Henrietta Stein Klotz, a Jewish American woman's response to the Holocaust, a text-study workshop

Ner Tamid synagogue, Poway, San Diego, California, December 15, 2019

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

Setting a Kavanah (an intention): Torah portion connection

The Torah portion for this week (Dec. 14) is Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43) and it also happens to be my Bat Mitzvah portion. My portion (Genesis 32 and 33) covered Jacob giving gifts to Esau in order to earn Esau’s forgiveness and then wrestling with G-d the night before he discovers what his brother’s response will be. The being that Jacob wrestles with tells him “you have striven with beings, divine and human and have prevailed.”

Genesis 33 describes the brothers’ reunion and Esau kissing and embracing his brother, forgiving him after Jacob had betrayed him years before by stealing his birthright from their father, Isaac. These chapters are about forgiveness, while the next chapter, Genesis 34, is about abuse, revenge and betrayal: Dinah is raped by Shechem (according to the second verse of the chapter).

However, another interpretation is that she was an advocate of openness with non-Jewish peoples and so she had a consensual relationship with Shechem, but because they were not married this was looked upon with shame. Then her rapist (or lover?) and the men in his community agree to become circumcised so that Shechem can marry Dinah, the woman he raped (or was in a loving relationship with). Dinah has no voice in the text, so we do not know her response to this agreement between her male family members and the men of Shechem’s town, nor do we know for sure whether or not she was raped. However, Dinah’s brothers take revenge against the town after the circumcisions, ostensibly to defend their sister’s honor claiming: “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” (in verse 34).

These themes of forgiveness, alliance, revenge, betrayal, and abuse are extremely relevant when discussing the topic for today’s text study – the American government’s response to the Holocaust. Specifically, we will be discussing a Jewish woman who worked as the secretary for Henry Morgenthau Jr. for 37 years and directly impacted his thinking and actions and those of the administration regarding the rescue of Jews from Europe.

As we discuss the primary source documents from the FDR Presidential Library’s collections, keep in mind these questions relating to Vayishlach (which we will come back to at the end):

  • How did Henrietta, Henry Morgenthau Jr. and the other Treasury staff “strive with beings, divine and human” and “prevail”?
  • Where can you see debates about forgiveness, alliance and revenge?
  • What should be the response to the levels of abuse that occurred during the Holocaust? Revenge? Forgiveness?
  • Where is there evidence of betrayal?
  • Are there examples of discussions of what to do about non-Jewish refugees? Do you think this was of equal importance as saving Jewish refugees?
  • How can we find women’s voices in texts that are male-dominant?

Introductions, engaging previous knowledge

Before I begin to talk about my work at the FDR library, Henry Morgenthau Jr., the Morgenthau Diaries, and Henrietta Stein Klotz, I would like to hear more about you and your previous knowledge or experience relating to the topic of the American response to the Holocaust or women’s roles in response to the Holocaust.

henry Morgenthau Jr. & The Morgenthau DiaRies

Slide 3 from EHRI presentation. Photograph of the Third Meeting of the War Refugee Board from USHMM, and brief historical biography of HMJ
Who was Henry Morgenthau Jr.?
Slide 2 from EHRI presentation: description of Morgenthau Diaries
Overview: What are the Morgenthau Diaries? Where can these resources be found?

According to an undated document (the author is also unnamed) found within the Henrietta Klotz file in the Morgenthau Family Papers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum or USHMM (Collection number 2015.255.1, Box 32, File 11), after Morgenthau was forced to resign in 1945, he struggled to work with businesses in NY because of his high standards (from his time directing Treasury). He could not advocate the public policies he wanted to without revealing information that would prove detrimental to the ongoing war effort (undated document, page 1). HMJ contacted Henrietta daily and “begged her” to come back to New York to work with him (she had remained in D.C. and was working in a lower-ranking position at Treasury). Henrietta finally agreed to move to New York but only under the condition that Morgenthau would work in “public service.” She proceeded to organize meetings with Henry Montor, Meyer Weisgal, William Rosenwald, Edward Warburg, and Rose Halpern, through which Morgenthau would be offered the chairmanship of United Jewish Appeal (page 2).

