The Fate of Non-Jewish Refugees

by Robert W. Ross

Haim Genizi, American Apathy: The Plight of Christian Refugees from Nazism. Ramat-Gan, Israel: Bar-Ilan University, 1983. 411 pages.

One of the little-addressed central questions raised by the coming to power of the National Socialist party and Adolph Hitler in 1933 is: was Nazism under Hitler as great a threat to Christianity as it was to Jews? In the many discussions following the publication of the "Aryan Clause," paragraph 3 in the Law for Reestablishment of a Professional Civil Service on 7 April 1933, specific reference was made to what would happen to "non-Aryan Christians," Jews who had converted to Christianity. In these discussions, it is often intimated that Hitler's accession to power was an immediate threat not only to Jews, but also to Christians generally, not merely converts from Judaism.

This basic question underlies Haim Genizi's work. It must immediately be noted that the general topic of Christians, Christian refugees, and the efforts of organizations to address the "plight" of these refugees by American Christian and Jewish organizations, is contained in this book written by a Jewish scholar, himself a survivor, a resident of Israel and a professor of history at Bar Ilan University. His subject has not been addressed by Christian scholars to-date.

Two statements made by Professor Genizi are worth noting, since they establish clearly the basic thesis for his study:

Despite the increasing flow of books and articles published in recent years on the subject of American apathy toward Jewish refugees during the Nazi era, the contribution of non-Jewish relief organizations to the alleviation of the refugee problem in general, and the plight of non-Jewish refugees in particular, has been largely neglected. Christians who fled Nazi-dominated countries on account of political, religious or racial persecution constituted almost a third of the refugees who reached American shores. (p. 9)

As a totalitarian regime, the Nazis crushed their political rivals and challenged Church Independence. Jews, Aryans and non-Aryan Christians were victims of legal discrimination, expropriation and terror. These persecutions led to an increasing flow of Jewish and Christian refugees out of Germany. (p. 15)

What efforts were made by agencies and organizations to assist this group of refugees, a third of those fleeing the Nazis? Who were the agencies? How successful were they? Genizi addresses these questions in a very detailed and comprehensive analysis. To do so he has examined a broad spectrum of sources. One of the benefits for subsequent scholarship can be shown by reference to those parts of the book that are not in the main discussion, his "List of Abbreviations," (pp. 13-14), his "Tables," (pp. 340-57) and his extensive Bibliography (pp. 359-78), particularly the section labeled "Primary Sources" (pp. 359-72). These three sections are a veritable goldmine for further research and study, and they make a major contribution through identification of the basic source list from which any serious scholar must work.

In the body of his book, Professor Genizi combines chronology with a topical approach, narrating the material according to periods of the Nazi era, 1933-1945. He also presents the story of the emerging efforts of numerous agencies and organizations in the U.S. whose main purpose was to assist Christian refugees to escape Nazism. It is in this context that the appropriateness of Genizi's choice of the word "apathy" in his title becomes apparent. He identifies at least 41 agencies, including governmental agencies, specifically Christian agencies, denominational agencies, and Jewish agencies concerned with assisting Christian refugees. Patiently and in great detail, Genizi tells the story of concern that was slow to develop, an over-protective sort of "territorial" mentality on the part of agencies and agency leaders, under-funding, the failure of American Christians to respond to repeated efforts to raise money for assistance to Christian refugees, rivalry and even open hostility between agencies both in their "home" offices in the U.S. and in their European branches in Portugal and Spain, failure on the part of the American government at all levels to provide strong support for refugee assistance, the particular and well-known resistance within the U.S. State Department to refugee assistance, and the ambivalence of President Roosevelt on just about all questions involving refugees, children, Christians, and Jews.

Genizi's approach is truly "patient." Detail by detail he builds the case for apathy, from the formation of the first refugee organization in 1934, the American Committee for Christian Refugees, through subsequent organizations such as the Catholic Committee for Refugees (1936) to the American Friends Service Committee and the denominational groups. He makes the point that the period prior to Kristallnacht (9-13 November 1938) was especially unsuccessful; after this major evidence of the Nazis' intentions, some of the agencies were able to operate relatively more effectively. The major problem continued to be lack of funds, based on indifference or an unwillingness of constituencies of various agencies to underwrite the cost of rescuing refugees from Nazi Germany.

