The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945

The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945

by Michael Beschloss

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Overview

A New York Times bestseller, The Conquerors reveals how Franklin Roosevelt's and Harry Truman's private struggles with their aides and Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin affected the unfolding of the Holocaust and the fate of vanquished Nazi Germany. With monumental fairness and balance, The Conquerors shows how Roosevelt privately refused desperate pleas to speak out directly against the Holocaust, to save Jewish refugees and to explore the possible bombing of Auschwitz to stop the killing. The book also shows FDR's fierce will to ensure that Germany would never threaten the world again. Near the end of World War II, he abruptly endorsed the secret plan of his friend, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, to reduce the Germans to a primitive existence -- despite Churchill's fear that crushing postwar Germany would let the Soviets conquer the continent. The book finally shows how, after FDR's death, President Truman rebelled against Roosevelt's tough approach and adopted the Marshall Plan and other more conciliatory policies that culminated in today's democratic, united Europe.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780684810270
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 11/04/2002
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 6.58(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.19(d)

About the Author

Michael Beschloss has been called "the nation's leading Presidential historian" by Newsweek. He has written eight books on American Presidents and is NBC News Presidential Historian, as well as contributor to PBS's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and two sons.

Hometown:

Washington, D.C.

Date of Birth:

November 30, 1955

Place of Birth:

Chicago, Illinois

Education:

Williams College, Harvard University

Read an Excerpt

From one of America's most respected historians, The Conquerors reveals one of the most important stories of World War II. As Allied soldiers fought the Nazis, Franklin Roosevelt and, later Harry Truman fought in private with Churchill and Stalin over how to ensure that Germany could never threaten the world again.

Eleven years in the writing, drawing on newly opened American, Soviet, and British documents as well as private diaries, letters and secret audio recordings, this audiobook let us eavesdrop on private conversations and telephone calls among a cast of historical giants. The Conquerors casts new light upon Roosevelt's concealment of what America knew about Hitler's war against the Jews and his foot-dragging on saving refugees; FDR's actions so shocked his closest friend in the Cabinet, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., that Morgenthau risked their friendship by accusing the President of "acquiescence" in the "murder of the Jews."

The Conquerors explores suspicions that Soviet secret agents manipulated Roosevelt and his official to do Stalin's bidding on Germany. It reveals new information on FDR's hidden illnesses and how they affected his leadership and his private talk about quitting his job during his fourth term and letting Henry Truman become President. Finally it shows how unprepared new President Truman managed to pick up the piecesand push Stalin and Churchill to accede to a bargain that would let the Anglo-Americans block Soviet threats against Western Europe and ensure that the world would not have to fear another Adolf Hitler.

Table of Contents

Prefaceix
Chapter 1The Plot to Murder Hitler1
Chapter 2"Unconditional Surrender"9
Chapter 3"Fifty Thousand Germans Must Be Shot!"18
Chapter 4"On the Back of an Envelope"29
Chapter 5The Terrible Silence38
Chapter 6The "One Hundred Percent American"44
Chapter 7"Oppressor of the Jews"56
Chapter 8"We Will Have to Get Awfully Busy"70
Chapter 9"Not Nearly as Bad as Sending Them to Gas Chambers"82
Chapter 10"Somebody's Got to Take the Lead"91
Chapter 11"Christianity and Kindness"98
Chapter 12"It Is Very, Very Necessary"113
Chapter 13"Do You Want Me to Beg Like Fala?"121
Chapter 14"A Hell of a Hubbub"136
Chapter 15"As Useful as Ten Fresh German Divisions"150
Chapter 16"Lord Give the President Strength"166
Chapter 17"The Only Bond Is Their Common Hate"178
Chapter 18"Arguing About the Future of the World"189
Chapter 19"No Earthly Powers Can Keep Him Here"203
Chapter 20"What Will We Make of It?"216
Chapter 21"I Was Never in Favor of That Crazy Plan"226
Chapter 22"You and I Will Have to Bear Great Responsibility"238
Chapter 23"How I Hate This Trip!"247
Chapter 24"We Are Drifting Toward a Line Down the Center of Germany"260
Chapter 25"The Spirit and Soul of a People Reborn"271
Chapter 26The Conquerors283
Author's Note and Acknowledgments293
General Sources297
Notes315
Index361

Interviews

Talking with Michael Beschloss

Barnes & Noble.com: What made you want to write a book on this particular topic? You typically write about a later period.

MB: I think for any historian who is interested in the 20th century, World War II is really pivotal, and also if you take a look at what Roosevelt and Truman and the Americans did with Germany, you get into some of the most interesting questions that you can imagine. Did Roosevelt do enough to stop the Holocaust? Did we fight the war in a way that spared the world another Hitler? And also those times were just so dramatic -- they just weren't like the times we are living through now.

