WJC 85th Anniversary - World Jewish Congress
A Message from WJC President Ronald S. Lauder

Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder


Menachem Z. Rosensaft

The Jewish Right to Equality

Judge Julian W. Mack

The World Jewish Congress during World War II

Gregory J. Wallance

The Re-enfranchisement of the Jew

Rabbi Stephen S.Wise

Nuremberg and Beyond: Jacob Robinson, a Champion for Justice

Jonathan A. Bush

The State of World Jewry, 1948

Nahum Goldmann

Gerhart M. Riegner: Pioneer for Jewish–Catholic Relations in the Contemporary World

Monsignor Pier Francesco Fumagalli

The World Jewish Congress and the State of Israel: A Personal Reminiscence

Natan Lerner

The World Jewish Congress, the League of Nations, and the United Nations

Zohar Segev

From Pariah to Partner: The Jews of Postwar Germany and the World Jewish Congress

Michael Brenner

Diplomatic Interventions: The World Jewish Congress and North African Jewry

Isabella Nespoli, Menachem Z. Rosensaft

Bourguiba’s Jewish Friend

S. J. Goldsmith

Soviet Jewry: Debates and Controversies

Suzanne D. Rutland

Advancing the Best in Jewish Culture

Philip M. Klutznick

The Struggle for Historical Integrity at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Laurence Weinbaum

New Directions and Priorities, 1985

Edgar M. Bronfman

Fighting Delegitimization: The United Nation’s “Zionism Is Racism” Resolution, a Case Study

Evelyn Sommer

Navigating the Communist Years: A Jewish Perspective

Maram Stern

The Kurt Waldheim Affair

Eli M. Rosenbaum

In Search of Justice: The World Jewish Congress and the Swiss Banks

Gregg J. Rickman

Confronting Terror: The Buenos Aires Bombings

Adela Cojab-Moadeb

The World Jewish Congress Today

Robert R. Singer

My Vision of the Jewish Future

Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder


Robert R. Singer

WJC 1936 - 2021

The World Jewish Congress during World War II

Just a few years after its founding in 1936, the World Jewish Congress was confronted with the greatest existential crisis in modern Jewish history: the Nazi scheme to exterminate European Jewry. The WJC discovered and reported the existence of the extermination plan; mobilized public opinion for action, especially in the United States and Great Britain; pressured Allied governments to issue war crimes warnings; persuaded neutral countries and the International Red Cross to rescue Jews; lobbied for a war crimes tribunal; and even secretly negotiated with one of the highest Nazi officials to free thousands of Jews from a concentration camp. These efforts were often undermined by callous, often anti-Semitic, career diplomats in the US State Department.

Many leaders of the World Jewish Congress were involved in these efforts, but two in particular, Gerhart M. Riegner in Switzerland and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise in the United States, played crucial roles in disclosing the Nazi extermination plan to the world and in rescuing Jews in Europe.

The Riegner Telegram

The World Jewish Congress was at the forefront of efforts to publicize German massacres of Jews. In late June 1942, based on reports from the Polish government-in-exile in London, the WJC accused Germany of murdering more than one million Jews since the start of the war as part of an extermination policy. But these reports apparently gained little traction in either the press or government circles in the United States. Then, less than six weeks later, the World Jewish Congress received a report from a high-placed source within Germany that transcended even the horrific account from the Polish government-in-exile— and which ultimately revealed the full scope of Germany’s unprecedented systematic biological extermination plan.

On August 1, 1942, Riegner, a thirty-year-old German-born lawyer and a representative of the World Jewish Congress in neutral Switzerland, met with a Jewish journalist on the terrace of the Hôtel du Château in Lausanne. The journalist told Riegner that he had been given a terrifying message from a prominent German industrialist, who had connections at the highest levels of the Nazi party, the German government, and the German military. The journalist regarded the industrialist, who loathed the Nazis, as highly reliable. The message was that the Nazis were considering a plan to exterminate European Jewry.

Riegner was no stranger to the Nazis. After Hitler took power in Germany in 1933, Riegner was dismissed from his position as assistant to a Berlin judge; his father, also an attorney, was disbarred; his older sister lost her job as a secondary school teacher in Frankfurt; and his younger sister was expelled from elementary school. One evening, Brownshirts (storm troopers) gathered outside the Riegner home, chanting Juden raus! (“Jews out!”). Riegner left Germany and, in the summer of 1936, joined the Geneva office of the newly formed WJC.

