Dr. Abby Gondek, Morgenthau Scholar-in-Residence, FDR Library, Hyde Park, NY
PhD Global and Socio-cultural Studies, Florida International University
MA African and African Diaspora Studies, FIU
MA Women’s Studies, SDSU
This exhibit is part of the Morgenthau Holocaust Collections Project, a digital history and path-finding initiative to raise awareness of the FDR Library’s unique but under-explored resources for Holocaust Studies. The goal of the Morgenthau Project and my role as Scholar-in-Residence is to open new pathways for find-ability, using digital scholarship to explore these Holocaust-related records.
This mini-exhibit accompanies the main exhibit entitled: “Jewish refugee children & the establishment of the War Refugee Board, 1943-1944, a path through the Morgenthau Diaries and the War Refugee Board papers.” Jewish Organizational Conflict explores the tensions (both real and imagined) between Jewish organizations based on positions regarding Zionism and Palestine. The conflicts between the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the World Jewish Congress (WJC) were emphasized by the State Department in order to delay the Treasury’s issuance of a license to the Joint Distribution Committee. This license to operate in “enemy territory” was crucial for the JDC to rescue Jewish children from France from 1943 to 1944. The State Department not only delayed issuance, but also took action that would threaten the effective implementation of the license.
To learn more about the larger conflict between State and Treasury and the case of Jewish children in France, visit the main exhibit, which also provides background on the factors which have been cited to explain the creation of the War Refugee Board (WRB) in January 1944. Clashes between the JDC and WJC feature prominently in the documents related to this time period and the specific case of “abandoned” Jewish children in France. Thus, the Jewish organizational conflict, in addition to the struggle between Treasury and State, should be considered as factors which contributed to the overall frustration felt by Treasury department staff which led to the creation of the War Refugee Board.
The Foundation of the Conflict
Explicitly Zionist organizations like the World Jewish Congress, critiqued the Joint (JDC) because it was founded by “uptown” Jews, took an “ameliorative” or philanthropic approach, was unable to think outside of the state-based system and was ill-equipped to face the realities of the Holocaust which put Jewish life in diaspora in “mortal danger.”1
In this specific case, the issue of Zionism and Palestine emerged when considering where to send the children once they were rescued. The WJC encouraged their emigration to Palestine while the JDC did not (however the JDC in Lisbon did arrange for Jewish children who had escaped from France to be transported to Palestine). Another major difference was that the Joint favored legal means of rescue while the WJC used “illegal” or “clandestine” options that went outside the bounds of the law. The organizations battled over the same territory and the same population of refugees. The WJC set up separate relief facilities in Portugal for the rescued children from France, claiming that this was because the JDC refused to send the children to Palestine. The Joint claimed that the WJC stole children from them, which the WJC denied. Similarly, the WJC representative claimed that the Joint had “kidnapped” children whom the WJC had brought over from France through Spain. The WJC gained special preference from Robert Dexter, the WRB representative in Portugal, who argued that the JDC was falsely taking credit for rescue, while the leadership of the Board in D.C. (John Pehle and James Mann) preferred the JDC.
- Henry Feingold, “Review Article: Yeuhuda Bauer, American Jewry and the Holocaust: The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, 1939-1945. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1981. pp. 522,” Jewish Social Studies 44, no. ¾ (1982): 324. Henry Feingold, interview with Claude Lanzmann, Claude Lanzmann Shoah Collection, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Accession number 1996.166, RG-60.5060, Film ID 4606, February 1979, video, 1:02:34, https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn1004817.
State Department emphasized the discord between the WJC and the JDC
The conversation below illustrates the (perceived) tensions between the JDC and WJC. This tension was consistently highlighted by the State Department.
Pehle adamantly opposed the idea that Harrison should arbitrate because he felt it would hamper rescue efforts. Pehle suggested that both organizations meet at Treasury to resolve any conflict and mutually agree on cooperation.2
Henry Morgenthau Jr. (HMJ) felt it should be Pehle rather than himself who would speak to these organizations. “I think they might take it a little better from you than they would from me,” HMJ said. This was because he believed that these organizational representatives would not think of him as the Secretary of the Treasury.3
The following day, January 6, 1944, the Treasury department learned that the text of their license to the JDC had been sent to Leland Harrison in Bern, but Riegelman had added an introductory message to Harrison, which elaborated the differences between the WJC (only permitting evacuation procedures) and the new JDC license (which included both relief AND evacuation).
