Evian Conference
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Anti-Semitism & Holocaust

The Evian Conference - Hitler's Green Light for Genocide

Chapter 2 - The Evian Conference And Its Proceedings

The conference began on 6th July 1938 at the Royal Hotel, Evian-les-Bains.  Thirty-two countries attended, only Italy and South Africa refused Roosevelt's invitation.

The countries, which were officially represented, were –

Australia, the Argentine Republic, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, United Kingdom, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela.  These countries were all regarded as potential places of refuge. The Union of South Africa, which sent an observer, and Polish and Rumanian representatives attended in an unofficial capacity, along with Germany were not considered as countries of possible immigration. 

The Agenda, proposed by the U.S Government on 14 June was –

1)      To consider what steps can be taken to facilitate the settlement in other countries of political refugees from Germany (including Austria).

2)     To consider what immediate steps can be taken, within the existing immigration laws and regulations of the receiving countries, to assist the most urgent cases.

3)     To consider a system of documentation, acceptable to the participating states, for those refugees who are unable to obtain requisite documents from other sources.

4)     To consider the establishment of a continuing body of governmental representatives, to be set up…..a long-range program looking forward to the solution or alleviation of the problem in the larger sense.

5)     To prepare a resolution making recommendations to the participating governments with regard to the subject enumerated above and with regard to such other subjects as may be brought for consideration before the intergovernmental meeting.1

Senator Henri Beregner representing the French Government had been appointed Chairman and welcomed around 200 delegates, journalists and observers to France.  He also welcomed refugee associations who had turned up uninvited saying that they too were welcome and that the Conference was intended to encourage collaboration between America and other governments and this was the reason why they had not been invited to contribute. He went on to say that the Conference trusted that such practical and effective collaboration with the United States would give birth to something of value for refugees all over the world, who were today the stateless victims of national revolutions in various countries.2

The first speaker was MyronMyron Taylor Taylor who said, "Some millions of people, as this meeting convenes, are actually or potentially without a country.  The number is increasing daily….at a time when there is serious unemployment in many countries, when there is shrinkage of subsistence bases and when the population of the world is at a peak ….. A major forced migration is taking place, and the time has come when Governments…..must act, and act promptly and effectively in a long-range program of comprehensive scale…The problem is no longer one of purely private concern.  It is a problem for intergovernmental action.  If the present currents of migration are permitted to continue….then there is a catastrophic human suffering ahead which can only result in general unrest and in general international strain which will not be conductive to the permanent appeasement to which all peoples earnestly aspire."3

Lord Winterton, head of the British delegation said, "…..It has been the traditional policy of successive British Governments to offer asylum to persons who, for political, racial or religious reasons, have had to leave their own countries…But the United Kingdom is not a country of immigration.  It is highly industrialised, fully populated and is still faced with the problem of unemployment. For economic and social reasons, the traditional policy of granting asylum can only be applied within narrow limits…. His Majesty's Government are also carefully surveying the prospects of the admission of refugees to their colonies and overseas territories.  The question is not a simple one….  Many overseas territories are already overcrowded, others are wholly or partly unsuitable for European settlement….No thickly populated country can be expected to accept persons who are deprived of their means of subsistence before they are able to enter it.  Nor can the resources of private societies be expected to make good the losses which the emigrants have suffered."4

Winterton put forward the prospect of settlement for some refugees in Kenya with the possibility of adding Northern Rhodesia.  Only after criticism from Jewish organisations and the press, especially in the USA that he had not mentioned Palestine in his opening address, did he refer to it in his closing speech.  He explained that it was a delicate situation with intense problems, which made it necessary to curb Jewish immigration whilst awaiting an investigation into the possibilities of partitioning Palestine.  In his conclusion he stated "The question of Palestine stands upon a footing of its own and cannot usefully be taken into account at the present stage in connection with the general problems that are under consideration at this meeting."  A. J. Sherman deduced that Winterton was giving a clear warning 'that other governments should not concern themselves with a problem for which Great Britain as the mandatory power bore sole responsibility'5

