International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Robert Briscoe, the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin

In keeping with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, today and tomorrow, I am hereby posting a review of Robert Briscoe‘s book, published on The book is entitled, For the Life of Me and was recommended to me by Briscoe’s son Benjamin, who succeeded his father as Lord Mayor of Dublin. My review of For the Life of Me discusses the work my father, Isadore Solkoff did to try to prevent the Holocaust.

For the Life of Me

This autobiography by Robert Briscoe Zionist and Irish revolutionary who became the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin is a terrific read. The following provides background on Briscoe’s Zionist activates, described in a heartbreaking chapter on Briscoe’s attempt to encourage Polish Jews to leave the country before they were killed.

Briscoe was a friend of my father Isadore Solkoff. Briscoe attended a seder at the rear of my grandfather’s candy store in Jersey City in the 1930’s. Both my father and Briscoe were devoted followers of the charismatic Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880-1940),founder of the political party that currently runs Israel.

My father arranged for Jabotinsky to speak to a packed crowd at Town Hall in New York City in March of 1935 warning of the impending Holocaust.

Briscoe introduced Jabotinsky to the early leaders of the Irish fight for independence. Before and after Jabontinsky’s death, Briscoe worked at transporting Jews from Nazi-dominated countries to Palestine.

My father introduced Briscoe to New York City Jewish organizations. Solkoff and Briscoe both collaborated with Ben Hecht to create a highly controversial full-page advertisement on the back page of the first section of The New York Times. The year was 1943. The ad was entitled, “FOR SALE TO HUMANITY, 70,000 JEWS, GUARANTEED HUMAN BEINGS AT $50 A PIECE.”

Romania had offered to let their Jewish citizens leave Romania on the condition that the Four Superpowers pay $50 for each Jewish head and agree to transport them to Palestine. The British opposed transportation to Palestine, which was under their control. The Jews who might have been saved died.

My father’s most important contribution to the effort to avert the Holocaust was a secret, private meeting he arranged between Robert Briscoe and Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) then a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Brandeis took pride in his influential role with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and in the American Jewish community. The meeting did not go well. It took place at Brandeis’ Washington home. Briscoe gave Brandeis a warning about the American Jewish community’s indifference to the plight of Jewish European refugees.

Later Briscoe reported to Solkoff the warning he gave Brandeis. “Your accomodationist stance with the British will result in millions of unnecessary Jewish deaths at the hands of the Nazis.” Briscoe continued, “The blood of those Jews will be on your hands too and that of the rest of the American Jewish community. It will be on your hands even though you do not directly commit the murders.”

An account of the interview and its critical condemnation of President Roosevelt is recorded in For the Life of Me. It was also documented in correspondence my father initiated with Justice Brandeis in which he arranged for the appointment.

— Joel Solkoff, Isadore’s son, is the author of The Politics of Food and other books.