The featured press release from December 17, 1942,1 represents the first public acknowledgment by the United States Government of the Nazi regime's ongoing mass murder campaign against European Jews. Issued jointly by 11 Allied governments, the document described deportations of Jewish people for mass murder in German-occupied Poland and condemned "in the strongest possible terms this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination." But behind the scenes, some US State Department officials tried to soften this language before the release became public. They doubted the information and complained that talking openly about Nazi crimes might lead the American public to demand the rescue of victims.
Several weeks earlier, on November 25, 1942, news that Nazi Germany was murdering millions of European Jews first hit American newspapers.2 Americans had long known that antisemitism was a central part of Nazi ideology, and that Jews were under attack in German-controlled territories. But the idea that Nazi Germany was trying to murder all Jews in Europe shocked Americans. In the wake of the news, hundreds of synagogues throughout the United States held a "Day of Mourning." Jewish businesses closed in memory of those who had been killed.
In early December, Jewish religious leaders and representatives of American Jewish organizations presented President Franklin Roosevelt with a lengthy report about the fate of European Jewish communities. Roosevelt confirmed that "the United States is very well acquainted with most of the facts you are now bringing to our attention"3 and agreed to issue a statement condemning the atrocities.
But some officials in the US State Department, suspected that this news was untrue and wished that Jewish leaders would "call off, or at least tone down, the present world-wide publicity campaign concerning 'mass murders.'"4 They expressed concern that an Allied public statement condemning Nazi atrocities would lead to "increased pressure from all sides to do something more specific in order to aid these people."5
British diplomats—also under immense public pressure to act against Nazi atrocities—drafted the featured document. Although the State Department could not prevent the document's release, officials still made important edits. For example, one line of the British draft originally read, "reports from Europe which leave no room for doubt," but the State Department removed the phase "which leave no room for doubt."6 These officials were not the only ones editing the statement. Soviet representatives added a sentence indicating that the victims numbered "in many hundreds of thousands," a lower number than two million Jewish victims estimated in the press.7
This statement was released simultaneously in Moscow, London, and the United States. Most major newspapers in the United States covered the story. The New York Times reproduced the text of the declaration in full, with the front-page headline "11 Allies Condemn Nazi War on Jews."8