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

Mr. Thorold came in as a result of a cable he had received from the Foreign Office. A couple of days ago, representatives of four small European countries had come to the Secretary seeking a greater [Page 278] degree of relief for the civilian populations in German-occupied Europe. Thereafter the spokesman for the State Department had observed in a comment on this visit that the United States was pressing for a greater measure of this relief. He said that the Foreign Office had wondered whether this was designed to stimulate public opinion here to bring pressure to bear on the British Government and he hoped that we could agree that differences of this kind would not be made public.

I said that the visit in question had been handled by the Secretary and that I did not think we had previous notice of the matter the four Ambassadors wished discussed except that by accident at a dinner party the previous evening one of the Ambassadors had mentioned to me what they were going to do. Since it appeared that the four Ambassadors of the same countries were making an exactly similar representation in London, I let it go at that. The comment which followed seems to me to have been merely a spontaneous one in the situation.

I said further that as Mr. Thorold knew, it was not our policy here to exploit public differences of opinion, but that we had an overriding need to work together in the major job of our operations against the Germans. The British Government was well aware of the fact that we did not see eye to eye in the matter of civilian relief to these countries and that Congress had passed a unanimous resolution on the subject and we might be asked at any time to state our position and that our public opinion was steadily pushing us in the matter. But it was absurd to think that we had undertaken to go out and stir up trouble.

Mr. Thorold then asked whether we could have an agreement that our position in this matter would not be made public until after consultation with them. I said that I preferred not to have a specific agreement covering civilian relief but rather to rest on the general policy that prevailed in all matters; that we did not emphasize differences of opinion on small matters when cooperation in a major matter was of the utmost importance. It was our intention, of course, as matters come up, including this one, to talk to the British first; and I noted that in this particular matter though we had had a difference of opinion since last December, one could hardly reach the conclusion that we were in the habit of stirring up trouble.

I then asked when the agreement to which Mr. Thorold referred—that these matters should not be discussed publicly—had actually been reached. He said that it had been a tacit agreement reached with Assistant Secretary of State Long back in 1942.

I told him that we were hoping to get a favorable answer to our recent representations and anything he could do to expedite this [Page 279] would be of assistance. Temporarily little had been said, but Mr. Kershner44 had visited me recently and, pursuant to our arrangement, had been told of the concession which the British had made; but that as for public pressure on the movement I could not guarantee that there might not be more relatively soon. Mr. Thorold seemed to agree to that and said he would so inform London. The conversation was entirely good-natured throughout; I judged that London had been a little frightened by the remarks at the press conference following the visit of the four Ambassadors. I told Mr. Thorold that Mr. Kershner wanted to go to London and we had told him that was a matter between him and the British Government. I also told him that when Mr. Kershner stated this to me I had observed that in England he would find that with the bombings and one thing and another the people had troubles of their own on their minds at the moment.

A[dolf] A. B[erle], Jr.
  1. Howard F. Kershner, Director of the International Committee for Child Refugees.