Mackenzie King appointed HumeHume Wrong Wrong, who was the Canadian delegate to the League of Nations, as chief delegate at the conference. He was instructed to listen, make notes, say as little as possible and under no circumstances make any promises or commitments.6 He made a short speech at the Conference saying that Canada sympathised with the state of affairs in which the refugees found themselves, but that it was already doing all it could – which was a lot.  He also said,  "Certain classes of agriculturalists" were welcome in Canada; everyone else was out of luck."7

Australia's chief delegate, Colonel White maintained:

"Under the circumstances .…. Australia cannot do more….undue privileges cannot be given to one particular class of non-British subjects without injustice to others.  It will no doubt be appreciated also that, as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one."8

Two other speakers are worth mentioning for their differing views.

One was Mr. M.J.M. Yepes from Colombia, whom Adler-Rudel remembers as the only one among the speakers who was warmly applauded for his courage in getting to the root of the problem.  He said, "….Can a State, without upsetting the basis of our civilisation, and, indeed, of all civilisation, arbitrarily withdraw nationality from a whole class of its citizens, thereby making them Stateless….? Can a State, acting in this way, flood other countries with the citizens of whom it wishes to get rid, and can it thrust upon others the consequences of an evil internal policy?…It would be useless for us to-day to find homes for the present political refugees and to hear the grievances – well-grounded, as I freely admit they are – of those who have come to voice their complaints before this modern Wailing Wall which the Evian Conference has now become..…"9 Unfortunately the Colombian Government, even if it shared Mr Yepes' views, was no better than the others in offering refuge to these "Stateless citizens".

The other was the Swiss delegate, Dr. H. Rothmund, Chief of the Police Division of the Swiss Justice and Police Department, who, according to Adler-Rudel was "a prime example of the kind of man to whose hands the fate of the refugees was entrusted.…." He spoke at length about his country's liberal tradition in receiving political refugees. What he did not tell the conference, however, was that he had just completed negotiations with the Nazi authorities, whom he had advised that his government intended to stop the immigration of Austrian Jews into Switzerland….."10  Dr. Rothmund said, "Switzerland, which has as little use for these Jews as has Germany, will herself take measure to protect Switzerland from being swamped by Jews with the connivance of the Viennese police."11 The choice by the Swiss of a police chief as their delegate smacked of legalism, was threatening and confrontational and gave a clear message to the conference and anyone else who wanted to help the Jewish refugees that they would not receive any help from Switzerland.

The outcome of the negotiations with Germany was that German passports were marked with a big red "J". This made it more difficult for refugees not only trying to enter Switzerland but also many other countries that were prejudice against immigrants whose passports were marked in this way.12

Delegates from one country after another stood up and said they could do nothing more than they were already doing to help the refugees.  Belgium, Denmark and Sweden were small countries and did not have room for large numbers of refugees, except for those travelling to overseas territories. Most South American countries claimed their laws did not allow a large-scale influx of immigrants but they were also concerned that their trade with Germany would be affected if they accepted German and Austrian Jews.  Some also had large German populations.  Only the Dominican Republic offered to accept more than a few refugees and volunteered to contribute large but unspecified areas for agricultural colonization.13 Unfortunately war broke out before the offer could be implemented to its full extent.

The conference did not go according to plan, as it had intended to have two public meetings, one to be held at the beginning of the conference and one at the end.  Six meetings were held but the real work of the conference was delegated to two Sub-Committees. The first was "technical" and would "hear in confidence the statements of laws and practices of the participating governments, statements of the number and types of immigrants each is prepared to receive and consider the question of documentation."14 Its meetings were not well attended and its report did not give any encouragement to the refugees.