After hearing about Riegelman’s introductory message to the license from Florence Hodel, Pehle expressed to Riegelman that he was “very disturbed” that this cable went out without clearance from Treasury. Riegelman insisted multiple times that he was not the sole actor behind this cover letter and that it had been a unanimous decision in State with the approval of Cordell Hull.4 While Riegelman (and State) contended that “friction” between the two Jewish agencies (WJC and JDC) could hamper the benefits of the license, Pehle, and the Treasury, felt that the new language (unapproved by Treasury) would lead Leland Harrison to arbitrate between the agencies. This was exactly what Pehle did NOT want. Pehle felt it would lead Harrison to require clearance of all transactions first, interfering with the ease of operation for both of these organizations, rather than helping them.5
2. John Pehle, Transcript of “Jewish evacuation” meeting between John Pehle, Henry Morgenthau Jr. (HMJ), Ansel Luxford, Henrietta Klotz, Randolph Paul and Josiah DuBois, MD 691 (January 5, 1944): 59.
3. HMJ, Transcript, MD 691: 60.
4. William Riegelman, “Treasury Department, Foreign Funds Control, Conference Memorandum in re: World Jewish Congress and Joint Distribution Committee Matter,” MD 691 (January 6, 1944): 176-177, 180.
5. John Pehle, “Conference Memorandum,” MD 691: 178-9.
Zionism as a Source of Contention – The perspectives of the WJC and the JDC
The tensions between the JDC and the WJC were reported not only by governmental representatives but also by the organizations themselves. John Pehle was “disturbed” by this “friction” which he felt would interfere with rescue and held to his position that the destination of the children should only be decided once they were “definitively saved.”
The conflict between the World Jewish Congress (Isaac Weissman as the representative) and the Joint Distribution Committee centered around where the children from France should be sent. The World Jewish Congress was Zionist and wanted the children to be sent to Palestine. In addition, the WJC, through its contacts with underground movements, used “illegal” means to help refugees; in contrast the Joint was “neutral on the Zionist question” and preferred legally acceptable methods of aid.6 Even if the Joint did not have a preference for sending the children to Palestine, the Lisbon headquarters of the Joint arranged for Jewish children escaping France to be sent to Palestine in the summer and fall of 1944.7 Norweb stated: “For [Palestine] visas are immediately available here with preference for children.” However he also explained that this was a “problem” between “Zionist and non-Zionist Jewish organizations.”
Norweb felt that from Portugal it would be easier and less expensive to send the children to Palestine than to the U.S. But he asked for advice from the State department and the War Refugee Board. As of April 22, 1944, children began to arrive in Spain; the JDC took credit for their escape through the Pyrennes. Norweb reported: “six children arrived in Spain as first group and more are expected to follow…guides arranged by us brought them thru Pyrennes and they are now in our care in Barcelona…will attempt to provide children with visas under US commission plan or, in case of those having close relatives there or preferring Palestine, certificates for Palestine.”8 On May 1, Hull instructed Norweb that the World Jewish Congress (and Isaac Weissman) should cooperate with the Joint Distribution Committee and its representative Joseph Schwartz.9
Also on May 1, Weissman (WJC) reported to Rabbi Wise that the Joint would not collaborate or finance rescued children unless the children were handed to them. Weissman felt it was “indispensable” that “arriving orphans” be kept in the WJC’s care to prepare them for departure to Palestine.10
Joseph Schwartz (JDC) in Lisbon sent a cable to Moses Leavitt (JDC) in NYC to advise him that the World Jewish Congress representative (probably Isaac Weissman) had set up “separate relief child care facilities for children who may arrive from France.” Schwartz seemed alarmed since this representative refused to “avail himself of existing facilities”; Schwartz explained that the “alleged” reason for this was that the JDC opposed the children’s immigration to Palestine. In addition, this representative was claiming that he had “authorization” from his central office in New York, even though Arieh Tartakower (the director of relief/rehabilitation of the WJC in New York) told Schwartz that this was not true. No children had yet arrived, but these arrangements were causing “confusion” for the embassies and community members. He asked Leavitt to “clarify with World Jewish Congress,” exactly what their plans were. This demonstrates that the organizations themselves believed their work to be in conflict. The WJC set up separate facilities (thus creating competition over the same population of children refugees) and claimed it was because the JDC opposed immigration to Palestine.