But now—in August 1942—the virulent, demonic Nazi hatred of the Jews had taken on a new dimension for Riegner, especially in light of reports that he had just received about massive roundups of tens of thousands of Jews from across occupied Europe. Even so, Riegner needed time to come to terms with the industrialist’s message. “In spite of all the information in my possession,” he wrote later, “in spite of what I had already experienced myself, I still needed another two days to convince myself that these events were possible and, finally, to believe in them.”

Riegner drafted a cautiously worded telegram to Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, Chairman of the Executive Committee (and de facto president) of the WJC in the United States:


Sending the telegram to Rabbi Wise through a Swiss telegraph service was out of the question. German intelligence intercepted every telegram or letter sent to Allied countries from neutral Switzerland. In any event, the Swiss, who employed strict military censorship to avoid antagonizing Germany, would simply have refused to transmit it. On August 8, 1942, Riegner went to the American consulate in Geneva. He handed over the telegram to an American diplomat and requested that it be sent to the State Department for delivery to Rabbi Wise in New York City and that the State Department investigate the industrialist’s report.

Two weeks later, Riegner was contacted by the American diplomat, who explained that the career bureaucrats in the Division of European Affairs in the State Department in Washington, without conducting any investigation, had refused to pass Riegner’s message on to Rabbi Wise because of “the fantastic nature of the allegation and the impossibility of our being of any assistance if such action were taken.”

The Riegner Telegram Reaches Rabbi Wise

But Riegner had prepared another, nearly identical telegram. He took this one to the British consulate in Geneva and requested that the consulate transmit the information to the British Foreign Office for delivery to Samuel Sidney Silverman, a Jewish member of the British Parliament and chairman of the WJC’s British Section. The Foreign Office received the report on August 10, hesitated for a week, and then concluded it could not withhold the report from a member of parliament (MP). The Foreign Office gave the report to Silverman, but with the disclaimer that “we have no information bearing on or confirming this story.”

On August 28, Silverman cabled the report to the United States, where it reached Rabbi Wise, perhaps the most politically powerful rabbi in American history. Then sixty-eight years old, with a square face, slicked-back hair parted in the middle, and a jutting jaw that resembled the prow of an icebreaker, Rabbi Wise was the descendant of a line of distinguished Hungarian rabbis. He had been born in Budapest, immigrated as a child with his family to the United States, and became a rabbi with a passion for progressive causes and electoral politics. Rabbi Wise was a close political ally of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Wise contacted Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles, the second-highest ranking official in the State Department, whom Wise considered sympathetic to the plight of European Jewry. Wise reported the contents of the second Riegner telegram. Welles, unaware that career diplomats in the State Department had blocked the first telegram from Riegner, agreed to investigate Riegner’s report, but asked Wise “not to release the information until an attempt had been made to confirm it.”

Wise complied with Welles’s request. By virtue of his promise to Welles, Wise did not disclose to his coreligionists that the greatest crisis in modern Jewish history was unfolding in Nazi-occupied Europe. No less a figure than Elie Wiesel has said, “How could he pledge secrecy when millions of lives were involved? How was he not driven mad by this secret?” On the other hand, no less a figure than Riegner rejected the charge that Wise had sacrificed Jewish interests for the sake of his relationship with President Roosevelt. “This is not true,” Riegner wrote in his memoir. “Wise worked his entire life in the political world. He was certainly not naïve. And, in fact, he changed his attitude towards Roosevelt several times.”

In fact, Wise felt he was close to madness, whether from guilt at his self-imposed silence or from the knowledge of the terrible contents of the Riegner telegram, or both. At one point, Wise wrote to a prominent clergyman, “I am almost demented over my people’s grief.” But Wise recognized that he first needed evidence that would silence the skeptics, especially in the Division of European Affairs at the State Department. He also knew that Roosevelt would only refer the matter to the State Department anyway.

The investigation by American diplomats in Switzerland took several months. In Geneva, Riegner had been profoundly shocked by the failure of the Allies to react to his information. “This pushed me to redouble my efforts to obtain additional testimony confirming the plan for total annihilation.” The testimony obtained by Riegner included a statement from a Swiss law professor about his conversation with a senior official of the International Committee of the Red Cross with contacts in Berlin. The Red Cross official had described communications from German officials revealing a Nazi plan to make Germany and the occupied territories “free of Jews.” The Red Cross official further told the Swiss law professor that, since there was no country to receive the Jews, there could be no doubt about the significance of the term.

