Real Lessons of the Évian Conference, Part One

Germany's Jews were in no hurry to be "saved."
Published: 2023-07-21

The non-Jewish world is chronically accused of having been “indifferent” to the fate of Europe’s Jews “during the Holocaust.” This kind of kvetching happened in the 1930s, and it happens today. It is used as a way of applying political pressure. A careful review of the facts however shows that, for the amount complaining that these spokesmen for the Jews have been doing, and for the moral influence that they wield by means of their complaining, the justification is sorely lacking. 

We have just passed the 85th anniversary of what Jews nowadays like to cite as a demonstration of non-Jewish indifference, the international conference in July 1938 at Évian-les-Bains, France. The conference had been summoned on 23 March 1938, by President Franklin Roosevelt, evidently as a reaction to the new wave of (mainly Jewish) refugees generated by the subsumption of Austria into Germany just eleven days earlier (at 1:30AM on 12 March 1938).

Since a large amount of illegal migration by Jews was happening (e.g., by the Jews aboard the much ballyhooed St. Louis, who apparently intended to enter the USA despite lacking visas), the purpose of this conference was to redirect Jewish migration into lawful and orderly channels.

However: because the conference did not immediately grant to German and Austrian Jews lawful entry to the kinds of destinations that they wanted, Jews tell us that the conference was a failure.

This is a fable that has ramifications. The supposed failure of the Évian Conference was invoked by U.S. Vice-President Walter Mondale as a moral argument for assisting the “Boat People” expelled by Vietnam (many of them ethnic Chinese expelled in reaction to China’s hostility) in 1979. Mondale preached:

“If each nation at Évian had agreed to take in 17,000 Jews at once, every Jew in the Reich could have been saved. Let us renounce that legacy of shame. Let us honor the moral principles we inherit.” (The Age, 23 July 1979)

Mondale’s rhetoric conformed to the new Zeitgeist stimulated by the Holocaust miniseries that had aired the previous year. When Mondale said “saved,” what did he mean? He obviously meant saved from “the Holocaust.” For some unexplained reason it had been obligatory in 1938 to bring European Jews all the way to the USA in order to “save” them, and because of this ill-considered “moral principle,” the Boat People too, instead of being helped to find new homes somewhere on the Indian Ocean rim, would have to be flown all the way from Southeast Asia to the USA or Canada or some other developed Western nation under increased immigration-quotas – in defiance of overwhelming public opposition (K. Phillips, Sarasota Herald-Tribune 17 September 1979), because it was necessary to avoid walking in the footsteps of our wicked prior generation who supposedly contributed to the Holocaust.

Mondale is quoted in an article by Gordon F. Sander that appeared in The Washington Post on 15 July 2023, the 85th anniversary of the Évian Conference. The title is: “Inside America’s failed, forgotten conference to save Jews from Hitler.”

Here we go again with that word “save” and its unjustified implications. In July 1938 nobody was claiming that anything life-threatening was happening to Jews in Germany. This should be a crucial consideration in any moral judgments about the Évian Conference, but instead the conference is regarded anachronistically as a failure to save Jews from being gassed.

Upon close examination, the Évian Conference and certain related matters become a real can of worms for Holocaustology.

In his article about the Évian Conference, Sander admits:

“Adolf Hitler said at the time that he was willing to put Jews who wished to depart ‘at the disposal of these countries, for all I care, even on luxury ships’.”

So, Adolf Hitler clearly stated that he was definitely not going to stop Jews from leaving Germany, and might even help. This is problematic, because it means that Hitler was pragmatic and susceptible to reason. He was not psychotically intent upon killing Jews. He just wanted them to go live somewhere else. This happens to be consistent with wartime documents, like the famous 1942 memorandum of Undersecretary of State Martin Luther, which states:

“The principle of the German Jewish policy after the seizure of power consisted in promoting with all means the Jewish emigration. For this purpose in 1939 Marshal General Goering in his capacity as Commissioner for the Four Year Plan established a Reich Control Office for the Jewish emigration and the direction was given to Gruppenfuehrer Heydrich in his capacity as Chief of the Security Police.” (Luther Memorandum, 21 August 1942)

Luther's memorandum explains that, in the midst of the war, since sending Jews across the ocean had become impractical, the new plan was deportation to the east (as discussed in Steffen Werner’s The Second Babylonian Captivity):

“The deportation to the Government General is a provisionary measure. The Jews will be moved on farther to the occupied Eastern territories as soon as the technical conditions for it are given. (Luther Memorandum, 21 August 1942)

According to the words actually present in German documents, there was never any intention to kill all Jews in Europe. The goal was to have them leave the heart of Europe, and preferably all of Europe. This is consistent with Hitler’s stated attitude toward the Évian Conference.

