Morgenthau Documents State Department Inaction
(January 16, 1944)
The following report was prepared at the request of Secretary of
the Treasury Henry Morgenthau to investigate the State Department's
behavior with regard to European Jewry. He submitted the findings to
President Roosevelt, who subsequently established the War
PERSONAL REPORT TO THE PRESIDENT
One of the greatest crimes in history, the slaughter
of the Jewish people in Europe, is continuing unabated.
This Government has for a long time maintained that
its policy is to work out programs to save those Jews and other persecuted
minorities of Europe who could be saved.
You are probably not as familiar as I with the utter
failure of certain officials in our State Department, who are charged
with actually carrying out this policy, to take any effective action
to prevent the extermination of the Jews in German-controlled Europe.
The public record, let alone the facts which have
not yet been made public, reveals the gross procrastination of these
officials. It is well known that since the time when it became clear
that Hitler was determined to carry out a policy of exterminating the
Jews in Europe, the State Department officials have failed to take any
positive steps reasonably calculated to save any of these people. Although
they have used devices such as setting up inter - governmental organizations
to survey the whole refugee problem, and calling conferences such as
the Bermuda Conference to explore the whole refugee problem, making
it appear that positive action could be expected, in fact nothing has
The best summary of the whole situation is contained
in one sentence of a report submitted on December 20, 1943, by the Committee
on Foreign Relations of the Senate, recommending the passage of a Resolution
(S.R. 203), favoring the appointment of a commission to formulate plans
to save the Jews of Europe from extinction by Nazi Germany. The Resolution
had been introduced by Senator Guy M. Gillette on behalf of himself
and eleven colleagues, Senators Taft, Thomas, Radcliffe, Murray, Johnson.
Guffey, Ferguson, Clark, Van Nuys, Downey and Ellender. The Committee
“We have talked; we have sympathized; we have
expressed our horror; the time to act is long past due.”
Whether one views this failure as being deliberate
on the part of those officials handling the matter, or merely due to
their incompetence, is not too important – from my point of view.
However, there is a growing number of responsible people and organizations
today who have ceased to view our failure as the product of simple incompetence
on the part of those officials in the State Department charged with
handling this problem. They see plain Anti-Semitism motivating the actions
of these State Department officials and, rightly or wrongly, it will
require little more in the way of proof for this suspicion to explode
into a nasty scandal.
In this perspective, I ask you to weigh the implications
of the following two cases which have recently come to my attention
and which have not as yet become known to the public.
WORLD JEWISH CONGRESS PROPOSAL TO EVACUATE THOUSANDS OF JEWS FROM RUMANIA
On March 13, 1943, the World Jewish Congress representative
in London sent a cable to their offices here. This cable stated that
information reaching London indicated it was possible to rescue Jews
provided funds were put at the disposal of World Jewish Congress representation
On April 10, 1943, Sumner Welles cabled our Legation
in Bern and requested them to get in touch with the World Jewish Congress
representative in Switzerland, who Welles had been informed was in possession
of important information regarding the situation of the Jews.
On April 20, 1943, the State Department received a
cable from Bern relating to the proposed financial arrangements in connection
with the evacuation of the Jews from Rumania and France.
On May 25, 1943, State Department cabled for a clarification
of these proposed financial arrangements. This matter was not called
to the attention of the Treasury Department at this time although the
Treasury has the responsibility for licensing all such financial transactions.
This whole question of financing the evacuation of
the Jews from Rumania and France was first called to the attention of
the Treasury Department on June 25, 1943.
A conference was held with the State Department relating
to this matter on July 15, 1943.
One day after this conference, on July 16, 1943, the
Treasury Department advised the State Department that it was prepared
to issue a license in this matter.
It was not until December 18, 1943, after having interposed
objections for five months, that the State Department, precipitously
and under circumstances revealing the fictitious character of their
objections, instructed Harrison to issue the necessary license.
During this five months period between the time that
the Treasury stated that it was prepared to issue a license and the
time when the license was actually issued delays and objections of all
sorts were forthcoming from officials in the State Department, our Legation
in Bern, and finally the British. The real significance of these delays
and objections was brought home to the State Department in letters which
I sent to Secretary Hull on November 23, 1943, and December 17, 1943,
which completely devastated the excuses which State Department officials
had been advancing.
