Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State (Long)

After the Secretary called me to his office to discuss with the British Ambassador14 the matter of our communications to England with regard to Polish relief, the Ambassador accompanied me to my office. There he read the communication from his Government which paraphrased the phraseology of our no. 284, February 16, [15] 6 p.m. to London as regards the fourth paragraph thereof but presented it in a curt and inadequate paragraph. I obtained our telegram in question and read it to the Ambassador and explained to him that we had acted independently of any of those organizations but had taken a position as a Government simply because of our humanitarian interest in having an arrangement made whereby relief could be distributed to the needy people in Poland. We had viewed it in two different lights. First, as regards the control of distribution, which was the question with Germany, and second, as regards transportation to the affected areas, which was the question with England. We had communicated with the British Government through our London Embassy before we had had the answer from the German Government.

The Ambassador commented that we had not advised the British Government of our reply from the German Government. I reminded him that the Red Cross had communicated to the Committee on Economic Warfare the answer which they had received from the German Government. It was appropriate for them to communicate through the Committee on Economic Warfare because it was that branch of the British Government with which they had had their dealings. I observed that whereas the Committee on Economic Warfare [Page 759] was an agency of the British Government, we must presume that the British Government had knowledge of the situation.

We discussed the matter at some length. In the course of his remarks the Ambassador expressed a great concern on the part of his Government that food supplies should reach Germany. On my part I told him that the American Government, as such, was not sending relief and that the organizations which were doing so were groups of private citizens. However, they were licensed by the American Government and somewhat subject to its control. They were not sending supplies to the military forces of Germany, nor would the American people give monies for supplies which were to go to the military forces of Germany or of any other country. Our point was that the American people had every reason to feel that supplies for the relief of distressed people should be allowed to proceed to the areas where the distressed people lived. Furthermore, our people felt that there should be proper supervision of the distribution of the supplies so that the American people, themselves, would be satisfied. It followed that this was a question between the American donors and the societies which represented them and the German Government in order that the American people might be satisfied. The Ambassador said he disagreed. He said that if the American Government would give a guarantee the British Government would respect it but that it would be very difficult for his Government to agree that American societies should carry relief to Poland because he did not know what societies might be organized and what might happen to the supplies that were permitted to reach Poland. However, if the American Government would give its guarantee the British Government would accept that guarantee.

The Ambassador also related that the Polish Government had stated they would give a million dollars for relief purposes. He said the French Government would give a considerable sum and that the British Government had agreed to make available certain funds. He thought these monies could be expended by an American committee.

I pointed out to Lord Lothian that the American societies were organized under the laws of the United States and licensed by the Department of State; that the American Government had a certain control over those societies and their activities; however, the American Government would have no control over funds which were contributed by other governments or other peoples; consequently, any funds which were distributed by an American organization must be American funds.

The Ambassador said that he had not considered the matter in that light and wondered what agency the British Government could use for the distribution of supplies if it could not use an American [Page 760] agency. I told him that that was a matter primarily for the British Government but it seemed to me that they might use an agency like the International Red Cross, or the League of Red Cross Societies, or even the Swiss Red Cross, and that his Government might make some arrangement with them in connection with the Polish and French Governments. I said it did not seem feasible for the American Government to permit an organization which it licensed to engage in an activity which the American Government would have no control over. (I particularly did not mention the feature which to my mind is especially objectionable, and that is that American funds would be mingled with funds of the three governments which are at war with Germany and which would place the American organization—an agency licensed by the American Government—in the anomalous position of carrying relief into Poland largely contributed by the governments at war with Germany.)

The Ambassador left with a better understanding of the whole relief situation and America’s attitude toward it, and said he thought he could put it in a new light to his Government. He said that his Government did not want to say “no” again to the American Government. I told him we hoped they would not say “no” in this instance and that we hoped very much they would not find it necessary to say “no” in regard to the very reasonable positions the American Government took. He said he would send a despatch to his Government.

B[recbltnridge] L[ong]
  1. Lord Lothian.