- About Us
- Get Involved
- For Professionals
DOCUMENTATION ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST: EMIGRATION
by RICHARD BREITMAN
The Holocaust: Selected Documents, ed. John Mendelsohn. 18 vols. New York: Garland, 1982. $55 each, $837 set.
Vol. 5: Jewish Emigration from 1933 to the Evian Conference of 1938. 282 pp.
Vol. 6: Jewish Emigration, 1938-1940: Rublee negotiations and the Intergovernmental Committee. 256 pp.
Vol. 7: The S.S. St. Louis Affair and other cases. 270 pp.
Vol. 14: Relief and Rescue of jews from Nazi Oppression, 1943-1945. 242 pp.
Vol. 15: Relief in Hungary and the Failure of the Joel Brand Mission. 249 pp.
Vol. 16: Rescue to Switzerland: the Musy and Sa~y Mayer Affairs , intro. by Sybil Milton. 219 pp.
THE HOLOCAUST, edited by John Mendelsohn, a senior staff member of the National Archives, is an eighteen-volume collection of documents from various record groups of the National Archives. Each volume in the collection is devoted to a particular topic or sequence of events and contains a selection of relevant documents. A compilation of all National Archives documents related to the Holocaust would require perhaps thousands of volumes and cannot be considered practical. The Holocaust, published by Garland Press, nonetheless covers a great deal of ground and possesses much greater depth in Holocaustrelated material than Documents on German Foreign Policy and Foreign Relations of the United States.
The Garland series possesses two unusual features. First, the documents are actual photocopies of the originals, which has the advantage of giving the reader a look at the real thing. It has the disadvantage of diminished legibility, which reflects the state of the original. Mendelsohn has compensated occasionally by including in an appendix a freshly printed copy of the hard-to-read photocopy. This reviewer found that the only serious legibility problem was not with the typed portion of documents but with handwritten comments, initials, and signatures. The second unusual characteristic is the blending together of documents in English and German. A substantial number of the German documents, taken from the captured German documents sections of the National Archives, are accompanied by English summaries or translations that are themselves historical documents; they were prepared by the prosecution staff for the Nuremberg war crimes trials and are also drawn from the National Archives. Those who do not read German should be able to use most of each volume.
Every volume begins with a brief but cogent introduction, a list of relevant record groups in the archives, a list of the documents included (with file numbers), and brief notes to particular documents provided by the editor. It might have aided the reader if the notes had been at the end of documents and not at the front. There are also a few minor slips in the identification of the various U.S. officials. Leland Harrison was American minister in Switzerland (volume 16, note 4), and Edward R. Stettinius was undersecretary of state, then secretary of state (volume 16, note 6).
This work should prove particularly useful to scholars in the early stage of their research and without immediate access to or familiarity with the National Archives. It supplies not only primary sources but also the file numbers in which more evidence can be found. The collection is a bonanza for the professor whose students wish to do research on the Holocaust.
The value of an edition of documents depends most upon an editor's ability to select judiciously, and here John Mendelsohn deserves high marks. Many of the documents are basic for researchers and some cast new light on old controversies. Here I will review volumes 5, 6, 7, 14, 15, and 16, all of which deal with the possibilities for Jewish emigration from Nazi-dominated territories.
Volume 5 deals with plans for mass Jewish emigration from 1933 to 1938. Beginning sometime in 1935, some prominent German Jews, such as banking magnate Max Warburg, and some non-German backers tried to work out a plan to finance the emigration of some 300,000 German Jews over a ten-year period. From Document 3 one gets a hint of the mixed reaction in the State Department to the prospect of a substantial increase in German Jewish immigration to the United States. On the German side, however, the problems were even greater. Hitler refrained from sanctioning any such arrangement (as he would later do in the case of the Schacht and Intergovernmental Committee on Refugee plans). Although some German officials welcomed the opportunity to remove Jews from the country, there were powerful countervailing forces, particularly within the SS and the Foreign Office, that placed strong limitations on any bargain. An SS official named Hagen (see Document 4) made it clear that even Jews abroad were Germany's enemies; thus, German Jews should only be permitted to emigrate to countries of a low cultural (and presumably, economic and military) level. Hagen and Adolf Eichmann also concluded (see Document 6, p. 100) that Germany's interest lay not in encouraging the export of Jewish capital but in forcing the emigration of poor Jews. Moreover, despite the unusual financial arrangement that permitted German Jewish emigration to Palestine on a limited basis, Germany had to discourage the formation of an independent Jewish state in Palestine. By 1938, such attitudes led to tighter restrictions on the issuance of passports to Jews (see Documents 8 and 9) and to extreme limitations on the sum of money Jewish emigrants were permitted to take along. Clearly, Nazi Germany's Jewish policy (one should probably speak ofJewish policies) was never limited to forced emigration and never favored Jewish emigration at any price.
