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Yehuda Bauer: My Brother's Keeper

A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1929-1939

[Holocaust preparations in Europe and resistance without solution of the situation]

The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1974

Transcription with subtitles by Michael Palomino (2007)



Chapter 4. Refugees: 1933-1938
[4.3. Germany blocks in the League of Nations - foundation of a High Commission for Jewish refugees]

[29 Sep 1933: Session of League of Nations whith proposals for Jewish refugees - Germans blocking - resolution for a commission outside of the League of Nations]

On September 29 [1933], during the seventy-third League of Nations session in Geneva, the Dutch foreign minister, de Graaf, made a plea to the second committee of the League Assembly to help German refugees. Money, he thought, would probably come from Jewish organizations, but organized international help was essential. At that stage, however, Germany was still a League of Nations member and threatened to vote against any proposal to set up a League commission for refugees from Germany. Unanimity was a condition for League decisions, and therefore the Germans were able to block action effectively. Several of the smaller nations proposed that a commission be set up that would technically be outside the League machinery. On October 11 [1933] a resolution to this effect was passed by the League.

[Coordination with the "USA" for an international commission]

It was obvious from the start that any international commission of this kind would have to include representatives of the United States if it was to be at all effective. As a matter of fact, the Dutch had approached the American representative in Switzerland on September 28, the day before their abortive effort in the League, and asked his help in setting up a commission.

(End note 7: Foreign Relations of the United States (1933), 3.366)

The American Jewish organizations were very much interested in such a commission, which would lend international support to refugee aid. They (p.141)

were also aware that the success of such a commission might well hinge on the personality who would head it. For that reason, on October 18 Henry Morgenthau, Sr., wrote to Secretary of State Cordell Hull suggesting that James G. McDonald, a respected member of the New York Times staff and president of the Foreign Policy Association since 1918, be nominated. Significantly, he added that this proposal had the support of both the American Jewish Committee and JDC.

(End note 8: WYC, Box 303 (b), Morgenthau to Hull, 10/18/33 [18 October 1933])

[McDonald nominated for high commissioner for refugees (Jewish and other) coming from Germany]

Support by the two closely allied agencies was not surprising at all. The Times was owned by Jewish liberals of the old school, and McDonald, a devout Christian and humanist, had gained the respect of Jew and gentile alike. On top of that, he was a personal friend of Felix M. Warburg's, and Warburg had apparently supported his candidacy with Morgenthau. In his letter to Roosevelt on October 19 [1933], Hull said that he thought an American might indeed be suggested for the post, but he himself was by no means enthusiastic about American involvement in this essentially European affair. In case the president thought differently, Hull suggested a number of prominent Americans who might be considered for the post; McDonald's name was not among them - apparently, Morgenthau's letter had either not reached Hull or had been ignored. However, Roosevelt did indeed think differently, and McDonald was nominated for the post of "high commissioner for refugees (Jewish and other) coming from Germany", and on October 26 was appointed by the League of Nations.

[Structures of the "High Commission"]

Twelve member states composed the governing body of the High Commission, chaired by Viscount Cecil of Chetwood. The United States was represented by Prof. Joseph P. Chamberlain of Columbia University, and expert on refugee matters. An advisory council of voluntary organizations was to include 20 bodies, ten of them Jewish.

[Misuse of the Jewish organizations: They should solve all problems alone - naive JDC leadership]

Immediately after this commission was set up it became clear that at least some of the governments saw its existence as a convenient way of shelving the whole problem and handing it over to the Jewish organizations to deal with as best they could. Here, as in (p.142)

so many other instances throughout the 1930s, JDC central leadership proved that its understanding of international politics as they applied to the Jewish refugee problems was characterized by a naivité that was sometimes quite unbelievable.