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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
[4.5. High Commissioner McDonalds without big success - no countries for the Jewish refugees]

[1st meeting of the High Commission: No representatives of Argentina and Brazil]

At its first meeting in London, the government representatives to the High Commission announced that their respective governments were under no obligation to pay any part of the commission's expenses. Two of the invited states (Argentina and Brazil) did not bother to send their representatives.

Expenses were in fact covered by the Jewish organizations, which meant that JDC, CBF, and ICA footed the bill.

The governing body was therefore more of a hindrance than a help.

[Rivalries in the High Commission: English want an English man Lord Cecil as head of the High Commission]

On top of that, rivalries, both among the governments and the voluntary organizations, made things difficult. The British, a JDC report from London said,

(End note 11: 14-46, 1/17/34 [17 January 1934], memo of Nathan Katz)

had resented McDonald's appointment in the first place, having hoped that Lord Cecil would get the post. Among the voluntary agencies, ICA insisted on the exclusion of "democratic and mass organizations", whereas Weizmann and Goldman, representatives of essentially just such groups, wanted the commission to have the widest popular appeal.

(End note 12: WAC, Box 316 (b); Norman Bentwich, British Zionist and McDonald's deputy, was said to have stated that the power to control Jewish affairs must not be vested in a small group of American Jews).

[McDonald knows Dachau cc and is persona non grata in the Third Reich]

Under the circumstances it was surprising that McDonald achieved anything at all. He had visited the Dachau concentration camp in September 1933, before his nomination, and had easily seen through the propaganda effort of the Germans. Hence he was, to a large degree, persona non grata in Germany. Schacht, the Nazi minister of finance, with whom McDonald had hoped to conduct negotiations concerning the easing of emigration procedures for Jews, refused to see the new high commissioner or to arrange for an interview between him and Hitler.

[Late 1934: McDonald in Berlin without success]

After protracted preparations McDonald finally managed to visit Berlin in late 1934.

(End note 13: WAC, Box 316 (e), 11/17/34 [17 November 1934], McDonald to Cecil)

There he negotiated with a vice-president of the Reichsbank (German State Bank), and finally arranged for the educational transfer.

(End note 14: See above, p.126).

In fact, the mission and the negotiations ended in failure.

[7,500 refugee academics taken out of Germany by McDonalds intermediation]

McDonald was not much more successful in his other endeavors. He did intercede with governments and persuade them to accept refugee academics, and thereby helped voluntary organizations (most of them supported by JDC and CBF) to take out some (p.144)

7,500 such persons from Germany by the middle of 1934.

(End note 15: WAC, Box 316 (a), 7/7/34 [7 July 1934], report by McDonald. Of the 7,500 persons, 600-700 were academic teachers, 5,200-5,500 were professionals (engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc.), and the rest were students).

[On McDonalds ideas: Foundation of Émigré Charitable Fund - foundation of Refugee Economic Corporation (originally called Refugee Rehabilitation Committee)]

McDonald also thought that the Jews should set up a corporation that would deal with settlement and exploration. This was accepted by Warburg, who set up two organizations to implement McDonald's suggestion. One was the Émigré Charitable Fund, which was to advance emigration by supporting vocational training, resettlement loans, and transportation. By 1936 ECF had called upon $ 275,000 of the subscriptions to its fund, but had managed to spend no more than $ 66,186, most of it for retraining emigrants in Latin America.

Another body set up by Warburg was the Refugee Economic Corporation (originally called Refugee Rehabilitation Committee), which was incorporated in 1934. The success of this venture, in which Charles J. Liebman was the moving spirit, was not much greater. By the end of 1936 REC had appropriated $ 550,000, over half of it to the Huleh and other development projects in Palestine.

(End note 16: On ECF and REC, see 28-1; Executive Committee, 9/20/34; R52 (current reports). By the end of 1938 ECF had spent a total of $ 136,072, and REC, $ 463,297. REC's ventures included the purchase of 45,000 acres of land in Costa Rica, at the instance of Samuel Zamurray, president of the United Fruit Company. This land had to be sold again after it was discovered that it was not suitable for settlement. REC also supported the International Student Service in Geneva and gave some small sums of money to HICEM for the transportation of refugees to Latin America).

