Josiah DuBois and the Creation of the War Refugee Board

On Christmas Day 1943, a young US Treasury Department employee wrote something that would change the lives of more than 100,000 Jews in Europe. Josiah DuBois worked on this document despite the fact that he was risking his job and had little time to spend with his family on the holiday.

US Treasury Department photo by Roman Boed

US Treasury Department photo by Roman Boed

The document was entitled The Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews. It accused the US State Department “of gross procrastination and willful failure to act” and “willful attempts to prevent action from being taken to rescue Jews from Hitler.” DuBois’ report showed that State Department officials not only followed the United States strict immigration laws, but tried to prevent Jews from immigrating to the US altogether.

Visas for potential refugees were delayed because of State’s requirement that refugees produce two letters of reference from American citizens who could either help support the refugees or who could prove the refugees could take care of themselves. In addition, visa applicants were often turned away if they had close relatives in Europe. The theory, or excuse, for not admitting them was that the enemy might persuade immigrants to become Nazi spies.

As DuBois pointed out in his report, the new immigrants would not threaten national security.  If President Roosevelt was concerned about potential spies, refugees could be placed in internment camps “and released only after a satisfactory investigation… Even if we took these refugees and treated them as prisoners of war it would be better than letting them die.”

In DuBois’s mind all human beings worth saving. Sadly, from late 1941 to early 1945 only 10% of the small quotas from Axis controlled countries were filled.

Yet DuBois did accomplish something by turning his report into his boss Treasury Secretary Henry Morganthau. By outlining State’s lack of concern for people fleeing from the Holocaust, DuBois showed that immigration issues shouldn’t be handled by the State Department. A new agency was needed to help people in Europe who were trying to escape from Hitller. This new agency would become known as the War Refugee Board.

Kristallnacht: A Prelude to the Holocaust

After annexing Austria and the German-speaking portion of Czechoslovakia, Hitler decided to expel Jews living in Germany who were born in Poland. On October 27-8, 1938, 18,000 Jews were put on trains bound for the Polish border. Some were forced to enter Poland by the Nazis while some camped in a tiny Polish village.

Zindel Grynszpan was one of the Jews expelled from Germany. He described his ordeal as follows: “A Polish general and some officers arrived, and then examined the papers and saw that we were Polish citizens. It was decided to let us enter. They took us to a village of about 6,000 people, and we were 12,000. The rain was driving hard, people were fainting – some suffered heart attacks; on all sides one saw old men and women. Our suffering was great – there was no food.”

Zindel sent a postcard to his son Hirsch who was studying in Paris. Mad with rage, he went to the German Embassy in Paris and shot the first German official that he met, Ernest vom Rath. Ironically vom Rath was not a Nazi.

Cleaning the street after Kristallnacht

Cleaning the street after Kristallnacht

Hitler and the Nazis called the murder a Jewish conspiracy against Germany. In fact it was a convenient excuse to do what Hitler had wanted all along: to expel all the Jews from Germany. Eager to carry out Hitler’s orders, the Nazis decided on a plan of action which they put into place on November 9, 1938. Their plan is now known as Kristallnacht – the night of broken glass. On that night, Stormtroops and Nazi party members burned synagogues, destroyed Jewish shops, and beat up as many Jews as possible. Bonfires were lit to burn prayer books and Torah scrolls. In 24 hours 91 Jews were killed. Over 30,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

The Nazi atrocities did not only happen in Germany’s large cities. Small Jewish villages in Germany were also affected. From inside his uncle’s house young Eric Lewis saw Stormtroops destroy a synagogue. “After a while, the Stormtroops were joined by people who were not in uniform; and suddenly, with one loud cry of, ‘Down with the Jews,’ the gathering outside produced axes and heavy sledgehammers. They advanced toward the little synagogue which stood in Michael’s [his uncle’s] own meadow, opposite his house. They burst the door open, and the whole crowd, by now shouting and laughing, stormed into the little House of God.”

After Kristallnacht Jews were fined 1 billion Reichsmarks for vom Rath’s death. Jews were also fined for the destruction of their own property. The Nazis were systematically pushing Jews out of the German economy. As of January 1, 1939, Jews could only be employed by other Jewish organizations. These conditions led to attempts of many Jews to emigrate to other countries such as the United States. The question was whether or not the other countries would welcome the Jews.

Sources:

The Holocaust by Martin Gilbert

A History of the Holocaust by Yehuda Bauerh

My Book’s Back Cover Copy: Thoughts?

I’m looking for my readers’ opinions on my back cover copy for Passionate Crusaders: How Members of the U.S. War Refugee Board Saved Jews and Altered American Foreign Policy During World War II. Comments welcome!

Passionate Crusaders tells the gripping story of a few righteous Americans who sought to do what many thought impossible in 1944—save Jews who had not yet been murdered in the Holocaust.

By January 1944, Treasury Department officials Henry Morgenthau, John Pehle, and Josiah DuBois had already convinced President Franklin Roosevelt to create the War Refugee Board, an agency with the authority to provide rescue and relief for Jews and other groups persecuted by the Nazis.

Scholars have criticized the Board for its inability to save more Jews and maintained that the agency should have been created sooner. Heather Voight’s research shows that despite its shortcomings, the War Refugee Board changed history and forever altered American foreign policy. Its creation ended the cycle of indifference that the government and the American public had shown to victims of the Holocaust. In the words of Henry Morgenthau, from 1944-1945 “crusaders, passionately persuaded of the need for speed and action” risked their reputations and sometimes their lives to save Jews.

In addition to saving more than 100,000 lives, Board members also made a lasting impact on international law. They pressured the War Crimes Commission to broaden its definition of war crimes by including the murder of civilians by their own countrymen. This definition of war crimes was applied to genocides committed many decades later in Bosnia and Rwanda, and continues to be used today.

“[Passionate Crusaders] shows that the efforts of an honorable and courageous few can create small steps to change history. This detailed, well-told, and inspiring story will be of value to students of the Holocaust, American history, and human rights.” –From the Foreword by Dr. Leon Stein, Professor Emeritus of History and Education Director Emeritus, Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

Heather Voight is a successful freelance writer and history blogger. Since 2009, she has published articles on a variety of topics including the Gibson Girl, healthcare, and the writings of C.S. Lewis. She has a B.A. in History and English.

http://www.heathervoight.com