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Evian Conference

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Evian Conference

The Évian Conference was convened at the initiative of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in July 1938 to discuss the issue of increasing numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. For eight days, from July 6 to 15, representatives from 32 countries and 39 private organizations met at Évian-les-Bains, France. Twenty-four voluntary organizations also attended, as observers, many of whom presented plans orally and in writing.[1] Around 200 journalists came from all over the world to observe.

The Jews of Austria and Germany were very hopeful, believing that this international conference would provide them a safe haven. "The United States had always been viewed in Europe as champion of freedom and under her powerful influence and following her example, certainly many countries would provide the chance to get out of the German trap. The rescue, a new life seemed in reach."[2]

Hitler responded to the news of the conference by saying essentially that if the other nations would agree to take the Jews, he would help them leave.

I can only hope and expect that the other world, which has such deep sympathy for these criminals [Jews], will at least be generous enough to convert this sympathy into practical aid. We, on our part, are ready to put all these criminals at the disposal of these countries, for all I care, even on luxury ships.[3]

With both the United States and Britain refusing to take in substantial numbers of Jews, the conference was ultimately seen as a failure. Most of the countries at the conference followed suit, the result being that the Jews had no escape and were ultimately subject to what was known as Hitler's "Final Solution to the Jewish Question". The conference was seen by some as "an exercise in Anglo-American collaborative hypocrisy."[3]


The Nuremberg Laws made German Jews, who were already persecuted by the Hitler regime, stateless refugees in their own country. By 1938, some 450,000 of about 900,000 German Jews had fled Germany, mostly to British Mandate Palestine, though the British had a white paper barring Jews from Palestine during the war, (a number which also included over 50,000 German Jews who had taken advantage of the Haavara, or "Transfer" Agreement between German Zionists and the Nazis), but British immigration quotas prevented many from migrating. In March 1938, Hitler annexed Austria and made the 200,000 Jews of Austria stateless refugees. In September, Britain and France granted Hitler the right to occupy the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, and in March 1939, Hitler occupied the remainder of the country, making a further 200,000 Jews stateless.

In 1939, the British White Paper capped Jewish immigration to Palestine (then a British mandate concerning which Britain had entered into previous agreements after Arabs helped defeat Ottoman Turkey during the First World War) at 75,000 over the next five years, after which the country was to become an independent state. Britain had offered homes for Jewish immigrant children and proposed Kenya as a haven for Jews, but refused to back a Zionist state or to take steps that might imply the legitimacy of Hitler's policies. Before the Conference, the United States and Great Britain made an agreement: the British promised not to bring up the fact that the United States was not filling its immigration quotas, and any mention of Palestine as a possible destination for Jewish refugees was excluded from the agenda.[4]


Conference delegates expressed empathy for Jews under Nazism but made no immediate joint resolution or commitment, portraying the conference as a mere beginning, to the frustration of some commentators. Noting "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", the Évian Conference established the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees (ICR) with the purpose to "approach the governments of the countries of refuge with a view to developing opportunities for permanent settlement." The ICR received little authority or support from its member nations and fell into inaction.

No government official was sent by the United States; instead Roosevelt's friend the American businessman Myron C. Taylor represented the U.S. with James G. McDonald as his advisor. The U.S. agreed that the German and Austrian immigration quota of 30,000 a year would be made available to Jewish refugees. In the three years 1938 to 1940 the US actually exceeded this quota by 10,000. During the same period Great Britain accepted almost the same number of German Jews. Australia agreed to take 15,000 over three years, with South Africa taking only those with close relatives already resident; Canada refused to make any commitment and only accepted a few refugees over this period.[5] The Australian delegate T. W. White noted: "as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one".[6] The French delegate stated that France had reached "the extreme point of saturation as regards admission of refugees", a sentiment repeated by most other representatives.

The only country willing to accept a large number of Jews was the Sosua Virtual museum is a living memorial to the settlers.

Literary references

In her autobiography My Life (1975), Golda Meir described her outrage being in "the ludicrous capacity of the [Jewish] observer from Palestine, not even seated with the delegates, although the refugees under discussion were my own people...." After the conference Meir told the press: "There is only one thing I hope to see before I die and that is that my people should not need expressions of sympathy anymore."[8] Chaim Weizmann was quoted in The Manchester Guardian as saying: "The world seemed to be divided into two parts – those places where the Jews could not live and those where they could not enter."[9][10]

In July 1979, Walter Mondale described the hope represented by the Evian conference:
"At stake at Evian were both human lives – and the decency and self-respect of the civilized world. If each nation at Evian had agreed on that day to take in 17,000 Jews at once, every Jew in the Reich could have been saved. As one American observer wrote, 'It is heartbreaking to think of the ...desperate human beings ... waiting in suspense for what happens at Evian. But the question they underline is not simply humanitarian ... it is a test of civilization.'"[11]


