840.48 Refugees/1306

The Ambassador in Italy (Phillips) to the Secretary of State

No. 1237

Sir: With reference to my telegram No. 2 of January 3, 9 p.m.,4 reporting my conversation with the Duce on that evening, I have the honor to enclose herewith a memorandum containing a fuller account of the meeting. As I reported to the Department on the following day, no mention of my call upon the Duce appeared in the Italian press, but this morning the papers carried a brief communiqué issued late last evening in the following sense:

“The Duce has received at Palazzo Venezia, in the presence of Count Ciano, the American Ambassador Mr. Phillips, bearer of a message from President Roosevelt regarding the European Semitic question and its possible solutions of general character.”

Respectfully yours,

William Phillips

Memorandum by the Ambassador in Italy (Phillips)

In accordance with instructions, I arrived at the Palazzo Venezia at six-fifty, ten minutes before the appointed hour for my reception [Page 58] by the Duce. While I was waiting in the ante-room, Ciano and Alfieri (Minister of Popular Culture) passed me and were cloistered with the Duce for fifteen or twenty minutes. Ciano asked me for a copy of the President’s letter,6 which I gave him and which he took with him to the Duce. It was quite evident, therefore, that the Duce spent this intervening time studying with his two advisers the copy of the President’s message in advance of the delivery of the original.

When I entered the Duce’s office, Alfieri had already left. Ciano was present, however, throughout the entire conversation although he contributed nothing to it. After expressing my pleasure in having this occasion to see His Excellency, I handed him the President’s letter, which he went through the form of reading carefully. When he had finished, I read to him slowly the memorandum7 which I had been instructed to present with the letter. Having concluded that part of the memorandum dealing with the Plateau region in southern Ethiopia and Kenya, the Duce interrupted by saying that this suggestion was impracticable,—that this particular region in Ethiopia was inhabited by a people who were wholly unsympathetic to the Jews, and that he had already offered a far better region northeast of Addis Ababa, a proposal which, however, the Jews themselves had not received favorably. Thereupon, he opened a map of Ethiopia, examined the suggested Plateau region, and showed me somewhat vaguely the area which he had already suggested for Jewish colonization.

When I had concluded the memorandum, I said that, with his permission, I would like to express certain personal views, and I hoped that he would not misunderstand if I spoke with frankness. Mussolini asked me to proceed. He was aware, I said, of the strained relations between the United States and Germany. This unfortunate situation was largely the result of the methods (and I emphasized “methods”) which had been and were continuing to be employed by the German Government in forcing certain elements of the population to leave the country. These methods had greatly shocked public sentiment in America. The Duce interrupted me by recounting the iniquities of the German Jews and of Jews in general, their lack of loyalty to the country of their residence, their intrigues, and the fact that they never could assimilate with any other race. He admitted that this lack of assimilation was a strong point in their favor and showed their remarkable racial strength. He told me of the financial frauds which were being practiced by the Jews and showed me a little book in German containing photographs of counterfeit bills for huge amounts of German marks. I was impressed by his [Page 59] apparently genuine antagonism to the Jews. He went on to say that, in his opinion, there would not be one Jew left in Germany, and that other European countries—and he mentioned in particular Rumania and Hungary—were confronted with the same problem and were finding it necessary to rid themselves of their Jewish elements. There was no room for Jews in Europe, and eventually, he thought, they would all have to go. I reminded him that this forced emigration from Europe had created an international problem and one with which we in the United States were vitally concerned. It was not a question solely for those states from which the emigrants departed, but it had become a serious world problem. Mussolini mentioned Russia as the natural continent which had ample spare room for Jews, although he admitted that Jews did not appear to be anxious to go there. No one, he said, seemed to have thought seriously of Russia in this connection. He mentioned the vast tracts of unoccupied lands in North America and compared this with the congested areas in Europe. I replied that we Americans seemed already to be doing our part in that we had already a large Jewish population and that Jewish emigrants from Germany were free to come to the United States within our quota. I told him of the work of the London Committee and that certain progress had been made, largely through the efforts of the State Department, in ascertaining what other countries were willing to do with regard to admission of these refugees, but I gave him no particulars concerning the numbers of Jews which individual countries might be willing to absorb.

Mussolini felt that the present program of finding refuges for these emigrants in various countries was more in the nature of a palliative than a solution. He expressed the opinion that the Jews should have a state of their own which need not be necessarily a large or important one but at least a territory where there could be a Jewish capital and government. In this way, he said, the Jews in other parts of the world would occupy a position similar to other foreigners living abroad and could be handled accordingly. He admitted that it would be difficult to find a suitable place on the globe for a bona fide Jewish state but he seemed convinced that that was the only answer to the problem.

I found it necessary to bring him back several times to the original inquiry as to whether he would join with other leaders and states in trying to find a solution. Finally he agreed to do so and said that I could assure the President that he and the Italian Government would gladly cooperate with the President and with other states in this international endeavor. I reminded him of the importance of the forthcoming meeting in London between the representatives of the London Committee and the German Government, and I asked him [Page 60] whether he could do anything to be of assistance in this connection. He replied that he would do so but he did not elaborate as to how far he would be willing to go in this direction. He said that the continual public condemnation of Germany’s actions had immensely stiffened the German attitude and actually had increased the determination to deal drastically with the situation. He thought that probably very little could be done with the German authorities unless there was a cessation of these attacks. I interjected that, in view of the widespread public opinion in America against Germany because of the methods employed by the German Government, it would be next to impossible to suppress the attitude of Americans in general. I expressed appreciation of his offer to help and said that I would convey it to Washington and that I was sure the President would be also highly appreciative. I ventured to express the hope that he would find some occasions on which he could publicly ally himself with the movement, and he seemed to think that this might be done.

During this entire discussion, Count Ciano remained standing and offered no comment or suggestion.

Although I was disappointed by the Duce’s rejection of the President’s suggestion regarding the use of the Plateau region in southern Ethiopia and Kenya, I left with the feeling that something had been accomplished in enlisting his appreciation of the magnitude of the international problem. That he was willing to help in solving seemed to me something gained.

William Phillips

  1. Not printed.
  2. See draft letter dated December 7, 1938, Foreign Relations, 1938, vol. i, p. 858.
  3. See memorandum dated December 7 and telegram No. 133, December 30, 1938, 7 p.m., to the Ambassador in Italy, ibid., pp. 859 and 885, respectively.