840.48 Refugees/2–2245: Telegram

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

1159. For Department and WRB from McClelland. Letter from Minister referred to in last paragraph our 1056, February 1639 was delivered to Burckhardt (B) on February 17 urging ICRC to take action along following lines:

Increase to greatest possible extent visits of its delegates to places of detention of all categories of “Schutzhaeftlinge”;40
Augment number committee’s representatives in Germany as substantially and rapidly as possible;
Instruct its delegates to take every advantage of mounting confusion within Germany to mitigate lot of all civil detainees and dissuade German officials from last minute excesses.

Following is substance of B’s written reply dated February 19:

“Replying to your letter of February 16 I must in first place stress fact that in their memorandum to us dated February 1 German Government stated: ‘Visits to camps and places of detention where alien detainees (“Schutzhaeftlinge”) are confined are unfortunately not feasible at present moment for imperative reasons of national defense.’

In a recent communication our delegate Dr. Schirmer reported: ‘Headquarters of German Security Police have informed us that permission to visit concentration camps of alien detainees must be secured in each particular instance from Himmler himself.’

This present situation. I am awaiting an answer from Himmler concerning place and date I can see him personally. I shall spare no endeavor should interview take place to do my utmost to secure best possible result. You are aware of how difficult that will be.

We are anxious to send as many delegates (to Germany) as possible. They must be men of character. Five new delegates are accordingly leaving for Germany within next few days. We shall send others as soon as we can manage.

Decisive problem is and remains question of transportation. Within 4 days thousands of prisoners and detainees can starve. You are acquainted with cable we sent to Washington (to Secretary of State) following receipt of most recent report from our chief delegate (in Germany Dr. Maeti).

There is not a moment to be lost. Our delegates can only get into camps if they bring something with them and if they have gasoline and can still manage to travel on the roads (with trucks). Should it [Page 1134] be found impracticable to except two railway lines in north and south from aerial bombardment then any number of freight cars placed our disposal will be useless. All this is most extremely urgent. Large scale methods of action and sweeping decisions alone can secure any results.

We are often expected to do miracles. That is, of course, impossible; but by exerting every nerve and applying all our will we can do something provided certain indispensable means for execution of our task be furnished us.”

End of B’s reply.

On February 20 I had a personal interview with B who informed me that he had dispatched letter to Himmler on February 17 asking for a meeting.

First paragraph of B’s reply of February 19 refers to answer finally received from German Foreign Office to ICRC’S memorandum of October 2 (Legation’s 7998, December 741). Substance of German reply was issued in an ICRC communiqué of February 14 which is being transmitted in Legation’s 1143, February 21.42 [McClelland.]

  1. Telegram not printed; it stated that in face of the evidence of mounting confusion within Germany and the resulting increased accessibility of individual German officials to psychological pressures as they became more isolated by military events and hence more independent, an opportunity was afforded the ICRC to facilitate the relief of security prisoners. Hence, McClelland dispatched a letter from Minister Harrison to Burckhardt urging the latter to take action in line with a previous communication to Burckhardt based on the Department’s telegram 127, January 9, 5 p.m., to Bern, p. 1121.
  2. Persons detained for security reasons.
  3. Telegram not printed; it stated that the ICRC had approached the German Foreign Office with a request that the German authorities consider extending to persons detained for security reasons the treatment already granted to enemy nationals in Germany and the German-occupied territory by analogy to the Geneva Prisoners of War Convention of 1929 (840.48 Refugees/12–744). For text of Convention, see Foreign Relations, 1929, vol. i, p. 336.
  4. Not printed; it stated that the German Government had declared that civilian detainees from French and Belgian territories would henceforth “enjoy treatment more closely resembling regime reserved for POWs and civilian internees proper.” (740.00115 E.W./2–2145.)