After newspapers reported on the Nazi plan to murder all of Europe's Jews,1 the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and nine other countries issued a statement in December 1942 condemning this "bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination."2 Though American and British officials quickly faced strong public pressure to aid Europe's Jews, each nation’s leaders remained reluctant to prioritize the issue, citing limited feasibility and other more pressing concerns.3
As a response to government inaction, on March 1, 1943, the American Jewish Congress held a massive rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City. They also endorsed an eleven-point proposal for rescue efforts. Two days later, Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long announced a conference to address the crisis.4 The British government, which controlled the territory of Bermuda, offered that location as an area where protests were unlikely and the press could be easily managed. Jewish organizations sent recommendations to attendees in advance of the conference, but they were largely ignored.
Three American delegates and three British delegates met at the Horizons resort in Bermuda between April 19th and 30th.5 The pre-conference briefing documents laid out a rigid American position. According this document, the United States:
- Would not promise American money for relief projects
- Could not transport refugees for long distances
- Should request neutral nations take refugees
- Should call for a meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees (IGCR)
- Should remind the British that Congress would not expand the American immigration quotas "which are the most liberal of any nation in the world"
The delegates at the Bermuda conference focused only on small scale rescue and relief plans, from moving refugees in Spain to a haven in North Africa, to reassembling the IGCR and expanding its mission include all refugees, not just those from Germany and Austria. American news reports about the ongoing conference were vague, given that press from Bermuda was censored. When the conference ended, the United States and Great Britain issued a joint statement that the proceedings would remain confidential.
This "Summary of Recommendations" from the Bermuda Conference was an internal document—not to be released to the press or the public. It details the limitations the American and British governments built into the conference. Recommendations 1-6 all relate to potential projects that need further consideration and negotiations, but even these projects could only rescue small numbers of refugees. Recommendation 7, urging a joint declaration promising the return of refugees after the war, reveals that the delegates did not understand that return would not be possible for many of the refugees whose homes and families had already been destroyed. Recommendations 8-13 relate to the IGRC, its funding, mandate, membership, and potential projects.
Despite the supposed importance the American and British governments placed on the Intergovernmental Committee's rescue and relief projects, the IGRC Executive Committee did not meet until August 1943, more than three months after the end of the Bermuda Conference. It did not initiate any relief or rescue projects in 1943.