On December 18 I made an appointment to discuss the
matter with Secretary Hull on December 20. And then an amazing but understandable
thing happened. On the very day I made my appointment the State Department
issued a license not withstanding the fact that the objections of our
Legation in Bern were still outstanding and that the British had indicated
their disapproval for political reasons.
State Department officials were in such a hurry to
issue this license that they not only did not ask the Treasury to draft
the license (which would have been the normal procedure) but they drafted
the license themselves and issued it without even consulting the Treasury
as to its terms. Informal discussions with certain State Department
officials have confirmed what is obvious from the above-mentioned facts.
This wasn't all that my letter and appointment precipitated.
I had told Secretary Hull that I wished to discuss the British objections—in
simple terms, the British were apparently prepared to accept the probable
death of thousands of Jews in enemy territory because of “the
difficulties of disposing of any considerable number of Jews should
they be rescued”. Accordingly, on that day of “action”
for our State Department, December 18, they sent a telegram to the British
Foreign Office expressing astonishment at the British point of view
and stating that the Department was unable to agree with that point
Breckinridge Long, who is in charge of such matters
in the State department, knew that his position was so indefensible
that he unwilling even to try to defend it at my pending conference
with Secretary Hull on December 20. Accordingly, he took such actions
as he felt was necessary to cover up his previous position in this matter.
It is, of course, clear that if we had not made the record against the
State Department followed by my request to see Secretary Hull, the action
which the State Department to officials took on December 18 would either
never have been taken at all or would have been delayed so long that
any benefits which it might have had would have been lost.
SUPPRESSION OF FACTS REGARDING HITLER'S EXTERMINATION OF JEWS IN EUROPE
The facts are as follows:
Sumner Welles as Acting Secretary of State requests
confirmation of Hitler's plan to exterminate the Jews.
Having already received various reports on plight
of the Jews, on October 5, 1942, Sumner Welles as Acting Secretary of
State sent a cable (2314) for the personal attention of Minister Harrison
in Bern stating that leaders of the Jewish Congress had received reports
from their representatives in Geneva and London to the fact that many
thousands of Jews in Eastern Europe were being slaughtered pursuant
to a policy embarked upon the German Government for the complete extermination
of the Jews in Europe. Welles added that he was trying to obtain further
information from the Vatican but that other than this he was unable
to secure confirmation of these stories. He stated that Rabbi Wise believed
that information was available to his representatives in Switzerland
but that they were in all liklihood fearful of dispatching any such
reports through open cables or mail. He than stated that World Jewish
Congress officials in Switzerland, Riegner and Lichtheim, were being
requested by Wise to call upon Minister Harrison; and Welles requested
Minister Harrison to advise him by telegram of all the evidence and
facts which he might secure as a result of conferences with Riegner
State Department receives confirmation that the extermination
was being rapidly carried out.
Pursuant to Welles cable of October 5, Minister Harrison
forwarded documents from Riegner confirming the fact of extermination
of the Jews (in November 1942), and in a cable of January 21, 1943 (482),
relayed a message from Riegner and Lichtheim which Harrison stated was
for the information of the Under Secretary of State (and was to be transmitted
to Rabbi Stephen Wise if the Under Secretary should so determine). This
message described a horrible situation concerning the plight of Jews
in Europe. It reported mass executions of Jews in Poland; the Jews were
required before execution to strip themselves of all their clothing
which was then sent to Germany; in Germany deportations were continuing;
many Jews were being deprived of rationed foodstuffs; no Jews would
be left in Prague or Berlin by the end of March, etc; and in Rumania
130,000 Jews were deported to Transnistria; about 60,000 had already
died and the remaining 70,000 were starving; living conditions were
indescribable; Jews were deprived of all their money, foodstuffs and
possessions; they were housed in desert cellars, and occasionally twenty
to thirty people slept on floor of one unheated room; disease was prevalent,
particularly fever; urgent assistance was needed.
Sumner Welles furnishes this information to the Jewish
Sumner Welles furnished the documents received in
November to the Jewish organizations in the United States and authorized
them to make the facts public. On February 9, 1943 Welles forwarded
the messages contained in cable 482 of January 21 to Rabbi Wise.