In October, Riegner and a colleague provided the American diplomats in Switzerland with a report that left no doubt that something monstrous, in fact, had already begun behind the shroud with which the Nazis had covered the occupied countries of Europe.

Expulsions, deportations, and mass executions are continuing thus decimating Polish Jewry to the point of complete annihilation. . . .

[O]ne-third of the 180,000 Jews of the Netherlands have already been deported; the whole of Dutch Jewry is to be deported [by] June 1943 . . . the Romanian government itself admitted that since October 1941, about 185,000 Jews have been deported to Transnistria where there are by now only 112,000 left; the remainder have probably perished. Thus, the deliberate policy of extermination of European Jewry is systematically carried out quite in accordance with the announcements made in the last speeches of the Head of the German Government.

The American diplomats then transmitted the report and their own confirmatory findings to Sumner Welles. In November, Welles urgently requested that Rabbi Wise come to the State Department. The patrician diplomatic scion of the Eastern establishment and the rough-and-tumble Budapest-born rabbi both understood the historic nature of their meeting. Arrayed on Welles’s desk were documents from the Bern legation adorned with bright red seals. Wise could not avert his eyes from the seals. They were his people’s blood, “pouring forth in rivers.” Sumner Welles was suitably dignified and solemn. He held up the documents. He spoke quietly and movingly, as Wise later wrote: “every word etching itself into my heart.” “I hold in my hands documents which have come to me from our legation in Bern,” said Welles. “I regret to tell you that these confirm and justify your deepest fears.”

Mobilizing Public Opinion

In Washington that evening, Wise held a press conference. He told reporters that the State Department had confirmed reports of a Nazi “extermination plan” to annihilate the entire Jewish population of Europe. The next day, Wise was back in New York, where he convened a meeting of Jewish leaders to plan a campaign to send telegrams to five hundred newspapers requesting editorials on the Nazi scheme; invite hundreds of prominent non-Jews to issue statements of condemnation; hold a national day of mourning; and seek a meeting with President Roosevelt. That afternoon, Wise held another press conference. He explained that his purpose in dis- closing the reports from Europe was “to win the support of a Christian world so that its leaders may intervene and protest the horrible treatment of Jews in Hitler’s Europe.” However, officials in the State Department’s Division of European Affairs insisted to reporters that Wise’s report was unconfirmed.

One week later, on December 2, a national day of mourning and prayer was held in the United States and twenty-nine foreign countries. In New York City, half a million Jewish union members, accompanied by non-Jews in their workplaces, stopped work for ten minutes. Religious and memorial services and moments of silence were held in other cities. A reporter for the Dallas Morning News was especially moved by the sobbing at the ceremony in Dallas.

On December 8, 1942, Rabbi Wise and other leading Jewish leaders met with the President; they brought with them a report on the Nazi extermination of European Jewry. Roosevelt acknowledged that the American government had received “confirmation from many sources” of the Nazi extermination plan and promised to issue a war crimes declaration against the Nazis. Released on December 17, a joint US-British declaration, “German Policy of Extermination of the Jewish Race,” confirmed the Nazi exterminations and vowed war crimes prosecutions against the responsible German officials.

Second Telegram —“6,000 Jews Killed Daily at a Single Location”

In early 1943, Gerhart Riegner provided another, even more horrific, report to the American diplomats in Switzerland, also in the form of a telegram. The telegram was dated January 19, 1943. As he had with the first telegram the preceding August, Riegner asked the American diplomats in Bern to transmit his report to the State Department for delivery to Rabbi Wise. The telegram was precise in describing the acceleration of the Nazi plan: “6,000 [Jews] killed daily [at a single location in Poland] . . . required, before execution, to strip themselves of all their clothing, which is then sent to Germany.” The telegram also emphasized the ongoing horror in Transnistria, a part of what was now Nazi-occupied Ukraine: “130,000 [Romanian] Jews were deported to Transnistria . . . approximately 60,000 [had already died] . . . 70,000 are starving . . . living conditions indescribable.”

The diplomats transmitted the telegram to the State Department in a cable sent on January 21. On February 9, the Division of European Affairs, apparently unwilling to run the risk of suppressing the report now that the US government had confirmed the existence of the extermination plan, reluctantly delivered a copy of the telegram to Rabbi Wise. The release of yet another Riegner report coincided with the plans by the World Jewish Congress and other Jewish groups to hold mass protest rallies, which would mount pressure on the State Department for rescue, the last thing the Division of European Affairs wanted to do. On February 10, the Division sent a cable to the American diplomats in Switzerland. The cable, specifically referencing Riegner’s nightmarish cable of January 21, instructed the diplomats to stop transmitting any more reports from Riegner of the mass murders: “In the future we would suggest that you do not accept reports submitted to you to be transmitted to private persons in the United States.”

