Emergency Conference to Save the Jews of Europe: Herbert Hoover’s CBS Broadcast

By Thom

Lewis Strauss, ca. 1953
Lewis Strauss, ca. 1953

as F. Schwartz

Lewis Strauss, one of Herbert Hoover’s close personal advisors, broached the idea of both Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt issuing a joint statement early in 1933 condemning the mistreatment of German Jews.  FDR declined and Hoover privately instructed Frederic Sackett, the US Ambassador in Germany, to “exert every influence of our government” to end Jewish persecutions.  Months later FDR recalled Sackett and instructed his replacement, William Dodd, to refrain from involving the American government in Germany’s treatment of their Jewish residents.  As the lives of German Jews increasingly became intolerable, Hoover openly supported the lifting of Jewish immigration restrictions to the US and rebuked Hitler on the shameful actions resulting in Kristallnacht.   By 1943, enough eyewitness intelligence had reached British and American leaders about what was happening in the Warsaw Ghetto and concentration camps that created greater urgency for changes in US policy toward Jewish immigration.  Hillel Kook using the moniker “Peter Bergson” organized a group dedicated to helping persecuted European Jews.  An “Emergency Conference” was organized the week of July 21, 1943, culminating in a national broadcast on CBS radio by former president Herbert Hoover.  The following is a complete text of his remarks:

“I have welcomed this Conference which is endeavoring to find unity of views and constructive solution to the suffering and persecution of the Jews in Europe.  I regret that I could not be present to hear the discussion and learn of its conclusions.

There is no language which will either portray their agonies or describe their oppressors.  But I propose to discuss it tonight, not in emotional terms but in practical ones.  To find relief for them is one of the great human problems of today.  It should be approached in the same spirit as the relief of any suffering group.  It requires temporary measures and long-view measures.

There should be more systematic temporary measures.  There are groups of Jews who have escaped into the neutral countries of Europe.  Others might be gotten out, and an effort should be made.  They and any other refugees from the persecution of Fascism should be assured of support by the United Nations.  This should go farther.  Definite refugee-stations should be arranged in these neutral countries for those who may escape.  But these measures should be accompanied by arrangements to steadily transfer them from these refugee-stations in neutral countries to other quarters.  Possibly the release of greater numbers of refugees could be secured from the Nazi countries by European neutrals.

There is another direction of temporary aid to these distressed people.  For two years I have urged the systematic food-relief of the starving women, children and unemployed men in the Occupied Countries.  That would have included several million Jews.  Relief was refused on the ground that such action would aid the Germans.  We proposed conditions that would have prevented this.  Relief was however finally permitted to one of these countries—that is, Greece—under the exact conditions which we stipulated.  The Greek People are being saved today.  And our State Department says officially that it is not benefitting the Germans.  Does not this experience warrant its extension to other occupied countries?  It would save the lives of thousands of Jews.

Long-view relief resolves itself into two phases: where to migrate these people so as to find permanent security; how to establish them in living.

We must accept the fact that the older and more fully settled countries have no longer any land and opportunity to absorb the migration of the migration of the oppressed.  Most Jews recognize that it is not in their interest to force such an issue.  Palestine could take more of them.  But after all Palestine would absorb only a part of the three or four millions whom this Conference has been discussing as needing relief.  That could be accomplished only by moving the Arab population to some other quarter.  These are problems impossible to settle during the war.

But I am one of those who do not believe in half-measures.  And I believe in realism in physical problems.

The world today needs an outlet for the persecuted of all lands and all faiths—not Jews alone.  There should be some place where they may build a new civilization as they did on this continent during the last century.  The newest continent, from the point of view of development, is Africa.  It is as yet comparatively unsettled and under-developed, particularly in the uplands of Central Africa.  Large areas of this upland are suitable for a white civilization.  They are rich in material resources.  But if we are to make use of them, there must be vast preparation.  Men, women and children today cannot be dumped into new lands.  There must be definitely organized advance preparation of housing, transportation, industrial establishments and agriculture on a huge scale.  Many of these great African areas are mandates established from the last war, in trust for all the world.  Such an area in Africa could be considered sentimentally an annex to Palestine.

At least the time has arrived when we should demand that a real solution be found, and further that the United Nations undertake to finance and manage a real solution as part of the war.  And that the enemy countries after the war be required to restore the property of these persecuted peoples and help financially their new settlement.

After all, it is a great human problem that ranks with the other human problems we must meet, as part of the reconstruction of the world.

I cannot close these remarks without comment on the momentous news of the downfall of one of the world’s greatest persecutors, not only of Jews but of every person not conforming to his views.  It will give heart to every persecuted man and woman in the Axis.  And it is a handwriting on the wall for others.”

Some of Hoover’s comments require context.  Much of Africa, especially the region he described as an area for refugee resettlement, were not independent countries but areas still under the League of Nations Mandates Commission.  Benito Mussolini’s removal from power is referenced at the very end of the talk.  With the successful Allied invasion of Sicily, Mussolini was removed as Prime Minister as well one of the Axis leaders.

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