photo of dinner party, Henrietta pictured on right. Dinner given by Captain of SS Il de France, 3rd from right (counterclockwise around table) Rob't Schuman, 10/2/50, "Trip to Israel" Px 88-1(596) A (dupl)
Henrietta is pictured here at a dinner party during HMJ and Henrietta’s trip to Israel on October 2, 1950. The dinner was given by the Captain of SS Il de France. She is the second on the right hand side of the table. Henry Morgenthau Jr. is at the end of the left side of the table. The only person identified on the verso of the photograph is Robert Schuman (third from the right, counterclockwise around table). Schuman was the French minister of Finance who developed the Schuman declaration (9 May 1950) which proposed a united coal and steel production community in Europe; this was a predecessor of what would become the European Union. Photo location: FDR library, General Photograph Collection, Folder is HMJ: Israel, 1949-1950, and photo id: Px88-1(596) A Dupl

Though her obituary (in the New York Times) makes it seem as though Morgenthau got this position on his own and then asked Henrietta to be his assistant, from this undated document in the Morgenthau Family Papers (Box 32, File 11), it seems that Henrietta organized the position for HMJ. This undated document also indicates that subsequently, Henrietta and Morgenthau traveled together both nationally and internationally (especially to Israel) on behalf of United Jewish Appeal and eventually launched the Israel Bond Program in Israel which had originated in the Treasury department (page 2). 

Slide 4 EHRI presentation: citation of sources
In addition to these sources, I utilized an interview that Henry Morgenthau III (HMJ’s son) conducted with Henrietta Klotz, in New York, Sept. 19, 1978. This interview can be found in the Morgenthau Family Papers at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Collection number 2015.255.1, Box 32, File 11 (Henrietta Klotz). This resource was sent to me digitally by the USHMM.


Locating this open-access resource

Slide 5, EHRI presentation, how to find the MD
How do you locate this open access resource? Next I will explain how to find the Diaries homepage, Series 1 and 3 and then I will talk about the importance of Henrietta Klotz.
Slide 6, EHRI, How to find the MD using Franklin
Franklin enables searching across the FDR library’s digitized collections. From our website: “Franklin connects you to more than 700,000 pages of archival documents, 2,500 historical photographs, and hundreds of archival finding aids and collection descriptions.”
Slide 7, EHRI, Series 1 and 3, Who organized and compiled the diaries and index?
Note, that according to Henry Morgenthau III in his family history, Mostly Morgenthaus (1991), though “the task of organizing the material was carried out under the vigilant eye of Henrietta Klotz” it was an experienced librarian named Isabella Diamond who worked full-time to actually organize the diaries (p. 429, see footnote). Diamond got this job from Gabrielle Elliot Forbush, a friend of Elinor Morgenthau (HMJ’s wife). It was Gabrielle Forbush who had first connected Henrietta with the Morgenthau family (Henrietta Klotz interview with Henry Morgenthau III, p. 4).
Slide 8, EHRI presentation, From Series 3: Index to the Morgenthau Diaries, sample card
This is a sample index card from Series 3 of the Morgenthau Diaries. Henrietta supervised the organization of the diaries and Isabella Diamond completed the indexing. This image emphasizes the organization system for one index card in Series 3 focused on Jewish Refugees. On the top right is the volume number and next to each topic/document is a page number within that volume. These index cards can be used to identify the relevant scanned volumes. The first document on this card is about the plight of Jewish children from France, from August 26, 1943. The index cards have been scanned in batches in alphabetical order (by subject). This particular index card comes from a pdf that covers “PWA-Refugees.” A link to this pdf.

Henrietta Stein Klotz: “The Watchdog of the Secretary of the Treasury”

Who was Henrietta Stein Klotz and why was she important to the American government’s effort to rescue Jews?
Henrietta was the woman who supervised the organizing and indexing of the Morgenthau Diaries, a collection which spans 12 years, and includes 864 bound volumes. Mrs. Klotz compiled all of Morgenthau’s correspondence, memos, and transcripts of his conversations into bound volumes. Henrietta not only “organized” (a conclusion often made about women), she also directly impacted the stance and actions taken by the FDR administration through her relationship with Henry Morgenthau.

Slide 9, EHRI presentation, HS Klotz background
Additional sources for this information:
Herman Klotz, Henrietta’s husband, to Henry Morgenthau III, October 16, 1985
Henry Morgenthau Jr. to Henrietta Klotz, August 5, 1945
(both are from the Morgenthau Family Papers at USHMM)
A link to the New York Times obituary for Henrietta Klotz.

