Report by the American Representative to the High Commission for Refugees (Jewish and Other) Coming From Germany (Chamberlain) to the Department of State

I. Name of Conference, Opening Date, Closing Date.

Opening date: 5th of December. Closing date: 8th of December.

II. Agenda.

Election of a Chairman and Vice Chairman and the Permanent Committee of the Governing Board. Appointment of organizations to be represented on the Advisory Council and of the organizations on the Advisory Council selected for the Bureau of that Council.

Adoption of statutes, rules and procedure of the Governing Body.

Discussion of the work of the High Commission and especially of the High Commissioner.

III. Representation.

  • Messrs. Borberg (Denmark).
  • Joseph P. Chamberlain (United States).
  • Henri Bérenger (France).
  • Scoppa, (subsequently Majoni) (Italy).
  • Doude van Troostwijk (Netherlands).
  • Chodzko (Poland).
  • Viscount Cecil of Chelwood (United Kingdom).
  • Westman (Sweden).
  • Rothmund (Switzerland).
  • Lobkowicz (Czechoslovakia).
  • Guani (Uruguay).

There were also present: Mr. James G. McDonald, High Commissioner, [Page 375] Mr. Wurfbain, Secretary-General to the High Commissioner, and Mr. May, General Counsellor to the High Commissioner.

The United States of Brazil and the Argentine were not represented. There was no answer from Argentine, but the Brazilian Legation at Berne stated that they were too much occupied to allow them to spare a member of their Legation to attend the meeting.

IV. Organization of the Conference.

Viscount Cecil of Chelwood was elected temporary Chairman and continued in this position till the end of the Conference when he accepted the nomination as Chairman. Guani was elected Vice Chairman and Rothmund, Doude van Troostwijk and Bérenger were elected members of the Permanent Committee. The Governing Body is to meet three times a year. The Permanent Committee of the Governing Body is expected to meet frequently at the call of the Chairman.

V. Results of the Conference.

The Statutes, interior regulations and financial regulations were adopted with modifications. Copies are included among the papers forwarded to the Department. An estimate of expenses for the year 1934 and for the months of November and December 1933 was adopted. The representative of each government announced that his government was not under any obligation to pay any part of these expenses, but it was clearly expressed in the minutes and in the statement of the estimate of expenses that they were to be paid by money raised by voluntary subscriptions.

The High Commissioner explained that he had received assurances that at least three-quarters of the expenses would be met by three important Jewish organizations, the Joint Distribution Committee of America, the Jewish Colonization Association, and the Jewish Agency for Palestine. He expected to have no difficulty in raising the balance from other sources. I personally discussed the expenses with the representatives of the three agencies and was encouraged to believe that the expectations of the High Commissioner would be realized.

The statutes as originally drafted seemed to imply the responsibility of the High Commissioner to the Governing Body and that communications with governments represented, at least, might be made through members of that body. The statutes were modified to make it clear that the High Commissioner will act on his own responsibility in making plans and carrying them out and that there is no responsibility on the part of the Governing Body or the governments represented thereon for whatever he does. His relations with governments are solely on his own responsibility without implicating the responsibility of any of the governments represented on the Governing Body. He will report regularly to the Governing Body which will discuss his reports. The [Page 376] members of the Governing Body will aid him in any way they can and will take up with their own governments the work of the High Commissariat. The procès-verbal shows clearly that there is no governmental responsibility involved in the financing or the activities of the High Commission.

Senator Bérenger suggested that the reports of the High Commissioner be sent to the League of Nations. This would have implied the possibility of the reports being presented to the Council or the Assembly and thereby cause a debate in either body on the question of German refugees. It was pointed out that Germany had agreed to abstain from voting on the resolution creating the High Commissariat on the understanding that the High Commissariat would be independent of the League and would not report to the Council or Assembly. Both the High Commissioner and the Chairman, Lord Cecil, pointed out to Senator Bérenger that it would be regarded by Germany as a breach of this understanding if reports were submitted to the League and he did not press his suggestion.

