One element of the Morgenthau story I found fascinating as I researched The Jew Who Defeated Hitler was how the family celebrated Christmas.
Henry Morgenthau Jr. was Treasury Secretary during the Great Depression and Second World War – long before society developed an acute sensitivity to the term “Christmas”. So even though he was Jewish, Morgenthau would give and accept wishes of “Merry Christmas”, exchange Christmas presents with people and enjoy Christmas dinner. He was even lampooned as Santa in an editorial cartoon. The holiday seemed to represent the secular Americanism the family cherished rather than a religious rite.
For example, when Under Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson called to discuss the touchy matter of foreign aircraft sales on Dec. 21, 1938, he twice wished Morgenthau a Merry Christmas before they got down to business.
The Morgenthaus spend the holidays of 1940 in Washington, and ate Christmas dinner with the Roosevelts. Precisely a year later, they had Christmas dinner again at the White House, joining Winston Churchill and the British delegation that had come to plan the joint prosecution of the war.
The Morgenthau family – especially the secretary’s parents – was exceedingly generous in their gifts to the Roosevelts. At Christmas and on other occasions, Henry and Josie Morgenthau frequently showered the presidential family with gifts. Eleanor Roosevelt’s voluminous correspondence is packed with thank you letters to them.
Christmas even features in my central thesis, that Morgenthau with the main figure in the biggest financial project in all economic history. He timed his sixth War Bond drive to coincide with the Christmas season of 1944. It was a huge success, exceeding its target by 54 percent and raising a total of $21.6 billion – about $280 billion in today’s money.
So Merry Christmas to the followers of this blog who celebrate Christmas, and Happy Holidays to all others. I’m looking forward to a great 2014, confident that the highlight for me will be the publishing of The Jew Who Defeated Hitler in the fall.