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John Pehle - Allies

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5021 | Film ID: 3259, 3260, 3261, 3262, 3263, 3264

John Pehle discusses the War Refugee Board, U.S. policy and inaction, the Riegner cable of March 1943, Rabbi Wise and the rally at Madison Square Garden, antisemitism, the bombing of Auschwitz, the International Red Cross, and the Vatican.

FILM ID 3259 -- Camera Rolls #38-42-- 01:00:18 to 01:07:31
Roll 38
01:00:19 John Pehle exits his house, which is located in a wooded area, and walks around his yard. The camera pans out to reveal more of the wooded surroundings. Pehle walks around the woods and collects small branches. It is fall or early winter and dead leaves cover the ground. 01:03:13

Roll 39
01:03:23 Pehle rakes leaves in the woods. 01:03:54

Roll 40
01:03:55 Pehle walks in the woods and occasionally stops to pick a branch off the ground. He heads towards his house and goes inside. 01:06:02

Roll 41
01:06:03 Pehle walks from the woods to his yard and into his house. 01:07:05

Roll 42
01:07:06 CU of Pehle in the woods pulling branches from a bush and looking up to the sky.

FILM ID 3260 -- Camera Rolls #43-44 -- 02:00:18 to 02:16:53
Roll 43
02:00:19 CU of John Pehle sits in a wicker chair in his house. Claude Lanzmann sits across from Pehle in front of glass doors that reveal the woods that surround them. [CLIP 1 BEGINS] Pehle discusses the drastic change in US policy regarding refugee assistance once the WRB was founded. Lanzmann asks him to explain the policies up until the founding of the WRB. Pehle talks about how difficult it was to acquire visas during this time because there was a fear of the burden and dependency that comes with aiding refugees. Lanzmann pushes for an explanation for why so few Jews were granted visas during the war and Pehle is unable to give a reason beyond the fact that there were obstacles involved. Lanzmann asks Pehle to read a statement Congressman Dickstein gave to the House of Representatives in 1943 in which he states that there has been no effort by the government to prevent people from being killed in Europe [CLIP 1 ENDS]. 02:11:25

Roll 44
02:11:28 Pehle reads the rest of Congressman Dickstein's statement and moves on to a statement by Congressman Celler, who criticizes the lack of action, calling it cold-blooded. Pehle describes the obstacles they faced including the FBI's fear that Nazis would try to infiltrate and become recruiters for their cause in America. Lanzmann and Pehle discuss how few people were allowed into the country during the war. 02:16:51

FILM ID 3261 -- Camera Rolls #45-48 -- 03:00:18 to 03:28:18
Roll 45
03:00:19 Lanzmann and Pehle sit across from each other in Pehle's home. Pehle talks about how the pressure to act intensified in December of 1943. Lanzmann wonders why the word "Jewish" was never mentioned when it was specifically Jews who were targeted. Pehle describes a situation that involved sending funds to save a large number of Romanian Jews in March of 1943, but first a license from the Department of Treasury had to be acquired, which did not happen until July. Then the State Department and the British government had certain objections to the license so the funds were delayed until December when a cable sent to the US revealed the urgent need for them. 03:10:07

Roll 46
03:10:08 [CLIP 2 BEGINS] Pehle goes through the exact timeline of the nine months it took to provide funds in order to save a large number of Jews from Romania and France. Information acquired through a cable about the extermination of the Jews caused the license to be rushed in December, but the situation in Europe had turned worse and it was too late to save the Romanian Jews. Pehle learned that this cable was withheld from Mr. Morgenthau and the rest of the Department of Treasury by the State Department. 03:17:07

**See FILM ID 3264 for Roll 47**

Roll 48
03:17:08 Lanzmann and Pehle now sit in the living room of Pehle's home. Pehle explains why the State Department was on the defensive in regards to the funds. He reads a memorandum sent by the general coucil of the Treasury, Randolph Paul, which outlines the circumstances surrounding the cable regarding the extermination of the Jews. The cable was originally sent for the Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles and Rabbi Stephen Wise and it detailed the mass executions and the desperate living situations of the Jews in Europe. The State Department then circulated a cable which advised that such messages about the Jews in Europe should not be made public. When asked why the State Department did not want people knowing about this Pehle speculates that they did not want the added pressure to act that would be caused by this information going public and that perhaps they feared hysteria. Pehle participated in a meeting with the President, Secretary Morgenthau and Mr. Dubois in order to inform Roosevelt of the real situation in Europe and the State Department's attempts to conceal information [CLIP 2 ENDS]. Pehle reads a memorandum from Secretary Morgenthau to the President that details the State Department's failures in taking action. 03:28:14

