The Secretary of State to President Roosevelt


Mr. President: I have been informed by the American Consul at Geneva that an invitation of which the following is a translation from the French made in the Geneva Consulate, is being sent forward by the Secretary General of the League of Nations to this Government.

“I have the honor to send you herewith the text of a resolution adopted by the Assembly on October 11th, 1933, having in view the organization on an international basis of assistance to refugees (Jewish and others) coming from Germany (Document A53.1933.II.).23

“At its meeting of October 12th, 1933, the Council designated the governments which should compose the Governing Body charged with assisting the High Commissioner, who will be appointed to direct all the work of relief envisaged (Document C 586, 1933, enclosed herewith).24

“These Governments are:

“The Netherlands, France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, Great Britain, Sweden, Spain, United States of America, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay.

“In accordance with the decision of the Council, I beg you to be so good as to advise me as to whether your Government accepts this invitation in order that I may so inform the High Commissioner immediately following his appointment.—Secretary General.”

The Assembly resolution to which the invitation refers is as follows:

  • “1. Having regard to the situation created by the fact that a large number of persons, Jews and others, corning from Germany have in recent months taken refuge in several countries.
  • “2. Considering that their presence in those countries constitutes an economic, financial and social problem which can be solved only by international collaboration.
  • “3. Suggests that the Council should nominate the High Commissioner to negotiate and direct such collaboration and particularly to provide as far as possible work for the refugees in all countries which are able to offer it.
  • “4. Requests the Council of the League of Nations to invite the states and, if they find it useful, private organizations, best able to assist these refugees to be represented on a governing body, the duty of which will be to aid the High Commissioner in his work, the High Commissioner having to submit periodical reports on the development and fulfillment of his task to the said governing body, which would forward them to the states likely to be able to assist in the action contemplated.
  • “5. Suggests further that the expenses of this collaboration and of the High Commissioner’s office should be defrayed by funds contributed voluntarily from private or other sources.
  • “6. Recommends to the Council that in accordance with Article 33, paragraph 2, of the regulations for the financial administration of the League, it should approve that a sum not exceeding 25,000 francs should be advanced to the High Commissioner from the working capital funds, it being understood that this advance will be refunded to the League out of the funds placed at the disposal of the High Commissioner.
  • “7. Is convinced that all Governments will assist the High Commissioner to the best of their abilities in the tasks defined above. With this object, the present resolution will be communicated to States members and to non-members of the League.
  • “8. Finally, the Assembly expresses the firm hope that private organizations will collaborate in every way with the High Commissioner for the success of this relief action.”

In recommending that an acceptance, a draft of which is attached in the form of a telegram to the Legation at Berne,25 be transmitted to the League, I am reviewing some of the surrounding circumstances.

On September 29 the Netherlands representative to the League Assembly presented a resolution to that body for its approval. The resolution pointed out that German refugees were presenting in several countries “an economic, financial and social problem which can be solved only by international collaboration”, and called upon the League Council to take measures for the solution of the difficulty.

According to the practice of the Assembly the resolution was referred to one of its Committees for examination, in this case the Second Committee which ordinarily concerns itself with technical and economic questions.

This Committee adopted a report supporting the views of the Netherlands representative and recommending to the Assembly that, in order to secure speedy results a High Commissioner be appointed “who should be allowed the fullest freedom of action”. The Committee also stated that “it is likewise essential that the High Commissioner should be able to keep in touch both with the Governments directly concerned with the problem and with those of any other countries, members and nonmembers of the League of Nations, which might be able to contribute in any way to its solution”.

In order to effect this contact between the High Commissioner and interested Government, the Committee recommended that the High Commissioner “be assisted by a Governing Body to which he would be responsible”. The Governing Body was to be made up of representatives of the Governments and, with the High Commissioner, would constitute an autonomous organization. The Committee also recommended that the High Commissioner submit “periodical reports on the fulfillment of his task including financial administration to the Governing [Page 370] Body alone which would forward them to States likely to be able to assist in the action contemplated”.

It may be said in passing that the complete disassociation of the High Commissioner and the Governing Body from the League, following their creation, by providing that they should form an “autonomous organization” was the result of the objections of the German Committee member who made known that his Government would not object to the proposed solution of the refugee problem if after the appointment of the High Commissioner all League connection with him or with his functions would cease.

