Memorandum by the Assistant Chief of the Division of European Affairs (Henderson) to the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)36

Mr. Berle: In our opinion the advisability of taking up the matter of the Catholic priests with Mr. Litvinov will depend upon the attitude [Page 1004] which he displays upon his arrival here.37 It is our thought that one of the executives of the Department might engage in a little exploratory and preparatory work with Litvinov and, if he displays a willingness to listen to suggestions relating primarily to the internal affairs of the Soviet Union, discuss with him frankly the questions of the Roman Catholic and other priests.38 It would, of course, be impressed upon Mr. Litvinov that the discussions were being entered into not with the intention to interfere in Soviet internal affairs but in the hope that the Soviet Government might possibly take without any great danger to itself certain action which would tend to facilitate this Government in its efforts to extend the maximum of assistance to the Soviet Union.

It is of course possible that it might become clear from the exploratory conversations with Litvinov that it is not yet opportune to take up with Soviet officials matters relating primarily to the manner in which the Soviet Government is conducting affairs in Russia.

  1. Assistant Secretary of State Berle noted his agreement with the course of action proposed in this memorandum.
  2. Maxim Maximovich Litvinov presented his credentials and the letter of recall of Konstantin Alexandrovich Umansky as Ambassador on December 8, 1941; see memorandum of December 8 by Secretary of State Hull, p. 661.
  3. The Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, John W. McCormack, had discussed with Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle, Jr., the advantage that would come “from a psychological angle in the United States” if something could be done to liberate 135 Roman Catholic priests who were publicly described as being held since 1939 in Soviet prisons or concentration camps. Mr. Berle thought it was “pretty clear that this would mean definite assistance in allaying some of the Catholic opposition to aid to Russia.” An address critical of President Roosevelt’s policy, delivered in Chicago, Illinois, on November 12, 1941, by the Rt. Rev. Fulton J. Sheen, as reported in the Boston American, November 12, 1941, p. 16, had been sent to Mr. Berle by Mr. McCormack on November 19, 1941. (861.404/460½)