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Raymond Geist’s Report to George Messersmith on the Interministerial Meeting at the Reich Aviation Ministry and the Nazi Regime’s Future Plans for the Jews (April 4, 1939)

After the interministerial meeting on November 12, 1938, Göring ordered the establishment of the Reich Central Office for Jewish Emigration within the Ministry of the Interior. Following Adolf Eichmann’s (1906-1962) Austrian model, this office was supposed to facilitate the expulsion and dispossession of Germany’s Jews by coordinating all government emigration offices and coercing Jewish communities into cooperation. But the Nazi regime’s plan to exploit the Jews economically before expelling them from the German sphere of power collided with most countries' immigration regulations, which prevented the entry of massive influxes of impoverished Jewish refugees.

Back in July of 1938, delegates from 32 countries and about 40 private aid organizations had come together in the French town of Evian to participate in a conference on refugees initiated by the American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945). Although the conference produced general declarations of sympathy for German refugees, it did not lead to the liberalization of immigration restrictions. Still, the final resolution prompted the establishment of the Intergovernmental Committee on Political Refugees (IGC), and the chairman of this committee, George Rublee, quickly began negotiations with the German government. In February 1939, Rublee and his German negotiating partner Helmut Wohlthat agreed on an emigration plan worked out by Hjalmar Schacht (1877-1970), the president of the Reichsbank. According to the plan, Jewish emigration was to be partially financed by confiscated Jewish assets. In this report to Assistant Secretary of State George S. Messersmith, the American consul Raymond H. Geist expresses his doubts about the Schacht plan and offers a gloomy prognosis for those Jews still living in the German Reich.

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Berlin, April 4, 1939.

The Honorable George S. Messersmith
Assistant Secretary of State
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. Messersmith:

I have your personal and confidential letter of March 17, with which you sent a copy of the confidential report issued by the Jewish Telegraph Agency under [the] date of March 6, 1939. You call attention to statements made in the report, under the section headed "Jewish Situation", which you think refers to me.

It is true that I did have a talk with Mr. Bernstein, the correspondent of the Jewish Telegraph Agency who has been operating here in Germany for the last year or so, ever since the expulsion of Ben Smolar, and with whom I have been in fairly close touch. Bernstein has done a very fine piece of work in Berlin and in Vienna and, to my astonishment, during all this time he has in no way run amuck with the Secret Police. He is a man of unusual intelligence and indefatigable energy. When he was about to leave Berlin, he informed me that he was going, and I invited him and Mrs. Bernstein to tea, and discussed the general situation with him, particularly for the purpose of giving him some information confidentially which I thought he might constructively use on behalf of the potential Jewish refugees in Germany. I wanted also to give him some background of the negotiations which the Intergovernmental Committee had here and, if possible, convey through him an interpretation of the situation which might be constructive.

It is very difficult for me in a letter to explain what I consider to be the realities of the Jewish situation in Germany. The whole problem is bound up closely with our own immigration policy, and I have been very anxious that the work of the Intergovernmental Committee succeed, for two reasons, firstly, to relieve the pressure upon us, both in and outside of Germany; and secondly, to relieve the distress of thousands of innocent people in this country. I have been very anxious that the negotiations started between the Intergovernmental Committee and the Germans continue, for I am of the opinion that as long as this relationship is kept up, some degree of moderation at least will be exercised by the Germans, and the lot of the refugees [will] become easier. It is for this reason that I took the opportunity to have a final talk with Bernstein, as I believed that, going back to the United States and having had so large an experience in this country during the last year, he would report his impressions and convictions to many important people in the United States whose attitude towards the Intergovernmental Committee and its work would very much count, and I was exceedingly anxious to impress upon Bernstein the importance of not starting a campaign in the American press of such a character that the Germans, out of revenge, would break off the negotiations with the Intergovernmental Committee and start physical persecutions more violently than heretofore. The pressure upon us increases through physical violence, although the truth is that the Jews are more horribly ground down through measures applied on account of legislative restrictions, and so forth.

I am taking the opportunity now of correcting the statements made by Mr. Bernstein, and you will perceive that I have been misquoted, though I am very sure that Bernstein had no intention whatever of misquoting me; he made no notes of what I said, and probably endeavored to record as faithfully as possible the points which I made.

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