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The War Refugee Board, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in January 1944, was a U.S. executive agency created to aid civilian victims of the Nazi and Axis powers. Created largely at the behest of Roosevelt's Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Roosevelt "stressed that it was urgent that action be taken at once to forestall the plan of the Nazis to exterminate all the Jews and other persecuted minorities in Europe." [421398]

The board was created when a young treasury lawyer, Josiah DuBois Jr., learned about the State Department's policy of obstructing the immigration of Jewish refugees. The policy was written in 1940 by Assistant Secretary of State, Breckinridge Long, and disseminated to staff members directly involved with immigration. When DuBois learned how the United States was hindering the efforts of refugees from entering the country, he told Morgenthau and then went directly to the President. The result was the establishment of the War refugee Board. A copy of long's memo and Josiah DuBois' letter to the President as well as more detailed information can be found in the book, Shoah; Turkey, the US and the UK by Arnold Reisman, PhD. PE

Subsequently credited with rescuing as many as 200,000 Jews from Nazi occupied countries, through the efforts of Raoul Wallenberg and others, the commission has nevertheless received mixed praise because of the failure of the United Statesmarker to act sooner despite clear evidence of ongoing atrocities in Nazi-occupied Europe.[421399]


John W. Pehle, the assistant to the secretary of treasury, was appointed executive director of the board, which was directly responsible to the president. Its members included the secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury, the secretary of war, and a staff of approximately 30. Brigadier General William O'Dwyer later succeeded Pehle as executive director until its dissolution at the end of the war.

The board was represented internationally in Turkeymarker, Switzerlandmarker, Swedenmarker, Portugalmarker, Great Britainmarker, Italymarker, and North Africa.[421400]

Among the senior field officers, Ira Hirschmann and Herbert Katzki, both based in Istanbulmarker, worked tirelessly saving Jewish refugees. Katzki worked with of the United States Embassy and wrote memos to Pehle, often accompanied by photographs, about the refugees, their circumstances and all the efforts made on their behalf by the staff in Istanbul. Ira Hirschmann worked directly with Monsignor Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII, devising a plan for rescuing many Hungarian Jews.


The functions of the board included “the development of plans and programs andthe inauguration of effective measures for (a) the rescue, transportation,maintenance and relief of the victims of enemy oppression, and (b) the establishment of havens of temporary refuge for such victims.” The board enlisted the cooperation of foreign governments and international refugee and rescue organizations in carrying out these functions. Such neutral countries as Switzerland, Sweden, and Turkey were of particular importance, serving as bases of operation for the rescue and relief program. The Vaticanmarker rendered invaluable assistance both as a channel of communication into enemy territory and as a means of rendering direct aid to the persecuted in Nazi hands. The board obtained the cooperation of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, and the International Committee of the Red Cross in rehabilitating and resettling refugees, finding temporary shelters for rescued victims, transporting these victims to the shelters and providing for their maintenance in transit, and making relief deliveries inside enemy territory.

The board worked closely with private U.S. relief agencies in formulating,financing, and executing plans and projects. A Treasury Department licensing policythat permitted established private agencies to transfer funds from the United States to their representatives in neutral countries aided in financing the rescue of persecuted peoples living under Nazi control. Under this licensing policy, it was possible to communicate with persons in enemy territory and to finance rescueoperations with certain controls designed to bring no financial benefit to the enemy. Approximately $20 million in private funds was made available in this way. The board obtained blockade clearances for food shipments of private relief agencies for distribution by the International Red Cross to detainees in German concentration camps and supplemented these private projects with a food-parcel program of its own financed from the emergency funds of the president.

Through the efforts of the board, refugee camps were prepared in North Africa andsafe haven was arranged in Palestine, Switzerland, and Sweden. Emergency Refugee Shelter at Fort Ontariomarker, Oswego, New York, housed one thousand refugees permitted to enter the United States outside the immigration laws.

By attracting international attention to the Hungarian government and putting pressure on them, the WRB was able to stop the deportations of Jews from Hungary, saving the Jews of Budapest. The board sent the Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, and others to protect the Jews of Budapest. The WRB funded Wallenberg's rescue work there.

In August 1944 the WRB brought 982 Jewish refugees from Italy to a Fort Ontario. The board intended to create other such placesof asylum, and thus also influence other countries to provide sanctuary forWorld War II victims. President Roosevelt, however, disabled one of the board's most important rescue programs by refusing to establish any other havens.

The board lobbied Roosevelt to publicly condemn the mass murder of Jewsby the Nazis. Members also argued that the US air force should bomb Auschwitz. This, however, was never done.

By the end of the war in 1945 almost 200,000 Jews had been rescued bythe War Refugee Board. About 15,000 Jews and more than 20,000 non-Jewshad been evacuated from Nazi domain. At the very least, about 10,000 Jewswere protected within Nazi-controlled territory by underground programsfunded by the WRB. The board removed the 48,000 Jews in Transnistriamarker tosafe areas of Romania. About 120,000 Jews from Budapest also survived duein part to the WRB's activities. However, WRB director Pehle described their work as too little, too late.

With the close of the war in Europe, the work of the board was at an end. By theterms of Executive Order No. 9614 the board was abolished on September 15, 1945.


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