“I would like you, Herman and Elinor [Henrietta’s husband and daughter] to know how really important I consider your work as my assistant was. I think I can best describe it as the ‘Watchdog of the Secretary of the Treasury.’”

Henry Morgenthau Jr. to Henrietta, August 5, 1945 (page 6), after his tenure as Secretary of the Treasury was forcibly ended

HMJ stated: “during the hundreds of conferences that you sat at my side” Henrietta’s recommendations were “always sincere and of the best”; in fact, he even explained “Sometimes [your advice] was so good that it hurt” (page 7). 

He then wrote to Klotz, “whatever credit I deserve” for helping to save Jewish refugees, “I want to share it equally with you.” (pages 8-9). He especially emphasized her influence in “Jewish affairs” where she was “particularly understanding and helpful”; in fact, he felt that she “made a real contribution towards winning the war” (page 10).

Slide 10, EHRI presentation, photograph Henrietta S. Klotz with HMJ, 1935
In Henrietta’s interview with Henry Morgenthau III (HMIII) on Sept. 19, 1978, she described how Elinor Morgenthau (HMJ’s wife) began to react towards Henrietta. “He would come home and he’d say Oh, Mrs. Klotz did something wonderful or Mrs. Klotz did this… I never heard it but I assumed that. And you know, after a while your mother got tired of hearing it. She didn’t like it. I felt it” (p. 15). Henrietta also exclaimed to HMIII: “I adored your mother. I had a great respect for her.” Intriguingly this part of the conversation directly followed Henry’s statement that his father “was very close to you and depended [on you]…” Henrietta affirmed that this was true. Henry then stated “He was as close to you as he was to any human being” (14-15). I interpreted this to mean that Henry III felt that his father was closer to Henrietta than he was to anyone else. The image above can be found here:
Elinor Morgenthau with Eleanor Roosevelt and Jane Addams in Westport, CT, 1929
Series: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain Photographs, 1882 - 1962
Collection: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Public Domain Photographs, 1882 - 1962
photo ID 7167
NARA Id: 195508
Elinor Morgenthau with Eleanor Roosevelt and Jane Addams in Westport, CT, 1929

Transcripts of meetings labeled “Jewish evacuation” demonstrate that Henrietta was part of the staff closest to Morgenthau who influenced his decisions regarding what actions to take to rescue Jews in Europe. She laughed at HMJ’s jokes and complimented him. She used her voice to give weight to arguments she believed in, to convince Morgenthau to take actions she felt were necessary to help the Jews in Europe.

p. 89 of MD Vol. 688II
December 18, 1943, a “Jewish evacuation” meeting, from Morgenthau Diaries Volume 688 II, p. 89. This was the day that the Riegner license was finally issued to the World Jewish Congress. Gerhart Riegner was the World Jewish Congress representative in Switzerland. He was the author of a famous cable in August 1942, informing Rabbi Stephen S. Wise of the Nazi intention to exterminate European Jewry (Erbelding, 2018, pp. 19-22).  From March-December of 1943, the State department had delayed the issue of a license to finance Gerhart Riegner’s plan for relief efforts of Jews from France and Romania, including the evacuation of children from France to Spain and Switzerland (Erbelding, 2018, pp. 27-44).

A few days earlier on December 15, 1943, John G. Winant (US Ambassador to the UK) sent a cable (#8717) to Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State. Winant stated that the Foreign Office (in the UK) was rejecting the Treasury’s proposal for a license to be issued for the rescue of Jews from France and Romania.

“The Foreign Office are concerned with the difficulties of disposing of any considerable number of Jews should they be rescued from enemy occupied territory”

Winant to Hull, Cable 8717, Morgenthau Diaries or MD, Vol. 688II, p. 95

Winant explained that the Foreign Office found it “impossible to deal with anything like the number of 70,000 refugees” who would be rescued through this “Riegner Plan” (MD, Vol. 688II, p. 96). 

The December 18, 1943 meeting was in response to this refusal to issue the license. Morgenthau’s staff initially wanted him to go directly to FDR, while Morgenthau felt he should see Cordell Hull first so that he could tell the President that he had first discussed this with Hull (p. 85). Randolph Paul (a tax expert, and signatory of many memos to HMJ regarding the Riegner license) argued that if HMJ were to go to Hull, it would not be as the Secretary of the Treasury, but “in an individual capacity” since this was a “broad international issue” (p. 86). HMJ insisted that he could not be Secretary of the Treasury one minute and “a private citizen” the next, but John Pehle (who became the Director of the War Refugee Board) and Henrietta Klotz disagreed. 