B&N.com: What were the new papers and other primary sources that you were able to include in the book?

MB: It may seem amazing to some, but 50 or 60 years after World War II, there are still papers just now being released.

For instance, a lot of the British intelligence documents were only released in the last few years, such as ones showing British secret agents were trying to kill Hitler and how they were trying to do it. Poisoning his coffee, shooting him during his daily walk, and so forth. Also the documents coming out of the Soviet Union which give for the first time an idea of what Stalin was trying to do in his war against the Germans. He hoped to get, after V-E Day, a Germany that was Soviet-oriented.

In addition, there are FBI files that have not been opened until the last few years, such as the files on Harry Dexter White, who was an official of the U.S. government. After the end of the war, White was accused of being a Soviet agent. It was an especially serious charge because others said that he manipulated FDR. Because the FBI and the CIA recently opened the cables between Soviet intelligence agents in Moscow and those in Washington, you can get a much better idea of whether White was a Soviet agent or not, and therefore whether FDR, in making policy for postwar Europe, was doing so at the behest of a Soviet agent.

B&N.com: What did you discover that other historians did not know?

MB: The biggest thing was that before this book, there was the common belief that when the bombing of Auschwitz was discussed in 1944, it went no higher than John McCloy, assistant secretary of war, and that he did not bring it to Roosevelt. FDR was thus thought not to have any input on what was one of the key decisions of the 20th century. But I found in an unpublished interview with Henry Morgenthau III (the son of Treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr.) the information that shortly before McCloy died, he revealed that, indeed, he had taken this to FDR, who turned the idea down flat.

The good news was that this was an issue that was that important and went up to the level that it deserved, which was the president. But the bad news is that rather than considering the idea seriously and staffing it out and getting people to give him their opinions, Roosevelt, as I think he did too frequently during the war, handled it himself, essentially out of his hat, and decided on the spur of the moment that it should not be done. And I think there is a great possibility that hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives as a result. And also that the United States lost its chance to put itself on the record in history as understanding that the Holocaust was an unprecedented crime and that even though our sole war aim was unconditional surrender, this crime was so severe it deserved widening the war aims to stop it before the war ended.

B&N.com: Could you talk about the basic conflict in the book, between Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau's vision for a postwar Germany and the views of other members of the cabinet, like Secretary of War Stimson. Where did FDR himself side in this feud, or was he actually directing it all the time?

MB: Morgenthau (who was not only the secretary of the Treasury but Roosevelt's closest friend in the Cabinet) was an unobservant Jew who was shocked by what he learned about the Holocaust, and it led him to do two things. It led him to go to Roosevelt and demand first that he stop it and then endorse what became known as the Morgenthau Plan, which specified that after V-E Day, German factories would be destroyed, mines would be flooded, German industry would be turned into a ghost town, and Germany would be turned into an agrarian, Jeffersonian country that could never make war.

Morgenthau pushed that plan very hard. Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who at best thought it was vindictive and would cause a resentful Germany to start a third world war, opposed it. Also, Stimson was probably afflicted by feelings of anti-Semitism toward Morgenthau. Sometimes their arguments got very ugly on an ethnic level. Roosevelt always gave both sides the impression that he endorsed them both. And for a time, late in the war, Roosevelt at least pretended to support the Morgenthau Plan and even forced Churchill to sign a document endorsing it. But I discovered that the reason that Roosevelt did that was that he was worried that the British especially, and people like Stimson, would go soft on Germany after V-E Day rather than make a big effort to punish the Nazis and convert Nazi Germany into a democracy.

B&N.com: What were FDR's relations like with Churchill and Stalin? How did their vision of postwar Germany conflict with FDR's?

MB: Roosevelt above all was trying hard to keep Stalin fighting the Germans throughout the war. He was always terrified that Stalin would turn around and make a separate deal with Hitler that would then let the Germans turn around and let the full brunt of their force go against the British and the Americans. All through the war he was buttering Stalin up and trying to make him happy, especially when Stalin was growing impatient about the delay of D-Day, the invasion of Europe by the Americans and British.

On the Churchill side, Roosevelt was always the senior partner and bullied Churchill because Churchill was so dependent on the United States and ultimately would have to do whatever the United States wanted, within reason. One of the things the Soviet documents showed me was that Stalin wanted a very weak Germany; that would allow the Soviet Union to potentially take over all of Europe. Churchill was terrified of this result, and that's why Churchill opposed the Morgenthau Plan and wanted a strong Germany -- to make sure there was a German state to stop the Red Army from rolling all over Europe.

B&N.com: What was FDR's vision of a defeated Germany? Did he succeed in setting about what he wanted to do? Do you consider him a success?