The receipt of this message intensified the pressure
on the State Department to take some action.
Certain State Department officials attempt to stop
this Government from obtaining further information from the very source
from which the above evidence was received. On February 10, the day
after Welles forwarded the message contained in cable 482, of January
21 to Rabbi Wise, and in direct response to this cable, a most highly
significant cable was dispatched to Minister Harrison. This cable, 354
of February 10, read as follows:
“Your 482, January 21
In the future we would suggest that you do not accept
reports submitted to you to be transmitted to private persons in the
United States unless such action is advisable because of extraordinary
circumstances. Such private messages circumvent neutral countries' censorship
and it is felt that by sending them we risk the possibility that steps
would necessarily be taken by the neutral countries to curtail or forbid
our means of communication for confidential official matter.
The cable was signed for Hull by “SW”
(Sumner Welles). But it is significant that there is not a word in it
that would even suggest to the person signing that it was designed to
countermand the Departments specific requests for information on Hitler's
plans to exterminate the Jews. The cable has the appearance of being
a normal routine message which a busy official would sign without question.
On its face it is most innocent and innocuous, yet when read together
with the previous cables is it anything less than an attempted suppression
of information requested by this Government concerning the murder of
Jews by Hitler?
It is also significant that the message which provoked
the ban on further communications of this character was not addressed
to private persons at all but was addressed to Under Secretary Welles
at his own request and the information contained therein was only to
be transmitted to the World Jewish Congress if Welles deemed it advisable.
Thereafter on April 10, 1943, Sumner Welles again
request our Legation for information (cable 877). Apparently he did
not realize that in cable 354 (to which he did not refer) Harrison had
been instructed to cease forwarding reports of this character. Harrison
replied on April 20 (cable 2460) and indicated that he was in a most
confused state of mind as a result of the conflicting instructions he
had received. Among other things he stated:
“May I suggest that messages of this character
should not (repeat not) be subjected to the restriction imposed by your
354 February 10, and that I be permitted to transmit messages from R
more particularly in view of the helpful information which They may
The fact that cable 354 is not the innocent and routine
cable that it appears to be on its face is further highlighted by the
efforts of State Department officials to prevent this Department from
obtaining the cable and learning its true significance.
The facts relating to this attempted concealment are
Several men in our Department had requested State
Department officials for a copy of the cable of February 10 (354). We
had been advised that it was a Department communication; a strictly
political communication, which had nothing to do with economic matters;
that it had only had a very limited distribution within the Department,
the only ones having anything to do with it being the European Division,
the Political Adviser and Sumner Welles; and that a copy could not be
furnished to the Treasury.
At the conference in Secretary Hulls office on December
20 in the
Presence of Breckinridge Long I asked Secretary Hull for a copy of cable
354, which I was told would be furnished to me.
By note to me of December 20, Breckinridge Long enclosed
a paraphrase of cable 354. This paraphrase of cable 354 specifically
omitted any reference to cable 482 of January 21—thus destroying
the only tangible to the true meaning of the message.
I would never have learned the true meaning of cable
354 had it not been for chance. I had asked one of the men in my Department
to obtain all the facts on this matter. He had previously called one
of the men in another Division of the State Department and requested
permission to see the relevant cables. In view of the Treasury interest
in this matter, the State Department representative obtained cable 354
and the cable of January 21 to which it referred and showed these cables
to my representative.
The facts I have detailed in this report, Mr. President,
came to the Treasurys attention as a part of our routine investigation
of the licensing of the financial phases of the proposal of the World
Jewish Congress for the evacuation of Jews from France and Rumania.
The facts may thus be said to have come to light through accident. How
many others of the same character are buried in State Department files
is a matter I would have no way of knowing. Judging from the almost
complete failure of the State Department to achieve any results, the
strong suspicion must be that they are not few.
This much is certain, however. The matter of rescuing
the Jews from extermination is a trust too great to remain in the hands
of men who are indifferent, callous, and perhaps even hostile. The task
is filled with difficulties. Only a fervent will to accomplish, backed
by persistent and untiring effort can succeed where time is so precious.
Jan. 16, 1944