Advocate for the Doomed: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald, 1932-1935

Advocate for the Doomed: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald, 1932-1935


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The private diary of James G. McDonald (1886–1964) offers a unique and hitherto unknown source on the early history of the Nazi regime and the Roosevelt administration’s reactions to Nazi persecution of German Jews. Considered for the post of U.S. ambassador to Germany at the start of FDR’s presidency, McDonald traveled to Germany in 1932 and met with Hitler soon after the Nazis came to power. Fearing Nazi intentions to remove or destroy Jews in Germany, in 1933 he became League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and sought aid from the international community to resettle outside the Reich Jews and others persecuted there. In late 1935 he resigned in protest at the lack of support for his work.

This is the eagerly awaited first of a projected three-volume work that will significantly revise the ways that scholars and the world view the antecedents of the Holocaust, the Shoah itself, and its aftermath.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253348623
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 06/28/2007
Pages: 864
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.94(d)

About the Author

Richard Breitman is Professor of History at American University. His books include The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution and (with Alan Kraut) American Refugee Policy and European Jewry, 1933–1945(IUP, 1988). He is editor of the journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

Barbara McDonald Stewart has taught at George Mason University and is author of United States Government Policy on Refugees from Nazism, 1933–1940. She lives in Vienna, Virginia.

Severin Hochberg is a historian at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Read an Excerpt

Advocate for the Doomed

The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald 1932-1935

By Richard Breitman, Barbara McDonald Stewart, Severin Hochberg

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2007 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-34862-3


Summer–Fall 1932: Foreshadowing

James G. McDonald's trip to Germany in late summer 1932 gave him a chance to observe German political developments at a key moment. The National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazi Party) had just obtained its highest vote yet in national parliamentary elections — more than 37 percent — making it the largest party in parliament and across the country. But the German political situation was still very murky.

Until September 1930, when the Nazis had their first electoral breakthrough, many political opponents and observers had thought of the Nazis mainly as a movement of roughnecks and alienated elements seeking to overthrow the republic by force. Hitler had tried and failed to do this in Munich in November 1923. Beginning in the mid-1920s, Nazi Party officials and local activists built an increasingly effective organization throughout much of the country and devised ways to appeal to different social strata. During the Great Depression the Nazis gained much greater popular support, aided by massive unemployment, middle- and upper-class fears of communism or socialism, and Hitler's charisma.

At every opportunity both Nazis and the Communist Party tried to prevent passage of government bills, while their paramilitary forces — and those of the Social Democratic — oriented Reichsbanner organization — did battle with each other in streets and beer halls in towns and cities throughout the country. Economic misery, political paralysis, and a breakdown of law and order all seemed to reinforce each other. Widespread doubts about Germany's parliamentary system, fostered by Germany's illiberal nineteenth-century political traditions, grew stronger.

Hitler's racial ideology (visible to all in his memoir and political tract, Mein Kampf), his 1924 conviction for treason, his late acquisition of German citizenship, and his personal and political rigidity all placed him well outside the normal range of national politics. But he was able to connect with a significant segment of German voters. In the presidential election ofMarch 1932, Hitler obtained more than thirteen million votes (to incumbent President Hindenburg's nineteen million).

From the spring of1930 until January 1933, three successive chancellors maneuvered around paralyzed parliaments with the use of presidential emergency powers (to issue laws by decree) and the calling of new elections. Through mid-1932, when the economy reached its nadir, each new election only strengthened the extremes.

In August 1932 Hitler's path to power still seemed blocked, partly by President Hindenburg's unwillingness to appoint him as chancellor, partly by the Nazis' lack of a majority or coalition partners. But as McDonald quickly began to sense, these barriers were not secure. Nor was the current government likely to last very long.

Berlin, Monday, August 29, 1932

To the Kaiserhof [Hotel]. Learned to my delight that Hitler was making his headquarters there and that also the Stahlhelm would be there. After getting settled, went directly to the Warburg office. Called Erich on the long distance telephone. Found that he was home in bed, but able to talk. He said that I should study the von Papen economic program, which he in general approved, though he was skeptical of some of its financial provisions. He urged me to come to Hamburg before I sailed....

* * *

Tuesday, August 30, 1932

Lunch with Elliot of the Tribune. Then over to the Reichstag Building, where members were assembling. Spent most of the afternoon watching the crowd and the police, demonstrations for the fascist [Nazi] members as they arrived.

Over to the American Commercial Attachés office. Conference with [Attaché] Douglas Miller, who seemed to be unusually well informed. This is one of the men upon whom Knickerbocker relies most heavily. He said that many Germans still considered that they had to pay a reparations bill of nearly a million dollars a day. By this they mean the Young and Dawes Plan annuities, and the interest on some of their commercial obligations, many of which would not have had to be contracted, had it not been for reparations.

