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70 CHAPTER FIVE The War Refugee Board in Action On January 22, 1944, two days before the Gillette–Rogers rescue resolution was scheduled for a vote before the full Senate, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9417 establishing the War Refugee Board.1 Gillette and Rogers promptly withdrew their resolution. Since Morgenthau and his aides had played such a key role in bringing the board into existence, it is not surprising that the board became essentially a Treasury operation, even if technically it was an intradepartmental agency. The board’s office was located in the Treasury Department building, and Pehle, DuBois, and their colleagues became its senior staff. It was a transformative moment in the history of America’s response to the Holocaust. For the first time, there was a U.S. government agency whose sole purpose was to rescue Jews from Hitler. ✳ ✳ ✳ Pehle:2 The issuance of the Executive Order establishing the War Refugee Board was the turning point in that it changed the policy of the United States to one of affirmatively helping refugees instead of suppressing the information as to what was going on. . . . But we were established late, we had limited resources, and we had to work with other departments that weren’t necessarily as anxious as we were to move forward. There were many things that could be done. We could provide service to the private [refugee] agencies [in Europe] and we could let them send money into Switzerland in ways that didn’t give any foreign exchange to the Germans. We could see that the Germans were warned repeatedly that the crimes against the Jews wouldn’t be forgotten after the war. And this became more important and more effective as the war drew to a close when even the Germans could see they were going to lose. Early in the game, they thought they could conquer the world. They wouldn’t John Pehle, first director of the War Refugee Board, in the 1940s. MedoffBOOK.indb 70 MedoffBOOK.indb 70 7/9/2008 3:23:51 PM 7/9/2008 3:23:51 PM The War Refugee Board in Action 71 pay too much attention to warnings. But at this point, the warnings tended to strike home.3 ✳ ✳ ✳ Q:4 What was your role in the War Refugee Board? DuBois: I became the general counsel of the War Refugee Board, and John Pehle became the director of the War Refugee Board. Now, the War Refugee Board was composed of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of War, but it was . . . run by the Treasury Department. John Pehle ran this whole show, recruited his own men, many from the—in fact, most from the Treasury Department. ✳ ✳ ✳ I. The Fainting Rabbi DuBois:5 One of the first things that came to my attention as general counsel on the War Refugee Board was Secretary Morgenthau received a request from a group of Jewish rabbis, for an interview late one afternoon [Thursday, April 6, 1944]. He asked me to be present. These Jewish rabbis, who incidentally were headed by . . . Rabbi [Baruch] Korff,6 came to Secretary Morgenthau’s office and many of them literally cried. And they described the fact that there were 238 Jewish rabbis who had arrived at an internment camp in France with passports to Latin American countries, and in order to get to these Latin American countries, it was necessary to pass through the United States. The State Department had taken the position that these Latin American passports were forged and they were not going to let these people through the United States. Secretary Morgenthau was so shocked that he attempted immediately to get Secretary Hull on the phone, but he had left. He tried to get Sumner Welles, but he had left for the day. And so there we were at that point practically helpless. ✳ ✳ ✳ Rabbi Baruch Korff:7 Representative John W. McCormack,8 Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, arranged for [us] to see Henry Morgenthau . . . on April 6, 1944. . . . [Also at the meeting was] John W. Pehle, Executive Director of the [War Refugee] Board, who surprisingly enough used the opportunity to denounce “State Department obstructionists” who in his own words, “paralyze the Board.” Morgenthau wanted to know “why McCormack, a Catholic, is on such friendly terms with a rabbi?” “I have to make a plane in a half-hour,” he said, “but John insisted, first in a telegram, then over the telephone, that...


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