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US Government Rescue Efforts

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Summary of Bermuda Conference Recommendations

Bermuda Conference
National Archives & Records Administration
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tags: activism bureaucracy refugees & immigration

type: Report

After newspapers reported on the Nazi regime's 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. They cited limited resources and other 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. In response to public pressure, Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long announced a conference to address the crisis two days later. 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.4 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 to 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, including moving refugees in Spain to a haven in North Africa. They also reassembled the IGCR and expanded its mission to include all refugees, not just those from Germany and Austria. American news reports about the ongoing conference were vague, because reporting 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 describes the limitations that 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 or desirable for many of the refugees whose homes and families had already been destroyed. Recommendations 8–13 relate to the IGRC's funding, mandate, membership, and potential projects.

Despite the supposed importance that 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 begin any relief or rescue projects in 1943. 

US newspapers widely reported on news of this plan. See the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's citizen history project, History Unfolded.

United Nations Declaration press release, December 17, 1942. RG-59, Central Decimal File 1940-1945, 740.00116/European War/1939/749, NARA-CP. See the related item in this collection, Declaration of December 17, 1942.

In January and February 1943, the two governments exchanged memos on the topic, each providing justification for undertaking limited rescue actions only. The British added to their memo a statistical table citing the number of refugees in British colonies, and claimed that Palestine could not become a haven due to food shortages. The State Department cited the US wartime policy of forcibly interning Japanese and Japanese-descended people living in the US—including native-born American citizens—as a reason why the United States could not become a haven for refugees, reminding the British that the United States government was already responsible for "110,000 persons of the Japanese race…being housed and maintained at public expense" and urged a meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees (IGRC). The IGRC had been created in the July 1938 at the Evian Conference but had not met since October 1939. For more, see Cordell Hull, Cable 1241 from Washington to London, February 25, 1943; General Records of the Department of State (National Archives Microfilm Publication 1284, Reel 33), 840.48/Refugees/3609; National Archives, College Park, MD. To learn more about Japanese internment during World War II, see the Densho documentary project.

Breckinridge Long originally suggested the Canadian capital of Ottawa as the location of the conference, but the Canadian government objected over fear of drawing protesters. The State Department refused to consider holding it in Washington for the same reason.

The American delegates were Congressman Sol Bloom (D-NY), Senator Scott Lucas (D-IL) and Dr. Harold Dodds, president of Princeton University. The British delegates were Parliamentary Under-Secretaries Richard Law, Osbert Peake, and George Hall.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
National Archives & Records Administration
RG Number 59
Accession Number Intergovernmental Committee records, Folder: Miscellaneous, Box 3, NARA-CP.
Date Created
April 29, 1943
Bermuda, British Territory
Document Type Report
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