LBJ had to hide his efforts to save refugee Jews

Earlier this week, Aug. 27, was the birthday of Lyndon B. Johnson, our 36th president of the United States, who served from Nov. 22, 1963, to Jan. 20, 1969.
Those TJP readers old enough to remember the events of those years probably recall LBJ taking the oath soon after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
The prolonged Vietnam War and growing numbers of anti-war protestors, despite the false “success” reports being issued, always seemed to dog the president.
On the more positive side, LBJ’s “Great Society” and “War on Poverty” programs, bolstered by a strong economy, proved to be generally popular during this time of economic prosperity.
Most striking about LBJ was his markedly aggressive, often intimidating personality, especially when he was trying to persuade legislators to vote his way, whenever he favored or opposed something or someone.
What is much less known about LBJ’s past are his activities as a young Texas congressman, secretly participating in the illegal rescue of European Jews from Eastern Europe in 1938 and in 1940, before America’s entry into World War II.
LBJ’s strong Christian upbringing fostered by his family taught him to support and protect the Jews for their eventual return to the Holy Land.
Soon after taking office in 1937, he broke with his party to support a bill, which failed to pass, that would have allowed illegal aliens, mostly Lithuanian and Polish Jews, to become naturalized citizens.
In another case, LBJ was told of a young Jewish musician from Austria who was awaiting deportation to Austria during the Holocaust’s early days.
LBJ sent him to the U.S. Consulate in Havana to get a residency permit, which allowed Erich Leinsdorf to remain in the United States. He eventually become a world-class symphony conductor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
These actions by this junior congressman ran counter to the State Department’s restrictive immigration policies, but his efforts were not known.
By Dec. 30, 1963, however, enough time had passed and circumstances were such that it was much safer to talk about LBJ’s role in saving refugee Jews.
President Johnson was making good on a promise he had made much earlier to attend and speak to the Austin congregation of newly constructed Agudas Achim Synagogue upon its completion.
LBJ’s good friend and political ally, Jim Novy, originally was Shimeon Novodvorsky, a poor Jewish teenage refugee from Poland, who worked hard, eventually making his fortune in the scrap metal business.
Novy became a philanthropist of many Jewish causes and a strong supporter of LBJ throughout his political career.
At the opening of Agudas Achim, while Johnson sat smiling, Novy described the many ways that the president helped save Jews.
Through the use of bribes, false passports and visas from Mexico and other Latin American countries, Johnson saved hundreds of Jews, entering the United States primarily through Galveston, hiding them in the Texas National Youth Administration, a youth work training program of which LBJ was the Texas director.
According to LBJ’s wife, Lady Bird, at the end of the ceremony, among the people pushing forward to meet the president, people pulled at her sleeve to get her attention, saying that if it weren’t for her husband, they wouldn’t be there. He had saved their lives.
Happy birthday, LBJ. Thank you for the good you did.

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