One of the most difficult questions was the selection of the private organizations to be represented on the Advisory Council and its Bureau. There exists a strong feeling between the Jewish organizations which have raised money and directed relief and the more popular organizations which do not raise a great deal of money but which are deeply interested in the problem affecting Jewish political and social equality in European countries and in the advancement of the Zionist movement in Palestine. The Jewish agency, the principal Zionist organization, is concerned in both relief and the legal position of Jews, but the American Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Colonization Association are strictly non-political and are interested only in raising funds and making plans for the care of refugees. In the United States the American Jewish Congress probably represents the mass of the Jewish people who are interested in securing better treatment for Jews in European countries. The great relief organizations feared that their work in Eastern European countries would be seriously hampered if they were put in close relationship with the more political organizations, and furthermore feared the control of the Advisory Committee by those organizations owing to their vastly greater numbers and vigorous propaganda. The High Commissioner has the confidence of the relief organizations and by skilful negotiation was able to gain their approval and that of the other Jewish groups to the list of associations contained in the Advisory Committee. He also was able to persuade the more popular agencies to consent to the formation of the Bureau of the Advisory Committee which should contain only the relief agencies. This satisfied the relief agencies and gave the Commissioner a small committee to [Page 377] which he can turn for highly skilled help in preparing his plans. The securing of the agreement of these groups was an evidence of the skilful diplomacy of the High Commissioner. The need of cooperation between the different Jewish agencies was stressed throughout the meeting and strongly impressed itself on my mind; the fact that he was able to persuade them to accept the organization of the Advisory Committee is evidence that he will be able to secure a coordination of their efforts.

The discussions at the private sessions of the Governing Body turned principally on the difficulties of the states bordering on Germany in caring for the refugees which have flocked to them. The speech of the High Commissioner at the opening session contains the best figures available to show the distribution of refugees, but Senator Bérenger claims that the French total is too small and should be at least 35,000. Senator Majoni for Italy said that the Italian figure should be about 5,000. France, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, and Holland all said that they would have great difficulty in maintaining any more refugees and that they would not be able to permanently provide even for the number already within their territory. All voiced accord with Senator Bérenger when he said that France was ready to be a place of assembling refugees for training for work in other countries, but that France could not take care of the number of people already in her territory. He said that at the outset French Consuls in Germany had been instructed to be liberal in issuing passports to Jews wanting to come to France, but that this order had been modified and that France did not wish to accept any more refugees until a plan was prepared which would assure her that they would remain in her territory only long enough to be made ready for further emigration. He also said that France could not raise money enough to take care of the refugees in need of charity but should have financial support from other countries for this purpose. He thanked the High Commissioner for having secured support from Jewish sources in England and America.

Throughout the European delegates took the position that they could not take care of many refugees on their territory but that countries beyond the seas should come to their aid. Lord Cecil even remarked at the closing session that Europe was overpopulated and could not stand any increase in its population, quite overlooking the fact that the people involved are Europeans being transferred from one part of Europe to another.

Palestine was suggested as an outlet but Lord Cecil said that Palestine was limited in the number of people it could take as it was a small country without great resources, thereby apparently foreshadowing a limitation of even the present immigration which is said to be considerable but on which I could not get any reliable figures.

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I observed that America was also affected by the crisis and that this must be taken into consideration, that I did not know what could be done in bringing people into the country, but that I was sure that there would be a liberal contribution from American sources. I called the attention of the Conference, however, to the fact that people in America would not be able to provide the sums which they had formerly contributed and that furthermore the Governing Body must not forget that people in the United States who had relatives in Germany were sending large amounts of money to that country and that American organizations were likewise contributing to Jewish charities in Germany, an element which should be considered in estimating the sacrifices which the United States was making in the general crisis. Guani of Uruguay said very little except that South America, like North America, was also affected by the depression. I was careful to say that I had no authority to bind the Government in any way and that a plan for the distribution of refugees must be prepared and worked out before anything could be done.

The anxiety of the bordering countries to get rid of their refugees came out again in the discussion of papers of identity on which travel of these people would be permitted. Several suggestions were made to authorize the High Commissioner to issue identity papers or for the governments to stamp visas on expired German passports held by refugees, but the only action taken was to recommend the High Commission to take the matter up with governments and try to find a solution at the meeting of the Permanent Committee in the middle of January. It is intended to take the matter up at the next meeting of the Governing Body which may be set for April. The important point in respect to the papers of identity for travelling was raised by the Swiss delegate who said that states to which refugees desired to go were unwilling to accept such papers unless the state from which the refugees came would be willing to receive him back if he were returned from the state of destination. What the other countries obviously wanted was a travelling paper which would simply enable the individual to enter another country whence he could not return. I pointed out that there was no advantage in simply allowing the refugees to travel from one country to another and that the problem could not be settled until permanent homes could be found for them.