Then with Miller over to one of the hotels to meet Knickerbocker. There was much talk about German autarky. Knickerbocker urged me to help popularize the word here. Then with Knickerbocker over to the Kaiserhof, where we sat and had something more to drink and awaited Hitler with a group of his confreres waiting on the reports from the Reichstag....

Wednesday, August 31, 1932

To see Dieckhoff of the Foreign Office. Talked about disarmament and then about the American position in the Far East. He urged me to see von Bülow on that subject.

Lunch with Nathan. Found him in a very disappointed state, first because he was not at all well, and second because of the way in which the Socialists were being ridden over roughshod by the government. I asked him why they had not resisted the Prussian coup d'etat. He said that after all, it was legal, since the President had signed the decree, and probably they could not have effectively resisted it, had they chosen to do so through a general strike or otherwise. He promised to try to arrange an interview with Luther for me.

Had arranged earlier with Hanfstaengl for a ticket to the Hitler meeting the next night....

Thursday, September 1, 1932

To see Geheimrat Kastl, who is one of the leaders of the Manufacturers' Association. He did not deny that he and his group had had a great deal to do with the economic program [of the Papen government]. ... He was frankly reactionary in his point of view. He seemed confident that the new program had a good chance of success, especially if a business turn for the better occurred soon.

Had a luncheon date with Breitscheid, but it was cancelled.

At four o'clock went to see Dr. Schacht at his club. He was friendly as ever. He took out an FPA [Foreign Policy Association] Bulletin from his pocket and said, "Look at this! This is all wrong," referring to Miss Wertheimer's analysis of the June 30 [actually July 31, 1932] election. "The writer," he said, "does not understand the Hitler movement and belittles it." He himself was critical of the von Papen economic program, doubted that it would work, and seemed sure that the Hitler group would force von Papen to terms.

At five went to see Dr. Melchior at Warburg's office. He wondered if it were possible to have a more centralized and effective German representation in the United States vis-à-vis Germany's creditors. Unfortunately, we did not have a very long time to talk because I had to go to see Dr. Nathan and Dr. Hertz. Breitscheid was to be there, but he sent word that I could see him at the Reichstag the next day if I wanted to come over. Again I got the same impression of Socialist futility in the face of the determined program of the reactionaries.

Before seven o'clock I stopped to pick up Mrs. Reed, and we went to the Hitler meeting. We arrived in the neighborhood of the sport palace about seven o'clock but were stopped several blocks away by the police lines and were told the building was packed and we could not go through. We showed our press cards and were permitted to pass on. Finally arrived at the building, found it packed, except for places reserved for members and Hitler party on the platform. Perhaps 25,000 people were in the audience. The aisles, stairways, and entrances were guarded by massed groups of Hitler's shock troops. The band was playing stirring music, and the audience joined in the singing.

At 8:30 Hitler arrived. His reception was the most extraordinary I have ever seen given a public man. There was something almost startling in the passionate response of the crowd. Similar response was given to the parade of the banners, as these standards were advanced to the platform. Each had attached to it a small symbol of some fascist martyr killed in a brawl with Communists or Socialists.

Hitler began to speak at 8:50 and talked until 10:35. He was followed with the most intense interest. Occasionally there were many outbursts of personal feeling on the part of members of the audience. His type of speech showed much more variety than I had expected. He not only could build up his climax, but very strikingly utilized satire and humor.

Among the large streamers carrying slogans in the hall were the following:

"Gebt Hitler die Macht" [Give Hitler power]

"Deutschland Erwacht" [Germany arise]

"Sagt [sic, should be Jagt] die Bonzen aus des Gesellen" [Drive the bosses out — the last word is garbled]

After the meeting went to one of the restaurants in the neighborhood and there met one of Erich's [Warburg] relatives with his wife and continued our discussion of Hitler. Despite their tendency to belittle Hitler's power, the experience of the evening had given me a new picture of him and his movement.

Friday, September 2,1932

Went to see Dr. Oberregierungsrat Thomsen, one of the close associates of von Papen.

Lunch with Hanfstaengl. He is an extraordinary person, a graduate of Harvard in 1909, German family and German sympathy during the war. He was alienated from most of his old friends in the States. The last ten or twelve years he has been a close associate of Hitler. He talked to us at length about the Hitler movement, about Hitler, and his own relations to the Nazi leader. He denied most of the current charges about Hitler and his followers, laughed at the idea that the party was short of funds, said that their great meetings were self-supporting, and that Hitler himself made large sums of money through his phonograph records, receiving as high as $20,000 for a single record. Throughout all of this talk he was reasonable and convincing.

