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The Riegner Report: Background & Overview

(August 1942)

The World Jewish Congress (WJC) representative in Geneva, Gerhard Riegner, obtained information from a German manufacturer, Eduard Schulte — who had connections in Hitler’s general headquarters — indicating that Hitler had decided to systematically annihilate all of European Jewry and that gas was being used to attain this goal. After Riegner gathered further information about his source, he approached the American Consulate in Geneva with the report. He handed the deputy consul a cable and asked him to forward it to Stephen Wise, an American Jewish leader. The cable contained the information that Riegner had obtained from Schulte concerning the plans for the murder of European Jewry:

Received alarming report that in Fuhrer’s headquarters plan discussed and under consideration according to which all Jews in countries occupied or controlled Germany numbering 3 1/2 - 4 million should after deportation and concentration in east be exterminated at one blow to resolve once and for all the Jewish question in Europe. Action reported planned for autumn; methods under discussion including prussic acid. We transmit information with all necessary reservation as exactitude cannot be confirmed. Informant stated to have close connections with highest German authorities and his reports generally speaking reliable

The sources of Schulte’s information are not known and the cable contained some inaccuracies. For example, mass murder of Jews had been going on since June 1941, and gassings had been taking place since September 1941. The cable spoke of a future “blow” under “consideration,” whereas the extermination that had been begun was an ongoing process. Moreover, the cable itself indicated that the information may not have been true. The last sentence had been introduced into the cable at the insistence of Dr. Paul Guggenheim, a senior member of the WJC living in Geneva. Nevertheless, the cable was a breakthrough, because it confirmed seemingly inconclusive information about the mass murder that had reached the West previously.

The State Department received the cable, but decided not to transmit messages from “private individuals.” On August 28, the second addressee of the cable, Sidney Silverman, a member of the British Parliament, sent a copy of the cable to Wise. The Assistant Secretary of State, Sumner Welles, summoned Wise and asked him not to disclose the information until it could be verified.

Wise agreed, yet he informed a number of cabinet ministers, President Roosevelt, Court Justice Felix Frankfurter and Christian clergymen.

On November 24, 1942, when the U.S. government was finally convinced, Wise broke the news of the cable, together with other supporting information to the press.

Thus, more than another year passed until the information, which was already available in 1941, led to action.

Sources:Yad Vashem.
Simon Wiesenthal Center.