Memorandum by the Secretary of State

The German Ambassador called and as he came in I expressed the hope that he was not feeling as cool as the snow falling outside. He immediately launched into an unusually vigorous denunciation of anti-German meetings and movements in this country, becoming greatly wrought up at times. He recited and summed up all of the reported activities of persons and groups in this country in condemnation and criticism of the Hitler Government in Germany. He specially referred to the recent mock trial of Chancellor Hitler in New York City, of the Spanknobel incident, of Samuel Untermyer’s special activities and denunciations,44 of the proposed investigation of German propaganda in this country under the Dickstein Resolution in the House of Representatives,45 and the proposed Jewish Congress soon to [Page 517] be held which would take up the matter of boycotting German business people. He elaborated at length on the insults being pronounced on the Hitler Government by citizens of the United States, upon boycotts by Macy & Co., Gimbel & Co., Woolworth & Co., and one or two other American customers or owners of department stores in Berlin. The Ambassador contended that it was impossible to keep up at all satisfactory relations between our two governments with the abusive and insulting expressions of American citizens towards the Hitler Government such as were taking place, together with the boycotting, both present and prospective. He dwelt at length upon the wholly unjustifiable nature of these unfriendly movements against the German Government and Germany by American citizens and upon the continued failure of the United States Government to suppress and prevent any further actions and utterances along these lines. He spent some 45 minutes elaborating on these criticisms of the Hitler Government and the boycotts of German business people, and, of course, stoutly insisting that it should not be tolerated—in fact, intimating strongly that it would not be—and strenuously calling upon the United States Government to find ways to suppress it. The Ambassador’s language was critical of our Government and at times became almost violent. He also referred to disagreeable individual experiences, especially in connection with the receipt of mail.

In reply, I stated in substance that I made it a rule to keep in good humor when others were not quite in such state of mind and that, as I had often said to him, I deplored the circumstances and conditions which we had under discussion. I added I had observed that while the United States was very culpable in every way with respect to this matter, according to the Ambassador’s statement, his own German Government was not in the least guilty of the slightest indiscretion. I said that while my government was unfortunate thus to fall under the ban of serious criticism by his government, that at least my government was not alone in this situation; that virtually all the governments surrounding Germany and also those in and about his country seemed to be likewise in rather distinct disfavor on one account or another; and that his government as at present constituted seemed for some reason to be almost entirely isolated from all countries, although I did not intimate that it had been in the least at fault in a single instance. I said that it might be well, however, for his government to check its conditions of isolation and see where the trouble or fault lay. I then added that the United States Government was making every effort to promote peaceful and other more satisfactory relationships among nations and among peoples internally where possible, that we had literally poured money into Germany during recent years, and had done many other substantial things [Page 518] expressive of our good will towards the German people and of our desire to cooperate with them for human betterment both there and here; that our relations with German governments which had preceded the present government at Berlin had been uniformly agreeable, friendly and cooperative, and it was only during the control of the present government that the troubles complained of had arisen, much to our personal and official regret; that I would not intimate that anything significant was connected with this coincidence.

I then stated that for the purpose of our conversation I would assume not one word of them was true, but that a vast volume of reports had been coming from Germany to the United States relating to certain mistreatment of persons in Germany regarding which the most humanitarian appeals could be made on account of ill-treatment and injustice to many individuals; that following the beginning of these reports, agitations and criticisms commenced in the United States, among a number of our citizens; that as these reports persisted, both in volume and in the nature and extent of alleged ill-treatment of persons in Germany, the agitations and criticisms and condemnations persisted on a correspondingly increasing scale in this country. I constantly repeated that I was assuming for purpose of discussion that none of these reports about ill-treatment of persons in Germany were true, but that as they came to this country many persons believed them to be true, and that this had the same effect as if they were literally accurate. I told the Ambassador that this was the entire situation about causes and effects as they related to this unfortunate condition.