The WRB was “deeply disturbed” about the “friction” between the JDC and the WJC in Portugal; Pehle feared it would “interfere with the actual rescue of children from France.” Pehle asked Robert Dexter to use his power as the WRB representative there to “prevent competitive duplication” since the main goal was the “saving of lives.” Pehle additionally stated that while the WRB “appreciated” having Isaac Weissman’s (WJC) perspectives, they wanted to hear from Joseph Schwartz (JDC representative) and Dexter. Pehle reiterated that the decision about where to send the children should only be made “after they have been saved.” He reminded Dexter that there were 1000 US visas and Canadian visas (number unspecified) available for the children in Spain and Portugal. There were also Palestine certificates available.
The last part of the cable emphasized that the WRB would not be financing this rescue or maintenance effort but instead would rely on “private organizations” unless funds were inadequate. Pehle reminded Dexter of the license provided to the JDC to carry out rescue from Portugal and of the substantial funds the JDC had available. The WJC had applied for a similar license, and the WRB had recommended that a license be issued to them.
6. Robert C. Dexter to John Pehle, “Preliminary Report on Activity for Refugees in Portugal for War Refugee Board,” MD 726, (April 26, 1944): 229.
7. Pedro Correa Martín-Arroyo, “Europe’s Bottleneck: The Iberian Peninsula and the Jewish Refugee Crisis, 1933-1944” (PhD diss., London School of Economics, Department of International History, 2018), 254-255.
9. Hull to Norweb (relaying message from Pehle to Dexter), at the American Legation in Lisbon, Portugal, cable no. 1229, May 1, 1944, WRB, Box 46, File 15.
10. Norweb in Lisbon to Secretary of State, conveying a message from Weissman to Rabbi Stephen Wise and the WRB, “Cable 1317, WRB no. 15,” MD Vol. 726 (May 1, 1944): 120.
WRB Representatives Take Sides
However, the conflicts between these two organizations persisted and even the War Refugee Board representative in Portugal, Robert Dexter, took sides, stating his preference for the WJC and accusing the Joint of falsely claiming responsibility for rescue. It is important to note that the WRB and John Pehle seemed to have a preference for the JDC. In late August, Pehle wrote to Dexter directing Dexter to improve his relationship with the Joint so that “we will be able to have the same kind of relations with the field representative of the Joint Distribution Committee which the Board enjoys with that organization in the United States.”11 James Mann (Assistant Executive Director of the WRB), during his visit to Portugal to try to resolve these organizational conflicts, “spent more time” with the JDC representatives, Robert Pilpel and Laura Margolis, than he did with Weissman and the people Weissman recommended he speak to.12
This letter was a commentary on the supposedly enclosed translation of a report by Manuel Alves to Isaac Weissman.13 The letter itself contains 8 points, 3 of which were made on the first page. Only point 3 will be emphasized here.
Point 3. Dexter described a “very bitter internecine quarrel between two Jewish organizations” and argued that he was impressed with the Congress staff (World Jewish Congress NOT the Joint), especially their “character and frankness.” Dexter claimed that the WJC staff “deny absolutely the allegation made by the Joint Distribution Committee that they have taken children away from the Joint.” Dexter was convinced of this argument and utilized the following proof that the children were already Zionist in orientation: “They are singing songs and playing games about returning to Jerusalem.” In addition, Dexter vouched for the WJC by saying that they had advocated for non-Jewish children and adults to get them out of France.14
Page 2 of the Despatch no. 513 contained points 4-8. The focus will be on the points which emphasize the conflicts between the two Jewish organizations.
Point 4. Dexter seemed to think that aside from the JDC, the WJC’s work should be supported.
Point 5. Dexter’s recommendation of Weissman as a “visionary” even if he “talks bigger than he performs”; Dexter emphasized that Weissman was successful despite working on a “shoe-string” budget.
Point 6. The JDC was supposedly falsely taking the credit for helping adults cross the Pyrenees into Spain.
Point 7. Dexter seemed to side with the WJC rather than the Joint, since he stated that he agreed with Manuel Alves that Joint representatives in Spain, “would have nothing to do with bringing people into Spain without proper papers.” In contrast, Dexter contended, the WJC had “done this sort of thing for some time.” Thus, Dexter advocated for relying on the WJC and not the Joint in Portugal and Spain.