Attempt to Rescue Transnistrian Jews

That same month, an opportunity arose to rescue Romanian Jews trapped in Transnistria. On February 2, 1943, in a devastating defeat for Germany, the German Sixth Army had surrendered at Stalingrad. The Romanian government, no longer confident that its ally Germany would win the war and seeking to ease otherwise harsh peace terms, approached Jewish organizations about relocating the 70,000 Jews still alive in Transnistria. They could be relocated to an area of the Allies’ choosing, although the Romanian government suggested Palestine and even offered to provide Romanian ships to transport the Jews. In return, the Romanian government wanted its expenses paid, allegedly about 20,000 Romanian lei ($50) per refugee. In Switzerland, Riegner put together a plan to meet the Romanian government’s terms and managed to get a message to Rabbi Wise in New York City that he had urgent news. On March 31, Wise wrote to Welles that Riegner had “some further information of considerable importance” and asked Welles to instruct the American diplomats in Switzerland to obtain it. On April 5, Welles, still apparently unaware that the Division of European Affairs had been blocking reports from Europe, requested that the American diplomats contact Riegner.” They did so, and, based on Riegner’s information, sent a lengthy cable to Welles that reviewed the possibility of getting aid to, or even rescuing, Jews in several locations in the occupied countries, including the Jews in Transnistria and Jewish children in France.

To implement the rescue plan for the Jews in Transnistria, Riegner needed a license from the Treasury Department to transfer funds to accounts in Switzerland and then dispense them to Romanian officials. In a meeting with President Roosevelt on July 22, 1943, Rabbi Wise presented the plan to Roosevelt, who responded, “Stephen, why don’t you go ahead and do it?” Roosevelt then called Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. “Henry, this is a very fair proposal which Stephen makes about ransoming Jews.” The Treasury Department issued a license for Riegner to execute the rescue plan. However, the State Department— specifically, the officials in the Division of European Affairs— refused to even transmit the license to the American diplomats in Switzerland, effectively blocking the rescue plan.

The Bermuda Conference

The State Department may have felt emboldened by its earlier success in orchestrating the “Bermuda Conference to Consider the Refugee Problem.” In April 1943, at the Horizons Hotel in Bermuda, an American delegation conferred for twelve days with a British delegation on the plight of refugees. The requests of the WJC and other Jewish groups to attend the conference as observers were rejected. Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long noted in his diary that “one Jewish faction under the leadership of Rabbi Stephen Wise” had been especially aggressive “in pushing their particular cause—in letters and telegrams to the President, the Secretary and Welles.” Indeed, under the guidelines issued by Long, the delegates were not permitted to place special emphasis on the plight of the Jews or propose any measure that would solely benefit Jews.

Throughout most of the conference, the American delegation maintained a unified position. But unity broke down, albeit briefly, over a suggestion by the one Jewish-American delegate to approach Germany through a neutral country to negotiate the release of Jews. The ensuing debate revealed the underlying fear of both delegations that such an initiative might be all too successful. A British delegate, Richard Law, a Conservative politician then serving as Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, had stressed in a public statement that “every human life that can be saved is something to the good.” In the confines of the conference, while debating the proposal, he and his delegation spoke differently. Law warned that

[i]f Hitler accepted a proposal to release perhaps millions of unwanted persons, we might find ourselves in a very difficult position. For one thing, Hitler might send a large number of picked agents which we would be forced to take into our own countries. On the other hand, he might say, “All right, take a million or two million.” Then, because of the shipping problem, we should be made to look exceedingly foolish.

Another British delegate joined in the general condemnation of the proposal. “It would be relieving Hitler of an obligation to take care of these useless people.”

No meaningful rescue proposals emerged from the Bermuda Conference. Today, no serious historian disputes that the Bermuda Conference was a public relations vehicle for relieving the pressure on the American and British governments to help Jews escape the Nazis. Indeed, many years later, Richard Law admitted that the conference was “a facade for inaction.” The Bermuda Conference was deeply demoralizing to the WJC and other Jewish groups. And, within a few months, Sumner Welles, the one high-level State Department official sympathetic to the plight of Jews in Europe, became caught in a scandal and resigned.