The distinct impression is gained that these were cases of dissipation of efforts at a time when it was extremely difficult to find essential funds to support the emigration of refugees. JDC was involved in all this, although not formally: the boards of the two bodies mentioned above were manned by JDC and American Jewish Committee stalwarts, friends of the Warburgs. The same circle of persons was again called upon to help, and the results were mediocre, to say the least.
[Latin America: Brazil and Argentina with money conditions - only Paraguay and Uruguay with easy access]

McDonald tried very hard to obtain entrance for Jewish refugees into Latin America. His quiet negotiations with the respective governments met with some, but by no means spectacular, success. Brazil closed her gates to immigrants in June 1934, except for those who had a minimum of $ 200 in cash. In Argentina at that time 25 pounds were needed, and the immigrant had to arrive as a first-class passenger. Later in the year Argentina became closed to all but agricultural laborers, and of the major countries of immigration in South America only Paraguay and Uruguay remained relatively easy of access to refugees.

(End note 17: 14-46, 8/31/34 [31 August 1934], Goldsmid to Schiff; also Executive Committee file, meeting at the Harmonie Club, 6/14/35 [14 June 1935])

[Expensive emigration to Latin America - 4,000 German Jews April 1933-October 1935]

Immigration to Latin American countries was very expensive. (p.145)

Except in cases where refugees had relatives there who could pay for their passage and produce the "landing money", and except for a relatively few families of means, HICEM and other emigration and resettlement agencies had to pay the bill. JDC participated in HICEM's efforts to the tune of over one-third of HICEM's budget.

(End note 18: R16; HICEM's budget in 1934 was $ 428,500, of which ICA covered $ 179,500, and JDC $ 165,000).

All these efforts brought 4,000 German Jews to Latin America between April 1933 and October 1935, of whom over one-third were assisted by HICEM and ICA.

(End note 19: Jewish Chronicle, 4/10/36, article by Dr. Arthur Ruppin, in the special supplement, p.v. The period covered by Ruppin's statistics was April 1933 to October 1935).

[Russian plans for Russian and German Jews on Crimea - only German doctors are accepted]

In the meantime, negotiations were being conducted between Joseph A. Rosen and the Soviet government. In a memorandum of February 3, 1934, Rosen reported to Warburg that the Russians might allocate 5,000 acres in the Crimea for the settlement of Jewish families, 3,000 of whom would be Russian refugees and 5-600 German Jewish refugees.

(End note 20: WAC, Box 321 (b), 2/3/34 [3 February 1934])

After one year of acclimatization, the refugees would be given the choice of either Soviet citizenship or exit from Russia. Negotiations in this vein continued throughout 1934 and 1935, but the only Jewish refugees accepted by the Soviets were a number of doctors. (Their fate was briefly dealt with in chapter 2).

As time went on, McDonald became more and more pessimistic regarding the efficacy of quiet diplomacy in convincing the governments to act in favor of refugees. Yet the problem generally did not seem to him to be insoluble. True, German Jews had to leave their country of origin, but only half a million people were involved.

[With 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 Jews there are 760,000 Jews in Germany, see p.114, chapter 3.4].

JDC saw the problem in a similar light.

[Jewish emigrants are not welcome because of lack of unemployment in Europe]

In 1935 there were no more than 40,000 Jewish refugees in European countries awaiting settlement. "Considering their number, the problem of these refugees would not ordinarily have been insoluble. But severe economic depression forced nations to limit the number of immigrants and to debar foreigners from employment because many of their nationals were without work."

(End note 21: R14, 1935 JDC report)

[McDonald's plan: 1/2 in Palestine, 1/4 in "USA", 1/4 in the whole world]
McDonald had a simple solution for the problem: one-half of German Jewry should be absorbed in Palestine, one-quarter in the United States, and the rest dispersed throughout the rest of the world.

[Obstacles for Jewish emigration: Unemployment, political naivety, prejudices]
And yet it seemed that there was no way to implement this simple formula. Economic crisis, political (p.146)

obstacles, prejudices - all these vitiated a perfectly sensible and straightforward approach.

[McDonald's Palestine dream for the German Jews - the Joint gives in]

McDonald had always been a friend of Zionism. Now, with the doors of the West increasingly closed to Jewish refugees, he was led to state that the more he heard of "vague and always indefinite talks about possibilities of immigration to other parts of the world, the more I appreciate the value of Palestine."

(End note 22: WAC, Box 316 (c), McDonald to Warburg, 5/5/34 [5 May 1934])

[And nobody asks the Palestinians].

