There's a great deal that's been written about Lyndon Baines Johnson, our 36th president whose birthday, August 27th just passed. One thing that hasn't been written about much is a uniquely heroic act he performed as a freshman congressman.
In 1938, the situation for Europe's Jews was becoming desperate, and even those who had an inkling of what was to come had few options, since the world by and large wasn't interested in granting them the visas that would save their lives and the British had already closed off legal Jewish emigration to Palestine.
Lyndon Johnson, then a freshman congressman found out about the plight of an Austrian Jewish musician named Erich Leinsdorf who was due to be sent back to Nazi-dominated Austria and likely certain death and pulled strings to get him a resident visa to stay in the US.
Johnson, a member of the Christadelphians, came from a long line of Christian Zionists.
Realizing that there were thousands of Jews trapped in Europe, Johnson put together a plot with his long time friend Jim Novy, Jack Baumel, chief engineer of the Texas Railroad Commission, and Jesse Kellam, head of the Texas National Youth Authority(NYA) to rescue the stranded Jews. They called it 'Operation Texas' and it was kept a secret for years.
What they did was to issue false passports to Jewish refugees for Latin American countries, get them visas to come into the United States and then record them as members of the NYA. This was strictly against both US law and Texas State law, and had the future president and his friends been caught, they would likely have been facing heavy fines and jail time and Johnson would have lost his seat in Congress. They didn't hesitate for a second, and Operation Texas saved hundreds of Jews who would other wise have been murdered by the Nazis.They refused to turn their backs on the Jews when it would not only have been easy, but even prudent in terms of their personal situations.
Just one month after succeeding John F Kennedy as president, lyndon Johnson attended the December 1963 dedication of the Agudas Achim Synagogue in Austin. Novy opened the ceremony by saying to Johnson, “We can’t thank him enough for all those Jews he got out of Germany during the days of Hitler.”
The First Lady later described the day, saying: “Person after person plucked at my sleeve and said, ‘I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him. He helped me get out.’” Lady Bird elaborated, “Jews had been woven into the warp and woof of all [Lyndon's] years.”
(Hat tip Zeb G.)