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Efforts to Save Jewish Children in France

(August - September 1943)

In August 1943, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau was given cables from the American Legation in Bern, Switzerland describing the plight of Jews in France. Randolph Paul summarizes the contents which refer to children from 2 to 14 years-old being taken from their parents and deported to undisclosed destinations in window-less boxcars without food or water. He says that the rescue of children and other Jews is being hampered by a lack of funds. The United States was concerned at the time with any trade that might benefit the enemy. Paul concludes that “in view of the announced policy of the enemy to annihilate certain minority groups…operations which would bring some measure of relief to such groups would have the effect of thwarting the Axis.” He says some people would argue relief should be provided “given if the enemy obtains certain limited benefits” and recommends the Treasury support these operations with certain safeguards. The relevant documents can be read here.

A confidential message from Donald Lowrie, apparently the head of the YMCA in southern France, was passed on by the American Legation in Bern, Switzerland to the State Department for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC). It describes the deterioration of the situation in France where the persecution of Jews was reaching a “new climax” and the commander of the Drancy transit camp Alois Brunner was instituting more violent and drastic measures. The telegram documents the mass arrests and deportations taking place and says that children will die because not enough money is available to save them. It says 3,700 Jewish children are in hiding and many are being protected by Italians occupying certain prefectures. These collaborators are also in danger and Lowrie requests 30,000 francs to facilitate the rescue of the Jews and their helpers.

Morgenthau gave approval for financing the rescue operations but had difficulty getting a response from the State Department as to whether it had transmitted the information to the Bern. He later called the Secretary of State to find out why the cables had not been sent. Included in the documents is a cable outlining the terms for providing funds to evacuate Jewish children hiding in France. A letter from Moses Leavitt, Secretary of the AJDC, to John Pehle asks him to forward the organization’s commitment to authorize up to $100,000 worth of francs to be borrowed to help the Jews in France.