National delegations

Country Delegation
  • Dr Tomas A. Le Breton, Ambassador in France[12]
  • Carlos A. Pardo, Secretary-General of the Permanent Delegation to the League of Nations
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas W. White, DFC, VD, MP, Minister for Trade and Customs
  • Alfred Thorpe Stirling, Australian liaison officer in the Foreign Office, London
  • A. W. Stuart-Smith, Australia House, London
  • Hélio Lobo, Minister first class, Member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters[14]
  • Expert:
    • Jorge Olinto de Oliveira, Permanent Delegate, First Secretary of the Brazilian Legation
  • Humphrey Hume Wrong, Permanent Delegate to the League of Nations
  • Expert:
    • W. R. Little, Commissioner for European Emigration in London
  • Luis Cano, Permanent Delegate to the League of Nations, with the rank of Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary
  • Prof. J. M. Yepes, Legal Adviser to the Permanent Delegation to the League of Nations, with the rank of Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary
  • Abelardo Forero Benavides, Secretary to the Permanent Delegation to the League of Nations[15]
  • Dr. Juan Antiga Escobar, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in Switzerland, permanent Delegate to the League of Nations[17]
  • Virgilio Trujillo Molina, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in France and Belgium, brother of the dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo
  • Dr. Salvador E. Paradas, Chargé d'Affaires, representing the Permanent Delegation to the League of Nations
  • Alejandro Gastelu Concha, Secretary of the Permanent Delegation to the League of Nations, Consul-General in Geneva
  • Henry Bérenger, Ambassador
  • Bressy, Minister Plenipotentiary, Deputy Director of the International Unions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Combes, Director in the Ministry of the Interior
  • Georges Coulon, of the Foreign Ministry
  • Fourcade, Head of Department in the Ministry of the Interior
  • François Seydoux, official of the Bureau for European Affairs in the Foreign Ministry
  • Baron Brincard, official of the Bureau for League of Nations Affairs in the Foreign Ministry
  • José Gregorio Diaz, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in France
  • Léon R. Thébaud, Commercial Attaché in Paris, with the rank of Minister
  • Mauricio Rosal, Consul in Paris, with the rank of Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary
  • Primo Villa Michel, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in the Netherlands
  • Manuel Tello Barraud, Chargé d'Affaires representing the Permanent Delegation to the League of Nations
  • C. B. Burdekin, OBE, from the New Zealand High Commissioner’s Office in London[18]
  • Constantino Herdocia, minister in Great Britain and France, with the rank of Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary
  • Dr. Ernesto Hoffmann, Consul-General in Geneva and Permanent Delegate to the League of Nations, with the rank of Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary
  • Gustavo A. Wiengreen, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in Hungary
  • Gösta Engzell, Head of the Legal Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • C. A. M. de Hallenborg, Head of Section in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Secretary of the Delegation
    • E. G. Drougge, Secretary at the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance
  • Myron Charles Taylor, Ambassador on Special Mission
  • Adviser:
    • James Grover McDonald, President of the "President Roosevelt Consultive Committee for Political Refugees"
  • Technical Advisers:
    • Robert T. Pell, Division of European Affairs, State Department
    • George L. Brandt, formerly head of the Visa Division in the State Department
  • Secretary of the Delegation:
    • Hayward G. Hill, Consul in Geneva
  • Assistant to James McDonald:
    • George L. Warren, Executive Secretary of the "President Roosevelt Consultive Committee for Political Refugees"
  • Dr. Alfredo Carbonell Debali, Delegate Plenipotentiary
  • Carlos Aristimuño Coll, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in France

Other delegations

Organization Representatives
High Commission for Refugees from Germany
General Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Committee
  • Jean Paul-Boncour, Secretary-General
  • Gabrielle Boisseau, Assistant to the Secretary-General
  • J. Herbert, interpreter
  • Edward Archibald Lloyd, interpreter
  • Louis Constant E. Muller, translator
  • William David McAfee, translator
  • Mézières, treasurer

Private organizations

  • Agudas Israel World Organization, London
  • Alliance Israélite Universelle, Paris
  • American,British, Belgian, French, Dutch, and Swiss Catholic Committees for Aid to Refugees
  • American Joint Distribution Committee, Paris
  • Association de colonisation juive, Paris
  • Association of German Scholars in Distress Abroad, London
  • Bureau international pour le respect du droit d'asyle et l'aide aux réfugiés politiques, Paris
  • Central Bureau for the Settlement of German Jews, London
  • Central Committee for Refugees from Germany, Prague
  • Centre de recherches de solutions au problème juif, Paris
  • Comité d'aide et d'assistance aux victimes de l'anti-semitisme en Allemagne, Brussels
  • Comite for Bijzondere Joodsche Belangen, Amsterdam
  • Comité international pour le placement des intellectuels réfugiés, Geneva
  • Comité pour la défense des droits des Israélites en Europe centrale et orientale, Paris
  • Committee of Aid for German Jews, London
  • Council for German Jewry, London
  • Emigration Advisory Committee, London
  • Fédération des émigrés d'Autriche, Paris
  • Fédération internationale des émigrés d'Allemagne, Paris
  • Freeland Association, London
  • German Committee of the Quaker Society of Friends, London
  • HICEM, Paris[19]
  • International Christian Committee for Non-Aryans, London
  • Internationale ouvrière et socialiste, Paris and Brussels
  • Jewish Agency for Palestine, London
  • The Joint Foreign Committee of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Anglo-Jewish Association, London
  • Komitee für die Entwicklung der grossen jüdischen Kolonisation, Zürich
  • League of Nations Union, London
  • New Zionist Organization, London
  • ORT, Paris
  • Royal Institute of International Affairs, London
  • Schweizer Hilfszentrum für Flüchtlinge, Basel
  • Service international de migration, Geneva
  • Service universitaire international, Geneva
  • Société d'émigration et de colonisation juive Emcol, Paris
  • Society for the Protection of Sciences and Studies, London
  • Union des Sociétés OSE, Paris
  • World Jewish Congress, Paris


The international press was represented by about two hundred journalists, chiefly the League of Nations correspondents of the leading daily and weekly newspapers and news agencies. This is an incomplete list of the papers and agencies, and their reporters.[20]

See also


External links

  • Decisions Taken at the Évian Conference
  • Yad Vashem website
  • The Évian Conference – Hitler's Green Light for Genocide

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