Then I asked him about the Hitlerites and the Jews. Immediately his eyes lighted up, took on a fanatical look, and he launched into a tirade against the Jews. He would not admit that any Jew could be a good patriot in Germany. He attributed to them the fact that Germany was forced to sign the peace treaty and charged that the Jewish bankers were profiting from Germany's reparations payments. I tried to argue with him, citing cases of several of my Jewish friends like the Warburgs, but made no progress at all. It was clear that he and, I presume, many of the other leaders of the Nazis really believe all these charges against the Jews.

At five o'clock went to the Foreign Office press conference. There seemed to be nearly a hundred journalists there. The government officials were von Papen, von Neurath, and another cabinet member, and Mr. Marks, the chief of the press. It was a pleasant meeting, but one got very little from the questions or answers, so I left before the meeting broke up to keep my appointment with von Bülow at the Foreign Office at six o'clock. He was cordial as usual and just as interesting. He talked to me for more than an hour. Most of the conversation was about the German demand for technical equality of armaments, which he explained in detail and, of course, defended vigorously. He insisted that Germany did not wish to build up to France, but merely to establish the principle of equality; that it had now become intolerable that a great power should indefinitely remain in a secondary position. Germany was willing to give guarantees that the freedom of action it requested would not be abused, but it would have to insist on a definite pledge of a second conference, at which time their adjustments would have to be considered.

He insisted that the German demand could not be interpreted fairly as in any sense endangering the French and that the French military men knew it, but that the government was unwilling to take the responsibility for following the military advice. When I asked him if the permission to be given to Germany to have a few tanks and large guns, etc., would not permit them to lay the basis for manufacture of these in quantity, he did not answer. Later on in the talk I referred to the American Far Eastern position and urged that Germany support that. He assented in principle, but was in fact not encouraging.

* * *

Saturday, September 3, 1932

* * *

At 11:30 went to see François-Poncet, French ambassador. He talked to me about disarmament, nearly as long as von Bülow, but, of course, from a quite different angle. He said the difficulty with the Germans was if you made them a very great concession, they swallowed it at one gulp, and then their mouths were wide open demanding a second. He spoke of the power of the reactionaries and of their ability to throw out Brüning as one would dismiss a lackey.

I spoke to him of the American attitude on the Far East and of France's stake in supporting that attitude. He was much interested and said that I ought to see Herriot. I explained that I did not intend to go to Paris, but that I would see if I could change my plans so that I could do it. Later that day I wrote him a note to the effect that I could go and said that I would do so if an appointment could be made with the French prime minister Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday....

About 6:30 Mrs. Reed and I started out to the Stadion to see the Stahlhelm demonstration. ... We arrived ... about seven o'clock. Fortunately, through Mowrer I had an excellent seat in a box near the reviewing stand, and Mrs. Reed was similarly fortunate. First were the gymnastics of some thousands of young men in the center of the field. Then a relay race followed by some military exercises, scaling of barriers, wriggling through entanglements, etc. About eight o'clock began the most notable event of the evening for me, the march of the Music Corps. There were many, many bands playing martial music and accompanied by the regimental banners. After they had encircled the field, they massed back in the center. Six or eight hundred instruments played classic music beautifully for an hour. Then began the parade of the banners, three or four thousand Stahlhelm banners carried by the regimental flag bearers about the field and maneuvering in the center. It was a thrilling spectacle, with the floodlights playing on the flags.

Meanwhile, through four hours of the demonstration, the thousands of Germans in the Stadion sat in religious silence, except that now and then they cheered a passing contingent. At the end of the evening were gigantic fireworks. On the reviewing stand were the officers of the Stahlhelm, officers of the Reichswehr, heads of the government and some of the old regime. Here was the old Germany reorganizing. It left one with a feeling of marked uneasiness. The greetings of the Stahlhelm leaders to the government and to the Reichswehr was in marked contrast with the parade a few weeks earlier, when the Stahlhelm was in disfavor with the government.

After the meeting to a restaurant to talk it over.

Sunday, September 4, 1932

Out to the Tempelhof to see the even more military demonstration of the Stahlhelm. This time I profited from Mrs. Reed's company, because I had only a press ticket, while she had what turned out to be an admission to the Ehrenplatz, that is, the place of honor. I therefore got in with her to the place reserved for the Hohenzollerns and others of high rank. It was the balcony of the Lufthansa headquarters. There during the day we saw the Hohenzollerns, the Crown Prince and two of his brothers, their wives and children. Unfortunately, I did not myself see the Crown Prince because he left before I had been told he was there, but his two brothers remained in evidence throughout the day. Von Papen, von Neurath, General von Schleicher, and other high officials joined the group. Also came generals of the old regime, von Mackensen being the most picturesque. These older generals were all wearing their imperial decorations and, of course, their imperial uniforms.


