The Con­fi­dante: The Untold Sto­ry of the Woman Who Helped Win WWII and Shape Mod­ern America

  • Review
By – April 10, 2023

In a pro­file in The New York Times, a reporter described his sub­ject as a slip of a woman … her hair care­ful­ly dressed, her clothes chic.” As for her man­ner, She radi­ates a spir­it of friend­li­ness.… Her straight­for­ward­ness inspires con­fi­dence, her infor­mal­i­ty cuts red tape.”

The year was 1935, and the woman was Anna M. Rosen­berg, age thir­ty-three, Region­al Direc­tor for New York of Pres­i­dent Roosevelt’s New Deal agency, the NRA.

This was only the begin­ning, how­ev­er. Rosen­berg went on to serve Roo­sevelt in var­i­ous capac­i­ties, and she con­tin­ued her ser­vice with Pres­i­dents Tru­man, Eisen­how­er (most­ly behind the scenes), Kennedy, and John­son, even­tu­al­ly reach­ing the pin­na­cle of her career as US Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense.

In 1968, after the Sel­ma march and Johnson’s deci­sion to not seek re-elec­tion, he wrote to her, “[T]here is no judg­ment I val­ue more high­ly than yours.… Bless you for being a true friend across all these years.” He could be said to have spo­ken for the many who worked with her.

Her rise into the high­est polit­i­cal ech­e­lons was notable not only because she was a woman at a time when such roles were large­ly filled by men, but also because she was a Jew­ish immi­grant who had come to New York from Hun­gary in 1912.

She played vital roles advis­ing pres­i­dents through the Depres­sion, World War II, the Kore­an War, the Cvil Rights move­ment, the Great Soci­ety, and more. Once a house­hold name who was reg­u­lar­ly vot­ed one of the country’s most admired women (often fol­low­ing right after her friend Eleanor Roo­sevelt), today, Anna Rosen­berg is most­ly unknown. For this author Christo­pher Gorham offers sev­er­al expla­na­tions, includ­ing the fact that she refused to write a mem­oir. She also used the tele­phone more than the let­ter or memo to com­mu­ni­cate, most­ly to avoid hav­ing a writ­ten record. She was con­tent to stay in the background.

One pos­si­ble cri­tique of Gorham’s book is that it does not linger on Jew­ish issues. Dur­ing the war, one won­ders, did Rosen­berg join efforts of Jew­ish lead­ers to per­suade the gov­ern­ment to allow more Jews into the coun­try? Roo­sevelt did send her to Europe in 1938 and 1944. Then, in 1945, after FDR died, Tru­man sent her again, and she vis­it­ed the just-lib­er­at­ed con­cen­tra­tion camp Nord­hausen — a scar­ring expe­ri­ence” for her, Gorham writes. What exact­ly that expe­ri­ence entailed is not clear.

Nev­er­the­less, the sto­ry of this pint-sized hur­ri­cane” is a remark­able one. It is told in an engag­ing, dra­mat­ic man­ner that allows the author to con­vey the dynamism, ener­gy, and deter­mi­na­tion Anna Rosen­berg gave to all her activ­i­ties, as well as the grat­i­tude she felt towards her adopt­ed country.

Gila Wertheimer is Asso­ciate Edi­tor of the Chica­go Jew­ish Star. She is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has been review­ing books for 35 years.

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