The War Refugee Board

Wise and Riegner did not know then that their efforts to rescue the Romanian Jews in Transnistria had triggered a furious behind-the-scenes battle between the Treasury Department and the State Department. In the late summer and fall of 1943, idealistic young lawyers in the Treasury Department, all Christians, had been repeatedly but futilely asking the State Department to transmit the license for the Romanian rescue to Riegner in Switzerland. Increasingly suspicious of the State Department’s motives, the lawyers began an informal investigation that unearthed evidence of the State Department’s appalling behavior, including the February 10 cable that directed the American diplomats in Switzerland to stop transmitting Riegner’s reports on the extermination of European Jewry.

The Treasury lawyers, deeply angry at the State Department, wrote a damning indictment of the Department in a report to Treasury Secretary Morgenthau, who was Jewish. The report was titled, “The Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews.” Using the evidence uncovered by the lawyers, Morgenthau persuaded Roosevelt to take Jewish rescue and refugee affairs away from the State Department. On January 22, 1944, the White House announced the creation of the War Refugee Board. Between then and the end of the war, the War Refugee Board directly or indirectly rescued 200,000 Jews in Europe, including the surviving Jews in Transnistria.

The War Refugee Board, which was run by two of the Treasury lawyers who had battled the State Department, incorporated many of the earlier proposals of the World Jewish Congress for rescuing Jews into its own action plans. The WJC and the War Refugee Board collaborated closely on a number of these rescue efforts.

The WJC War Emergency Conference

In November 1944, the WJC convened the War Emergency Conference of the World Jewish Congress. The five-day conference was the first international Jewish gathering since the start of the war. It was held in Atlantic City and was attended by three hundred delegates, including those from England, Canada, and ten Latin American countries. There were no delegates from the Soviet Union, which Rabbi Wise publicly regretted. He also explained to the delegates in his opening address that there were no representatives from the “millions of unarmed brothers and sisters, from infancy to old age, [who] have died because they are Jews.”

The War Emergency Conference was not convened as a relief conference, although that subject was taken up. Rather, the Emergency Conference, as Rabbi Wise explained, was convened to assure Jewish freedom and security. The “Resolution on Palestine” urged the British government to open up Palestine to “unrestricted Jewish immigration and resettlement.” The “Resolution on Rescue” called for the governments of liberated countries to demand that their Jewish citizens held in Germany as slave laborers “be accorded the same treatment as their non-Jewish citizens” also sent to forced labor in the Reich. The resolution on “Restoration of Jewish Legal Rights” demanded that governments in liberated territories abrogate all anti-Jewish legislation and fully restore the civil and political rights of Jews. The “Statement and Resolution on the Punishment of War Criminals” sought the prosecution for war crimes of the German officials who “devised and waged biological warfare and have exterminated whole groups and classes.” The resolution noted that the “most monstrous of these crimes has had as its purpose the destruction of an entire people— the Jews of Europe.”

The “Resolution on Indemnification” called for the payment of restitution and reparations to the Jewish people. The demand was supported by a study that quantified the Nazi destruction and looting of Jewish assets at $8 billion (not including the occupied regions of the Soviet Union) and by specific proposals on how the compensation could be obtained and distributed. But at the heart of the conference was the demand for a “Jewish Commonwealth” in Palestine. As Dr. Nahum Goldmann, chair of the WJC’s administrative committee, told the delegates, “No program of Jewish demands has meaning or historic significance if it does not culminate in a demand for a Jewish Commonwealth in Palestine.”

At the end of the conference, a memorial service was held for the fallen Jews of Europe.

The WJC’s Swedish Section, Raoul Wallenberg, and Heinrich Himmler

The WJC’s Swedish Section had been founded by Hillel Storch, a successful Latvian businessman who happened to be in Sweden in July 1940 when the Soviet Union invaded Latvia. Even though he was a stateless refugee, Storch managed to get his wife and young daughter out of Latvia and bring them to Sweden the following year; however, he was not able to save other family members. Storch founded the Swedish Section of the WJC to undertake large-scale rescues. Neutral Sweden had maintained diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany throughout the war.

One of the best-known of all rescue efforts in World War II involved Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish businessman. In 1944, Storch and some of his colleagues in Stockholm devised a plan for Wallenberg to undertake a rescue mission in Hungary. The US War Refugee Board supported the plan. The Swedish Government agreed to provide Wallenberg with diplomatic immunity, and Storch and his friends undertook to support the mission financially. In June, Wallenberg was appointed a Secretary of the Swedish Legation in Budapest. Upon arriving in July, Wallenberg distributed “certificates of protection” issued by the Swedish legation to Jews in Budapest. During his six-month stay in Budapest, Wallenberg was responsible for saving nearly 100,000 Hungarian Jews. In January 1945, the Soviet army liberated Budapest and took Wallenberg into custody. He disappeared into the Soviet gulag system and was never heard from again.

