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US Government Rescue Efforts

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Undelivered Telegram from Gerhart Riegner to Rabbi Stephen Wise

Unsent Telegram from Gerhart to Rabbi Stephen Wise
National Archives & Records Administration

In August of 1942, Gerhart Riegner, the World Jewish Congress's representative in Geneva, Switzerland, told an American diplomat that Nazi leaders had a plan to gather Jewish people under their contol in the occupied territories of eastern Europe and murder them there. Riegner, who had heard this information secondhand, believed that the operation would begin in fall 1942. He hoped that, upon learning this news, the World Jewish Congress's leadership would compel Allied governments to embark on a rescue operation or otherwise prevent the Nazi plan.

Featured here, Riegner's message was accepted by the US consul and the message was sent to the State Department in Washington.1 From there, Riegner had hoped the message would be transmitted to Rabbi Stephen Wise, the World Jewish Congress's New York-based president.

When US officials in Washington read the message, they were far more skeptical. Paul Culbertson, the assistant chief of the Division of European Affairs, wrote a note to his colleagues on August 13: "I don't like the idea of sending this on to Wise but if the Rabbi hears later that we had this message and didn't let him in on it he might put up a kick." Culbertson drafted this letter to Wise and added that the legation at Bern had "no information which would confirm this rumor and believes it is one of the many unreliable war rumors circulating in Europe today."2

The State Department never sent Culbertson's letter to Wise. Culbertson's supervisor crossed out the text and wrote "Do not send" at the top of the original letter. His office then sent a message to US diplomats in Switzerland indicating that the State Department had decided not to forward the message to Rabbi Wise "in view of the apparently unsubstantiated nature of the information."

American officials recognized the deportations of Jews from southwestern France in 1942 as evidence of Riegner's claim.

National Archives and Records Administration, RG-59, Central Decimal File, 1940–1944, 862.4016/2233.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
National Archives & Records Administration
RG Number 59
Accession Number Central Decimal File, 1940-1944, 862.4016/2233
Date Created
August 1942
Author / Creator
Gerhart Riegner
Paul Culbertson
Geneva, Switzerland
Document Type Letter
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