Conference delegatesThe second Sub-Committee held discussions with thirty-nine refugee organisations (twenty of them Jewish).  The Committee members did not have the experience to deal with the complicated problem and were short of time.  Twenty-four representatives were heard, many were scientists, authors and politicians and they were expected to put their case to the Committee in less than ten minutes.  Jewish organisations were partly to blame as they were unused to a diplomatic atmosphere and were not well enough prepared.  As Adler-Rudel comments, "All left the room disheartened and disillusioned."15

William Shirer a world-renowned journalist who attended the conference wrote on 7 July 1938 "…I doubt if much will be done.  The British, French and Americans seem too anxious not to do anything to offend Hitler.  It's an absurd situation.  They want to appease the man who was responsible for their problem."16

It was agreed to set up an Intergovernmental Committee and at its first meeting in Evian, and after a great deal of negotiation, the Committee adopted the following Resolution on 14th July 1938.

1)     Consider that the question of involuntary emigration has assumed major proportions and that the fate of the unfortunate people affected has become a problem for intergovernmental deliberation;

2)      Aware that the involuntary emigration of large numbers of people, of different creeds, economic conditions, professions and trades, from the country or countries where they have been established is disturbing to the general economy, since these persons are obliged to seek refuge, either temporarily or permanently, in other countries at a time when there is serious unemployment; that, in consequence, countries of refuge and settlement are faced with problems, not only of an economic and social nature, but also of public order, and that there is a severe strain on the administrative facilities and absorptive capacities of the receiving countries;

3)      Aware, moreover, that the involuntary emigration of people in large numbers has become so great that it renders racial and religious problems more acute, increases international unrest, and may hinder seriously the processes of appeasement in international relations;

4)      Believing that it is essential that a long-range programme should be envisaged, whereby assistance to involuntary emigrants, actual and potential, may be co-ordinated within the framework of existing migration laws and practices of Governments;

5)      Considering that if countries of refuge or settlement are to co-operate in finding an orderly solution of the problem before the Committee they should have the collaboration of the country of origin and are therefore persuaded that it will make its contributions by enabling involuntary emigrants to take with them their property and possessions and emigrate in an orderly manner;

6)      Welcoming heartily the initiative taken by the President of the United States of America in calling the Intergovernmental Meeting at Evian for the primary purpose of facilitating involuntary emigration from Germany (including Austria), and expressing profound appreciation of the French Government for its courtesy in receiving the Intergovernmental Meeting at Evian.

7)      Bearing in mind the resolution adopted by the Council of the League of Nations on May 14th, 1938, concerning international assistance to refugees;

Recommends that:

 8a-e)   …..

8f) That there should meet at London an Intergovernmental Committee consisting of such representatives as the Governments participating in the Evian Meeting may desire to designate.  This Committee shall continue and develop the work of the Intergovernmental Meeting at Evian and shall be constituted and shall function in the following manner:  There shall be a Chairman of this Committee and four Vice-chairmen; there shall be a director of authority, appointed by the Intergovernmental Committee, who shall be guided by it in his actions.  He shall undertake negotiations to improve the present conditions of exodus and to replace them by conditions of orderly emigration.  He shall approach the Governments of the countries of refuge and settlement with a view to developing opportunities for permanent settlement.  The Intergovernmental Committee, recognising the value of the work of the existing refugee services of the League of Nations of the studies of migration made by the International Labour Office, shall co-operate fully with these organisations, and the intergovernmental committee at London shall consider the means by which the co-operation of the Committee and the Director with these organisations shall be established.  The Intergovernmental Committee, at its forthcoming meeting at London, will consider the scale on which its expenses shall be apportioned among the participating Governments;

     9)   That the Intergovernmental Committee in its continued form shall hold a first  meeting at London on August 3rd, 1938.17                              

Evian

The Intergovernmental Committee was to negotiate with the Nazis for an orderly emigration of refugees and for them to be allowed to take money and property with them as it was very difficult for receiving countries to accept penniless immigrants.