Under the impact of German annexation of Austria and intensified anti-Jewish persecution, President Roosevelt invited a host of governments to an international conference on the refugee problem, held in Evian-les-bains, France. From the beginning, the State Department had no intention of advocating any substantial changes in American immigration laws and regulations. Document 13 provides a glimpse of Assistant Secretary of State George Messersmith restricting the scope of the Evian Conference and of the body to become known as the President's Advisory Committee on Political Refugees. Many of the remaining documents illustrate the herculean difficulties facing Myron Taylor and George Rublee, respectively American delegate to the Evian Conference and the director of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, in 1938. The Western democracies were unwilling to modify immigration laws, most of the Latin American nations were wary of Jewish immigrants, and the German government was suspicious of the IGCR from the start.
Volume 6 continues the IGCR's sad tale. Although the United States supposedly wanted Rublee to proceed to Berlin and try to negotiate an arrangement, Rublee complained to Myron Taylor (Document 1) that neither the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain nor the British government were enthusiastic. Moreover, the Germans could not make up their minds whether to admit Rublee (Documents 1-4). When Reichsbank President Hjalmar Schacht pushed negotiations forward, the German Foreign Office put up strong resistance (Documents 5-6). One does not, however, learn from this volume just how far negotiations ultimately proceeded before they collapsed, since most of the key documents are not to be found in the National Archives. The interested scholar must seek out private correspondence in the George S. Messersmith Papers, the files of various Jewish organizations, and other sources.
After the outbreak of war, the officers of the IGCR met in Washington to reconsider their course (Document 8). President Roosevelt urged the group not to abandon work, but to concentrate in the short run on moving those refugees in temporary sanctuaries outside Germany to permanent homes and to develop long-range plans for the resettlement of vast numbers of expected refugees at the end of the war. Although these were practical suggestions, they presaged a wartime policy of self-interest among the Western democracies that abandoned Jews and non-Aryans still in Nazi territory. The new director of the IGCR, Herbert Emerson, observed that Germany would not likely wish to get rid of productive citizens, but only of those persons who constituted a drain on resources. (Such reasoning failed to take account of the intensity of Nazi antisemitism.) With the refugees, Emerson claimed, would come spies. Governments at war with Germany could not consider admission of refugees directly from Germany. Moreover, the British delegate announced that the experimental resettlement program planned for British Guiana had to be suspended.
The officers reached agreement that the few identified opportunities for resettlement should be used to relieve France, Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands, which all viewed themselves as overburdened with refugees. Meanwhile, German authorities continued to encourage the emigration of some Jews, in part by way of Italy (Documents 13-15). Only in May 1941 came a clear official signal that Germany no longer wished Jews to leave. The reason, in the words of Walter Schellenberg, was the "doubtlessly coming final solution of the Jewish question" (Document 17).
Volume 7 contrasts German policies before and after the "Final Solution." The first nine files, from German and American diplomatic sources, portray the famous St. Louis affair. The St. Louis, a Hamburg- American Line ship, was en route to Havana with a load of Jewish emigrants when the Cuban government announced that it would not admit the passengers, although they had already received Cuban visas. American diplomats in Cuba followed the ensuing controversy carefully, in part because many of the Jewish refugees who were already in Cuba had registered for immigration visas to the United States. This may also have been a factor in the American refusal to pressure Cuba to accept the St. Louis passengers (Document 3, pp. 59, 71). In fairness, however, one must add that both Washington and Berlin were aware that the visas were obtained through the corrupt Cuban director general of immigration, and that only additional and even larger bribes to higher Cuban officials might have induced Cuba to take on the helpless passengers. The local representative of the Jewish relief committee chose not to take this route, the ship was turned away, and it headed back toward Hamburg. At the last moment, Britain, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands relented, and each agreed to accept a share of the refugees. Meanwhile, the German charge d'affaires in Havana wanted Berlin to authorize a formal protest to Cuba over its insult to Germany. He had to content himself with Cuba's expression of regret over the incident. The American and German documents provide a vivid, detailed, and engrossing picture of the confusing sequence of events.
The second half of the volume demonstrates German resolve from late 1941 on to prevent the emigration of Jews from Nazi territories and satellites such as Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary. At one point (Document 17, p. 170), Himmler agreed to consider permitting 5,000 Jewish children to emigrate from Romania in exchange for 20,000 Germans "capable of reproduction" from among the German internees held abroad. But the Jews could not be permitted to proceed to Palestine, only to England. Himmler did not expect the British to accept such terms but thought that the negotiations might have considerable propaganda value for Germany, particularly in the Arab world (p. 202). As the negotiations dragged on, the number of living Jewish children dwindled. The Final Solution worked faster than the diplomats.
