740.00115 European War 1939/11–744

The Acting Secretary of State to Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy

My Dear Admiral Leahy: I attach for your information a copy of a letter which I am addressing to the Attorney General81 with respect to the suggested use of State Department facilities for the proposed repatriation from Europe of American civilians soon after the termination of formal armed resistance by the German Government.

The facilities of the State Department were made available to effect the evacuation from the Far East of American citizens held by the enemy in that area.82 As you are aware, numerous proposals for such evacuation are pending with the Japanese and there is of course always a possibility that the Japanese will accept one or the other of those proposals. In particular I refer to a recent statement by a spokesman of the Japanese Foreign Office to the Swiss Minister at Tokyo indicating that in his opinion of three proposals envisaging the exchange of Japanese in North America for Americans in Japanese-held territory, one (use of steamships via Soviet port) was considered infeasible and two (small exchanges using rail facilities across Manchuria and Siberia and exchange such as that effected last year at Mormugão) were considered as feasible, the last mentioned being preferred. The Japanese spokesmen, however, stated that the Japanese Government would wish to defer any further American exchanges until after the accomplishment of the next British exchange which he alleged to be impeded by serious technical difficulties. A fourth exchange proposal of which you are aware is before the Japanese involving the Japanese civilian population of the Island of Saipan. The Japanese Government has expressed unwillingness to consider this proposal until it has a list of the Japanese civilians in question. The Navy Department has undertaken the preparation of such a list.

The proposed use of State Department facilities to and from Europe pending the outcome of further negotiations with the Japanese, and even between voyages to the Far East would not only provide useful employment for such facilities but would enable this Government to discharge important obligations to the American taxpayers. I attach a memorandum regarding the post-war problem of repatriation of American civilians from Europe.

This problem is one of gravity to the Department in terms of its responsibility to the taxpayer and to the individual Americans concerned. [Page 1214] The Department fully appreciates that the War and Navy Departments and the War Shipping Administration are fully occupied with the more important problem of winning the war which, so far as can now be foreseen, will continue in the Far East even after extensive military operations in Europe are terminated. It is therefore the Department’s hope that as soon as formal hostilities in Europe are terminated the military authorities will agree to the use of State Department facilities for the repatriation from Europe of deserving American citizens who may be identified by the representatives of this Department and screened by the appropriate military authorities. I shall appreciate your views upon this proposal.

To the extent deemed necessary in the public interest the Department of State, when using the Swedish ship Gripsholm 83 for the purpose described above, would wish to reserve a relatively small portion of the passenger space eastbound for its own personnel traveling to Europe and for other civilian employees of the Government. On the return voyages there might be carried materials for civilian agencies of this Government as well as civilian Government personnel. Throughout the entire course of such operations this Department would, of course, be guided by the principle that nothing should be done with the vessel which might in any way impair its present established character as an exchange vessel since it may at any time be required for use in connection with exchanges of nationals with Japan.84

Sincerely yours,

Edward R. Stettinius, Jr.

Memorandum by the Assistant Chief of the Special War Problems Division (Clattenburg)

The Department of State has during the course of the present conflict in Europe done everything possible to facilitate the repatriation of American civilians caught in enemy or enemy-controlled territory but has been hampered very considerably by the difficulty inherent in obtaining a satisfactory agreement with the German Government covering that problem.

[Page 1215]

There are in Europe today in territory still held by the enemy or territory more or less recently liberated from his control large numbers of American citizens who have during the time since Pearl Harbor been participating in the terror and deprivation visited by the Nazis upon all within their power who are not declared partisans of the Nazi regime. We are receiving in the Department increasing numbers of reports of American citizens who have been deprived of personal possessions, of food and of many of their inherent rights as human beings such as the Americans of Jewish extraction who were caught in Germany, Hungary or Slovakia. There are unknown numbers of Americans who concealed their American nationality in the hope of escaping enemy oppression only to share the fate of the local populace in terms of loss of health, liberty and belongings. At least two cases are known of Americans in France who lost their reason under Gestapo85 questioning. Other Americans, perhaps a minority, have been more fortunate and either have remained relatively unmolested or have been interned in the regular internment camps which, although conducted in accordance with the principles of the Geneva Prisoners of War Convention,86 subjected them to physical discomfort, inadequate provisions to maintain their health, and sub-normal provision of food and clothing.

An important number of American civilians have during the period since December 7, 1941 existed by virtue of financial assistance loans from the funds of this Government. The Department feels it essential that such assistance be continued until the Americans in question can receive funds from next of kin or others in the United States, or until they have been afforded an opportunity for repatriation, whichever may be the proper solution of each case. With the removal of the fear of enemy oppression many more deserving cases will come to the attention of our officers entering the areas formerly held by the enemy and the burden of financial assistance may be expected to increase. In the public interest suitable provision for terminating this burden should be made by providing means for the repatriation of these individuals.

  1. Letter of November 7 to Attorney General Francis Biddle, not printed.
  2. For correspondence on this subject, see vol. v, pp. 1081 ff.
  3. For correspondence on the use of the Gripsholm for the exchange of American and German prisoners of war and others, see vol. iii, pp. 785 ff.
  4. In response, Admiral Leahy stated in his letter of December 5, 1944, to the Secretary of State:

    “The Joint Chiefs of Staff, from a military point of view, have no objection in principle to the foregoing proposals. However, it may be that proposed movements of the M. V. Gripsholm and other vessels and overland transportation facilities may interfere with military operations in progress following the cessation of hostilities in Europe. They therefore request that the matter be presented for consideration at that time.” (740.00115 EW/12–544)

  5. The German Secret State Police (Geheime Staatspolizei).
  6. Signed at Geneva, July 27, 1929; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1929, vol. i, p. 336.