Sander says:

“The United States and other Western powers beckoned as potential safe havens. Instead, the fateful Evian conference, now largely forgotten, failed disastrously. It remains, today, ‘an indelible stain on American and world history,’ said David Harris, the former longtime leader of the American Jewish Committee and son of an Austrian Jewish refugee.”

How does the Évian Conference, which was convened in order to help the Jews, become a stain on American history? This judgment involves the assumption that the Jews were going to be killed and that the representatives of the 32 governments meeting at Évian somehow should have known this.

To paint such a picture, the former CEO of the American Jewish Committee inverts the meaning of Hitler’s declaration of total willingness to let the Jews emigrate. Harris would have us believe instead that Hitler already intended to kill the Jews and that the non-Jewish world did not care. He takes this position despite all the evidence that Hitler’s government promoted Jewish emigration throughout its existence:

“At a time before Auschwitz, when Adolf Hitler teased other nations, saying, in effect, if you care so much about the Jews, why not open your doors to them, the response from the countries in attendance, with the notable exception of the Dominican Republic, was a resounding ‘no’.”

So, according to the former CEO of the American Jewish Committee, Hitler did not really expect that the Jews could emigrate -- and the governments represented at Évian, with one exception, did not wish to call his bluff.

Now, this is a very important fact. When Harris says that the Dominican Republic was a “notable exception,” it means that the Caribbean state was immediately willing to take 100,000 Jewish refugees. In fact this was not all that the conference accomplished, but for now let us just look at this.

Bear in mind that in the summer of 1938 it was not a question of millions of Jews. The concern was only about Jews from Germany and (recently defunct) Austria. How many Jews would that be? The conference estimated the number of refugees at 550,000 (W. Miller, UP 7 September 1938).

In that light, the invitation for 100,000 Jews from Germany to settle in the Dominican Republic would seem to go a long way toward resolving the crisis.

We are supposed to believe that the Jews in Germany were desperate. Sander says that the Évian Conference gave Jews “hope,” and the title of his article says that the purpose of the conference was “to save Jews from Hitler.” Sander says that the conference “represented their last credible chance for salvation.”

In that case, the Dominican Republic’s quota of 100,000 should have filled up very quickly. If it’s a choice between a Latin-American republic and some horrible fate, obviously you choose the Latin-American republic. A newspaper-report from 1946 describes Sosúa, a town created specifically for these Jewish refugees, as “a tropical paradise” (NEA Service 29 August 1946). How many Jews actually did go there? According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

"... the Dominican Republic admitted 645 Jews from 1938 to 1945 and issued approximately 5,000 visas to Jews during that period." (USHMM)

Apparently, very few Jews in Germany wanted to be “saved” if it meant emigrating to the Dominican Republic!

This is not surprising, because 90% of Germany’s Jews also did not want to go to Palestine. The Haavará Agreement, facilitating emigration to Palestine, had been in effect since 1933 and was still in effect – yet only about 60,000 of Germany’s Jews had taken advantage of that opportunity as of 1939 (Jewish Virtual Library). Emigration to Palestine was so easy that (Israeli journalist, politician, and peace activist) Uri Avnery in 2007 observed that Jews who had taken advantage of this opportunity despised those who had remained in Europe and suffered through the war:

“The oldtimers here [in Palestine] said, why didn’t they come here? This is their own fault. They could have emigrated in time, as we did.” (Uri Avnery interviewed by A. Libsker, 2007)

Avnery’s own family had emigrated from Germany to Palestine in November 1933.

What this shows is that the Jewish refugee-crisis of 1938 was really not about saving Jews but about satisfying Jews. These Jews overwhelmingly did not want to go to either Palestine or the Dominican Republic (which, if they settled at Sosúa, the newly established Jewish colony, would require considerable physical labor). They were not seeking a mere refuge. They were not struggling to survive. They demanded destinations that they considered desirable, like the USA.

Thus it is misleading when Sander says that the USA and other Western states “beckoned as potential safe havens,” as if these were the only places where Jews could find safety: what it really means is that these were the places where the Jews wanted to go.

Therefore, since it was a matter of preference rather than necessity, there was no compelling moral argument for the USA to endure the kinds of troubles (not least among them, leftist political agitation) that these immigrants were expected to bring.

The next section will discuss how Jews made it more difficult for their fellow Jews in Germany to emigrate.

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Author(s): Hadding Scott
Title: Real Lessons of the Évian Conference, Part One, Germany's Jews were in no hurry to be "saved."
Published: 2023-07-21
First posted on CODOH: July 21, 2023, 3:51 p.m.
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