The strength of Genizi's work lies in his documentation of the lack of interest and concern, as, agency by agency, he reports the continuous failure of these organizations to reach their goals based on appeals to their own "normal" supporting groups. This resulted in curtailment of effort, reductions of staff, consolidation of some agencies through mergers or combining for "joint" or cooperative efforts, and in some instances the dosing down of the agency. Part of this last factor was, in part, due to the proliferation of agencies, evidence that supports one of the most common themes in the story of rescue attempts of anyone from Hitler's Germany: the effect of special interest, or "territoriality." Plainly there was no successful, large-scale, coordinated, total effort that would maximize use of funds and resources, pressure governments, coordinate and carry out rescue efforts, find safe- havens and jobs, confront racism and antisemitism, keep in contact with refugees, coordinate job training and language training efforts, provide transportation, and set up support systems that would make the rescue effort more successful than it ultimately was. Sadly, American apathy included an agency "go-it-alone" attitude, which was manifest in open hostility, antagonism, refusal to cooperate with others, and intransigence. Of course, personality issues were at times one of the causes for this situation.

The problem of who was in need of rescue in Nazi Germany was in itself a considerable one. Genizi points up the legal tangle within Germany in decrees from 1933 on, by which categories of people were legally identifiable, as, for example, the term "non-Aryan." In particular, on 7 April 1933 the decree for the Reenactment of the Professional Civil Service was announced, including paragraph 3, which included the term "non-Aryan" for the first time. Since the term was not defined, on 11 April 1933 a statement of clarification or definition was announced as to what "non-Aryan" meant (p. 16). This "definition" affected not only Jews but Christians as well, raising questions of conversion and intermarriage. Ultimately, in the Nuremberg Laws of 15 September 1935, the term "non-Aryan" was embodied in legal definitions of what it meant to be Jewish, but also what the consequences of being married to a person of "Jewish blood", or of having had one or more Jewish grandparents even though self-identified as Christian was to be. Who, then, should be rescued?

Though the number of "non-Aryan" German Christians has been set at 2.5 million, Genizi correctly states that this is a controversial figure that even now cannot be established with certainty (p. 22). Concern within Germany to provide assistance to this group of disenfranchised people was evident in that Roman Catholics from Austria and Germany began to leave in increasingly large numbers, as did Protestants. No formal means for assistance seems to have been established by the Roman Catholic Church to assist Catholic refugees in their effort to leave. For Protestants, there was no organized effort to assist "non-Aryan Christians" to leave Germany until 1936, when the Pastor Gruber Buro was established.

In 1938, Kristallnacht accelerated efforts. The Swedish mission in Austria led by Pastor Hedenquist began actively to assist persons classified as "non- Aryan" who wished to escape the Nazis. Genizi mentions the St. Raphael's Society under Roman Catholic sponsorship, but only once and with no further information. He does not mention the Pastors Emergency League established in 1933, an agency of the emerging Confessing Church in Germany, nor does he mention the Conference of Land Brotherhood Councils, the Reich Brotherhood Council, or the area Land Church agencies. These groups all assisted "non-Aryan Christians" to leave Germany.

That Professor Genizi has included a comprehensive analysis of the role of the League of Nations, and especially of James G. McDonald, who served as High Commissioner for Refugees, is no surprise. He has long been interested in McDonald and has published articles previously in this area. However, what he does here is to give great attention to the failures of the League of Nations as McDonald sought to engage the League in direct assistance to refugees from Germany after Hitler came to power. McDonald was given only an administrative budget by the Governing Board that appointed him; that made the office of the Commissioner autonomous and thus formally separated him from the League of Nations itself. These decisions severely hampered the Commissioner's ability to assist refugees from Germany. Two tasks consumed McDonald, apart from managing the politics associated with his work. The first was locating countries willing to accept refugees; the second was raising the money needed to finance the assistance program for refugees. He was basically unsuccessful in both areas. Countries did not come forward as havens for refugees and member nations of the League gave no financial assistance for the refugee effort. McDonald turned to denominational and religious sources and to private agencies. Little assistance came from specifically religious groups, until three Jewish agencies finally provided the support for what successful refugee effort there was from the Commissioner's office. In the end, it was in managing the politics of the office that McDonald would be judged a failure, a judgment that would lead to his "public" resignation, which was dearly designed to attempt to force the League of Nations to take more vigorous and direct action in behalf of German refugees. In December 1935, the widely published Letter of Resignation and accompanying "Annex" (position paper) documented in great detail the plight of Germany's increasingly harried refugees, particularly Jews. McDonald's review and analysis of the effect of the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935 still stands as the most carefully documented paper done at that time. Throughout his tenure as High Commissioner he was unwelcome in Germany, which further hindered his ability to perform tasks for which he was appointed.

