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US Government Rescue Efforts

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Herschel Johnson Telegram on the "Goodyear Tire Plan"

Goodyear Tire
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library

During World War II, the US Treasury Department blocked most financial transactions between the United States and enemy nations or nations occupied by Nazi Germany or its allies. They also closely monitored any financial transactions with neutral European countries.1 This message reveals that despite those policies, the US War Refugee Board (WRB)—the US agency created in January 1944 to aid Jews during the Holocaust—sent money to Sweden to help refugees escape into the country. The WRB staff hid the payment from the Swedish government by transmitting it through a Goodyear Tire factory.2

American government officials in this period corresponded with US diplomats overseas using telegrams (also referred to as cables), short messages that were encoded and decoded to ensure secrecy. The featured telegram was sent by the US minister in Sweden (the equivalent of an ambassador) Herschel Johnson. Even though the message says it is for the Secretary of State, the numbers indicated that it was actually meant for the War Refugee Board staff.

Johnson states that "Goodyear funds were delivered in cash," and "at this time we do not recommend bank transfers." Instead of sending $50,000 through banks into Sweden, the WRB gave it to a Goodyear Tire factory in Akron, Ohio. A Goodyear Tire factory in Sweden then gave the same amount in Swedish kronor to the WRB's representative. The company was no doubt surprised that the US government was making this request, but it was willing to assist. Johnson warns that using the banks would "unavoidably attract notice and suspicion."

The US had also distributed money to Estonian, Lithuanian, and Latvian groups, and asked them to provide "weekly reports…and list of people rescued."3 The groups used the WRB's funds to purchase boats and weapons to assist refugees to escape by water into Sweden. From June to September 1944, several thousand refugees arrived illegally in Sweden with the help of these groups, who were covertly financed by the US government.

Including Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and Ireland.

For more on these payments, see Rebecca Erbelding, Rescue Board: The Untold Story of America's Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe. (New York: Doubleday, 2018), 188–195.

For more on these groups, see Meredith Hindley ,"The Strategy of Rescue and Relief: the use of OSS intelligence by the War Refugee Board in Sweden, 1944-45," in Intelligence and National Security, v. 12, no. 3 (July 1997): 145–165.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library
Date Created
June 7, 1944
Author / Creator
Herschel Johnson
Washington DC
Stockholm, Sweden
Document Type Letter
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