Manuel Alves was Weissman’s agent who brought children evacuated from France through Spain to Portugal; he was arrested in Spain because of the JDC. Weissmann also reported that the JDC and the local Jewish community in Lisbon had been responsible for Weissman being sent to a forced residence.15
According to point no. 6, the person who should be given credit for helping adults cross the Pyrenees is Joseph Croustillon. Dexter also depicts two JDC representatives in Spain, David Blickenstaff and Samuel Sequerra, as being quite unhelpful to refugees since they would not bring people into Spain without proper papers, which of course were very difficult or impossible to obtain (point no. 7). This was likely due to the policy of the JDC which was to only use “legal” methods of rescue and relief.16 According to James Mann (the Assistant Executive Director of the WRB), Sequerra’s work in Barcelona did not involve many clandestine operations.17
Importantly, Dexter had a pre-existing working relationship with Weissman, because Dexter had previously served as the director of the Unitarian Service Committee (USC) in Portugal in 1941-42. Dexter’s wife, Elisabeth, was the current coordinator of the USC activities in Portugal. According to Dexter in a “Preliminary Report on Activity for Refugees in Portugal” sent to John Pehle, there was more of a connection between the USC and Weissman (WJC) than the USC had with any of the other refugee organizations in Portugal. Dexter claimed that Weissman “welcomed my appointment with almost too open arms.” He praised Weissman’s contacts with underground movements in various countries, his close relations with the British Embassy, and his persistence and devotion to the cause, but cautioned that “we must not allow ourselves to fall entirely into his hands or those of his organization.”18 James Mann (the Assistant Executive Director of the WRB) reported that Dexter was not only biased toward Weissman and the WJC but he and his wife resented the Joint. The Joint perceived itself to be better than the Dexters’ USC because the Joint had more staff and money. Elisabeth and Robert Dexter thought that his appointment to the Embassy would force Joseph Schwartz (JDC) to recognize Dexter’s authority.19
In an attempt to resolve these organizational disputes, on July 13, 1944 representatives of the Joint (Robert Pilpel), World Jewish Congress (Weissman) and the Jewish Agency for Palestine (Eliyahu Dobkin) met at the American Embassy in Lisbon with James H. Mann and Robert C. Dexter serving as intermediaries for the WRB. These representatives agreed to cooperate with each other and share information with representatives in Portugal. They would form a Spanish rescue committee, headed by Jules Jefroykin (JDC), Joseph Croustillon (WJC) and David Sealtiel (Jewish Agency for Palestine). The representatives present at the meeting agreed that refugees entering Spain would be turned over to the JDC, while all children would be sent to Portugal and turned over to the Youth Aliyah Committee of Portugal. Peretz Lichtenstein, Pilpel, and Weissman would serve only as individuals to this committee, not as representatives of their respective organizations. They would report to Henrietta Szold, the head of Youth Aliyah in Jerusalem.20 Unfortunately, this truce fell apart the next month. On August 24, one day before the liberation of Paris, Norweb reported that Crustillon [sic] “rejects appointment and refuses to be bound by it.” Subsequently, the JDC considered the July agreement to be “void”; the Jewish agency acquiesced. However, because of the “military situation” this issue did not concern Norweb and he felt that the “situation” in both Portugal and Spain could be cleared easily.21 Croustillon likely rejected the agreement because of his long-standing issues with the JDC. For example, when Croustillon brought children out of France with funds from Weissman, Sequerra (JDC) demanded that the children be turned over to him, threatening Croustillon with imprisonment. Mann reported that Croustillon was “very bitter” because the JDC began doing rescue work “very recently.” Also, Croustillon preferred to work with Weissman and not the JDC, was an “ardent Zionist” and believed fervently, as did the Jewish resistance in France (which was responsible for smuggling the Jewish children out of France and into Spain), that the Jewish children escaping from France should be sent to Palestine and not the United States.22 The Jewish resistance movement in France that smuggled Jewish children into Spain involved cooperation between various organizations, many of which were Zionist in orientation.23
By November 1944, a New York newspaper detailed how 5,000 Jewish orphaned children in France were saved by “professional smugglers” – Spanish and French women – who took the children through “forbidden military zones”; the World Jewish Congress claimed “full credit” according to its delegate from Lisbon, Portugal, Isaac Weissman. Interestingly Weissman acknowledged many organizations as providing “help” but not the Joint Distribution Committee. For a discussion of the validity of this report by Weissman, please see the main exhibit.