Cecil and some of the other members urged that the travelling papers issued under the treaty [recommendations?] of 192736 should be used for refugees but the suggestion was considered premature.

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A difficulty is that of the stateless refugees who have no German passports.37 Some of them have Nansen passports or other certificates of identity, some do not. These people and the German citizens whose passports have expired and cannot be renewed but who yet retain German nationality present different problems. The smaller countries neighbors to Germany evidently did not want to act precipitately for fear of making trouble in their relations with Germany.

Behind the problems of the present flood of refugees which, judging from the High Commissioner’s figures, appears not to present any great difficulties, is the fear that new measures taken in Germany or the result of existing measures will lead to another flood of emigration from that country. If there should be a heavy emigration from that country because of stricter measures or the stricter enforcement of existing measures, the problem would present very serious proportions. It is therefore of the first importance that the High Commissioner establish informal relations with the German Government or German organizations which would enable him to form some estimate of what the emigration from Germany is likely to be. Akin to this question is that of German export of the capital owned by the refugees or the permission by Germany to others wishing to leave the country to take part or all of their capital with them. Germany has permitted Jewish colonists going to Palestine to take with them the thousand pounds required to allow an immigrant to enter the country freely. The number of persons taking money into Palestine in this way is not great. I have been told that some 1500 have been authorized by the Jewish agency in Berlin. I was also told that Germany will permit Jewish colonists to Palestine to take out of the country German goods of a value of two thousand pounds and to pay for these goods from property in the country. Thus, I am told, a few colonists have started businesses or have equipped themselves for life in Palestine. The importance of the export of capital was stressed but no opinions expressed as to what would be done or as to what might be done. That was all left to the High Commissioner who is expected to try to put himself in touch with the German Government. After the meeting the High Commissioner personally communicated with Dr. Schacht of the Reichsbank whom he knows asking whether it will be possible for him to see the Chancellor, but he received an evasive answer.

The Swiss representative said that he was informed by leaders of the Swiss Jewish community that many of the refugees in Switzerland would like to return to Germany and some are already returning. He [Page 380] said that the Swiss Jewish associations are facilitating return where possible. Information from other persons in Geneva and Paris confirmed this opinion. Although but few people have already returned, many would do so if they could be assured that conditions were stabilized, even though the life at home would be much harder than previously.

The representatives of the private organizations brought out another point which was stressed to me in private conversation by many of them. It was that Jews in both Germany and Poland believe that their people have devoted themselves too exclusively to professions and commerce. There is now a movement going on in both countries for the training of younger people in mechanic arts and agriculture with the hope that the Jewish race will be distributed among the different classes of workers in each country in better proportion to their actual numbers in the country than at present. Schools of agriculture have been established for the training of young people for farming either in Germany or in foreign countries to which they may emigrate. The German refugee problem is complicated by the Jewish problem in Poland where I am told that a hundred thousand young Jews want to emigrate to Palestine, twenty thousand of whom are now in training in agricultural colonies. Consequently German refugees cannot be permitted to monopolize the quota which may be admitted to Palestine.

The relations of the delegates at the meeting were pleasant and all showed an interest in the subject. Lord Cecil, Senator Bérenger and Dr. Lobkowicz of Czechoslovakia understood different phases of the question. Dr. Chodzko of Poland was also interested and knows the Polish situation. He does not expect a large immigration into Poland. The other European delegates were diplomats who were listening in and did not have much knowledge of what was going on. Senator Majoni told me that he had been appointed on Monday previous to the Tuesday on which the meeting was held. Mr. Guani did not take an active part in the discussion, but he was evidently quite aware of the position taken by the European delegates and of the importance of having other South American countries represented when the discussion of the plans of the High Commissioner comes up.

Joseph P. Chamberlain
  1. For text of the recommendations concerning passports for stateless persons, see League of Nations, Extracts from the Acts of the Third General Conference on Communications and Transit, held at Geneva, August 23rd-September 2nd, 1927 (1927. VIII. 9), pp. 38 ff.
  2. See High Commission for Refugees (Jewish and Other) Coming From Germany (Lausanne): Report of the Second Meeting of the Governing Body, Held in London, May 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, 1934, pp. 9–10.