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Roosevelt Tells Congress of Nazi Determination to Exterminate European Jewry

(June 12, 1944)

To the Congress:

Congress has repeatedly manifested its deep concern with the pitiful plight of the persecuted minorities in Europe whose lives are each day being offered in sacrifice on the altar of Nazi tyranny.

This Nation is appalled by the systematic persecution of helpless minority groups by the Nazis. To us the unprovoked murder of innocent people simply because of race, religion, or political creed is the blackest of all possible crimes. Since the Nazis began this campaign many of our citizens in all walks of life and of all political and religious persuasions have expressed our feeling of repulsion and our anger. It is a matter with respect to which there is and can be no division of opinion amongst us.

As the hour of the final defeat of the Hitlerite forces draws closer, the fury of their insane desire to wipe out the Jewish race in Europe continues undiminished. This is but one example: Many Christian groups also are being murdered. Knowing that they have lost the war, the Nazis are determined to complete their program of mass extermination. This program is but one manifestation of Hitler’s aim to salvage from military defeat victory for Nazi principles - the very principles which this war must destroy unless we shall have fought in vain.

This Government has not only made clear its abhorrence of this inhuman and barbarous activity of the Nazis, but, in cooperation with other Governments, has endeavored to alleviate the condition of the persecuted peoples. In January of this year I determined that this Government should intensify its efforts to combat the Nazi terror. Accordingly, I established the War Refugee Board, composed of the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and War. This Board was charged with the responsibility of taking all action consistent with the successful prosecution of the war to rescue the victims of enemy oppression in imminent danger of death and to afford such victims all other possible relief and assistance. It was entrusted with the solemn duty of translating this Government’s humanitarian policy into prompt action, thus manifesting once again in a concrete way that our kind of world and not Hitler’s will prevail. Its purpose is directly and closely related to our whole war effort.

Since its establishment, the War Refugee Board, acting through a full-time administrative staff, has made a direct and forceful attack on the problem. Operating quietly, as is appropriate, the Board, through its representatives in various parts of the world, has actually succeeded in saving the lives of innocent people. Not only have refugees been evacuated from enemy territory, but many measures have been taken to protect the lives of those who have not been able to escape.

Above all, the efforts of the Board have brought new hope to the oppressed peoples of Europe. This statement is not idle speculation. From various sources, I have received word that thousands of people, wearied by their years of resistance to Hitler and by their sufferings to the point of giving up the struggle, have been given the will and desire to continue by the concrete manifestation of this Government’s desire to do all possible to aid and rescue the oppressed.

To the Hitlerites, their subordinates and functionaries and satellites, to the German people, and to all other peoples under the Nazi yoke, we have made clear our determination to punish all participants in these acts of savagery. In the name of humanity we have called upon them to spare the lives of these innocent people.

Notwithstanding this Government’s unremitting efforts, which are continuing, the numbers actually rescued from the jaws of death have been small compared with the numbers still facing extinction in German territory. This is due principally to the fact that our enemies, despite all our appeals and our willingness to find havens of refuge for the oppressed peoples, persist in their fiendish extermination campaign and actively prevent the intended victims from escaping to safety.

In the face of this attitude of our enemies we must not fail to take full advantage of any opportunity, however limited, for the rescue of Hitler’s victims. We are confronted with a most urgent situation.

Therefore, I wish to report to you today concerning a step which I have just taken in an effort to save additional lives and which I am certain will meet with your approval. You will, I am sure, appreciate that this measure is not only consistent with the successful prosecution of the war, but that it was essential to take action without delay.

Even before the Allied landing in Italy there had been a substantial movement of persecuted peoples of various races and nationalities into that country. This movement was undoubtedly prompted by the fact that, despite all attempts by the Fascists to stir up intolerance, the warm-hearted Italian people could not forsake their centuries-old tradition of tolerance and humanitarianism. The Allied landings swelled this stream of fleeing and hunted peoples seeking sanctuary behind the guns of the United Nations. However, in view of the military situation in Italy, the number of refugees who can be accommodated there is relatively limited. The Allied military forces, in view of their primary responsibility, have not been able generally speaking to encourage the escape of refugees from enemy territory. This unfortunate situation has prevented the escape of the largest possible number of refugees. Furthermore, as the number of refugees living in southern Italy increases, their care constitutes an additional and substantial burden for the military authorities.

Recently the facilities for the care of refugees in southern Italy have become so overtaxed that unless many refugees who have already escaped to that area and are arriving daily, particularly from the Balkan countries, can be promptly removed to havens of refuge elsewhere, the escape of refugees to that area from German-occupied territory will be seriously impeded. It was apparent that prompt action was necessary to meet this situation. Many of the refugees in southern Italy have been and are being moved to temporary refuges in the territory of other United and friendly Nations. However, in view of the number of refugees still in southern Italy, the problem could not be solved unless temporary havens of refuge were found for some of them in still other areas. In view of this most urgent situation it seemed indispensable that the United States in keeping with our heritage and our ideals of liberty and justice take immediate steps to share the responsibility for meeting the problem.

Accordingly, arrangements have been made to bring immediately to this country approximately 1,000 refugees who have fled from their homelands to southern Italy. Upon the termination of the war they will be sent back to their homelands. These refugees are predominantly women and children. They will be placed on their arrival in a vacated Army camp on the Atlantic Coast where they will remain under appropriate security restrictions.

The Army will take the necessary security precautions and the camp will be administered by the War Relocation Authority. The War Refugee Board is charged with over-all responsibility for this project.

Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: F.D. Roosevelt, 1944-1945, Volume 13, (1950).