semites — ranging from loony Ezra Pound to demagogic Gerald L.K. Smith —at least had the courage of their convictions, Breckinridge Long hid behind a bureaucratic thicket of his own creation. In June 1940 Long issued an intra-department memo which reads in part: “We can delay and effectively stop the number of immigrants (coming) into the United States. We could do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way and resort to various administrative devices which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas.”
Long was relentless in performing his dirty work. In November 1943, the House was considering a resolution to create a government agency to rescue refugees. In testimony before Congress, Long wildly exaggerated the number of refugees to have come to the U.S. and even had the gall to justify his delaying tactics on grounds that some of the German Jews seeking admission to the U.S. might be Nazi spies.
Due to Long’s policies, 90 percent of the quota allowed immigrants from countries under Axis control was never filled. Where 190,000 people could have been legally admitted to the United States, Long’s chicanery led them into death camps.
Big men make big mistakes and Franklin Roosevelt was no exception. Though Eleanor Roosevelt twice pleaded with her husband to fire Long, the president hesitated and Long didn’t leave the department until 1944. Perhaps FDR was influenced by class ties and by Long’s support in 1932.
In one of the darkest chapters in our history, a vicious and cowardly collaborator in mass murder was allowed to occupy a key post in the US government during a crucial period.