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U.S. Policy During WWII: The Morgenthau Commission

(July - September 1919)

The Morgenthau Commission was a U.S. commission from July to September 1919, headed by Henry Morgenthau Sr., to investigate the situation of the Polish Jews after the pogroms which took place in Poland at the end of World War I. The news of the pogroms set off stormy demonstrations in the important Jewish centers of the West. The representatives of the Polish National Committee in Paris were troubled by the extent of this reaction, and sought to improve their image with the public and among leading statesmen in order to strengthen their position at the forthcoming peace treaty negotiations. It was against this background that the Polish premier, Ignace Paderewski, suggested to President Wilson that an American commission be sent to Poland in order to carry out an objective investigation of the facts on the spot, and to prove that the rumors which had been circulated were maliciously exaggerated.

The mission, besides its chairman, included lieutenant general E. Jadwin, the lawyer H.G. Johnson, and the jurist Arthur L. Goodhart as adviser. The commission considered that its task was not only to note facts but to uncover their causes and offer proposals for improving the situation. The activities of the commission in Poland lasted two months. The public and parliamentary debates on the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and the Minority Treaty (see Minority Rights ) connected with it aroused exaggerated sensitivity among the Poles, some of whom were inclined to regard the commission as an expression of mistrust on the part of the Anglo-French Entente. The Morgenthau Commission met with the representatives of the various groups in Polish Jewry, paying special attention to the views of the parliament representatives and leaders of the political parties. Morgenthau did not conceal his sympathy for the assimilationists and was impressed by the ẓaddik of Gur ( Gora Kalwaria ) as the spokesman of the ḥasidic masses. The commission visited the large urban centers and spent some time in disputed areas such as Lvov and Vilna , as well as in such towns as Pinsk and Kielce which had been the scene of pogroms. Morgenthau spoke to a considerable number of Polish leaders of various political parties. Morgenthau treated the unconventional figure of Marshal Pilsudski with respect, the latter making no effort to hide his dissatisfaction with the whole idea of the commission, as a slur on the honor of Poland. Because of his delicate position as a Jew, Morgenthau made a point of appearing objective and was inclined to justify the Poles as much as possible.

The report of the commission was published in the New York Times on Oct. 3, 1919. It tended to minimize the outbreak of violence to a number of incidents occurring against a background of tension and hostile acts, perpetrated by the occupation armies and retreating forces. As for the future, the equality of all citizens, without any distinctions in their rights or obligations, was to be ensured. Endeavors were to be made to introduce changes in the lives of the Jews by diversifying the branches of economy in which they were engaged and by increased vocational training.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

H. Morgenthau, All in a Lifetime (1922); A.L. Goodhart, Poland and the Minority Races (1920); AJYB, 22 (1920/21), 255; H.M. Rabinowicz, The Legacy of Polish Jewry (1965), 38–41. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: S. Netzer, Ma'avak Yehudei Polin al Zekhuyoteihem ha-Ezraḥiyot ve-ha-Le'ummiyot (1980), index; Bulletin du Comité des Delegation Juive auprès de la Conférence de la Paix, No.12 (March 16, 1920), 2.