840.48 Refugees/1–2945: Airgram

The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Kennan) to the Secretary of State

A–27. Department’s telegram 35, January 6, 4 p.m.,25 with reference to schemes for ransoming Jews in German hands.

Ambassador Harriman was not able before his departure from Moscow to give attention to this matter.

After giving careful consideration to the request made by the War Refugee Board, I am obliged to say that I do not feel that it would be in the interests of our Government to transmit this information to the Soviet Government. In view of the extreme suspicion with which the Soviet Government views all financial transactions with Germany conducted through Swiss channels and in view of the marked lack of enthusiasm with which communications on this subject have been received in the past, I feel that to impart this information to the Soviet Foreign Office would have the effect of undermining confidence here in the integrity of our economic warfare effort and would thus be definitely detrimental to our interests.

The Soviet Government is well aware of the sufferings being inflicted on victims of Nazi persecution of every race and nationality. Their own citizens have been done to death by the Germans in numbers which, they believe, run into the millions. Hundreds of thousands of their citizens are apparently still believed to be held in detention in Germany. Soviet circles feel that the Soviet Union through its war effort is doing the best that can be done to bring to an end this reign [Page 1129] of terror and thus to relieve the sufferings of all these unfortunate people, Russians and foreigners alike.

The Soviet Government apparently does not believe, as a matter of principle, in dickering with bandits, and has generally taken the position with regard to its own people that the interests of the Soviet State and of the Allied powers in general override the interests of those groups who are unfortunate enough to fall into the hands of the enemy. The idea of ransoming any of these people by the payment of sums which can help the Germans to prolong their war effort will not only fail to appeal to the Russians but will be interpreted by them as a form of betrayal of general United Nations interests on our part. In particular, they will fail to understand why these efforts should be directed to the relief of one category of victims of Nazi terror and not others. I am afraid that an explanation to the effect that the transfer of these funds to Switzerland was only a half measure and that we have not yet decided whether or not to release them, will not do anything to improve the impression which this communication would make.

I would therefore strongly recommend that this matter not be communicated to the Soviet Government.

  1. See footnote 10, p. 1121.