124.52/138: Telegram

The Third Secretary of Embassy in Spain (Wendelin) to the Acting Secretary of State

X–334. Department’s telegram No. 200, November 20, 4 p.m.99 and our telephone conversation last evening. Disregarding political considerations in accordance with Department’s position two factors primarily influence decision to remain at Madrid or to evacuate, one, the possible shortage of food and fuel and the other the possible danger to the staff in remaining. My telegram X–329, November 19, 10 p.m., had reference to the food shortage in Madrid generally. At present situation of the Embassy in this respect is not serious. We have provisions for 2 weeks and are still able to obtain more outside. Fuel problem is probably more serious as there is acute shortage of coal and wood in the city. We have sufficient fuel to heat Embassy and run kitchens for 2 or 3 weeks more.

Danger to the Embassy thus far has been slight as it is located in center of neutral zone recently announced by rebels which is about one mile long north to south and half a mile wide. Rebels have respected this area in air and artillery bombardment to date. As noted in Embassy military reports they appear to be directing their attack toward strategic Government positions in western and northwestern parts of city. While these conditions continue the slight danger to the Embassy and staff from possible misdirected bombs or shells would not appear in itself to justify immediate evacuation. Military Attaché is of the opinion that “the danger to the staff is slight”.

On the basis of the above facts I believe we should remain in Madrid a few days longer until outcome of expected rebel attack is more clearly seen. If it then appears that rebels cannot take city without [Page 771] long struggle and possible siege we could then evacuate before route to coast is cut off and before our food and fuel are exhausted.

There are many practical difficulties in regard to evacuation. Means of transportation must be found and I am informed today by military authorities that it is practically impossible to obtain automobiles here. At their suggestion I am endeavoring to get in touch with Minister of State at Valencia to request that he send necessary automobiles to evacuate staff and Americans desiring to leave on day requested by me. In accordance with Department’s instructions by telephone yesterday I shall inform him that in that case I shall remain at Valencia. I am reluctant to use privately owned automobiles now at the Embassy for evacuation as there is no assurance that they will be permitted to proceed to France or remain at Valencia without being seized. I shall request guarantees on this point from Minister of State and if necessary we can evacuate by this means.

There are now in the Embassy 35 continental American citizens including staff, 1 Canadian, 7 Spanish wives and children of American nationals, 1 Italian wife, 14 guards furnished by Spanish Government and 73 Spanish employees, servants and their wives and children. Many of these people have come from areas now under fire and some have had their homes destroyed. If we should evacuate we would be morally obligated to make some provision for sheltering these people until the local situation is cleared. It is doubtful whether any considerable number of American nationals will decide to leave. For this reason more than any other I should prefer to postpone evacuation for a few days in the hope that some final decision may be reached in the struggle for Madrid. If it appears that no immediate decision is likely I believe it would be highly advisable to close the Embassy entirely as the Department originally instructed in its telegram No. 140, September 29, 1 p.m., [apparent omission] those refugees who live in the neutral zone and decline to leave with the staff could return to their homes. For those whose homes have been destroyed or are in dangerous areas we would endeavor to find places of refuge in our own residencies or other places within the safety area, Embassy servants who habitually live on the grounds and the servants of the Ambassador could of course remain there.

The Residencia para Señoritas, two blocks from the Embassy is the property of the International Institute for Girls in Spain, 15 South Portland Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, of which Dr. William A. Neilson, President of Smith College, is President. This building is one of the few in Madrid that has not as yet been taken over for refugees or some other purpose. I have today obtained the assurance of the military authorities that it will not be taken over but will be preserved [Page 772] for our use as possible place of refuge for American nationals. Two guards have been assigned to protect it. This building is thoroughly equipped to take care of 100 people or more if necessary. If the Department approves I would request that Dr. Neilson’s approval be sought to use this building temporarily for American refugees in case the Embassy staff leave and the Embassy is closed. It is my opinion that only by insisting that we may need this building ourselves can its use for other purposes be prevented.

I shall report fully on results of conference with Minister of State and progress of local situation.

  1. See telegram No. B–69, November 20, 4 p.m., to the Ambassador in Spain, then in France, p. 766.