File No. 763.72111/3067

The German Ambassador ( Bernstorff ) to the Secretary of State

J. Nr. A 7066]

My Dear Mr. Secretary: I have just been informed by the attorneys for the Hamburg-American Line that, in an interview which they had a few days ago with Mr. H. Snowden Marshall, the United States Attorney in New York, and in which they presented to him their view that the situation existing last spring, when they urged that by reason of the condition of public sentiment it would be impossible to secure a fair jury trial in a case involving the issues presented by the indictments against the Hamburg-American Line and some of its officers and employees, remained unchanged, Mr. Marshall replied that he could not consider this, as he would be compelled to try the cases about November 15, because of instructions to proceed with all neutrality cases which he had received from the Attorney General, in which instructions he said that you had concurred.

I am impelled, therefore, to lay the matter before you and to urge the considerations which make it appear to me undesirable that the case should be tried pending the discussion between our Governments of the definition of the principles of international law governing the respective obligations and rights of neutrals and belligerents with respect to the shipment from neutral territory of coal and provisions for belligerent war vessels.

[Page 868]

I am informed by the attorneys for the Hamburg-American Line that, while the indictments against that company and some of its officers and agents do not specifically charge a violation of any neutrality law of the United States or a violation of the obligations of the United States under international law, the trial of the case will inevitably result in an expression of judicial opinion on the latter subject; and that it is hardly a matter of dispute that but for the fact that this question was involved the alleged infraction of your laws would have been thought too trivial to have warranted the institution of the prosecution. Such a decision might anticipate the determination of a question which must ultimately be settled either through our interchange of views or by submission to an international tribunal and therefore might seriously embarrass us in reaching the just conclusion which is so earnestly desired by both our Governments. I feel, therefore, that I should ask whether you would not deem it proper to withdraw your objection to a postponement of the trial and to urge upon the Department of Justice that a trial of these cases be postponed.

In order that you may be informed of the reasons why the attorneys for the Hamburg-American Line sought the adjournment last spring, I enclose a copy of a letter which they inform me that they addressed to Mr. H. Snowden Marshall at that time.1 Of the existence of the conditions described in that letter and upon which they based their request, conditions which in their opinion remain unchanged, I express no view. I present it to your excellency simply as a sincere expression of the views of American counsel, from which apparently the United States Attorney did not dissent in the interview which they had with him a few days ago.

I am [etc.]

J. Bernstorff
  1. Not printed.