Belgium’s Jewish Envoy to U.S. Dies at 61 After Operation
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Belgium’s Jewish Envoy to U.S. Dies at 61 After Operation

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While official Washington voiced its sorrow at the untimely death of Belgian Ambassador Paul May, the Belgian Embassy today informed the Jewish Daily Bulletin that a very “intimate religious ceremony” will be held on Thursday as part of the funeral arrangements for the brilliant diplomat. Ambassador May died here last night following an operation for gallstones. Had he lived until October, he would have been sixty-two years old.

An attache at the Embassy said that efforts are being made to reach Rabbi Abram Simon, leader of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, to have him conduct the ceremonies. Rabbi Simon is now in Atlantic City. Due to his absence from the city, the plans have not been finally arranged.

According to the tentative plans, the ceremony will be held at the Belgian Embassy, after which the body will be removed to Arlington Cemetery for temporary burial.

From Arlington, about ten days later, the body will be taken aboard a United States warship, according to announcement of the State Department, and carried back to Belgium where the official funeral will be held. Madame May, the Ambassador’s wife, will accompany the body on the trip to Belgium.

Secretary of State Hull has instructed the American Charge d’Affaires at Brussels to convey to the Belgian government the sorrow felt by the United States.


Paul May’s appointment as Belgian ambassador to the United States came late in 1930. He took charge of the embassy in Washington early in the following year, succeeding Prince de Ligne. He was the first Jewish ambassador to this country since the World War, when the Marquis of Reading represented Great Britain here.

Born in Brussels on October 12, 1872, he was the son of a banker, one of the most prominent members of the Brussels Jewish community.

The May family had migrated to Belgium from Germany. The ambassador told interviewers that his great great grandfather was the first Jew to settle in Belgium.


May prepared for his diplomatic career by studying in Brussels University, where he received degrees as doctor of jurisprudence and doctor of political science. Subsequently he studied at Oxford, in England and passed the diplomatic service test with high distinction.

He began his diplomatic career as an attache of the Belgian embassy in Washington in 1896. Later he occupied high posts in the Belgian embassies in Tokyo; Pekin in 1899; London in 1901; Lisbon in 1909; London in 1911; Mexico in 1912; Pekin in 1917 and Stockholm in 1920. From 1925 until 1931 he served as Belgian ambassador to Brazil. He was regarded as one of the ablest of the Belgian diplomats.

May married the daughter of the late Raphael George Levi, French economist, Senator, scientist and president of the Institut de France, a relative of the Rothschilds. Mme. May, a noted beauty, survives him, as do three daughters. An only son died at the age of fifteen.

The ambassador’s only brother, a wealthy banker, is president of the Jewish community in Brussels. Paul May himself took no interest in Jewish affairs, was an anti-Zionist, and resented discussing specific Jewish matters. He was, however, a Jew by religious conviction and attended Reform services on Jewish holidays.


In an interview with a representative of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency shortly after his appointment as ambassador to the United States he said:

“I haven’t anything special to say for the Jews. In general there is no Jewish problem existing for me. My father was a Belgian and I too am a Belgian. Religion is a private affair and doesn’t hinder me from occupying the highest posts in Belgian diplomacy.

“If I had to choose between my Belgian nationality and my Jewish religion, I would without doubt choose the Belgian nationality. In this sense I was brought up by my mother to be first a Belgian and then a Jew.”

Relative to the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine he declared:

“I do not believe in the realization of the Zionist ideals. Zionism in general doesn’t interest me.”

When he received the appointment as ambassador to this country, M. May realized an ambition of many years’ standing.

“When as a young attache I left for America almost thirty-five years ago,” he said in another interview in 1931, “my proudest ambition was to have the honor of representing my country at Washington, the highest office that diplomacy holds.

“I’ll never forget the day when in 1896 at the Newport Horse Show I drove a fine tandem pair of which I was frightfully proud, and won a flattering success.

“Things were not then as they are today. A twelve-day crossing, the drive uptown in a horse-drawn vehicle to the old Waldorf-Astoria in New York. It all seems prehistoric now.”

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