The committee consisted
Stephen S. Wise, of the Jewish Congress;
Mr. Monsky, of Bnai Brith; Rabbi Rosenberg,
of the Agudath, and Adolph Held, of the Jewish
The meeting with the President was arranged for Tuesday,
December 8, 1942, at 12 o'clock. We were originally
notified that the President would give us 15 minutes,
but the conference lasted 29 minutes. The purpose of
the conference was to present a prepared memorandum
on the German atrocities in Poland consisting of an
appeal to the President for immediate action against
the German extermination of Jews, and also a 12 page
memorandum citing the facts that have been gathered
on this subject.
We were taken into the President's office in the White
House by General Watson, the President's personal military
aide, exactly at 12 o'clock. The President was seated
at his desk; in front of the desk were lined up five
chairs for the delegation.
The President sat behind the desk smoking a cigarette
in a long cigarette-holder. The desk was full of all
sorts of trinkets--ash trays, brass and porcelain figures,
etc. There was not an empty spot on his desk. The figures
were of all shapes and sizes.
As we filed in, the President greeted Rabbi Wise: "How
have you been, Stephen? You are looking well. Glad
to see you looking well." Rabbi Wise then introduced
each of us separately. The President shook hands with
each of us, repeated the name, and then asked: "How
do you do, Mr. Monsky?," etc., following which he
asked us to sit down.
When we were seated, the President opened the conversation
by saying: "I am a sadist, a man of extreme sadistic
tendencies. When I appointed Governor Lehman as head
of the new Office of Relief and Rehabilitation, I had
some very sadistic thoughts in my head. I know that
Governor Lehman is a great administrator, and I wanted
a great administrator for this post. I had another
thought in my mind, however. I had hopes that, when
God spares my life and the war is over, to be able
to go to Germany, stand behind a curtain and have the
sadistic satisfaction of seeing some "Junkers" on
their knees, asking Lehman for bread. And, by God,
I'll urge him to give it to them."
Rabbi Wise then said: "Mr. President, we have an
orthodox Rabbi in our midst. It is customary for
an orthodox rabbi to deliver a benediction upon the
head of his country, when he comes in his presence.
Will you, therefore, permit rabbi Rosenberg to say
the prayer of benediction?"
"Certainly" the President answered.
Rabbi Rosenberg rose and put on his scull-cap. We all
rose. The President remained seated, and, as Rabbi
Rosenberg commenced to recite the prayer in Hebrew,
the President bowed his head.
"O, God Lord of Kings, blessed be Thy name that Thou
bestowest a share of Thy glory upon the son of men."
"Thank you very much"-- the President said.
The President seemed to be moved, and so were we all.
Rabbi Wise then read the declaration by the committee.
Rabbi Wise did not read the details but simply said: "Mr.
President, we also beg to submit details and proofs
of the horrible facts. We appeal to you, as head
of our government, to do all in your power to bring
this to the attention of the world and to do all
in your power to make an effort to stop it."
The President replied: "The government of the United
States is very well acquainted with most of the facts
you are now bringing to our attention. Unfortunately
we have received confirmation from many sources.
Representatives of the United States government in
Switzerland and other neutral countries have given
up proof that confirm the horrors discussed by you.
We cannot treat these matters in normal ways. We
are dealing with an insane man-- Hitler, and the
group that surrounds him represent an example of
a national psychopathic case. We cannot act toward
them by normal means. That is why the problem is
very difficult. At the same time it is not in the
best interest of the Allied cause to make it appear
that the entire German people are murderers or are
in agreement with what Hitler is doing. There must
be in Germany elements, now thoroughly subdued, but
who at the proper time will, I am sure, rise, and
protest against the atrocities, against the whole
Hitler system. It is too early to make pronouncements
such as President Wilson made, may they even be very
useful. As to your proposal, I shall certainly be
glad to issue another statement, such as you request."
The President turned toward the delegation for suggestions.
All, except Rabbi Rosenberg, put in suggestions. Mine
was about the possibility of getting some of the neutral
representatives in Germany to intercede in behalf of
the Jews. The President took notice of that but made
no direct replies to the suggestions. The entire conversation
on the part of the delegation lasted only a minute
or two. As a matter of fact, of the 29 minutes spent
with the President, he addressed the delegation for
The President then plunged into a discussion of other
matters. "We had a Jewish problem in North Africa" --
he said. "As you know, we issued orders to free all
the Jews from concentration camps, and we have also
advised our representatives in North Africa to abolish
all the special laws against the Jews and to restore
the Jews to their rights. On this occasion I would
like to mention that it has been called to our attention
that prior to the war, Jews and Frenchmen enjoyed greater
rights than Moslems in some of the North African states.
There are 17 million Moslems in North Africa, and there
is no reason why anyone should enjoy greater rights
than they. It is not our purpose to fight for greater
rights for anyone at the expense of another group.
We are for the freedom for all and equal rights for
all. We consider the attack on the Jews in Germany,
in Poland, as an attack upon our ideas of freedom and
justice, and that is why we oppose it so vehemently." "Now
you are interested in the Darlan matter. I can only
illustrate this by a proverb, I recently heard from
a Yugoslav priest--"When a river you reach and the
devil you meet, with the devil do not quarrel until
the bridge you cross."
Apparently, at the end of this quotation the President
must have pushed some secret button, and his adjutant
appeared in the room. His eyes and broad shoulders
showed determination. We rose from our seats, and,
as we stood up, the President said: "Gentlemen, you
can prepare the statement. I am sure that you will
put the words into it that express my thoughts. I
leave it entirely to you. You may quote from my statement
to the Mass -Meeting in Madison Square Garden some
months ago, but please quote it exactly. We shall
do all in our power to be of service to your people
in this tragic moment."
The President then shook hands with each of us, and
we filed out of the room.