Quotes: U.S. Rescue and Relief


US Diplomats

Hiram “Harry” Bingham IV

“To Harry Bingham, my partner in the crime of saving human lives.”

- Varian Fry, inscription to Harry Bingham in a presentation copy of his book, Assignment Rescue: An Autobiography

“He’s the Vice-Consul in charge of visas, and the son of the late Senator from Connecticut.  ...He has a heart of gold.  He does everything he can to help us...”

- Frank Bohn, Emergency Rescue Committee

Homer Brett, US Consul in Rotterdam, Holland

In support of the new directive, wrote:

“If it is permissible for a consular officer to express an opinion regarding an instruction from the Department I would like to say I am very happy to have this assurance that the policy set forth… September 30, 1930, and in subsequent oral and written instructions in the same sense, has been abandoned and that America is once again to resume its historic and glorious position as a land of refuge for the downtrodden and oppressed… It is good now to have a plain instruction that the law is to be enforced as it is written and not according to forced interpretations.”

- Homer Brett, US Consul in Rotterdam, Holland

Raymond Herman Geist

“The Jews in Germany are being condemned to death and their sentence will be slowly carried out; but probably too fast for the world to save them…After we have saved these refugees, and the Catholics and Protestants have not become new victims of the wrath here, we could break off relations and prepare to join in a war against them [the Germans].  We shall have to do so sooner or later; as France and England will be steadily pushed to the wall and eventually to save ourselves we shall have to save them.  The European situation was lost to the democracies at Munich and the final situation is slowly being prepared.  The age lying before us will witness great struggles and the outcome when it comes will determine the fate of civilization for a century or more.”

- Raymond Herman Geist, Chargé d’Affaires, US Embassy in Berlin

J. Klahr Huddle, US Foreign Service Inspector

“Many of the [German Jewish] immigrants come from the better-class families and…although they frequently have only distant relatives in the United States, these…have a sincere desire to assist their relatives in Germany, so that the likelihood of their becoming a public charge is very remote.”

- J. Klahr Huddle, US Foreign Service Inspector, US State Department

George Strausser Messersmith

“…if only the Government would put Messersmith in the State Department and let him run the show for four weeks the situation would assume a different color.”

- Rabbi Stephen Wise, American Jewish Congress, 1933

“Of all the many acts of the present German Government against innocent and defenseless peoples, these last are the culmination.  For a Government to order and to carry through such wholesale action against a part of its people, and to threaten the rest of the world with further action if it should even pass censure, is an irresponsible and mad act that our Government cannot pass unnoticed.

“We have throughout our history let it be known where we stand on matters of principle and the decencies… Whenever such acts in the past have been committed, or permitted by Governments, in countries which the world has considered less civilized, we have spoken and acted.  The proud record of this Government, and of our public conscience shows this (Russia, Turkey, Rumania).  When a country which vaunts its civilization as superior commits in cold blood and with deliberation acts worse than those we have in the past dealt with vigorously, the time has come, I believe, when it is necessary for us to take action beyond mere condemnation.

“It is my belief that unless we take some action in the face of the events in Germany of the last few days, we shall be much behind our public opinion in this country.”

- Assistant Secretary of State George Messersmith, Report to Cordell Hull, November 1938

Ambassador Laurence Steinhardt

“…No laws existed for me when people had to be saved.”

- Ambassador Steinhardt

“There is a new connotation to your name, which is only as it should be.”

- Ira Hirschmann to Ambassador Steinhardt

“You have sacrificed some public acceptance for complete loyalty and appreciation by the State Department…I can say with modesty that I have succeeded better than I ever dreamed in executing the first step in the job we agreed on.”

- Ira Hirschmann to Ambassador Steinhardt

Pinckney Tuck

 “The French government considers the Jewish problem as of no importance and is going to use first the foreign Jews and later, if necessary, the French Jews to bargain with the Germans against the silly promise which Laval made to furnish 350,000 workers [to them].  How much longer the civilized world will continue to have anything to do with this, I do not know.”

- S. Pinckney Tuck, US Chargé d’Affaires in Vichy, 1942

“I wish to God I could tell you something concrete but honestly I do not believe that anything can be done by anybody for the time being.  The only language these people understand, is force.”

- S. Pinckney Tuck, US Chargé d’Affaires in Vichy, 1942

Raoul Wallenberg

“I feel I have a mission to save the Jewish nation...”

- Raoul Wallenberg, Swedish Diplomat,
War Refugee Board (WRB) Representative

“One morning, a group of these Hungarian Fascists came into the house and said all the able-bodied women must go with them.  We knew what this meant.  My mother kissed me and I cried and she cried.  We knew we were parting for ever and she left me there, an orphan to all intents and purposes.  Then, two or three hours later, to my amazement, my mother returned with the other women.  It seemed like a mirage, a miracle.  My mother was there--she was alive and she was hugging me and kissing me, and she said one word:  ‘Wallenberg.’”