MB: His vision had become what Germany is in 2002. It was an enormous accomplishment, because in 1945, polls show us that most Americans thought that even if we won the war, it was only a matter of time before Germany waged a third world war under some future Adolf Hitler. And what Roosevelt's policy, which went beyond his death, managed to do was transform Germany into a democracy. And today it is one of the strongest democracies on earth. I am very tough on Roosevelt on some things, such as the Holocaust, some of the decisions he made. But the supreme lesson of the story is, if you like the fact that Americans do not have to fear another Hitler or Germany today, you can thank Franklin Roosevelt. And someone else who may not have been as adroit as the president may not have been able to do that.

B&N.com: You talked about this earlier, but exactly why didn't FDR do anything about the Holocaust? He received reports about the slaughter of Jews, didn't he?

MB: Here is an example of a president making a decision that doesn't seem that important to him in real time but with a half century of hindsight turns out to be monumentally important. I guarantee you that when Roosevelt turned down the idea of bombing Auschwitz, he would have been stupefied to think that a half century later, this is one of the decisions for which he would be remembered -- and, sadly, in some cases reviled. Many American Jews who once thought that Roosevelt was a hero are now deeply angry at him for making that decision. And I guess the lesson here for any president is that you can't make decisions in a cavalier way, and from what we know Roosevelt turned down the bombing of Auschwitz in a very cavalier way.

B&N.com: What was Truman's contribution to the establishment of postwar Germany? Do you consider him a success?

MB: Allowing for the fact that his time was briefer, I think his contribution was just as great. What Truman had to do during the months after World War II were two things that were almost antithetical or contradictory. One was to reform the Germans and get Nazism out of that system. The other one was to get the Germans to love the Americans and to love our system. And it was very hard to do both at the same time.

And the fact that he accomplished both had a lot to do with Truman's great sensitivity to how you mix the two bowls. At the same time, I was very badly disappointed by the fact that Truman, in private, would use ethnic epithets about Jews that really were those that cheap local courthouse politicians would use, not someone of Truman's stature. And you just marvel that someone could be so petty and ugly in private and still in his public acts essentially do the right thing.

B&N.com: What will be your next project? Will it be the third volume of the Lyndon Johnson tapes?

MB: Two things. I am doing a third volume of the LBJ tapes and also a book that I have wanted to write since I was seven years old, on Abraham Lincoln's assassination. The book will be less about Booth and more about Lincoln. Amazingly enough, there have been very few books that have been a comprehensive treatment of the assassination.

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Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
glauver More than 1 year ago
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss's subtitle Roosevelt, Truman, and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany 1941-1945 is more than a little misleading. I thought when I bought the book at a library sale it was about overall World War II strategy. Most of the book takes place from late 1943 through August 1945 and it might better have been titled Roosevelt, Truman, and the Plan to Destroy Postwar Germany. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, horrified by the Holocaust, wanted to reduce Germany to a third world state. The book is largely about the reactions of American, British, and Russian leaders to his ideas. Beschloss details the infighting among cabinet members and the decisions and delays that finally killed the Morgenthau Plan. He spares no one, pointing out the prejudices, biases, and failings of those involved. FDR's declining health plays a large part in the story and Beschloss is especially critical of his Machiavellian management and neglecting to keep Truman, his Vice President, in the loop. Truman finally killed the scorched earth concept and it was replaced by the Marshall Plan. Beschloss concluded in his afterword that the wisdom of that decision is justified by the united and democratic Germany that came out of the end of the Cold War. I suspect that, had he written The Conquerors today, his views of Donald Trump and his shortsighted, bigoted, arrogant, and isolationist policies would be more scathing than those about anyone he profiled in this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love the way the author presented this book. He really dealt with all the issues during WWII.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The topic is interesting but I strongly recommend reading it at the cafe at B&N all at one go. Its difficult to set down and resume because it all seems the same. Of course, having read the New Dealers War right before this one made The Conquerors seem like a companion volume that one can skip. Another 1/4 read book on my shelves.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Full of good information.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i thought the Conquers was a great book very informative and interesting. it held my attention very well unlike most books. i loved it
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is very readable and the author has definitely done his homework. The very difficult dilemma of what to do with the defeated Nazi Germany was discussed from the view of the decision makers. The book does a good job of briging out the many factors that went into policy after the war including the all important goal of making it impossible for another similar war to occur and elimination of Nazi ideology. This was not just a simple account of the presidents actions as are so many other books -it included the policy makers that worked for the presidents. I was surprised at the amount of information included on Henry Morgenthau (who was in some ways, a 1940s version of Henry Kissinger). It was frightening how the cabinet members would fight and manuver and have such major differences over policy and the basic values of right and wrong and justice. I do feel that the authors opinions are also included and I also feel that the actions taken and policies are judged in the book by to our Nation's present 2002 values. This will encourage some readers but perhaps not others.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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