FILM ID 3262 -- Camera Rolls #49-51 -- 04:00:22 to 04:30:34
Roll 49
04:00:20 Pehle and Lanzmann sit in Pehle's living room. Without the actions of the Treasury Department the WRB would not have been founded when it was; it would have been formed even later in the war. Morgenthau used his close relationship with the President to convince him of the necessity of founding the WRB. The policy of the WRB was to "take all measures within its powers to rescue the victims of enemy oppression who are in imminent danger of death, and otherwise to offer these victims all possible relief and assistance." They recognized the danger the Jews were in, but other refugees were not excluded, hence the name of the WRB. The first thing the WRB did was send representatives abroad to aid the private organizations already located in various areas. These representatives were given diplomatic status. The WRB proposed a warning be given to the Germans to let them know that any involvement in the annihilation of the Jews would be punished once the war was over. 04:11:28

Roll 50
04:11:32 Pehle speaks of the confrontation the WRB experienced with the British, who did not approve of the proposal to issue a warning to the Germans. A memorandum from the British expresses their fears of embarrassment if the Germans were to agree to stop the extermination of Jews and release them to other countries as "alien immigrants." Since the WRB drastically changed American policy, immigration has become much more liberal, allowing Cubans, Vietnamese and Hungarians to come into the country to flee from persecution and hardship. One of the greatest accomplishments of the WRB was their ability to transfer funds to private agencies that were already in action, most notably the Joint Distribution Committee. Moses Leavitt, the head of the JDC, came to Pehle immediately to thank him for supporting them; he felt for the first time that someone in the government was on their side. The JDC was involved in creating false Latin American passports for Jews and at one point the Germans rounded up all those with fake passports and put them in a camp in Vittel, France. Upon hearing this the WRB urged the Latin American embassies not to deny the validity of the passports while the war was going on and this intervention resulted in those people being saved from the extermination camps. 04:22:49

Roll 51
04:22:52 Lanzmann wonders what it meant to be informed while in America during the war. Pehle discusses his preparation for the interview and even though he knew what was happening at the time, to go over the material again was still very shocking and he thinks that people try to forget it almost out of disbelief that something so horrible could occur. At one point the WRB was able to attain eyewitness accounts from two people [Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler] who had escaped from Auschwitz which was valuable because at the time many people were trying to deny the truths of the war. The WRB released a press release about the Vrba-Wetlzer report. A journalist named Elmer Davis from the Government's information office called Pehle to ask him to withdraw the article because his staff feared no one would believe it and that further releases from the government would then be discounted as well. Pehle realized that people will reject believing such awful things. Lanzmann asks about the role of antisemitism and Pehle answers that he thinks many people, both non-Jews and Jews, are antisemitic without even realizing it. Pehle then tells a story of he and his friends, two of whom were Jewish, trying to find a country club at which to play golf. Most of the clubs did not accept Jewish members, so they decided to join a Jewish golf club. Years later the club had to decide whether or not they were going to accept black members and in the end could not in good consience discriminate against blacks because they themselves had been discriminated against. 04:30:35

FILM ID 3263 -- Camera Rolls #53-55 -- 05:00:18 to 05:34:01
Roll 53
05:00:18 [CLIP 3 BEGINS] Lanzmann and Pehle sit on a couch next to each other in Pehle's home. Lanzmann speaks about the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. In 1944 there were requests from various Jewish organizations through different underground channels for the bombing of the railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz, of the bridges, and of the crematorium at Auschwitz. There was extensive knowledge of the locations and operations and this intelligence was sent to Morgenthau and to Pehle. CU of Pehle as he discusses the skepticism the WRB had of this plan. Militarily it would have been very difficult and with the tracks could easily be rebuilt. Pehle says had just been to McGill University to speak on the the Holocaust and realized that a lot of people feel that much more could have been done and believe that the bombing should have taken place. Pehle says that at the time the WRB felt that resources should be spent on bombing German cities. The Auschwitz factories were eventually bombed but they hesitated at bombing the crematoriums for fear of harming even more Jews. 05:11:43

Roll 54
05:11:45 Pehle met with Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy to discuss the option of bombing the railroad tracks and crematoria. McCloy was completely focused on the war and was completely against the bombing. Pehle's own position changed over the course of time; he was very hesitant but the later into the war it got the more he thought this was something that should have been done. By the time they felt it was an emergency and sent a strong letter recommending the bombing it was already November,1944 and the gassing in Auschwitz was almost finished. Pehle reads excerpts from the letter he wrote to McCloy. The letter was sent on November 8th and on November 18th they received a negative reply from McCloy [CLIP 3 ENDS]. The WRB was told that Auschwitz was out of bombing range and would require too much effort; they later found out that the camp was in the range of the Fifteenth Air Force. 05:23:03

