Treasury Department official Josiah E. DuBois, Jr. (1912-1983) was instrumental in exposing the State Department’s suppression of news about the Holocaust and obstruction of opportunities for rescue.
A graduate of Penn Law School, DuBois began working at the Treasury Department’s Foreign Funds Control Division in the 1930s and there came face to face with the mass murder of Europe’s Jews. That happened because once World War II began, it was illegal for a U.S. citizen to send funds into enemy territory without special permission. Thus when the World Jewish Congress, in early 1943, sought to send funds to Europe to ransom Jewish refugees in France and Romania, it requested authorization from the State Department and the Treasury Department.
At Treasury, the request came to DuBois’s desk. He immediately approved it and sent it over to the State Department, where it stalled. Troubled by State’s long delay in acting on the request, DuBois began investigating the State Department’s actions. His inquiries clearly ruffled some feathers. A third party told him of one State Department official privately complaining about “the Jew Morgenthau and his Jewish assistant, DuBois” meddling in State’s affairs. (DuBois was not Jewish.) He also received a threatening anonymous telephone call.
Documents surreptitiously provided to DuBois by a friend in the State Department, Donald Hiss, revealed that senior officials had been deliberately obstructing opportunities to rescue Jews and blocking the transmission of Holocaust-related information to the United States.
DuBois relayed to Morgenthau what he was discovering.The secretary was alarmed, but resisted suggestions by DuBois and other staffers that he speak directly with President Roosevelt about the issue. Morgenthau still believed that matters could be ironed out in a private meeting with Secretary of State Cordell Hull.
EXPOSING THE STATE DEPARTMENT
The turning point came when DuBois asked Secretary Morgenthau to request a copy of a specific telegram that the State Department had sent to U.S. officials in Switzerland, which DuBois knew was linked to a telegram instructing them to stop transmitting news about the mass killings. Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long, not realizing that DuBois knew these details, doctored the telegram so that it would not alert the Treasury staff to the existence of the other cable. When DuBois revealed Long’s duplicity to Morgenthau, the secretary was furious.
At that point, Morgenthau instructed staff member Randolph Paul to prepare a full report on the State Department’s actions. Paul gave the assignment to DuBois,
On Christmas Day 1943, DuBois compiled an 18-page report which he titled “Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews.” In detailed, lawyerly language, the report exposed the State Department’s obstruction of rescue. It concluded that State Department officials, led by Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long, “have been guilty not only of gross procrastination and willful failure to act, but even of willful attempts to prevent action from being taken to rescue Jews from Hitler. Unless remedial steps of a drastic nature are taken, and taken immediately…to prevent the complete extermination of the Jews [in Hitler Europe], this Government will have to share for all time responsibility for this extermination.”
DuBois delivered the report to Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr., together with a warning: if Morgenthau did not bring this scandal directly to the attention of President Roosevelt, DuBois would resign from the Treasury Department in protest and hold a press conference at which he would publicly expose the State Department’s deeds. It is not clear if DuBois said this as a threat, or offered it to Morgenthau as strategic leverage to use in dealing with the president.
Morgenthau presented an abbreviated version of the report to President Roosevelt at the same time that congressional pressure for rescue was peaking. He also gave FDR a draft of an executive order establishing a government rescue agency and urged him to create the agency unilaterally rather than risk congress embarrassing him by continuing to raise the issue. It is not known if Morgenthau mentioned to the president the possibility that DuBois would resign and leak the report to the press. In any event, Roosevelt was no doubt cognizant of the danger that the scandal would mushroom, and he opted to head it off by establishing the War Refugee Board.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF THE WAR REFUGEE BOARD
DuBois was named general counsel of the Board, and his Treasury colleague John Pehle became its executive director. Despite receiving little government funding, DuBois and his colleagues advanced the cause of rescue through unorthodox means, including bribery of border officials and the production of forged identification papers and other documents to protect refugees from the Nazis.
The Board’s agents arranged for 48,000 Jews to be moved from Transnistria, where they would have been in the path of the retreating German army, to safe areas in Romania. About 15,000 Jewish refugees, and about 20,000 non-Jewish refugees, were evacuated from Axis-occupied territory, and at least 10,000 more were protected through various Board-sponsored activities.
In response to the German deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz, Pehle and DuBois engineered a series of threats by world leaders which eventually succeeded in pressuring Hungary’s leaders to halt the deportations. As a result, some 120,000 Jews remained alive in Budapest. Many were sheltered by the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who, with financial and logistical backing from the Board, organized a network of safe houses in the city.
Some of the War Refugee’s efforts were less successful. At DuBois’s initiative, the Board tried to persuade Roosevelt to establish temporary shelters for refugees in the United States, but he agreed to just one token shelter for a group of 982 refugees in Oswego, New York. The Board also repeatedly asked the War Department to bomb the railroad lines leading to Auschwitz or the gas chambers and crematoria, but the requests were rejected. The State Department often refused or delayed cooperating with the Board’s requests for assistance, and the British government likewise responded coldly to the Board’s efforts and sometimes even impeded them.
Despite these obstacles, the Board ultimately played a major role in the rescue of more than 200,000 refugees during the final fifteen months of the war.
PROSECUTION OF WAR CRIMINALS
In 1946, the Truman administration asked DuBois to head the prosecution in one of the Nuremberg Trials: the case of twenty-four directors of I. G. Farben, the German chemical manufacturing conglomerate that used hundreds of thousands of Jewish slave laborers in its factories and supplied the Nazis with Zyklon B, the poison gas used in the gas chambers at the death camps.
Despite the efforts of DuBois and his team, only thirteen of the defendants were convicted on any of the counts; the others were acquitted of all charges. The sentences meted out to the guilty were, as DuBois put it, “light enough to please a chicken thief, or a driver who had irresponsibly run down a pedestrian.” The I.G. Farben directors received prison terms of between one and a half to eight years, five of them just two years or less.
Moreover, many war criminals were granted clemency by the U.S. high commissioner in Germany, as part of the Cold War strategy of wooing West Germany to side with the United States against the Soviet Union.
One of the officials who played a key role in implementing this U.S. policy was John J. McCloy. As assistant secretary of war, McCloy in 1944, authored the rejection letters in response to requests by the War Refugee Board and Jewish organizations to bomb Auschwitz or the railway lines leading to it. Appointed U.S. high commissioner for Germany in 1949, McCloy proceeded to grant clemency to numerous German industrialists convicted of war crimes. Of the thirteen I.G. Farben directors whom DuBois had put behind bars, eight had already completed their meager sentences; McCloy freed the remaining five.