This attitude differed materially from that of JDC; even Warburg, whose connections with the Jewish Agency were quite close, expressed his essentially non-Zionist views fairly strongly. As early as October 1933 he had written to Goldsmid, chairman of ICA, that "we cannot trumpet Palestine too loudly without raising false hopes in the people who cannot get in."

(End note 23: WAC, Box 304 (c), Warburg to Goldsmid, 10/26/33 [26 October 1933])

Indeed, JDC's main objection to the policies of CBF was that it was under Zionist influence and that a large proportion of its funds - too large, JDC thought - were destined for Palestine.

But in 1934 JDC slowly began veering around to McDonald's point of view. Warburg himself was arranging for money to be paid to McDonald, who was by no means a rich man, in order that McDonald could remain independent of his small salary as a high commissioner. But McDonald was in no sense a blind follower of anyone, certainly not of Warburg. Relations were cordial, opinions were allowed to differ, and in the end Warburg tended to see McDonald's point. Hyman seems to have expressed his chief's views when he states that "no other single place has been able to receive thus far as many refugees as has Palestine. To that extent, without indulging in questions of Zionist or non-Zionist philosophy, we must all recognize the great utility of Palestine as a place of refuge."

(End note 24: 14-46, Hyman to Rosenberg, 4/13/34 [13 April 1934])

[McDonalds efforts to open the "USA" for German Jews - the law against "public charge" in 8 Sep 1930]

In the course of his attempts to open up the doors of America to refugees, McDonald tried to break the administrative blocking of Jewish emigration from Germany to the United States by the so-called Hoover executive order of September 8, 1930. That order had instructed consular officers to refuse visas to applicants who could not prove that at no time in the future would they become (p.147)

public charges.

(End note 25: Arthur D. Morse: While Six Million Died; New York 1968, p.135)

The result had been a drastic reduction in visas to the United States. Consequently, in October 1935 McDonald approached Warburg and asked him to use his influence with the Roosevelt administration to ease these regulations.

(End note 26: WAC, Box 324 (a), McDonald to Warburg, 10/29/34 [29 October 1934])

[1 Nov 1935: Only 10 % of the German immigration quota for the "USA" are utilized - Roosevelt estimates 80 % of the immigrants are Jews - the "US" government is not helping McDonald's]

Warburg turned to Herbert H. Lehman, and on November 1, 1935, Lehman wrote to Roosevelt. Only 10 % of the yearly immigration quota from Germany - about 26,000 persons [would be allowed yearly] - was being utilized, he argued. The people who wanted to come were of the same ilk as "my father, Carl Schurz, and other Germans who came over here in the days of 1848."

(End note 27: WAC, Box 336 (c), 11/1/35 [1 November 1935])

An increase up to 5,000 visas for refugees was asked for.

On November 13 Roosevelt sent his answer.

(End note 28: Ibid. [WAC, Box 336 (c), 11/1/35 [1 November 1935])

In fact, the administration argued, while the German quota was 16.9 % of the total allowed immigration, Germans comprised 26.9 % of all those actually coming in, because the total number of immigrants allowed into the United States was small. In 1933 1,798 Germans were allowed in; in 1934, 4,715; and in 1935, 5,117. This of course, included non-Jews as well, but about 80 % were estimated to be Jews. However, the letter went on, the State Department had issued instructions, "now in effect", that refugees should receive "the most considerate attention and the most generous and favorable treatment possible under the laws of this country".

It appeared that McDonald's initiative had brought positive results but the facts were different. It has been proven quite conclusively that both at the State Department and at lower levels, obstruction continued and even intensified as far as the issue of visas to Jewish refugees was concerned.

[The "American" McDonald is abandoned by his own "American" government...]

(End note 29: There is no mention of Roosevelt's letter in Morse's book).

[Late 1935: McDonald's proposal at the British government for intervention in Berlin fails]

McDonald was no more successful in his attempts to have the great Western powers intervene diplomatically. Late in 1935 he tried to obtain British support for an intervention with the Germans, but failed.

[Oct 1936 and Feb 1936: McDonald's proposals at the "US" government for intervention in Berlin fail]

In October 1935 and again in February 1936 he failed similarly to get the United States government to intervene on behalf of German Jewry.

(End note 30: Morse, op. cit [While Six Million Died; New York 1968], pp. 189-90; also: WAC, Box 324 (a), exchange of letters between McDonald and Warburg, 10/10/35 [10 October 1935], 10/21/35 [21 October 1935])