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Righteous Among the Nations: Report on Negotiations Between Saly Mayers and the SS

(December 28, 1944)

Saly Mayer (1882-1950) was the representative of the Joint Distribution Committee in Switzerland from 1942. In 1944, during the course of Mayer's skillful negotiations with the SS in Hungary, Himmler decided not to deport Budapest Jews. Mayer served as liaison for the JDC in post-war Europe and sent food parcels to Dachau and other places after liberation.

Important! SM – Dec. 28/44.

Re: “Negotiations.” Special report from Saly Mayer of the JDC.
Summing up of results of 6 months of negotiating with the SS.

The starting point of the whole negotiations with ARBA is President Roosevelt's appeal to all neutral countries, organizations and private persons to help in avoiding Hitler's plan to exterminate Jews and other minorities. We have repeatedly stated, at least orally, that there are two Nazi groups in the SS organization, of which one is for the preservation of the still existing Jews, the other for the extermination. It is our interest and intention to support the former against the latter. In order to do so, we have to make an offer. Their desire was to obtain goods, notably war materials. We have been able to oppose to this desire all arguments which were available, among them of course the chief one that those to whom we would have to look for means, would not be able to furnish them to that end. Finally we have negotiated on the basis of sustaining the Jews in the hands of the Germans and Hungarians, by sending them supplies, i.e., eatables, clothing and medicaments and providing later on for their removal or emigration. This new basis excluded in fact very nearly all that was of a business character and only preserved a humanitarian side, and the chief interest the other party might still have in the matter, short of killing off the remaining Jews, was to have them more or less off their hands as far as their daily needs were concerned. In view of the progressive shrinkage of necessities of all sorts in German-controlled countries, inclusive of Austria and Hungary, this is not a matter of mean importance, and the question, why a proposal as ours should be accepted, may be well answered by it, even if we admit that it is very far from what ARBA expected from us. Our plan also has the advantage that it may be defended on ethical grounds, and that it contains nothing which counteracts to the legal basis on which those to whom we have to look for our financial basis have to work.

Of course, this plan requires financial means, and therefore the concurrence of the Allied governments and also the assistance of the Swiss Federal Government and of the I.R.C.; of the former in order to obtain and pay for the necessities in Switzerland, on the other for the forwarding, the repartition and controlling of them. It may safely be said that on principle the concurrence both of the Swiss Government and of the International Red Cross may be counted upon, while it would be an act of diplomatic courtesy that the wish to have the two institutions in question cooperate should be officially submitted to them.

It is not impossible that owing to the considerably shrunken import and the current Swiss Relief Action (Schweizerhilfe) supplies such as needed for the present relief work may be scarce, so that we would like to repeat here the request we have already addressed to the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees to give a helping hand in this matter of supplies.

Now, if we refer here to a question which was formerly formulated under the heading: “Will it produce results?” we may mention some matters which, at least in a considerable degree, may be referred to as a result of the negotiations in question, while of course other currents have helped in part:

The cessation of the exterminating crematorium of Auschwitz, Himmler's order to stop premeditated killing, the forwarding of 1,700 people from Bergen-Belsen to Switzerland, of which the second train in good condition and comparative luxury, a fact which may safely be set down as a direct result of pending negotiations;

the reducing of the age limit for such people who would be allowed to stay in Budapest for reasons of age;

the permission that several thousand children could remain in Budapest under Red Cross supervision and protection;

a promise given by the German authorities that 14,000 persons would be allowed to be brought to Switzerland;

the fact that 17,000 people were brought by rail from Hungary to Vienna and environs;

the sufferance that some 700 persons were allowed to escape from Hungary to Palestine, a fact which would not have been possible without the silent concurrence of German authorities.

There are other points which may only be considered as Expectations of Futures:

If the plan will go into working, there may be further transports to Switzerland and therefore to a better chance of preserving lives; If we have been able to do some amount of useful work, this may be a first step to the intervention of institutions and bodies of more authority and power than private persons can possibly have.

It seems to us that we should not be the first to stop negotiations, while the opposite party is still prepared to continue them.

We want to do all we can and we think that this is an opening to avoid and eliminate further misdeeds not necessitated by warlike action. We think that while the outstretched hand may not be outstretched for mere goodwill or for charity's sake it would be better, in view of the situation of the people who are in the power of those with whom we deal or rather of their competitors who mean less well, to put something into that outstretched hand, in order to help those that are in their own way helping us.

Finally, the undersigned expresses his belief that this action if continued skillfully and with the necessary sacrifices, will lead to a good end.

St. Gall, December 28th 1944

[Signed Saly Mayer]

Source: David S. Wyman (ed.), "America and the Holocaust. War Refugee Board: Hungary," Vol. 8, garland Publishing, Inc., 1990, pp.77-79.


Source: Yad Vashem. Introduction from The Simon Wiesenthal Center