Excerpted from Advocate for the Doomed by Richard Breitman, Barbara McDonald Stewart, Severin Hochberg. Copyright © 2007 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Young Man from Indiana by Barbara McDonald Stewart
1. Foreshadowing: Summer-Fall 1932
2. The Nazi Revolution: Winter 1932-Spring 1933
3. American Reactions: Late April-May 1933
4. Alerting Others: June-August 1933
5. Lobbying for League Action: September 1933
6. High Commissioner: October 1933
7. A Bridge from Lausanne to Berlin: November 1933
8. Proposal for a Corporation: December 1933
9. Washington's Views: January 1934
10. Testing Germany/Family Crisis: February 1934
11. Raising Funds: March 1934
12. The "Jewish Question" in Europe: April 1934
13. Emigration Options?: May 1934
14. Turn for the Worse: June 1934
15. Visit to the Saar: July 1934
16. The League Keeps its Distance: August 1934
17. The Climate in Geneva: September 1934
18. Criticism is Easy: October 1934
19. Grand Tour: November 1934
20. Home Leave: December 1934
21. The Catholic Connection: January 1935
22. A Diplomatic Maneuver: February 1935
23. Brazil: March 1935
24. South American Survey: April 1935
25. Regret and Relief: May 1935
26. Downsizing: June 1935
27. Liquidation Plans: July 1935
Conclusion by Richard Breitman

What People are Saying About This

Deborah E. Lipstadt

" . . . James G. McDonald had unparalleled access to decision makers and critics, persecutors and victims, and both German and American political leaders. His diary is not only filled with important information but it gives a unique and utterly fascinating insight into diplomatic life in Germany. McDonald, unlike so many of his contemporaries, tried to make a difference in what would become a unique story of doom and destruction. Advocate for the Doomedis the gripping story of his tireless efforts."--(Deborah E. Lipstadt, author of History on Trial)

1951 - James G. McDonald

It was not only for the sake of Jews but for the larger cause of freedom, justice, and equal treatment for all human beings everywhere, whatever their race, religion or nationality, that I—a blond ‘Aryan,’ offspring of Scotch Canadian and Midwest American stock, a teacher and student by profession and inclination—became a champion for Jewish aspirations and equal human rights.

William Rand Kenan Jr., Professor of History Emeritus, University of North Carolina - Gerhard L. Weinberg

McDonald's diaries shed important new light on efforts to assist Jews fleeing Germany in the years 1933—1935 from the perspective of an individual deeply involved in those efforts—and one who did not revise whatever he wrote at the time. . . . The volume, with its extensive new information, will appeal to a substantial audience, not only in the academic world but among a wider readership likely to extend well beyond U.S. borders.

Sara J. Bloomfield

"Very few individuals interact with such a stunning array of historical figures--Hitler, Mussolini, FDR, Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pius XII), and Chaim Weizmann. McDonald was 'present at the creation' of so many of the formative events that shape our world. Yet McDonald's diaries are much more than historic; they are filled with candor and eloquence as well as insight and emotion."--(Sara J. Bloomfield, Director, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Daniel C. Kurtzer

"Publication of James McDonald's diaries is a much-anticipated event. The diaries enhance our understanding of the life and work of one of the last century's most dedicated and interesting public servants. They show what one man--altruistic, high-minded, and intent on doing what is right--can achieve."--(Daniel C. Kurtzer, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt)

Gerhard L. Weinberg

"McDonald's diaries shed important new light on efforts to assist Jews fleeing Germany in the years 1933 perspective of an individual deeply involved in those efforts--and one who did not revise whatever he wrote at the time. . . . The volume, with its extensive new information, will appeal to a substantial audience, not only in the academic world but among a wider readership likely to extend well beyond U.S. borders."--(Gerhard L. Weinberg, William Rand Kenan, Jr., Professor of History Emeritus, University of North Carolina)

former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt - Daniel C. Kurtzer

Very few individuals interact with such a stunning array of historical figures—Hitler, Mussolini, FDR, Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pius XII), and Chaim Weizmann. McDonald was ‘present at the creation’ of so many of the formative events that shape our world. Yet McDonald’s diaries are much more than historic; they are filled with candor and eloquence as well as insight and emotion. —Sara J. Bloomfield, Director, United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumPublication of James McDonald’s diaries is a much—anticipated event. The diaries enhance our understanding of the life and work of one of the last century’s most dedicated and interesting public servants. They show what one man—altruistic, high—minded, and intent on doing what is right—can achieve.

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Advocate for the Doomed: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald, 1932-1935 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
To be privy to a set of diaries such as these is indeed a rare opportunity. I was loathe to read the last chapters, because I felt as if I was bidding farewell to a man, not only of great courage and determination, but a loyal and devoted friend as well. His travels and experiences are there, open to all who care to share thoughts and frustrations with a man bent on saving human beings, no matter what the cost. The world would be a different place if his words had been heeded. I eagerly look forward to the next volume of his diaries.