740.00116 European War/8–2344: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Minister in Switzerland (Harrison)2

2905. On July 31, 1943, you transmitted to the Swiss Government under instructions the text of the President’s press statement of the preceding day in regard to war criminals.3 In that statement the President declared that he found it difficult to believe that any neutral country would give asylum to or extend protection to any such persons and that this Government would regard the action of a neutral government in affording asylum to Axis leaders or their tools as inconsistent with the principles for which the United Nations are fighting.

The Swiss Government’s reply reported in your 5063 of August 18, 1943,4 expressed the belief that the American Government’s purpose was not to question the right of asylum as such.

The assumption of the Swiss Government was correct. Throughout the course of its history the United States has been a haven for the politically oppressed from all parts of Europe. Of this the Federal Council is undoubtedly aware. The Swiss reply did not however correctly state the real purpose of the President’s statement of July 30, 1943, which was of course to appeal to neutral countries to decline to admit to their countries Axis leaders and their criminal henchmen.

As the President pointed out in his statement of July 30, 1943, it is the intention of this Government that the successful close of the war shall include provisions for the surrender to the United Nations of war criminals. If the Government of Switzerland declines to admit to Swiss territory persons in that category, obviously no problem would be presented as between Switzerland and the United Nations.

Please discuss this matter informally with the appropriate Swiss authorities and inquire whether they are prepared to give assurance that the Swiss authorities will decline to admit the Axis leaders and [Page 1411] their tools to Swiss territory. It need hardly be added that such persons would doubtless be regarded in every sense by the Swiss authorities as undesirable aliens whose admission to Swiss territory would be not in the interest of Switzerland even if such persons were not wanted for eventual trial by the United Nations.

We desire that you discuss this whole matter fully and frankly with the appropriate Swiss authorities. You are authorized in your discretion to leave with them an aide-mémorie in the sense of this telegram. In discussing this matter with the Swiss authorities you should make it plain to them that the wheels of justice are turning rapidly and that Switzerland may at any minute be faced with the necessity of reaching a decision on this question. You should therefore urge strongly upon them that they give you the assurance desired at this time and in so doing draw to their attention the following considerations.

As you know the United States has in its armed forces a total of nearly twelve million persons, almost nine percent of the entire population of this country. Over 200,000 United States merchant seamen are sailing thousands of American vessels transporting implements of war to all the theaters of action. Tens of millions of American civilians are doing important war production work. The war has touched practically every individual in the United States. The American people know that a small group of persons in the Axis countries played the leading role in plunging the world into this ghastly war. The American people would not understand the extension of asylum or protection in neutral countries to any of the persons whom they hold responsible for the war. Steadily mounting casualty lists are intensifying the feeling of the American people that adequate measures must be taken to hold to strict accountability the Axis leaders and their lackeys for their crimes against civilization. It is not my wish that you should make any threats to the Swiss Government: I do feel, however, that you would be lacking in candor if you concealed from the Swiss authorities our conviction that American-Swiss relations would be adversely affected for many years to come if Switzerland were to admit to her borders any one of the outstanding Axis leaders or their vassals.

Our views on this matter are, we feel confident, shared by the other members of the United Nations, and the nations associated with them, and, we have no doubt, by large sections of public opinion in neutral countries.

Please press for an early reply and keep me fully informed of your discussions.

For your own strictly confidential information we have not discussed this approach with the British and Soviet authorities but are sending them a paraphrase of this telegram for their secret information. [Page 1412] We shall probably also send paraphrases to other members of the United Nations.

  1. Similar telegrams, August 23, 7 p.m., to Portugal as No. 2317, to Spain as No. 2345, and to Sweden as No. 1688.
  2. See telegram 644, July 30, 1943, to Ankara, and footnote 5, Foreign Relations,. 1943, vol. i, p. 461.
  3. Ibid., p. 466.