Volumes 14, 15, and 16 concern the possibilities for rescue and relief operations during 1943-1945, and the documents contain a number of surprises. Even after the creation of the War Refugee Board in the United States improved prospects for meaningful action, many difficulties and obstacles remained. Document 3 (pp. 25, 47-48, 54, 62, 79-80) reveals that bitter disagreements among the joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency for Palestine, Agudath Israel, and other Jewish groups hampered War Refugee Board efforts in eastern Europe. Another revelation (Document 4, p. 114) is that shortly after the creation of the WRB, the British informed Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, the WRB's main sponsor, that they were reluctant to cooperate because of the implication that units or individuals of the armed forces would be used in rescuing refugees. This comment led the Operations Division and the War Department to rule out specific operations to rescue victims of enemy oppression. These decisions greatly illuminate the almost perfunctory War Department refusals of later WRB requests for bombing of the rail lines to Auschwitz and of the gas chambers at Birkenau, both of which are extensively chronicled here. The documents related to bombing requests are not, however, in chronological order, and the reader must go carefully to recapture the sequence of events.
The evidence presented in volume 15 regarding the Joel Brand affair will probably not resolve the controversy as to whether there was a serious German offer to exchange Hungarian Jews for trucks in 1944. Yet the documents should make the continuing debate much more informed. From the start, there were conflicting reactions when Brand, a Hungarian Jewish emissary, surfaced in Istanbul with word that the Gestapo representatives in Hungary were willing to strike a deal for Jewish lives. Reuben Resnik, representative of the joint Distribution Committee in Istanbul, and Leslie Squires, American vice-consul there, were highly suspicious of German motives, fearing particularly that Germany was seeking to drive a wedge between Russia and the West. The British ended up by confining Brand in Cairo, preventing him from returning to Hungary with a response to the Gestapo. But War Refugee Board Special Representative Ira Hirschmann, who interviewed Brand in Cairo, was more positive. Even if the Germans had ulterior motives, such as engaging the Allies in negotiations that might lead to peace proposals, time and lives might be gained. The transcript of a 1947 conversation between former SS official Kurt Becher and Hungarian Jewish leader Rudolf Kastner (Document 5) lends some support to those who viewed the Nazi offer as a trick. Becher quotes Himmler as saying "take what you can get"; then he would give nothing in exchange. But Becher insisted on an "honest" deal, and his subsequent experience indicates that he could carry out at least small maneuvers.
Volume 16, focusing on two separate sets of negotiations with Nazi representatives in Switzerland, illustrates the flexibility and confusion within Nazi ranks as the end of the war approached. This volume has a longer introduction written by Sybil Milton and contains references to major secondary literature.
Again, American interrogation of Kurt Becher (Document 1) provides persuasive evidence that Himmler actually wanted to obtain 10,000 trucks through negotiations, and that he was operating without Hitler's knowledge. Saly Mayer, a Swiss citizen who represented the joint Distribution Committee, was placed in the almost impossible position of negotiating with Becher and others without being able to deliver any goods or money in return. With the cooperation of WRB representative Roswell McClelland, Mayer led the Germans on, persuaded them to release two groups of almost 1,700 Hungarian Jews as gestures of good faith, and delayed the deportation of many thousands more. Toward the end, McClelland persuaded Washington to cooperate to the ex- tent of transmitting funds to a blocked account in Switzerland as a way of proving to the Germans that money was available for a deal. But no American money was ever spent. The second set of negotiations, a less savory episode involving a Swiss pro-Nazi, also resulted in the saving of some Jewish lives without real cost. The very detailed description by Roswell McClelland of War Refugee Board efforts in Switzerland (Document 4) is one of the more impressive pieces in the volume. McClelland compares diplomatic efforts to prevent the Nazis from exterminating Jews to "beating against a steel door with bare fists. " He concludes his long description as follows:
Such was the fight on one of the War Refugee Board's fronts, with its sorties and skirmishes, its trenches stormed and its ground gained-and lost-in the uneven struggle to succour and to save some of the victims of the Nazi assault on human decency. Its successes were slight in relation to the frightful casualties sus- tained; yet it is sincerely felt that its accomplishments constitute a victory, small in comparison to that far greater military one carried by force of arms, but which nevertheless adds a measure of particularly precious strength to our cause.
McClelland's words accurately reflect the fact that the perpetrators of the Final Solution commanded far more resources than the sin- cere but outnumbered advocates of rescue.