- Joni Moser, Wallenberg survivor


US Government

James Grover McDonald

“The developments since 1933, and in particular those following the Nuremberg legislation, call for fresh collective action in regard to the problem created by the persecution in Germany.  The moral authority of the League of Nations and of State Members of the League must be directed towards a determined appeal to the German Government in the name of humanity and of the principles of the public law of Europe.

“But convinced as I am that desperate suffering in the countries adjacent to Germany, and an even more terrible human calamity within the German frontiers, are inevitable unless present tendencies in the Reich are checked or reversed, I cannot remain silent… When domestic policies threaten the demoralization and exile of hundreds of thousands of human beings, considerations of diplomatic correctness must yield to those of common humanity.  I should be recreant if I did not call attention to the actual situation, and plead that world opinion, acting through the League and its Member-States and other countries, move to avert the existing and impending tragedies.”

- James Grover McDonald, excerpt of resignation letter as High Commissioner of Refugees for the League of Nations

“The Jewish Communities, particularly in Great Britain and the United States, must now at last realize the truth, bitter and terrible though it is, which you and I and some of the rest of us have tried to drive home to them for more than two years—there can be no future for Jews in Germany.”

- James Grover McDonald, letter to Felix Warburg

“Everything Erich and Sigmund [Warburg] had to say confirmed my own worst impressions and fears about the situation as it has been developing since the Nuremberg legislation.  The question in everybody’s mind is what can be done.  On only one point is there complete agreement: the need for immediate action is overwhelming… On the assumption that the present tendency in the Reich will be carried through to its logical conclusion, the necessity for relief measures on a scale heretofore not undertaken, and except in very few quarters envisaged, seems to me absolutely clear.”

- James Grover McDonald

“[State Department officials] have not only failed to use the Governmental machinery at their disposal to rescue Jews from Hitler, but have even gone so far as to use this Governmental machinery to prevent the rescue of these Jews.

“They have not only failed to cooperate with private organizations in the efforts of these organizations to work out individual programs of their own, but have taken steps designed to prevent these programs from being put into effect.

“They not only have failed to facilitate the obtaining of information concerning Hitler’s plans to exterminate the Jews of Europe but in their official capacity have gone so far as to surreptitiously attempt to stop the obtaining of information concerning the murder of the Jewish population of Europe.

“They have tried to cover up their guilt by:
(a) concealment and misrepresentation;
(b) the giving of false and misleading explanations for their failures to act and their attempts to prevent action; and
(c) the issuance of false and misleading statements concerning the ‘action’ which they have taken to date.”

“While the State Department has been thus ‘exploring’ the whole refugee problem, without distinguishing between those who are in imminent danger of death and those who are not, hundreds of thousands of Jews have been allowed to perish.

“According to Earl G. Harrison, Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, not since 1862 have there been fewer aliens entering the United States.  Frankly Breckinridge Long, in my humble opinion, is least sympathetic to refugees in all the State Department.  I attribute to him the tragic bottleneck in the granting of visas… It takes months and months to grant the visa and then it usually applies to a corpse.”

- Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews

“You are probably not as familiar as I am with the utter failure of certain officials in our State Department, who are charged with actually carrying out this policy, to take any effective action to prevent the extermination of the Jews in German-controlled Europe… Although they have used such devices as setting up intergovernmental organizations to survey the whole refugee problem, making it appear that positive action could be expected, in fact nothing has been accomplished… Whether one views this failure as being deliberate on the part of those officials handling the matter, or merely due to their incompetence, is not too important from my point of view.  However, there is a growing number of responsible people and organizations today who have ceased to view our failure as the product of simple incompetence on the part of those officials in the State Department charged with handling this problem.  They see plain anti-Semitism motivating the actions of these State Department officials and, rightly or wrongly, it will require little more in the way of proof for this suspicion to explode into a nasty scandal…

“The facts I have detailed in this report, Mr. President, came to the Treasury’s attention as a part of our routine investigation of the licensing of the financial phases of the proposal of the World Jewish Congress for the evacuation of Jews from France and Rumania.  The facts may thus be said to have come to light through accident.  How many others of the same character are buried in State Department files is a matter I would have no way of knowing… This much is certain, however.  The matter of rescuing the Jews from extermination is a trust too great to remain in the hands of men who are indifferent, callous and perhaps even hostile.  The task is filled with difficulties.  Only a fervent will to accomplish, backed by persistent and untiring effort, can succeed where time is so precious.”

- Henry Morgenthau, Secretary of the Treasury,
in Personal Report to the President

“…Some [consuls] have the mistaken idea that the consul has a responsibility for keeping visas down to a minimum number instead of his real responsibility of making a fair evaluation of the evidence and basing the decision on that.”

- Wilbur Carr, Assistant Secretary of State

“According to Earl G. Harrison, Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, not since 1862 have there been fewer aliens entering the United States.  Frankly Breckinridge Long, in my humble opinion, is least sympathetic to refugees in all the State Department.  I attribute to him the tragic bottleneck in the granting of visas… It takes months and months to grant the visa and then it usually applies to a corpse.

