Late Utah Senator to be Honored for Efforts to Help Jews

Late Utah Senator to be Honored for Efforts to Help Jews

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OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- The late Utah Sen. Elbert D. Thomas will be honored by Weber State University this week for his efforts to rescue Jews from Nazi Germany.

Thomas, a Democrat who served in the U.S. Senate from 1932 to 1950, witnessed conditions in Germany before the war and spoke out against immigration policies of then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt that kept Jews from coming to the United States.

During the war, he advocated military and political efforts to rescue Jews, opposing his own president and party who said that winning the war was the best rescue effort. Roosevelt eventually created a War Refugee Board, which, among other things, helped finance rescue of Jews.

Thomas became nationally prominent because of the controversy, but few in Utah have heard of him.

Susan Matt, associate professor of history at Weber State University and an organizer of this year's Holocaust commemoration that begins Thursday, said she had never heard of him until she spoke to someone from the David S. Wyman Institute of Holocaust Studies.

"They asked to correct the long-term ignorance of Thomas' deeds. That was the first time I've heard of him," she said.

Gov. Jon Huntsman has issued a proclamation declaring Friday as Elbert Thomas Day.

Benyamin Korn, a scholar of the Holocaust who works with the Wyman Institute, will speak Thursday on Thomas and coverage of the Holocaust by the news media.

Thomas' activities to help the Jews in Europe began well before World War II.

Rafael Medoff, director of the Wyman Institute, said Thomas traveled to Germany in 1934, saw what was going on, and began fighting the Roosevelt administration to loosen up bureaucratic regulations that kept immigration slots from threatened countries from being filled.

During the war, he advocated loudly and publicly for more vigorous efforts by the allied powers to rescue Jews, even signing on to public advertisements in 1943 that sharply criticized the Roosevelt administration.

Medoff said it is important to highlight Thomas' work so young people today learn the importance of speaking out, even if it means opposing the majority.

Medoff said he is contacting high schools throughout Utah to ask them to teach about Thomas' work during the Holocaust.

"In 1944, CBS Radio censored a speech by him because they didn't like the idea that he was criticizing the allies," Medoff said. "So Sen. Thomas came face to face with censorship because of his views, and these are the questions we would like students in high schools to discuss. What's the obligation of people to speak out?"

Thomas was born in 1883, graduated from the University of Utah and taught Latin and Greek there from 1914 to 1916, according to the Utah History Encyclopedia.

He and his wife served a five-year mission in Japan for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he wrote a doctoral thesis on "Chinese Political Thought" that was published in 1927 and was a professor of political science and history at the University of Utah.

In 1932, he defeated Sen. Reed Smoot and began his Senate service that ended with his defeat in 1950 by Republican Wallace F. Bennett, father for Sen. Bob Bennett, in a bitter campaign in which Thomas was accused of being pro-Communist, the encyclopedia said.

From 1951 until his death in Honolulu in 1953, he served as high commissioner of the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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