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Letter from Arthur Werner to Henry Morgenthau, Jr.

Werner, Arthur letter to War Refugee Board 1944
FDR Presidential Library and Museum, War Refugee Board Papers, Box 60, Folder 5

On January 22, 1944, after external pressure as well as pressure from within his administration, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board (WRB) under the executive office of the president. The WRB's mission was "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." This was the first time throughout the war years that the US government had expressly directed an agency toward rescue efforts.

The WRB took several concrete steps toward this effort. The Board facilitated $20,000,000 of relief efforts in Europe, including food and supply packages as well as funding some underground resistance movements in Europe. They also encouraged neutral European countries and Allied countries in Central and South America to grant protections to those seeking refuge from Nazi occupation and oppression. In one example of the kind of work the Board supported, 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. This effort was credited with saving thousands of Hungarian Jews. There were those who believed that the War Refugee Board did too little too late. Nevertheless, the WRB was responsble for saving tens of thousands of Jews, even at this late date in the war.1

The featured letter is dated January 23, 1944—one day after the establishment of the WRB. It contains a more personal reaction to the Board's efforts. Arthur Werner, a survivor of Buchenwald, wrote to donate $10 (an approximate value of $140 today).2 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.3 Together with his staff, he exposed structural antisemitism within the State Department in a report titled, "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 taken "out of their homes to some unknown place." Werner also writes of the hospitality he has enjoyed in Piqua, Ohio, where he was living.4

To learn more about the War Refugee Board, see Rebecca L. Erbelding, About Time: The History of the War Refugee Board, Diss. George Mason University, 2015, as well as her book on the subject, Rescue Board: The Untold Story of America's Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe (New York: Doubleday, 2018). For the broader conversation about American involvement in rescue efforts (or lack thereof), see Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman, FDR and the Jews (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013). See also David Wyman's landmark, strong rebuke of America's actions during World War II: David Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945 (New York: The New Press, 1998).

To learn more about Arthur Werner, see the related Experiencing History item, Arthur Werner, "He really knows".

For more on the creation of the War Refugee Board, see the related collection in Experiencing History, US Government Rescue Efforts

For more information about this letter, see Rebecca Erbelding, About Time: The History of the War Refugee Board, (PhD diss. George Mason University, 2015), 165.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
FDR Presidential Library and Museum, War Refugee Board Papers, Box 60, Folder 5
Date Created
January 23, 1944
Author / Creator
Arthur Werner
Piqua, Ohio
Document Type Letter
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