To the Editor:

The Harry Bingham Holocaust account (“History ponders the heroism of Bingham,” 1/27) is clearly somewhat ambiguous, especially given his anti-Semitic comments in later life. But, as Sam Kahn points out in his nicely balanced piece, Bingham’s actions have to be seen in the light of the State Department’s overall attitudes toward refugees fleeing for their lives in the 1940-41 period. In the summer of 1940, for instance, Cordell Hull, then Secretary of State, decided to cut back on an already-restrictive quota for German Jews trying to enter the U.S. I can add an item from personal experience: appearing, as a 12-year-old, with my mother, grandfather and younger brother at the U.S. Consulate in Stuttgart to receive our visas — our quota number had come up and we already had our passage booked — we were told that the quota had just been arbitrarily cut back. When my mother, shocked by this completely unexpected reverse, began to cry, the second secretary at the U.S. Consulate told her, in icy German, “If you cry, I’ll have to throw you out.”

I do believe that it was the callous indifference of the outside world, including the U.S., in the wake of “Crystal Night” (November 1938) and much that followed, which gave the Nazis the feeling that they could proceed confidently to the “final solution.”

Gustav Ranis

Jan. 27, 2005

The writer is the Frank Altschul Professor of International Economics.