840.48 Refugees/3609: Telegram

The Chargé in the United Kingdom ( Matthews ) to the Secretary of State

1309. Richard Law4 asked me to call at the Foreign Office yesterday afternoon. He discussed the question of what steps might be taken looking toward some concerted action by the United Nations on behalf of such Jews on the continent of Europe as are able to escape Hitler’s policy of extermination. He said that while much to his regret he was not sure that much practical help could be given these unfortunate people, public opinion in Great Britain has been rising to such a degree that the British Government can no longer remain dead to it. The temper of the House of Commons is such that the Government will be unable to postpone beyond next week some reply to the persistent demands to know what it is doing to help the Jews. With the foregoing explanation and assuring me that he was aware of the many difficulties involved in any attempt to improve the lot of the Jews, he handed me the following memorandum:

“The United States Embassy will be aware of the intense public interest shown in the United Kingdom over refugees from German oppression and in particular over the fate of the Jews. This has grown since the Allied declaration of December 175 which revealed the extent of Germany’s policy of extermination. Distinguished public men, for example the Archbishop of Canterbury, members of Parliament of all parties and innumberable responsible public bodies have made intensive representation to His Majesty’s Government that every effort should be made to meet the extermination policy by rescuing such Jews as are able to escape into neutral countries, and facilitate the reception of more. His Majesty’s Government and various colonial governments have already received very large numbers of refugees, and war exigencies, pressure on food and housing, now make further action on any substantial scale quite impracticable, except in Palestine where independently His Majesty’s Government have announced their arrangements for taking many thousands of Jews from Southeastern Europe, provided the necessary transport can be secured.

On the main problem, which is so much agitating the public conscience in this country, His Majesty’s Government feel sure that the United States Government will agree that it is one for common consideration, and action where possible, on the part of all the governments who participated in the Allied declaration of December 17th. Accordingly His Majesty’s Government on January 126 addressed themselves, through His Majesty’s Ambassador in Washington, to the United States Government to secure that Government’s views and if [Page 139] possible its cooperation on the most pressing aspects of the problem. On receipt of a definite answer from Washington it was suggested that an approach could then be made to the other Allied Governments. Up to the present no statement of the views of the United States Government has been received which could form an agreed joint basis of approach to those Governments, and His Majesty’s Government are under the necessity of answering public representations vaguely and of avoiding, naturally, any reference to the American share in finding a solution to the pressing general problem.

His Majesty’s Government gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the United States authorities in Spain and North Africa over the local refugee problems in those territories; this, although of undoubted importance, does not meet the main problem, and His Majesty’s Government are therefore anxious to enlist the help of the United States Embassy in London in explaining to the appropriate authorities in Washington the precise urgency and scope of the question as seen in London.

Responsible British opinion will no doubt accept the position that measures of rescue and relief on any great scale are impracticable in the present stage of the war. But there are three steps which, it appears to His Majesty’s Government, might be taken without prejudice to vital war needs, and would, in addition to what is already being done in regard to Palestine and elsewhere, go far to meet the legitimate public anxiety over this humanitarian issue. They are: (1) That the United States Government should associate themselves with His Majesty’s Government in convening in London a meeting of the Allied Governments to examine the problem and its possible solutions. (2) That both Governments should agree on a number of special visas for refugees, and with this contribution invite similar assistance from countries with the necessary territorial facilities. (3) That the United States Government should associate themselves with His Majesty’s Government in promoting an international guarantee to the various neutral governments now, with increasing difficulty and apprehension, receiving refugees, that they would not be left alone to carry this burden at the end of the war.

It appears to His Majesty’s Government that if these three steps could be taken at an early date, this would be an effective reply to the agitation aroused in the conscience of the civilized world; it would also demonstrate the practical limitations to which the Allied Governments with all their intense sympathy for the victims of Germany’s policy, must at present be inexorably subjected.”

I told him that I would be pleased to communicate the memorandum to my Government and that he could rest assured that we fully shared the British Government’s desire to do what little may be feasible to help the tragic lot of these poor people insofar it is in our power to do so. I said that I did not know the Department’s views as to the proper approach to this question and with regard to point 2 of the Foreign Office memo it occurred to me that Congressional action might be required and that this might present some difficulties.

I asked specifically what the Foreign Office had in mind with regard to assurances that neutral governments receiving Jewish refugees [Page 140] now “would not be left alone to carry this burden at the end of the war”. He said it meant in part that we should exert our influence to see that when the war is over the Jewish nationals of various countries who have sought and been given a haven of refuge by various neutral governments could be repatriated to their native lands. He said, for instance, Sikorski7 has already declared that after the war all Polish Jews would be welcomed back to Poland. He felt that similar assurances might be obtained with regard to other areas.

I recalled that some thought had once been given before the war to finding a home for oppressed Jews in Madagascar, and asked whether this thought had recently been pursued. Randall,8 who was with Law, replied that the area did not seem climatically well suited, that it was planned to send other refugee groups there, if possible, and that transport presented outstanding difficulties.

I should appreciate receiving the Department’s early instructions as to the reply I should make to the foregoing memo.

  1. British Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  2. Department of State Bulletin, December 19, 1942, p. 1009.
  3. Presumably the British aide-mémoire of January 20, supra.
  4. Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski, Polish Prime Minister and Commander in Chief.
  5. Alec Randall, Counsellor in the British Foreign Office.