I reminded the Ambassador as to the extent of my knowledge of persecutions in Germany but stated that of course I had refrained from attacking or taking up the matter direct with the German Government and characterizing such mistreatment as the facts might justify. The Ambassador more than once suggested that my government had power to prevent insults to other governments by individual citizens or groups acting in mass meeting or otherwise. I reminded him very definitely that whereas countries in the old world with the strong arms of dictators or their equivalent could reach out and impose their wills to almost any extent or in almost any way upon their citizens, our institutions were entirely different and afforded no authority to Federal government officials to do any of the things demanded by the German Ambassador. I stated that the recognized and well established law of nations nowhere gave my Government the least authority to direct or command persons to refrain from unfavorable or unfriendly actions or utterances towards foreign powers; that I and other officials of the Federal Government had given every phase of this unfortunate situation the fullest possible attention and had said and done all possible to allay feeling and to avoid acrimony [Page 519] between the peoples and governments of our two countries; and I invited the Ambassador to place his finger on a line or word of international law that would enable me or my government to do more. With reasonable frequency during the conversation I reverted to the central fact that there was not the slightest indication of any friction between any person or persons in our respective countries until the sluice of sensational reports about personal mistreatment began to come over to this country from Germany; that they had been of such a nature as easily to arouse the deepest feelings and passions of many citizens of the United States; that should officials of my government, being without authority, attempt to interfere by mere word of mouth it would only add fuel to the flames and seriously aggravate the situation, and that if the government officials of Germany did not know and understand this phase of psychology they were probably doomed to still more disagreeable experiences in connection with these same conditions. I stated that if the German Government could only bring about a cessation of these reports of personal injuries which had been coming steadily to the United States from Germany and arousing bitter resentment among many people here, we would be able to control the activities about which the Ambassador was complaining, and that I would be glad if he would seek from his government this degree of cooperation with my government. He gave no definite response to this. I explained to him also that many members of Congress, especially in a time of chaotic political conditions, were not disposed to give the slightest heed to even the most earnest representations by the State Department or any other department of the government; that these Congressmen or Senators knew my attitude, but were heeding sentiment of groups of voters back among their respective constituents on whom they must rely for re-election to the Congress, and that many instances of such independent action had occurred during recent months at the Capitol, a few of which the Ambassador undoubtedly could recall. I told him that I might have caused a special official investigation to be made about the conditions and mistreatment complained of in Germany and then proceeded to make representations direct to the German Government about its conduct in the premises, but, as indicated heretofore, I had refrained from doing so. I again reminded him of the terrific demands made upon the President and the State Department by the critics of the German Government in the United States for definite action in their direction and how we had been constantly and severely censured for our refusal to do so; that at the same time we were so unfortunate as now to be censured, even in offensive language by officials of the German Government, for our lack of authority and our refusal to suppress certain utterances and actions of individuals and groups in [Page 520] this country who, of course, did not in any sense undertake to speak for the Federal government and who were not authorized so to speak.

I emphasized the fact that recently in an unsigned paper handed to our representative,46 German officials had used offensive language in their demand that my government should require its citizens to refrain from offensive language towards German officials. He professed ignorance of this and added that it certainly was not as abusive as that of some American citizens, to which I agreed, but I again stated that it was offensive.

I, for the second or third time, again appealed to the Ambassador to request his government to cooperate with my government by causing a halt to the large volume of reports of personal assaults of the kind heretofore indicated coming to this country from Germany. I said this was the one step that would cure the entire situation. I still received no definite reply. We were clearly referring to the persecution of the Jews throughout the conversation. I inquired if he thought the Jews should resume buying goods from Germany? He said, “Yes, it would help to restore good relations.” I said, “Do you think we here could persuade them to do so?” He hesitated, and then smiled.

After more or less repetition and variations by the Ambassador and by myself in reply, I let him clearly understand that, so far as I believed and felt, my government had left nothing unsaid or undone within its duty or capacity to deal with these complaints of his government, and that our policy of vigilance with respect to this unfortunate matter would be consistently pursued hereafter by the Government of the United States. With this statement, I indicated that there was little further to be said.

C[ordell] H[ull]
  1. Counteracting Nazi propaganda in the United States and advocating the boycott of German goods.
  2. H. Res. 198, January 3, 1934; for text of resolution, see Congressional Record, vol. 78, pt. 5, p. 4934.
  3. Memorandum from the German Foreign Office to the Embassy in Germany, p. 513.