President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. The country had been fighting a world war for six years; in Europe, on one side of the world, and in the Pacific, on the other.
Truman took over a almost a complete outsider – FDR never took him into his confidence, and rarely met with him in person. However, Truman was determined to do the job, learned quickly, and earned a place in history as one of the better Presidents.
One of the most difficult tasks he faced was the problem of the Jews in Europe, and their desire for a homeland in Palestine. The history of Truman’s involvement in this cause is detailed in a cerfully-researched book, A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel. It tells of the intransigence of the Arab leaders – particularly of King Ibn Saud (1876 – 1953), and their determination to prevent any Jewish settlement in Palestine. The quotes below are taken from the book.
In February of 1945, FDR met with Ibn Saud, on board a Navy cruiser, at Great Bitter Lake, on the Suez Canal. Every effort was made to impress the King, including dozens of oriental carpets on deck. Even though weakened by the ever-present polio, and the stress of the Yalta Conference a few days before, FDR was still a man on considerable charm and charisma. The famous smile had no effect on the King, who said
… the Jews should return to the lands from which they were driven … or give them living space in the Axis countries which oppressed them … Arabs would rather die than yield their land to the Jews.
– Safe Haven, p.27
Winston Churchill had also met with the King, during which the King told him
[any concession would result in] … a struggle to the death between Arabs and Jews if unreasonable immigration of Jews to Palestine is renewed.
– Safe Haven, p.29
Roosevelt later told Rabbi Stephen Wise
Every time I mentioned the Jews [Ibn Saud] would srink and give e some answer as this – ‘I am too old to understand such ideas’.
– Safe Haven, p.31
When FDR told the King what had been done in Palestine with irrigation and planting trees, the King replied
My people don’t like trees; they are desert dwellers. And we have enough water without irrigation.
– Safe Haven, p.31
From the Yalta Conference in 1945, to the establishment of a Jewish state in 1948, was a rough road. But it was done, and it was Truman who did most of the heavy lifting in the U.S.