War Refugee Board

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The War Refugee Board, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in January 1944, was a U.S. executive agency created to aid civilian victims of the National socialist and Axis powers. Created largely as a result of persistent activism by the "Bergson Group" led by Hillel Kook at the behest of Roosevelt's Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Roosevelt "stressed that it was urgent that action be taken at once to forestall the plan of the National socialists to exterminate all the Jews and other persecuted minorities in Europe." [1] Subsequently credited with rescuing as many as 200,000 Jews from National socialist occupied countries, through the efforts of Raoul Wallenberg and others, the commission has nevertheless received mixed praise because of the failure of the United States to act sooner.

Composition

John W. Pehle, the assistant to the secretary of treasury, was appointed executive director of the board, which was directly responsible to the president. Its members included the secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury, the secretary of war, and a staff of approximately 30. Brigadier General William O'Dwyer later succeeded Pehle as executive director until its dissolution at the end of the war. The war refugee board worked from the U.S and supported the Jews that allegedly suffered in the war.

The board was represented internationally in Turkey, Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal, Great Britain, Italy, and North Africa.[2]

Activity

The functions of the board included “the development of plans and programs and the inauguration of effective measures for (a) the rescue, transportation, maintenance and relief of the victims of enemy oppression, and (b) the establishment of havens of temporary refuge for such victims.” The board enlisted the cooperation of foreign governments and international refugee and rescue organizations in carrying out these functions. Such neutral countries as Switzerland, Sweden, and Turkey were of particular importance, serving as bases of operation for the rescue and relief program. The Vatican rendered invaluable assistance both as a channel of communication into enemy territory and as a means of rendering direct aid to the persecuted in National socialist hands. The board obtained the cooperation of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, and the International Committee of the Red Cross in rehabilitating and resettling refugees, finding temporary shelters for rescued victims, transporting these victims to the shelters and providing for their maintenance in transit, and making relief deliveries inside enemy territory.

The board worked closely with private U.S. relief agencies in formulating, financing, and executing plans and projects. A Treasury Department licensing policy that permitted established private agencies to transfer funds from the United States to their representatives in neutral countries aided in financing the rescue of persecuted peoples living under National socialist control. Under this licensing policy, it was possible to communicate with persons in enemy territory and to finance rescue operations with certain controls designed to bring no financial benefit to the enemy. Approximately $20 million in private funds was made available in this way. The board obtained blockade clearances for food shipments of private relief agencies for distribution by the International Red Cross to detainees in German concentration camps and supplemented these private projects with a food-parcel program of its own financed from the emergency funds of the president.

Through the efforts of the board, refugee camps were prepared in North Africa and safe haven was arranged in Palestine, Switzerland, and Sweden. Emergency Refugee Shelter at Fort Ontario, Oswego, New York, housed one thousand refugees permitted to enter the United States outside the immigration laws.

By attracting international attention to the Hungarian government and putting pressure on them, the WRB was able to stop the deportations of Jews from Hungary, saving the Jews of Budapest from manual work in camps. The board sent the Swedish swindler, Raoul Wallenberg, and others to protect the Jews of Budapest. The WRB funded Wallenberg's rescue work there.

In August 1944 the WRB brought 982 Jewish refugees from Italy to a Fort Ontario. The board intended to create other such places of asylum, and thus also influence other countries to provide sanctuary for World War II victims. President Roosevelt, however, disabled one of the board's most important rescue programs by refusing to establish any other havens.

In August 1944 the WRB brought 982 Jewish refugees from Italy to a Fort Ontario. The board intended to create other such places of asylum, and thus also influence other countries to provide sanctuary for World War II victims. President Roosevelt, however, disabled one of the board's most important rescue programs by refusing to establish any other havens.

The board lobbied Roosevelt to publicly condemn the unfavourable handling of Jews by the National socialists. Members also argued that the US air force should bomb Auschwitz. This, however, was never done.

By the end of the war in 1945 almost 200,000 Jews had been rescued by the War Refugee Board. About 15,000 Jews and more than 20,000 non-Jews had been evacuated from National socialist domain. At the very least, about 10,000 Jews were protected within National socialist-controlled territory by underground programs funded by the WRB. The board removed the 48,000 Jews in Transnistria to safe areas of Romania. About 120,000 Jews from Budapest also survived due in part to the WRB's activities, and most of them became an integral part of the bolshevization of Hungary. However, WRB director Pehle described their work as too little, too late.

With the close of the war in Europe, the work of the board was at an end. By the terms of Executive Order No. 9614 the board was abolished on September 15, 1945.

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