Roll 55
05:23:05 Pehle says that, in retrospect, the Allies' stance on dealing with the Germans may not have been the best strategy to save lives. They would only accept unconditional surrender and would make no deals, which he realizes now might have prolonged the war and caused the loss of many lives. They hesitated when it came to making any deals with the Germans for the trading of goods for Jewish lives because they did not want the Soviets to feel as though they were being undermined. It was also a deal they thought doomed to fail because they did not trust the Germans. The International Red Cross never offered the WRB any sort of great assistance. Pehle does not speculate as to why this was the case. 05:34:13

FILM ID 3264 -- Camera Rolls #56-59,47,52,60 -- 06:00:18 to 06:25:18
Roll 56
06:00:19 Pehle sits on a couch in his home. Lanzmann asks Pehle if they tried to involve the Vatican and the Pope in matters of the war. Pehle recalls that they had meetings with the Apostolic Delegate to try and get the Pope to issue warnings but were unsuccessful. The two men discuss what the plan was for the Jews they were able to save. Pehle states that the WRB "took the attitude that we would worry about that when and if we could get people out, but our concentration was going to be on getting people out." The WRB spoke with Latin American countries about bringing refuges there as well, but the US was unwilling to take refugees, which was a weakness of the WRB. The people they were able to bring into the US, a few hundred brought to an abandoned army camp in New York [Fort Ontario, in Oswego, NY], caused some controversy. Labor unions were upset at the thought of immigrants taking up jobs and other people were upset at the thought of the immigration laws being weakened The group of refugees brought to New York were allowed to become residents. 06:06:14

Roll 58
06:06:16 Lanzmann asks Pehle to explain how the US could house 150,000 German prisoners of war shipped in from Britain, but could not decide if they would accept Jewish refugees. Pehle defends this by pointing out that they took the German prisoners of war because Britain was having a difficult time. They then go on to speak about the difficulty the WRB had with dealing with various Jewish organizations. CU on Pehle as he tells Lanzmann that the WRB preferred to work with the JDC because they were professionals and were not interested in Zionism as much as they were interested in rescuing people. The camera moves from Pehle to Lanzmann who is sitting next to him on the couch and looking down at his notes. Lanzmann then looks at Pehle and the camera moves back to Pehle. 06:11:22

Roll 59
06:11:28 Lanzmann asks about Pehle's experiences with the very religious Jewish leaders. Pehle recounts his dealings with Rabbi Kalmanowitz, head of the religious rescue organization Vaad Hatzala. The rabbi often came to Pehle's office unannounced and would pull his beard and cry. He would also wait in Morgenthau's office and was insistent about saving a particular group of orthodox rabbis who escaped from Poland, crossed Russia and found refuge in Shanghai. He wanted them brought to the US to perpetuate Jewish orthodoxy and he did not understand when they told him there were more pressing matters at the time. Often the WRB was approached about sending money to Switzerland to save specific rabbis and their families, but they did not think it was appropriate to save specific individuals and wanted to save people in a more general sense. Other suggestions involved approaching the Soviet government to ask them to dispatch paratroopers to seize the crematoria buildings and encouraging underground Polish forces to attack camps and destroy their buildings. These suggestions were unrealistic because both nations were too busy defending their own lands. 06:17:21

Roll 47
06:17:30 CU of Lanzmann in Pehle's house. He reaches for something off-camera and listens and reacts to Pehle. 06:18:42

Roll 52
06:18:40 CU of Lanzmann in Pehle's house. He talks to someone off-camera and readjusts himself in his seat. He looks down at something off-camera and lights a cigarette. Smoke wafts in front of his face as he looks down. He smiles at something said to him and places his hand on his head. 06:20:31

Roll 60
06:20:39 CU of a State Department Memorandum of Conversation between Mr. Sohoen of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis and Mr. William I. Riegelman of the Eastern Hemisphere Division. CU of a WRB document regarding Rabbi Kalmanowitz. CU of a letter to Pehle from John J. McCloy at the War Department dated 4 July 1944. The letter refers to the cable from Bern, Switzerland. CU of a memorandum for the files, dated 24 June 1944 and written by Pehle. CU of a letter to McCloy about the extermination of the Jews in Europe. CU of a letter to Pehle from the Agudas Israel World Organization dated 18 June 1944 that discusses rescue strategies. CU of a letter to Henry Morgenthau, also from the Agudas Israel World Organization, dated 18 June 1944. 06:25:18

Event:  November 1978
Production:  1985
Washington, DC, United States
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Record last modified: 2021-06-03 12:51:19
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