In his Report to the American Secretary of State on the meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees at Evian Myron Taylor said that he had found, with a few exceptions, that "his colleagues" in many of the Latin American countries were "extremely troublesome."  Without having anything constructive to offer they raised objection after objection, "in many cases for purposes of self-advertisement".  He doubted that it would be useful of them to take part in the Intergovernmental Committee in London as it might only block progress.18

Taylor also felt that the League of Nations Secretariat was hostile to the success of the Evian meeting and hoped to have it fail.  Major Abrams, who was in charge of the refugee activities of the League, was "extremely active in stirring up hostility to the meeting, particularly among the Latin American Delegates over whom the League Secretariat has great influence."19 Taylor said that Sir Neill Malcolm's attitude "was one of open hostility."20 Sir Neill had disagreed with the Technical Subcommittee's statement on immigration and implied that the Meeting should not have been called unless the US was prepared to modify its immigration laws.

In his closing speech to the conference on 15th July, Myron Taylor reported –

"…..I am happy to report that, due to the serious spirit of co-operation which has animated this first intergovernmental meeting, due to the deep-rooted conviction that we were dealing with a harrowing human problem, we have been able to recommend to our respective Governments the establishment of machinery that should, if we keep the wheels turning, bring about a real improvement in the lives and prospects of many millions of our fellow-men…Our work must, and it will, continue, tirelessly, without interruption…..From this time forward, the Intergovernmental Committee is in permanent session.  I shall expect the participating Government to remain in close contact with the Chairman in the interim between the adjournment to-day and the reconvening at London."21

It was agreed that the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Committee would be Myron Taylor and that its Director would be George Rublee, another close friend of President Roosevelt.  The British Chairman would be Lord Winterton. France and the Netherlands were to be represented with two vice-chairmen.

Go to Chapter 3 - Did The Conference Fail?
©2001 Annette Shaw
Introduction     Chapter 1     Chapter 2    Chapter 3    Chapter 4    Conclusion
Anti-Semitism & Holocaust      Christian Action for Israel

1                 Proceedings of the Intergovernmental Committee, Evian, 6/15 July 1938, Verbatim Record of the Plenary Meeting of the Committee. Resolutions and Reports, London, July 1938, p8, cited Adler-Rudel, Leo Baeck Institute Year Book, p242.

2               Adler-Rudel, Leo Baeck Institute Year Book, p241.

3                 Proceedings, p12, cited  Adler-Rudel, p243

4                 Proceedings, p13, cited  Adler-Rudel, pp244-5

5                 Proceedings, p42, cited  Sherman, Island Refuge, p116

6               Munro, DCER V1, King to Wrong, 11 June 1938 801-5, cited Abella & Troper, p28.

7               Wrong to King, 7 July 1938, 223088, cited ibid, pp31-2.

8                 Proceedings, p20, cited  Blakeney, Australia and the Jews, p130.

9                 Proceedings, p25, cited  Adler-Rudel, Leo Baeck Institute Year Book, p249.

10             Adler-Rudel,  Leo Institute Year Book, p250.

11             Doc. 5 on German Foreign Policy 1918-1945, Washington 1963, Series D, Vol. V, cited S. Adler-Rudel, Leo Baeck Institute Year Book, p251.

12             Adler-Rudel, Leo Institute Year Book,  p251.

13                 Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Vol. II, (New York, London, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990), p455.

14             Adler Rudel, Leo Baeck Institute Year Book,  p251.

15             Ibid,  p255.

16             William Shirer, Berlin Diary, 1934-41, (London, Hamish Hamilton, 1941), p101.

17             Adler-Rudel, Leo Baeck Institute Year Book, pp272-3.

18             John Mendelsohn, ed., The Holocaust, Vol. V, (New York, London. Garland Publishing Inc.  1982), p260

19             Ibid, pp250/1.

20             Ibid, p258.

21                 Mendelsohn, ed., Holocaust, p259.

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