In March 1945, Storch secretly arranged for a representative of the Swedish Section to meet with Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler to negotiate the freedom of Jews in concentration camps. Storch’s intermediary for the meeting was Himmler’s Finnish masseur, Felix Kersten. At that point, Himmler believed that notwithstanding the Allied policy of unconditional surrender and Germany’s hopeless military situation, he could negotiate an agreement with the United States and Britain that would leave him in charge of Germany. Apparently, Himmler thought that he would improve his ability to achieve that delusional goal by freeing Jews.

The meeting was supported by the War Refugee Board. A Swedish Section representative, Norbert Masur, and Kersten flew into a bombed-out Berlin on April 20 and were driven to an estate seventy kilometers outside the city. Himmler was delayed by his attendance that evening at Hitler’s birthday party in the Berlin bunker and did not arrive at the estate until 2:30 a.m. on the twenty-first. The encounter between the architect of Hitler’s Final Solution and a WJC leader had a surreal quality. Himmler, wearing his SS uniform laden with medals and insignias, began with an extended defense of the Nazi extermination of the Jews. “We could not tolerate such an enemy at our backs The treatment in the camps was severe but just.”

Masur, as he later wrote in a report of the meeting, was angry at Himmler’s characterization of the concentration camps. “It was to my satisfaction, in the name of the suffering Jewish people, to tell him a thing or two about the atrocities in the concentration camps.” Masur felt that “at that moment, I had the upper hand as the advocate of the bent over, but not destroyed rights of man. And I believe that Himmler felt the weakness of his position.” Masur steered the conversation back to the release of Jews. Ultimately, Himmler agreed to free one thousand women inmates of the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Masur left Berlin, which Russian artillery had begun to shell, at the beginning of the Battle of Berlin. Within weeks, Himmler had committed suicide, and Germany surrendered. As a result both of this meeting and of the assistance of Count Folke Bernadotte of the Swedish Red Cross, the WJC ultimately was able to obtain the release of about seven thousand women from Ravensbrück. Approximately half of these women, who had been deported from over forty nations, were Jewish.

The WJC had other successes, including its campaign for war crimes trials of Nazi leaders, which resulted in the Nuremberg trials and other clandestine rescue operations in Europe. Illustrative of these operations was the rescue of Jewish children in Portugal, a neutral country. Many of these children had been smuggled out of France to Portugal and Spain, where they had no legal status and therefore were at risk of being sent back. To mount the Portuguese rescue, Gerhart Riegner chose Isaac Weiss- man, a businessman who had escaped from Berlin in 1941 and now resided in Lisbon. Weissman, who came from a family of Russian origin, had good cover for a clandestine role because he had business interests in Istanbul (where he had been born), Cairo, Vienna, and Berlin, and was fluent in several languages. While Portugal did not have a common border with France, and therefore the refugees had to be transferred through Spain, Portugal appeared to WJC leaders to be relatively receptive to a clandestine operation on its territory.

Weissman, who operated clandestinely from 1941 until the end of the war, reached an agreement with the Portuguese government to accept three hundred children at a time. Under the agreement, after one group left Portugal, the next group could enter, and so on. The WJC offices in Lisbon and Geneva supervised the forging of thousands of documents, including identification cards and birth certificates. The WJC New York office raised funds from WJC members in the United States as well as from non-Jewish organizations, such as the American Quakers and the Unitarian Church.

To care for the children, a home, managed by Weissman’s wife, Lily, was established outside Lisbon. The children went to classes at the home, where they were taught a variety of subjects. Particular emphasis was given to Hebrew because Weissman and the WJC leadership had chosen Palestine as the preferred destination for the children, in part because it ensured that they would be adopted by Jewish families. Between 1944 and 1945, Weissman sent hundreds of children to Palestine; dozens who had American relatives were sent to the United States.

But, despite these successes, the WJC (as well as the War Refugee Board) had one great failure. The WJC failed to persuade the Roosevelt Administration to bomb the Auschwitz concentration camp and the railroads in that area. Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy wrote the WJC that such an operation would divert resources from the war effort and be of “doubtful efficacy.” McCloy even made the bizarre argument that “even if practicable,” such an operation “might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans.”

