Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Gerhart Riegner’s Cable

Gerhart Moritz Riegner was the secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress from 1965 to 1983. On August 10, 1942, when secretary of the World Jewish Congress, he sent the so-called Riegner Telegram through diplomatic channels to Stephen Samuel Wise, president of the World Jewish Congress.
 A longer version more detailed and very accurate was not sent.

Riegner had received the information that led to his cable from Isidor Koppelmann, the Basel businessman who had been the liaison with the German industrialist Eduard Schulte, whom he had met on several occasions earlier on. While some details were inaccurate, it was essentially (in Christopher Browning’s words) an astonishingly accurate piece of wartime information. The basic difference between the Riegner cable and the various other reports was briefly this: The former maintained for the first time that there had been a decision at the highest level of the Third Reich to annihilate European Jewry. The others reported local cases of murder, deportation, and other forms of persecution.

There was, I believe, no conspiracy of silence, but there was a great deal of ignorance concerning the character of Nazism and its intentions.

Franz Neumann's Behemoth was, at the time, the “definitive analysis of the Third Reich” in the words of C. Wright Mills, who reviewed it. It dealt with profit motives and the general economic structure of the system, the relations between industrial and banking capital, and other important issues. But it was hardly likely to shed light on the fate of the Jews or other victims of the regime, for there was no obvious connection between profit motives, the economic structure of the regime, industrial capital, and Auschwitz. According to Neumann, racism and antisemitism were substitutes for the class struggle. The Jews were extremely valuable as scapegoats for all the “evils” in Germany, and therefore, the Nazis would not embark on a policy of “total extermination of all the Jews.”

The cable was very much in contrast to most of the Germany experts in the foreign ministries and the intelligence services in London and Washington. When the Riegner cable reached Washington and London, these experts rejected it: In their view, it did not make sense. If Jews were deported to the East, surely it was the Nazi intention to make them work for the war effort rather than to kill them. (In the book, The Garden of the Beasts, one gets the opinion that the Jews, as a group, did not have many friends among the "experts" in these departments.)

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was strictly opposed to taking any action designed to save Jewish lives. The official excuse was that those killed by the Nazis were civilians, whereas the Red Cross was dealing only with military personnel.

It s estimated that 80% of the Jews killed were killed before 1943 when the Nazis were having battle success. The destruction of the Jews had been very high on the Nazi list of priorities, but from 1943 on this changed; they were fighting for their survival.
The cable:

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