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Jewish Organizations Spent $20,000,000 to Help War Refugee Board Save Jews in Europe

September 21, 1945
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Private Jewish organizations in the United States spent about $20,000,000 for projects prepared by the War Refugee Board to rescue Jews from Nazi hands in Europe, it was revealed today in a report issued by William O’Dwyer, last executive director of the heard, which went out of existence on Sept. 15.

The Joint Distribution Committee contributed more than $15,000,000 of this sum, the report emphasizes. The Vaad Haatzalah Emergency Committee of orthodox Jews in the United States contributed more than $1,000,000. Other organizations which made contributions or cooperated with the War Refugee board included the American Jewish Committee, the Hias, the World Jewish Congress, the Jewish Labor Committee, the National Refugee Service, the Zionist Organization of America and the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People.

More than $2,000,000 were allocated to the War Refugee board from the President’s emergency fund, for the shipment of food to be distributed by the Red Cross to civilians in Nazi concentration camps, the report discloses. The board itself spent $563,000 for administration and operations. The Joint Distribution Committee served as the agent of the War Refugee Board in spending the bulk of its funds in France, Hungary and Rumania.

Summarizing the activities of the board from its establishment in January 22, 1944 to its termination, O’Dwyer said in his 75-page report that “tremendous” efforts were made by the board to save Jews from Nazi oppression. At the same time, he observes that “now we are faced with the equally important problems of their mental and physical rehabilitation and their permanent resettlement if they are to live as decent human beings.”

His report says the finding of permanent homes for the displaced people who cannot or will not return to their native lands is a problem demanding international action. He urges that the U.S. “as a matter of national policy should initiate aggressive action at once for a United-Nations solution of this international problem.”

Declaring the permanently displaced “stateless Jews” present the most pressing problem, O’Dwyer asks immediate action on their behalf. He urges “that the U.S. Government take all possible steps to effect the opening of Palestine or the immigration of these people, since each day’s delay in the opening of the doors of Palestine adds to the tragedy of the Jewish people.”


The WRB planned to save refugees by concealing them from the enemy and evacuating them, by influencing Nazi satellites not to cooperate in Nazi extermination and strocities, by trying to obtain better conditions in concentration camps and by finding temporary havens for those who could escape. It used underground operators and resistance groups, bribed German officials and border guards, supplied false identification papers and procured transport by boat and rail.

Rescue operations were made possible by Treasury and State Department change in policy which permitted private agencies to transfer funds from the USA to their representatives in neutral countries. When the British Government objected to the new licensing policy on the ground it enabled the enemy to acquire foreign exchange, the State Department with concurrence of the WRB and the Treasury replied that the U.S. felt the saving of lives “far outweighed any possible danger involved in permitting the enemy to acquire relatively insubstantial quantities of foreign exchange,” and that we intended “to continue the licensing policy we had been pursuing for several months.” No ransom payments were ever made and “only a trickle” of free exchange seeped into enemy areas, the report says.

Main escape routes were by boat across the Black Sea from Rumania to Turkey and by rail through Bulgaria. The Turkish Government cooperated in the rescue program and about seven thousand refugees were brought out. By far the largest number of rescues were effected by the Jewish Agency for Palestine working with the JDC, says the report. The refugees were concealed from Nazi-controlled Rumahian officials and embarked at Constanza.


Throughout the board’s work the Nazis refused cooperation, even when safe conduct was asked through the governments of Sweden, Switzerland and the Red Cross. Some 1,392 refugees were brought out of Rumania by rail through Bulgaria and 539 sailed in small craft from Greece. About 150,000 were Jews deported from Bessarabia and Bucovina to Transnistria, and despite the fact that the USA and Rumania were at war, 48,000 survivors were removed from Transnistria to Rumania, many of them eventually reaching Palestine.

In Hungary, through a Swedish business man, Raoul Wallenberg, who was given diplomatic status by the Swedish Government, a relentless campaign” was conducted in behalf of the Jews, the report discloses. He issued Swedish protective passports, hired buildings to house rabbis and communal leaders and pressed Hungarian authorities for better treatment of Jews. About 20,000 Jews received Swedish protection in Hungary.

Switzerland became “the most important center” for the WRB’s operations in Euorpe and 17,000,000 dollars were sent there to aid in rescue of Hitler’s victims from France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Eight thousand Jewish orphans were kept alive in France by funds sent through Switzerland. Thousands of Jews in Axis territories were saved by protection extended by Latin American governments.


The board sharply criticises the American embassy in Madrid, which failed to cooperate in the work of evacuating refugees through the Iberian Peninsula. Only after James H. Mann was sent by WRB to Portugal and Spain did the Madrid embassy get to work, but by that time large scale rescues from France were “impractical or impossible.” The WRB did get the Spanish Government to give hundreds of Sephardic Jews Spanish nationality thus saving them from Nazi death or deportation.

In protracted negotiations conducted by Saly Mayer, leader of the Swiss Jewish community, with the Nazis over the release of Jews when the war was going against the Yazis, the Germans were tricked over a period of months. At one stage in these negotiations, conducted with full knowledge of the Russians and British, the State and Treasury Departments permitted the JDC to transfer $5,000,000 to a restricted Swiss account to give Mayer something tangible to negotiate with, and thus gain time as the war was coming to an end. No payments were ever made from this fund which was turned back to the JDC when the war was over.

Through these negotiations, 1,673 Jews were brought to Switzerland from Bergen-Belsen, deportation of 200,000 from Budapest to Auschwitz was cancelled in August, 1944, and a transport of 17,000 bound for Auschwitz was diverted to Austria. As the war went increasingly against the Nazis, they made proposals through Sweden as well as Switzerland and on April 21, 1945, Himmler met a member of Sweden’s Jewish community in Berlin, after which several thousand Jews were released from the Ravensbruck concentration camp and transported by the Swedish Red Cross to Sweden.

The WRB report refers to the 900 refugees “still behind the bars of Fort Ontaric awaiting more humans treatment from America and a solution of the problem of their altimate resettelement.” The board also recounts how it learned in the Sunmer of 1944 that the United Nations War Crimes commission had made no plans for punishing those guilty of crimes against Axis Jews, and it urged the State Department to make it clear that the U.S. Government regarded them as war criminals. Files of the WRB were made available to the War Department for study in preparing war crimes cases.

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