- Congressman Emanuel Celler of New York

“There have been an increasing number of complaints received by the Department and some recent public criticism that the visa work of the consuls is not being carried out in a fair and impartial manner, particularly, that the public charge provisions are not being properly administered and that the consuls are acting under the mistaken idea that they are responsible for keeping the issuance of visas to a minimum… Examinations of the complaints and review of consular visa correspondence show that there is a real basis for adverse criticism.”

- State Department Visa Directive, January 12, 1937

“That issue is whether the American people have lost their ability to respond to such tragic situations as this one.  If it turns out that we have lost that ability, it will mean that much of the soul has gone out of America.

- Clarence Picket, testifying before Congress supporting the Wagner-Rogers immigration bill


War Refugee Board

“Hirschmann really accomplished wonders in Turkey.”

- John Pehle, War Refugee Board

“Everybody was much impressed by the stories of success which Mr. Hirschmann presented to us.”

- Paul Baerwald

“If the elaborate murder installations at Birkenau were destroyed, it seems clear that the Germans could not reconstruct them for some time… I am convinced that the point has now been reached where such action is justifiable if it is deemed feasible by competent military authorities.  I strongly recommend that the War Department give serious consideration to the possibility of destroying the execution chambers and crematories in Birkenau through direct bombing action.”

- John Pehle, to Undersecretary of War John McCloy

“…that the War Refugee Board again explore with the Army the possibility of bombing the extermination chambers and German barracks at largest Polish concentration camps which, they state, are sufficiently detached from the concentration camps to permit precision bombing.”

- James Mann, War Refugee Board Representative in London

“It is urged by all sources of this information in Slovakia and Hungary that vital sections of these lines especially bridges along… Csap-Kaschau-Presov-Lubotin-Nowysacz in direction of Oswiecim… be bombed as the only possible means of slowing down or stopping future deportations… There is little doubt that many of these Hungarian Jews are being sent to the extermination camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau in western Upper Silesia where, according to recent reports, since early summer 1942, at least 1,500,000 Jews have been killed.”

- Roswell McClelland, War Refugee Board Representative

“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 succor and to save some of the victims of the Nazi assault on human decency.  Its successes were slight in relation to the frightful casualties sustained; yet it is sincerely felt that its accomplishments constitute a victory, small in comparison to that far greater one carried by force of arms, but which nevertheless adds a measure of particularly precious strength to our cause.”

- Roswell McClelland, War Refugee Board Representative

“It bears repetition that it is regrettable that the Board, which has demonstrated its vitality and the success of its operations, was not created a year or two ago.  There is no doubt from the evidence at hand that additional thousands of refugees could have been saved… the mere existence of this Board and its representatives in Turkey acted as a catalytic agent in spurring the morale of the destitute and terrorized citizens in the Balkans… it provided for the victims a ray of hope which resulted in lifting their own morale and an eleventh-hour self-sustaining effort on their own part.”

- Ira Hirschmann, War Refugee Board Representative, Final Report


Other Quotes

“The attack on the Jewish community in Germany on the one hand and the indifference of the participating governments to the fate of the victims on the other has brought the affairs of the Intergovernmental Committee to a critical state where, in our opinion, immediate action is required if the President’s initiative is to lead to a positive result…

“With the exception of the United States, which has maintained its quota, and the British Isles, which are admitting immigrants at a current month’s rate equal to the rate immigrants are being admitted to the United Staets, doors have been systematically closed everywhere to involuntary emigrants since the meeting at Evian.”

- George Rublee, message wired to Secretary of State Cordell Hull, November 14, 1938


General Refugee Quotes

“Fifty years ago, at the Statue, this country was spoken of as an asylum of the oppressed, a haven for political refugees who had been driven from their homelands.  Today this tradition is in danger of being completely discarded.  The gates have been closed to immigrants and, for the last five years, more people have been leaving the United States than have been entering it… We urge you [President Roosevelt] to declare… that this country will live up to its promise of equal opportunity for the immigrants within its borders and that it will re-establish the proud principle it once maintained as an asylum for political and religious refugees.”

- Professor John Dewey, October 1936

            “[A] Jewish boy in Prague…entered a travel agency and said he wanted to buy a ticket. ’Where to?’ asked the clerk. “’Well, what kind of tickets have you got?’ inquired the boy.  The clerk yawned and pushed forward a globe of the world.  The boy examined every inch of the globe, then said, ‘Haven’t you got anything better?’”

- Alexander Woolcott


Anti-Refugee Statements

“We can delay and effectively stop for a temporary period of indefinite length the number of immigrants into the United States. We could do this by simply advising our consuls, to put every obstacle in the way and to require additional evidence and to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas.”

- Breckinridge Long, US Undersecretary of State in Charge of Refugees

“If there is any country that believes it has not enough Jews, I shall gladly turn over to it all our Jews.”

- Nazi Propaganda Minister Goebbels