On January 22, 1944, after external pressure and pressure from within his administration, President Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board under the direct auspicies of the executive office of the president. The WRB's mission "to rescue victims of enemy oppression in imminent danger of death" and to "provide relief and assistance consistent with the successful prosecution of the war" was the first time throughout the war years that the American government had expressly directed an agency towards rescue efforts. The WRB took several concrete steps towards this effort, among them:
- Facilitating $20,000,000 of relief efforts in Europe, including food and supply packages as well as funding some underground resistance movements in Europe.
- Engaging in diplomatic work, primarily through neutral European countries as well as Allied countries in Central and South America, encouraging them to grant protections to those seeking refuge from Nazi occupation and oppression who could claim citizenship of these nations. In one such example of the kind of work that they sought to support, diplomat George Mantello (George Mandel) created hundreds of affidavits of Salvadoran citizenship to Jews throughout Europe. The WRB also encouraged nations to serve as safe havens for refugees fleeing Europe.
- The WRB collected intelligence information as well, and used this information to act on the rescue of Jews in Romania and other areas.
Finally (and perhaps most famously), together with the Joint, the WRB funded and supported the efforts of Swedish diplomat and businessman Raoul Wallenberg and his efforts to create Swedish safe houses for Jews throughout Budapest—an effort credited with saving thousands of Hungarian Jews. There were those who believed that the War Refugee Board acted too little and too late. Indeed, there is an extensive literature on the American willingness (or unwillingness) to attempt to halt, slow, or stop the genocide of European Jewry. Nevertheless, the WRB was responsble for saving tens of thousands of Jews, even at this late date in the war.1
This letter dated January 23, 1944—one day after the establishment of the WRB—contains a more personal reaction to the Board's efforts. Arthur Werner, a survivor of Buchenwald (as this newspaper editorial that he also wrote attests), writes to donate $10 (an approximate value of $140 today). The letter is addressed to Henry Morgenthau, Jr., who served as Secretary of the Treasury under Roosevelt and Truman from 1934 to 1945. Morgenthau was instrumental in the establishment of the WRB, and together with his staff, exposed structural antisemitism from within the State Department in a report entitled, "Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of Jews," on January 13, 1944.
Here, Werner notes the fairly modest sum that he is able to offer, as well as the importance of the WRB's efforts for him personally, given that his mother and friends were, in his words, "taken, 16 months ago, out of their homes to some unknown place." Werner also writes of the hospitality he has enjoyed in Piqua, Ohio, where he was currently living.2