840.48 Refugees/1–345: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Winant)

66. The following for Mann2 is WRB 33. The War Refugee Board3 was recently advised by McClelland4 in Bern that approximately 1355 refugees from Bergen-Belsen arrived in Switzerland on December 7 and are temporarily being housed in Caux under control of the Swiss army. McClelland has been advised by the chief of the Swiss Federal Police that the majority of these refugees are Hungarians, including persons from Transylvania, but that there are also a few Poles, Slovaks and Yugoslavs. The Swiss stated further to McClelland:

“All these refugees intended to go to Palestine some as young workers others as veteran Zionists or prominent members of Jewish organizations, still others to join relatives already there. Most of them had been assured that they would be admitted although none of them actually possess Palestine certificates or equivalent document. On other hand they all hold documents issued by Hungarian Red Cross or an international Jewish organization stating that a Palestine certificate in their name is available at Istanbul. These documents were for most part issued shortly before occupation of Hungary by Germans. For past few years it appears that several thousands of Hungarian Jews have gone to Haifa via Istanbul on basis of such documents. All these Hungarians who recently arrived in Switzerland originally intended to pick up their Palestine certificates in Istanbul and once in possession of them to proceed to Haifa. Almost [Page 1120] all of them have relatives in Palestine. They do not know whether the certificates supposedly available for them at Istanbul are still valid or whether the Zionist organizations have taken any steps to assure their emigration.”

Athough it is not certain that this is the same group referred to in our WRB–19 of November 35 and your 9736 of November 9,6 it is hoped that you will be able nevertheless to obtain the consent of the British to the admission of this group of refugees to Palestine. The Swiss are extremely anxious and consider it imperative that this entire group of refugees be removed from Switzerland as soon as possible. This is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to the Swiss our good faith in promising to find temporary havens for all refugee Jews arriving in Switzerland from Hungary, particularly since the Swiss have indicated their willingness to permit 8,000 more Hungarian Jews to enter Switzerland on a temporary basis.

AFHQ7 and UNRRA8 have agreed to hold the Philippeville Camp in Algeria open to meet emergency needs such as that created by any possible movement of Hungarian Jews. However, it is the Board’s feeling, in view of the above-quoted communication by the Swiss to McClelland, that efforts should be made to have this group admitted to Palestine rather than to Philippeville.

Please take this matter up with the British and reply urgently. If the British consent to admit these refugees to Palestine, the United States Government will of course cooperate in arranging transportation.

  1. James H. Mann, Assistant Executive Director of the War Refugee Board.
  2. Special governmental agency established by President Roosevelt on January 22, 1944, by Executive Order 9417, which stated: “It is the policy of this Government to take all measures within its power to rescue the victims of enemy oppression who are in imminent danger of death and otherwise to afford such victims all possible relief and assistance consistent with the successful prosecution of the war.” For text of this Executive Order, see 9 Federal Register 935; see also Department of State Bulletin, January 22, 1944, p. 95. For documentation regarding the activities of the War Refugee Board, see Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. i, pp. 981 ff.
  3. Roswell D. McClelland, representative of the War Refugee Board in Switzerland.
  4. Telegram 9220, November 3, 1944, midnight, to London (not printed) reported that the United States Government had urged the Swiss Government to take speedy action to enable 2000 Palestine certificate holders in Hungary to proceed to Switzerland and that the United States had promised to use its best efforts to secure the unimpeded progress of these certificate holders to Palestine. This telegram stated that the United States Government was determined to spare no effort in interceding with Swiss, French, Spanish, and Portuguese officials in the interest of securing speedy transportation of the certificate holders in accordance with suggested routing and was prepared to recommend that Allied military and shipping authorities make this speedy transit possible. The United States urged the British to take similar steps to make possible the early departure of the certificate holders for Palestine (840.48 Refugees/11–344).
  5. Not printed; the British were reported to be uncommitted regarding the contents of the telegram outlined in the preceding footnote, but the Embassy felt that if the reports of the release of Jews were true, the United States would be able to get British commitments parallel to the action outlined by the Department (840.48 Refugees/11–944).
  6. Allied Force Headquarters, Caserta, Italy.
  7. United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration; for documentation on the participation by the United States in the work of UNRRA, see pp. 958 ff.