Mr. Pehle: I think you can. 

Mrs. Klotz: Yes, you can.

MD Vol. 688 II, p. 86-87

HMJ believed that he could present his argument as Secretary of the Treasury “as a question of treating minority races” (p. 87). He continued, “Just because I am a Jew, why shouldn’t I look after the Jews, or the Catholics, or the Armenians” (p. 87). HMJ’s statement seems related to the fact that his father, Henry Morgenthau Sr., was involved in the attempt to rescue Armenians impacted by the genocide in 1915.

HMJ wondered if he shouldn’t bring Judge Rosenman (FDR’s speech writer and advisor and head of the American Jewish Committee) along with him. Randolph Paul advised him not to, since Rosenman was “hands off” on this sort of issue. After Ansel Luxford (also legal counsel at Treasury) and Randolph Paul suggested that HMJ take another Jew, Herbert Lehman, the Governor of New York and Morgenthau’s uncle by marriage, HMJ expressed concern with the appearance of a “Jewish delegation” and preferred to go just representing the Treasury department. It is at this point in the conversation that Henrietta emphasized that Morgenthau was uniquely positioned to convince Hull (or FDR) of the necessity of taking immediate measures to save Jews.

Mrs. Klotz: Mr. Morgenthau, nobody would do – none of these people you mentioned, when they are put on the spot, will do what you will do (p. 89). 

Morgenthau Diaries, Vol. 688 II

Text Study in pairs (Havruta)

We are now going to explore many of the primary sources I have used and examined related to Henrietta’s involvement in the rescue effort. In pairs, you are going to use a chart that I have used in courses I’ve taught in history and sociology, to help readers break down primary source texts, analyze their meanings and ask questions. As you are reading and studying your selected text with your partner, please remember the questions I posed at the beginning of the workshop related to Vayishlach (this week’s Torah portion).

  • Morgenthau Family Papers:
    • Undated document
    • HMJ letter to Henrietta, 1945
    • Herman Klotz letter to HMIII, 1985
    • Henrietta Interview, 1978
  • Henrietta Stein Klotz obituary
  • Morgenthau Diaries, Vol. 688 II, pp. 86-89, 95-96

How should we approach havruta?

The Aramaic term havruta means friendship or companionship and is commonly used to refer to two people studying Jewish texts together. In this article, the term havruta refers to both the learning pair and the practice of paired learning. The history of havruta as a widespread learning practice is subject to scholarly debate.

Orit Kent, “A Theory of Havruta Learning”, 2010, p. 2, n 1

Orit Kent also explains that “havruta offers learners opportunities to foster interpretive, social and ethical engagement” (p. 2). She explains that in this style of learning, meaning is created through the interaction between three “partners”: the two humans and the text (p. 5). In my previous research, I have explored how archival materials are more than inert objects; they are alive. As you question the texts and discuss meanings with each other, also consider how this particular archival object/document is alive, not only with meaning, but potentially with the spirits, memories and experiences of those who wrote and read it. They are a direct connection between you, your study partner and the governmental staff involved in the response to the Holocaust.

Kent offers three types of practices that havruta pairs use: (1) listening and articulating; (2) wondering and focusing; and (3) supporting and challenging (p. 8).

Closing discussion

To close, we will discuss your conclusions and questions regarding the archival document you and your partner focused on during the text study. Also, we will discuss the questions posed at the beginning of the session.

  • How did Henrietta, Henry Morgenthau Jr. and the other Treasury staff “strive with beings, divine and human” and “prevail”?
  • Where can you see debates about forgiveness, alliance and revenge?
  • What should be the response to the levels of abuse that occurred during the Holocaust? Revenge? Forgiveness?
  • Where is there evidence of betrayal?
  • Are there examples of discussions of what to do about non-Jewish refugees? Do you think this was of equal importance as saving Jewish refugees?
  • How can we find women’s voices in texts that are male-dominant?

Written reflection

I would greatly appreciate your feedback about this text study. Please reflect on the following questions:

  • What did you learn?
  • What questions do you still have?
  • Are there additional resources you would be interested in?
  • What most interested you about the workshop?
  • What else would you like to learn about this topic?

Additional resources, available online for research


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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