Rabbi Stephen Wise died on April 19, 1949, at the age of seventy-five. His memorial service at Carnegie Hall was attended by three thousand people, while outside fifteen thousand more listened on loudspeakers. Three days after the memorial service, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to Wise’s children: “In times of great adversity, he helped the Jewish people to maintain dignity and win their independence, and to every individual he was an understanding friend.”

Gerhart Riegner worked for the World Jewish Congress for almost all of his adult life. He died in 2001 at the age of ninety, after devoting his life to the cause of human rights. In his autobiography, he wrote: “I belong to the tragic generation that saw the catastrophe coming and tried to contain its effects, but who, given the lack of foresight, the moral indifference, and the political opportunism of the world that surrounded us, lacked the means to do so.”

1. “1,000,000 Jews Slain by Nazis, Report Says,” The New York Times, June 30, 1942. This report described a variety of ways in which Jews had been killed, including by firing squad, disease, and starvation, but did not suggest the continent-wide, industrialized murder that was the Nazi’s “Final Solution.”

2. Gerhart M. Riegner, Never Despair: Sixty Years in the Service of the Jewish People and The Cause of Human Rights (Chicago, 2006), pp. 12– 13, 18– 22, 27– 36, 38– 39; Memorandum, Division of European Affairs, August 13, 1942, SD 862.4016/2235, reprinted in America and the Holocaust: A Thirteen Volume Set, ed. David Wyman (NewYork, 1990), 1:194, http://www.worldcat.org/titleamerica-and-the-holocaust-a-thirteen-volumset-documenting-the-editors-book-the-abandonment-of-the-jews-11-war-refugee-board-weekley-reports-1990-539-s/oclc/632304077?ht=edition&referer=di; see State Department to Bern Legation, August 17, 1942, SD 862.4016/2223, reprinted in America and the Holocaust, 1:188; Riegner, Never Despair, p. 43.

3. Riegner, Never Despair, pp. 42–43; David Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941–45 (NewYork, 1984), p. 44.

4. Stephen Wise, Challenging Years: The Autobiography of Stephen Wise (NewYork, 1949), p. 275; Carl Hermann Voss, ed. Stephen S. Wise: Servant of the People, Selected Letters (Philadelphia, 1969), pp. 249, 251; Melvin I. Urofsky, A Voice That Spoke for Justice: The Life and Times of Stephen S.Wise (Albany, NY, 1982), p. 319; Riegner, Never Despair, p. 71.

5. Wyman, Abandonment of the Jews, pp. 45–46; Urofsky, Voice That Spoke for Justice, p. 321.

6. Riegner, Never Despair, pp. 44–51; Walter Lacqueur and Richard Breitman, Breaking the Silence: The German Who Exposed the Final Solution (Waltham, MA, 1994), p. 157.

7. Wise, Challenging Years, pp. 275–276; “Wise Says Hitler Has Ordered 4,000,000 Jews Slainin 1942,” New York Herald-Tribune, November 25, 1942.

8. Wyman, Abandonment of the Jews, pp.51–52,70–71.

9. Notes of Adolph Held, December 8, 1942, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/fdrmeet.html; “11 Allies Condemn Nazi War on Jews,” The New York Times, December 18, 1942; Wyman, Abandonment of the Jews, p. 76; “Memorandum Submitted to the President of the United States at the White House on Tuesday, December 8, 1942 by a Delegation of Representatives of Jewish Organizations,” American Jewish Archives, box C89, folder 9 (courtesy Kevin Proffitt, Senior Archivist for Research and Collections).

10. The Morgenthau Diaries, World War II and Postwar Planning, 1943–1945, microfilm edition, vol. 688, pt. 2, pp. 223R– 223S (American Legation (in 289 Bern) to Welles, January 21, 1943 (paraphrase of cable 482)); see Wyman, Abandonment of the Jews, p. 80.

11. Wyman, Abandonment of the Jews, pp. 80– 81; Welles to Wise, February 9, 1943, American Jewish Archives, World Jewish Congress Collection, Lillie Schultz/Stephen Wise Files, Central Files reprinted in America and the Holocaust, vol. 2, p. 150. By one account, when Jewish groups received cable 482 on February 9, 1943, “they decided to call a mass meeting in Madison Square Garden, at which they would try to elicit public support and map out a program.” Morgenthau Diaries, p. 245 (December 31, 1943, 11:45 a.m.), statement of Josiah DuBois, Jr. It is unclear whether the Division of European Affairs was actually aware that such a rally was imminent. But at least, the Division acted in the general belief that reports from Europe inevitably created pressure for rescue; Morgenthau Diaries, p. 223T; Hull to American Legation in Bern, February 10, 1943 (paraphrase of cable 354).