According to Renée Poznanski, once “foreign Jews,” including children were either removed from internment camps or “rounded up” throughout the southern zone of France and sent to the occupied zone to be deported (in August 1942), the strategy of the OSE (Oeuvre de secours aux enfants) drastically changed from solely using legal means, to clandestinely placing refugee children in the homes of the “general population,” with the assistance of church organizations. Because of an underground network of Jewish organizations like the French Jewish Scouts, and the Zionist Youth Movement, the OSE was able to “smuggle” children into both Switzerland and Spain. Children were cared for in Spain because of the Armée Juive. Importantly, Poznanski notes that it was the JDC which funded the smuggling and specifically mentions Jules (Dika) Jefroykin and Maurice Brenner, the JDC reps in France.24
11. John Pehle, letter to Robert C. Dexter, August 31, 1944, WRB Series 2: Projects and Documents File: January 1944-September 1945, Box 37, Folder: Cooperation with other Governments – Neutral Europe – Portugal, page 23 of 136 in file.
12. James Mann, “Report of James H. Mann on Trip to Portugal and Spain,” page 17, August 30, 1944, WRB, Series 5: Records Formerly Classified as Secret June 1944-August 1945, Box 79, Folder 6: Reports of Trip to Spain and Portugal (Mr. Mann).
13. The report is not included in this file.
14. Robert Dexter to John Pehle, Despatch no. 513, Enclosure page 1, May 17, 1944, WRB, Box 46, Folder 15.
15. Mann, “Report of James H. Mann on Trip to Portugal and Spain,” page 14.
16. Dexter to Pehle, “Preliminary Report,” MD 726, (April 26, 1944): 229.
17. Rebecca Erbelding, “About Time: The History of the War Refugee Board” (PhD diss., George Mason University, 2015), 401. Mann, “Report on Trip to Portugal and Spain,” pages 69-70, WRB, Series 5, Box 79, Folder 6.
18. Dexter to Pehle, “Preliminary Report,” MD 726, (April 26, 1944): 229-230; Press release regarding Dexter’s appointment as the WRB’s special representative in Portugal, MD Vol. 722 (April 17, 1944): 135; Meeting of Representatives of American Agencies Dealing with War Refugees, Airmail no. 439, MD Vol. 725 (April 28, 1944): 96-100.
19. Erbelding, “About Time,” 402-403. Mann, “Report on Trip to Portugal and Spain,” page 7, WRB, Series 5, Box 79, Folder 6.
20. Memo of meeting between Dobkin, Pilpel, and Weissman with Mann and Dexter, Lisbon, July 13, 1944, WRB Box 118, History of War Refugee Board Vol. II, Folder 4, pp. 713-715.
21. Norweb to Secretary of State, Cable no. 2612, WRB no. 162, August 24, 1944, WRB Series 2: Projects and Documents File: January 1944-September 1945, Box 37, Folder: Cooperation with other Governments – Neutral Europe – Portugal, page 22 of 136 in file.
22. Mann, “Report on Trip to Portugal and Spain,” pages 13, 39-41, WRB, Series 5, Box 79, Folder 6.
23. The Zionist organizations included EIF (Éclaireurs Israelites de France) which began as a Jewish “pioneer” movement focusing on youth, physical fitness, and self-sufficiency, but became increasingly Zionist and “orthodox” and decreasingly focused on French nationalism in its politics following the German invasion. EIF began to operate agricultural training centers, which the OSE (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants) sent Jewish children to once France’s cities were invaded. Both organizations began using “clandestine” methods after police raids during which children were arrested and deported. OSE partnered with the Armée Juive (which recruited Zionist youth) and they formed the SERE (Service d’Évacuation et de Regroupement des Enfants) to smuggle Jewish children out of France into Spain and then to Palestine. Andrée Salomon, one of the OSE leaders, collaborated with Jules Jefroykin, a leader of the Armée Juive but also of the JDC in France. Correa Martín-Arroyo, “Europe’s Bottleneck,” 80-81, 245, 248-249, 263.
24. Renée Poznanski, “Reflections on Jewish resistance and Jewish resistants in France,” Jewish Social Studies 2, no. 1 (Autumn 1995): 142-144.
The conflicts between these two Jewish relief and rescue organizations were expressed by the representatives of the organizations themselves. The conflicts were also dramatized by the State department in order to bolster their effort to delay the issuance of licenses for relief and rescue operations. Stemming from their different philosophies on Zionism and Palestine, the World Jewish Congress and Joint Distribution Committee fought each other (and disparaged or discredited each other’s work) in the effort to receive preferential treatment from the War Refugee Board and the U.S. Government. Rescuing Jewish children was no simple task since it involved navigating the contentious relationships between Treasury and State and between Jewish organizations. The battles between Jewish organizations were central to the tensions between Treasury and State, but also played a foundational role in the lead up to the establishment of the War Refugee Board as well as its ongoing work.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.