Évian Conference

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German Jewish refugee girls of the Kindertransport arrive in the U.K., December 1938
Jewish refugees aboard MS St. Louis, 1939

The Évian Conference was convened at the initiative of United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt in July 1938 to respond to the plight of the increasing numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Europe by the Nazis—and perhaps he hoped to obtain commitments from some of the invitee nations to accept more refugees, although he took pains to avoid stating that objective plainly. It was true that Roosevelt desired to deflect attention and criticism from his own national policy that severely limited the quota of Jewish refugees admitted to the United States.[1]

From July 6 to 15 representatives from 29 countries met at Évian-les-Bains, France, to discuss the refugee problem; 24 voluntary organizations also attended as observers, presenting plans either orally or in writing.[2] Golda Meir, the attendee from the British Mandate of Palestine, was the only representative of a landed Jewish constituency, but she was not permitted to speak or to participate in the proceedings except as an observer. Some 200 international journalists gathered at Évian to observe and report on the conclave.

The dispossessed and displaced Jews of Austria and Germany were hopeful that this international conference would lead to acceptance of more refugees and 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."[3]

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.[4]

The conference proved a failure because both the United States and Britain refused to accept any (substantially) more refugees, and 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."[4]

Two months after Evian, in September 1938, Britain and France granted Hitler the right to occupy the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, making a further 120,000 Jews stateless. In November 1938, on Kristallnacht, a massive Pogrom across the new German Empire was accompanied by the destruction of over 1,000 Synagogues, massacres and the arbitrary arrest of tens of thousands of Jews.

From early 1939 the British barred Jews from entering Palestine or buying land there and in March 1939, Hitler occupied the remainder of Czechoslovakia (which had a further 180,000 Jews). Following his occupation of Poland in late 1939 and invasion of Russia in 1941, the Germans embarked on a program of systematically killing all Jews in Europe, sometimes with local assistance.


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, where the massive wave of migrants led to an Arab uprising. In March 1938, Hitler annexed Austria and made the 200,000 Jews of Austria stateless refugees.

Hitler's expansion was accompanied by a rise in vicious and violent anti-Semitic Fascist movements across Europe and the Middle East. Significantly antisemitic governments came to power in Poland (from 1935 the government boycotted its own Jewish population), Hungary and Romania, where Jews had always been second class citizens. Thus the numbers of Jews trying to leave Europe was in the millions, while Jews were perceived as an undesirable and socially damaging population with popular academic theories arguing that Jews damaged the "Racial hygiene" or "Eugenics" of nations where they were resident and engaged in conspirative behaviour.

Britain did agree to admit 10,000 Jewish immigrant children (more than any other country), but refused to allow free Jewish migration to anywhere in the British Empire, including Palestine where strict quotas restricted Jewish immigration and which Britain administered as a "Jewish National Home" under the terms of the League of Nations Mandate.

Before the Conference the United States and Great Britain made a critical 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.[5]


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.[6] The Australian delegate T. W. White noted: "as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one".[7] 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 Dominican Republic, which offered to accept up to 100,000 refugees on generous terms.[8] In 1940 an agreement was signed and Rafael Trujillo donated 26,000 acres (110 km2) of his properties for settlements. The first settlers arrived in May 1940: only about 800 settlers came to Sosúa; most later moved on to the United States.[8] The Sosua Virtual museum is a living memorial to the settlers.

Literary references[edit]

Jewish children rounded up for deportation to Chelmno extermination camp

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."[9] 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."[10][11]

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.'"[12]


National delegations[edit]

Country Delegation
  • Dr Tomas A. Le Breton, Ambassador in France[13]
  • 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[15]
  • 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[16]
 Costa Rica
  • Dr. Juan Antiga Escobar, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in Switzerland, permanent Delegate to the League of Nations[18]
 Dominican Republic
  • 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
 New Zealand
  • 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
 United Kingdom
 United States
  • 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[edit]

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[edit]


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.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Allen Wells (2009). Tropical Zion : General Trujillo, FDR, and the Jews of Sosua. Duke University Press. pp. 6–8. ISBN 978-0-8223-4407-0. 
  2. ^ "The Holocaust: Timeline: July 6–15, 1938: Évian Conference." Yad Vashem. Retrieved November 19, 2015.
  3. ^ William R. Perl (December 1, 1989). The Holocaust conspiracy: an international policy of genocide. SP Books. pp. 37–. ISBN 978-0-944007-24-2. Retrieved March 24, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Ronnie S. Landau (2006). The Nazi Holocaust. I.B.Tauris. pp. 137–140. ISBN 978-1-84511-201-1. Retrieved 24 March 2011. 
  5. ^ Fischel, Jack R., The Holocaust (1998), pp. 28–29
  6. ^ Sykes, Christopher (1965) Cross Roads to Israel: Palestine from Balfour to Bevin. New English Library Edition (pb) 1967. Pages 198, 199.
  7. ^ http://www.holocaust.org.au/mm/i_australia.htm
  8. ^ a b Crassweller RD. Trujillo. The Life and Times of a Caribbean Dictator. The MacMillan Co, New York (1966). pp. 199–200. 
  9. ^ Provizier, Norman, and Claire Wright. "Golda Meir: An Outline of a Unique Life. A Chronological Survey of Golda Meir's Life and Legacy." Golda Meir Center for Political Leadership, Metropolitan State University of Denver. Retrieved November 19, 2015.
  10. ^ Manchester Guardian, May 23, 1936, cited in A.J. Sherman, Island Refuge, Britain and the Refugees from the Third Reich, 1933–1939, (London, Elek Books Ltd, 1973), p. 112
  11. ^ The Évian Conference – Hitler's Green Light for Genocide by Annette Shaw
  12. ^ New York Times : Evian and Geneva By Walter F. Mondale
  13. ^ Bio & Photo
  14. ^ Bio & Photo
  15. ^ Bio & Photo
  16. ^ Obit
  17. ^ Bio & Photo
  18. ^ Bio & Photo
  19. ^ Photo
  20. ^ History of HICEM
  21. ^ A list of the papers and agencies and their reporters was published by Hans Habe, present at the Conference as a foreign correspondent of the Prager Tagblatt (Prague Daily), as an appendix to his novel Die Mission (The Mission, 1965, first published in Great Britain by George G. Harrap & Co. Limited in 1966, re-published by Panther Books Ltd, book number 2231, in 1967).

External links[edit]