12. Stephen Walsh, Stalingrad:The Infernal Cauldron, 1942–1943 (NewYork, 2000), pp. 165–166; C. L. Sulzberger, “Romania Proposes Transfer of Jews,” The New York Times, February 13, 1943.

13. Wise to Welles, March 31, 1943, SD 862.4016/2266, reprinted in America and the Holocaust, vol. 6, p. 1; Welles to Atherton, April 5, 1943, SD 862.4016/2266; and Hull to American Legation, April 10, 1943, SD 862.4016/2266A, reprinted in America and the Holocaust, vol.6, pp. 2–3.

14. Harrison to Secretary of State, April 20, 1943, SD 862.4016/2269 (sections 1 and 2), reprinted in America and the Holocaust, vol. 6, pp. 5–8.

15. Wise, Challenging Years, pp. 277–278.

16. The Consul General at Hamilton (Beck) to Secretary of State,April 8, 1943, SD 548G1/14, reprinted in Foreign Relations of the United States, vol. 1 (1943), p. 148; “Memorandum Submitted to the Bermuda Refugee Conference by the World Jewish Congress, April 14, 1943”; “Views of the Government of the United States Regarding Topics Included in the Agenda for Discussion with the British Government, March 1943” (“The refugee problem should not be considered as being confined to persons of any particular race or faith.”).

17. “American Minutes of the Bermuda Conference Sessions, Morning Conference, April 20, 1943,” http:/www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/ Holocaust/bermudadiscuss.html; see Wyman, Abandonment of the Jews, pp. 114– 115, 121; Gregory J. Wallance, America’s Soul in the Balance: The Holocaust, FDR’s State Department and the Moral Disgrace of an American Aristocracy (Austin, TX, 2012), pp. 166–169, 183–191.

18. “Program of General Measures of Relief and Rescue of the Jews Threatened with Extermination by the Enemy,” submitted to the War Refugee Board by the World Jewish Congress; Wallance, America’s Soul, pp. 250–264.

19. “Addresses and Resolutions, ”War Emergency Conference of theWorld Jewish Congress, Atlantic City, November 1944; Konrad Kwiet and Jurgen Matthaus, eds. Contemporary Responses to the Holocaust (Westport, CT, 2004), p. 179; “International Jewish Conference Opens in Atlantic City,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, November 27, 1944.

20. Clarence Schwab, “The circumstances of my father’s survival and my grandfather’s insistence on coming to the aid of others have always inspired me,” quoted in God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections of Children and Grandchildren of H2o9l1ocaust Survivors, ed. Menachem Z. Rosensaft (Woodstock, VT, 2015), pp. 189–190; “Raoul Wallen- berg and the Rescue of Jews In Budapest,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum https:/www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005211; “Raoul Wallenberg,” University of Minnesota, Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies, http:/chgs.umn.edu/histories/wallenberg/home.html

21. Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel, Heinrich Himmler: The Sinister Life of the Head of the SS and Gestapo (New York, 2007), pp. 240–248; Norbert Masur, My Meeting with Himmler, April 20/22, 1945: Report to the Swedish Section of the World Jewish Congress, Stockholm, Sweden, http:/harmonium.org/Annelies_MeetingWithHimmler.pdf; “History of Ravensbrueck Concentration Camp from 1939–1945” [in German], http:/www.ravensbrueck.de/mgr/index.html

22. Zohar Segev, “The Untold Story: The World Jewish Congress Operation to Rescue Children in Portugal during the Holocaust,” The American Jewish Archives Journal 66 (2014): pp. 35–58.

23. Letter from John J. McCloy dated August 14, 1944, to A. Leon Kubowitzki, American Jewish Archives, http:/americanjewisharchives.org/exhibits/aje/details.php?id=584; see also, Rafael Medoff, Blowing the Whistle on Genocide: Josiah E. Dubois, Jr., and the Struggle for a U.S. Response to the Holocaust (Purdue, IN, 2009), p. 104.

24. Voss, Stephen S.Wise, pp. 282, 296– 297 (Letter from Albert Einstein to James Waterman Wise and Justine Wise Polier, April 25, 1949); Riegner, Never Despair, p. 434; Glare Nullis, “Gerhart Riegner, warned of Holocaust,” Miami Herald, December 5, 2001.