File No. 861.48/349

The Secretary of State to the British Ambassador ( Spring Rice)

The Secretary of State presents his compliments to His Excellency the British Ambassador and has the honor to acknowledge the receipt of his memorandum of August 29, 1917,1 with regard to the question of relief to the population of Poland and with special reference to a telegram received by His Majesty’s Government from the Polish Relief Committee in Switzerland, appealing to His Majesty’s Government for aid. The Ambassador, after reviewing the food situation in Poland, states that the British authorities are most reluctantly driven to the conclusion that, quite apart from the almost insuperable difficulties of furnishing the necessary supplies and tonnage, they would not be justified in lending their sanction to any export of food to Poland in the absence of satisfactory guaranties that all the native supplies would be reserved for the inhabitants of the country, but that they would have no objection in principle to charitable bodies transmitting funds to Poland, if adequate assurances were furnished that such funds would be employed in assisting the Poles to purchase native supplies. The Ambassador, under instructions from the Foreign Office, further requests an expression of the views of the United States Government on this subject.

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In reply, the Secretary of State has the honor to inform the British Ambassador that this Government also has received appeals from the Polish Committee in Switzerland and has taken the matter up with the American Red Cross, whose War Council, at a recent meeting, discussed this entire question. In view of all of the considerations which have been called to its attention from time to time, the Red Cross arrived at the following conclusion:

1. That no general relief of any kind should be given.

2. That no really substantial relief could be expected from the expenditure of any such amount of money as the Red Cross could consider devoting to this work. Their opinion is that the German Government would not permit more food to be purchased and distributed than would be sufficient to avoid general starvation, and that considering the present German food situation, this amount of food probably would be permitted to be purchased in any event; that the credit of the urban communities which is used for this purpose has not been exhausted, and that as the whole question of the amount of food which can be obtained and distributed is dependent upon the exercise of the discretion of the German authorities, it is not likely that sending, say $100,000 per month, into Poland would substantially alter the amount of the transfer of food from rural to urban communities. The effect which the remittance of greater sums would have upon German exchange must further be taken into consideration.

3. That provided adequate guaranties concerning the transportation and distribution thereof can be obtained, it is desirable to forward to Switzerland and to send thence to Warsaw, and perhaps to two or three others of the very large urban communities, supplies of condensed and evaporated milk only for the use of babies and small children. This is food which is not a substitute for food now obtainable in Poland and is very greatly needed. It is believed that arrangements can be made with the Swiss Government for the transportation for the Red Cross of a minimum of say, 1,000 tons per month. The Polish General Relief Committee in Vevey is quite firmly convinced that a perfectly reliable guaranty for the delivery of such supplies at their destination can be obtained from the German Government and that probably the Swiss Government can be induced to place consignments in charge of Swiss officials for delivery to the Swiss Consul at Warsaw to be handed over by him to local Polish committees.

If an arrangement can be made whereby condensed milk only can be transported to Switzerland and thence forwarded under the charge of the Swiss authorities to the Swiss Consul in Warsaw, and the actual delivery of the milk to the local Polish committee guaranteed by the Swiss Government, and the distribution of the milk exclusively for the use of destitute Polish children assured, the War Council of the American Red Cross would feel distinctly inclined to appropriate a very substantial amount of money monthly for the purchase of such milk.

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The Government of the United States believes, indeed, that to the extent that suffering can be relieved by means of this single product, it might be possible to meet practically all of the necessities in this regard of the great urban communities. Aside from these considerations, it seems to this Government that probably no means more promising than this could be found of conciliating the sympathies of the Polish people.

It may be added that this Government has raised no objection to certain designated firms and charitable organizations forwarding relief money and individual remittances, subject to the observance of certain conditions, to the Jews and Poles in the occupied parts of Poland, along the general lines previously laid down by the British Government in the same connection. Such individual remittances may not exceed $125 per person or family per month, and monthly statements of the activities of each authorized firm and organization are required by the Department, in order that a general control may be exercised over the total amounts so forwarded.

In bringing to the attention of the British Ambassador this attitude of the Government of the United States, the Secretary of State has the honor to express to His Excellency his appreciation of the courtesy of His Majesty’s Government in thus consulting this Government in the premises.

  1. Not printed.