Genizi's assessment of McDonald and the work of the League of Nations both highlights the failures and points out the nearly impossible task that faced McDonald. Genizi also makes the point that McDonald can hardly be blamed for what Jewish leadership was not yet ready to do, namely, challenge government regulations. He also notes that it was at this point that the United States and private organizations would have needed to take over the immense refugee problem caused by the Nazis in Germany.

The all-too-familiar story, documented so thoroughly in major works by Morse, Friedman, Feingold, and most recently by David Wyman,1 is confirmed in Genizi's book, with reference to President Roosevelt. Political expediency, fear of communism, and open antisemitism ruled the day. Genizi further identifies "nativism" and unemployment as major deterrents in the United States to assistance for refugees.

As in the above noted works, Roosevelt's waffling, the subversion of refugee aid by the U.S. Department of State, and particularly Breckenridge Long become the major themes. All the failures are reviewed; finance, resettlement, immigration restrictions, the s ps turned away, the Evian Conference, the President's Advisory Committee, restrictionist sentiments, open antisernitism by State Department officials both at home and in consulates overseas, and, once again, the role of James McDonald, who was appointed chairman of the President's Advisory Committee. Genizi points out that McDonald had more power and access to power than he used, and therefore he again fell short of achieving any successes. Once again it was the refugees who were the losers.

One thing becomes increasingly clear in this inexorable recording of failure of Americans to come to the aid of refugees, even those identified as "Christian" refugees: financial assistance, limited as it was, came overwhelmingly from Jewish sources. Most of the time this financial assistance was negotiated behind the scenes by agreement of all parties involved. Jewish money was contributed to denominational agencies, religious groups without direct denominational ties, and to private agencies.

Jews also provided advisory, as well as actual leadership both within their own well-established agencies and to those refugee organizations called "nonsectarian." Two examples would be the National Coordinating Committee (NCC) and the National Refugee Service (NRS). In 1936 Baerwald, Stein, Sulzberger, Farmer, and Hyman (all leaders involved in refugee work and all Jewish) decided that the leadership of the NCC was underperforming, and they succeeded in having William Rosenwald appointed as vice chairman. A dynamic, energetic leader, Rosenwald reorganized the Committee, expanded its efforts, and significantly increased its financial base; by 1939, there was general recognition that the NCC was the most professional and successful among all those doing refugee work. An umbrella organization, the NCC coordinated the work of some 20 agencies as well as carrying out refugee assistance on its own, but throughout its entire life as a committee its funds came entirely from Jewish sources. This was true even though nine of the 20 members of the agency were Christian. Most of the funds came from the Joint Distribution Committee and from the United Jewish Appeal. In addition, the greater majority of paid staff on the NCC were Jewish. Nonetheless, the NCC tried to maintain its non-sectarian status, which, as Genizi points out, may have been largely a fiction. Its successor organization after 1939, the National Refugee Service, continued to be primarily funded and staffed by Jews, though it aided directly the American Committee for Christian Refugees by providing offices and money. The ACCR was quick to acknowledge that the NCC/NRS was by no means limited to assisting Jewish refugees only.

But finally one must agree with the overall assessment of the entire effort to aid refugees by all segments involved-the U.S. Government, the denominational organizations, religious agencies, and non-sectarian agencies. This tragic tale makes the word "apathy" the central reality, not only of the title, but also of the substance of Professor Genizi's comprehensive, well- documented, and important study of a neglected part of the study of Nazi persecution of the Jews. Too many of those who might have been rescued were not, becoming victims of the death camps. Professor Genizi deserves the gratitude of students of the Holocaust as well as scholars for his very fine book. It is even more significant because it is the result of diligent efforts of a survivor and scholar who lives and works in Israel, the Palestine that remained closed to refugees from Nazi Germany at the time of their greatest need.


1. Arthur D. Morse, While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy (New York, 1968); Saul S. Friedman, No Haven for the Oppressed: United States Policy Toward Jewish Refugees, 1938-1945 (Detroit, 1973); Henry Feingold, The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938-1945 (New Brunswick, NJ, 1970); and David S. Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945 (New York, 1984).

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