A year’s work by James G. McDonald as High Commissioner for refugees from Germany is a year’s moral support by the League of Nations in the fight for Jewish rights in Germany.
When the League of Nations decided last year to establish a special High Commission to deal with the problem of the German refugees, it was expected that this Commission would also be financed by the League. It was expected that it would at least be financed by the twelve countries whose representatives were invited as members of the Governing Body of the Commissariat.
This has not been the case. The work done by Mr. McDonald during the year has been carried on with funds provided almost exclusively by Jewish organizations. The 25,000 Jewish refugees from Germany who were assisted by Mr. McDonald’s office were able to receive this assistance only because five million dollars had been collected by private Jewish organizations in America and in Europe for carrying on relief activities for German Jews.
A loan of 25,000 Swiss francs was granted by the League to Mr. McDonald’s office, but this loan was soon repaid. The League of Nations has made it clear that the original plan to have Mr. McDonald’s office become an organ of the League of Nations, responsible to the Council of the League and financed by the League, has been abandoned. The office of Mr. McDonald was set up as an autonomous body and has been functioning since largely because of the active interest of several Jewish organizations which are providing the necessary means for its activities.
This state of affairs, with the burden of supporting Mr. McDonald’s office falling, upon Jewish organizations solely, has recently provoked much comment in the Jewish press. It has been pointed out that the League has taken more concrete interest in settling the Assyrians from Iraq than in helping the emigration of Jewish refugees from Germany. It has been emphasized that half of the 25,000 German refugees have been settled in Palestine without any assistance on the part of the League or of Mr. McDonald’s office.
HIS WORK APPRECIATED
The criticism voiced by the Jewish press has nevertheless not prevented the press from appreciating the special efforts made by Mr. McDonald in obtaining passports and travel documents for Jewish refugees from Germany. It has been recognized by all that one of the most difficult problems upon which the High Commissioner has concentrated his activities was the problem of securing adequate identity documents for thousands of Jewish refugees from Germany who fled under circumstances which did not permit them to fulfill the official requirements with regard to passports.
There were four main classes of Jewish refugees for whom Mr. McDonald’s office had to make provision:
(1) Jews who hold a German passport but cannot obtain its renewal from the German authorities;
(2) Jews who have no passports at all but are still German citizens;
(3) Jews who were deprived of their German nationality after leaving Germany and thus remain stateless;
(4) Jews who have been holding so-called “staatenlose” identity papers issued by the German government, mostly to persons who escaped from Soviet Russia.
PASSPORT PROBLEM SOLVED
At first it was suggested that there be a new document for German refugees similar to the Nansen passport issued for Russian and Armenian refugees. But a simpler solution was found. The permanent committee of the Governing Body of Mr. McDonald’s office considered it better to recommend that the countries in which the refugees were resident should issue to applicants who were without a valid passport an “identity and travelling document” adopted (for persons without a national passport) by a conference of the League of Nations on Communication and Transit, held in 1927.
As a result of this recommendation, a number of governments have now agreed to issue such documents of identity and travel to enable refugees without passports to move freely from one country to another.
The members of the Governing Body adopted a further recommendation that the document be recognized by all States for the purpose of visas just as if it were a national passport. Also, that the States should grant visas to refugees free of charge.
LEGAL BARRIERS OVERCOME
The difficult problem of supplying the refugees with proper documents of identity has thus been solved in the most practical way by Mr. McDonald’s office. Adequate travel papers issued by nearly all governments of the countries bordering on Germany are now available to Jewish refugees from Germany. The legal difficulties of the refugees have thus been handled by Mr. McDonald in a most efficient manner.
Less efficient, however, is the migration work of facilitating migration of refugees into different countries. Of the more than 60,000 refugees from Germany, only one-third have been enabled to settle permanently in various countries. The other two-thirds still have the status of exiles. They are now scattered in France, Holland, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, England, Switzerland and other countries, and many of them are in a state of despair, without shelter, food, or outlook for work.
SITUATION GROWS WORSE
The situation of these unfortunates grows worse from day to day, since the financial means of local relief committees have been exhausted and relief can no longer be granted by them to the refugees. Their situation may become more serious in view of the fact that Mr. McDonald’s office, not receiving any financial assistance from the League, must also limit its activities.
Steps are now being taken in London and in New York to form organizations for the purpose of speeding up emigration and settlement of the refugees in order to establish them on an economic basis. These steps have, however, nothing to do with the High Commission established by the League.
A year’s work by Mr. McDonald represents a year’s moral support by the League of Nations of Jewish refugee work. This work, however, also needs financial support. This support should come not from the Jews alone. The refugee problem is not solely a Jewish problem. Of the 60,000 refugees from Germany fifteen per cent are non-Jews. This is what ought to be taken into consideration now as Mr. McDonald’s office enters its second year of existence and activities.