The Assembly, with the German delegate abstaining, adopted the Committee’s report, together with the Committee’s recommended resolution, the text of which, as set forth above, will appear as an enclosure, in the League’s invitation to this Government to name a representative on the Governing Body.

The functions of the High Commissioner and inferentially of the Governing Body are regarded as expressed in paragraph three of the resolution. The Consul at Geneva reports that that paragraph “was very carefully worded for the express purpose of avoiding the aspect of placing any obligation or pressure on governments for the reception of refugees or for affording them work”. Technically all governments are left entirely free in their decisions in this case and according to information received by the Consul at Geneva from League officials “it is tacitly understood that the acceptance by a State of membership on the Governing Body carries with it no obligations to receive refugees within its own territory” and that “such obligations as may exist are construed as limited to ‘advice’ and to facilitate the raising of funds”.

Judging from the terms of the invitation the members of the Governing Body will be regarded as having the status of government representatives acting under such general or special instructions as they may receive from their respective governments. The “autonomous organization”, made up by the High Commissioner and the Governing Body, is left free to determine its own course of action, both in general and detail, subject, of course, to the control and direction of the governments to which it is responsible.

It is anticipated that private organizations, to be named by the Governing Body itself, will also be represented, in a consultative capacity, on that Body. The administrative expenses of the High Commissioner and of the Governing Body will be derived from general funds which it is hoped will come from private subscriptions, probably through the interested private organizations. It is also hoped that there will be some government contributions. However, the League will make a repayable advance of 25,000 Swiss francs to the High Commissioner for use until the other funds are available.

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The Assembly called upon the Council to carry out its will as expressed in the resolution and the Council, the German delegate abstaining, has accordingly extended invitations to the following Governments to serve on the Governing Body:

  • The United States,
  • The Netherlands,
  • France,
  • Poland,
  • Argentina,
  • Czechoslovakia,
  • Belgium,
  • Switzerland,
  • Denmark,
  • Brazil,
  • Italy,
  • The United Kingdom,
  • Sweden,
  • Spain,
  • Uruguay.

The Consul at Geneva reports that officials, at present in that city, of all the States bordering on Germany and of Great Britain and of Italy have already intimated that their Governments would accept the invitation to membership on the Governing Body.

The Council also instructed its President to appoint the High Commissioner, in consultation with the representatives of the Governments of Spain, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands and the United States. As the American Government up to the present, has not been approached to consult with the President of the Council and as there appears to be no compelling reason why a representative of this Government should participate in the selection of the High Commissioner, I suggest that the American Consul at Geneva be instructed, along the lines of the attached telegram to indicate informally to the Secretary General of the League that this Government does not desire to take part in the choice of the High Commissioner.

There also seems to be some likelihood that an effort will be made to obtain the services of an American national as High Commissioner. Here again there appears to be no compelling reason for this Government to suggest or approve any given person for that position. Accordingly I suggest that the Consul at Geneva likewise be instructed informally to make this attitude known to the Secretary General so that if an American is named, he will be chosen entirely on the League’s own initiative and responsibility.

In the event that you agree that this Government should accept the League’s invitation to name a representative on the Governing Body, you may have someone in mind to fill that position. As of possible assistance to you I am suggesting the following three names:

  • Admiral Mark Bristol
  • Ex-ambassador Houghton
  • Ex-ambassador Sackett.

Of the persons named, Admiral Bristol would perhaps most readily qualify in view of the fact that the League of Nations is desirous that the members of the Governing Body be persons who have had previous experience in refugee and aid work, though it is feared that his lack of private means might prevent his acceptance.

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It is understood that the full Governing Body will not meet more than once or twice a year and that the continuous work will be entrusted to some kind of executive commission of the Governing Body. In order to keep expenses down, it is anticipated that the members of the Governing Body will give their services without compensation, though perhaps in some circumstances the members will be compensated by the governments which they represent.

C[ordell] H[ull]
  1. League of Nations, Official Journal, Special Supplement No. 117 (Geneva, 1933). p. 47.
  2. League of Nations, Official Journal, December, 1933, p. 1616.
  3. Draft not attached to file copy of this document; for text of acceptance, see telegram No. 53, November 21, to the Minister in Switzerland, p. 373.