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Roswell McClelland

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5047 | Film ID: 3432, 3433, 3434, 3435, 3436

Roswell McClelland was the US Representative to the War Refugee Board (WRB) in Switzerland before serving as a US Ambassador to the Republic of Niger. In this interview with Claude Lanzmann, McClelland recounts his personal experiences, his motivations, and his work with the WRB. The interview was filmed at the home of James MacGregor Byrne and June Byrne in Chevy Chase, MD (friends of Mr. McClelland).

FILM ID 3432 -- Camera Rolls #63-68 -- 01:00:30 to 01:28:35
01:00:30 CR63 Claude Lanzmann and Roswell McClelland sit at a round table with notes and binders laid out between them. The wooden table is in a living room next to a fireplace, above which hangs a painting. Behind McClelland is a lamp and bookshelf. To his right, a pair of glass doors leading out to a patio. Lanzmann begins to ask McClelland a question when he is interrupted by a cameraman who then stops the film.
01:00:49 CR64 McClelland discusses traveling to Europe on a fellowship from Columbia in July 1940 and describes difficulties in getting a passport for his wife Marjorie. He explores his personal relationship with the American Society of Friends, a Quaker organization that some members of his family had membership in and that supported him in his travels. He then introduces the role and the tasks he was given at the American Joint Distribution Committee and his transfer from Rome to France and ultimately to Switzerland. He describes the condition of refugee camps in France. Camera zooms in slowly to focus on McClelland, who speaks to Lanzmann, seated out of frame.
01:11:11 CR65 McClelland discusses his concern with the deportation of foreign Jews from France in 1942. Lanzmann asks about McClelland's interaction with the Vichy government. McClelland describes meeting Pierre Laval in the office of a member of the Vichy government, Dr. Bernard Ménétrel, which he attended with a member of the Quaker organization. The meeting with Laval came by chance.
01:15:08 CR66 McClelland recalls the summer 1942 meeting with Pierre Laval and points out that Laval did the majority of the speaking, using the meeting as an opportunity to describe the foreign Jews as undesirable and anti-government, and supported their movement to an "ethnic reservation" in Poland. Laval dismissed McClelland's claims that the Jews were being exterminated.
01:17:31 CR67 McClelland restates Laval's dismissal of the extermination as fiction and outlines Laval's remarks on Americans and the Jewish population. Laval saw French Jews as France's responsibility more so than foreign Jews. McClelland describes Laval's discomfort and restates that Laval spoke for the majority of the meeting.
01:21:48 CR68 Lanzmann asks McClelland about heading the War Refugee Board in Switzerland. They discuss explanations for the lateness of the WRB's creation and deployment, problems with the State Department's bureaucracy, and the marginalization of the refugee question, particularly in government policy before 1944. Camera zooms in for a close up of McClelland.

FILM ID 3433 -- Camera Rolls #69-71 -- 01:00:32 to 01:27:18
01:00:32 CR69 McClelland smokes a cigarette and speaks to Lanzmann, who is out of frame. Lanzmann asks about the climate of the refugee efforts in Switzerland and the nature of the requests made to the WRB. McClelland outlines the condition of refugees.
01:05:12 CR70 The camera now sits to Lanzmann's right shoulder, capturing Lanzmann's profile and McClelland's front over the round table. The bookshelf is visible to McClelland's right, and the fireplace is behind him. Lanzmann asks McClelland to describe Isaac Sternbuch, representative of Vaad Hahazalah, and Saly Mayer, from the Swiss Community. McClelland describes Sternbuch and Mayer in terms of emotional and practical approaches to their work and his relationship both with them and his work at the WRB.
01:16:15 CR71 Lanzmann and McClelland discuss the use of money by the WRB in the effort to rescue Jews. McClelland distinguishes between practical requests for WRB support that have specific goals and hysterical requests for large funds. McClelland speaks about his difficulty communicating with Sternbuch, his impressions of Mayer, and the function of the Joint Distribution Committee.

FILM ID 3434 -- Camera Rolls #72-74 -- 01:00:29 to 01:33:44
01:00:29 CR72 McClelland describes the Swiss government's response to the WRB's activity and to the movement of Jewish and other refugees in Europe. He describes Heinrich Rothmund, Swiss head of the Eidgenossischen Fremdenpolizei. Lanzmann asks about how choices are made on where to give aid, and McClelland replies in reference to Quaker theology.
01:11:40 CR73 McClelland points out one occasion where he made a difficult choice on providing aid and the difficulty of choosing one individual over another. He outlines Saly Mayer's roles and responsibilities at the WRB and assesses the challenges Mayer faced. McClelland describes interactions with Kurt Becher.
01:22:49 CR74 McClelland recalls a specific meeting between Becher, Mayer, and himself, as well as his personal feelings and impression of Becher. He identifies difficulties within the US government of communicating with President Roosevelt and organizing action. Lanzmann asks McClelland about the question of bombing Auschwitz and why it was never done. McClelland starts his response but is interrupted by the end of the film.

FILM ID 3435 -- Camera Rolls #75-77 - 01:00:32 to 01:18:33
01:00:32 CR75 McClelland submitted several proposals for military action against German train lines and against Auschwitz. He describes the goals of his proposals and the governmental and bureaucratic process by which the proposals were denied. Lanzmann and McClelland discuss the effect this military action may have had on Jewish victims who they describe as feeling abandoned by the world. 01:07:12
01:07:14 CR76 Lanzmann asks McClelland to talk about why he chose to share his story. McClelland replies and describes his motivations which relate to his personal character, the important nature of the story, and his analysis of world events which includes a reference to Holocaust denial on the part of certain groups. He draws a distinction between developing a technical civilization and developing a moral civilization.
01:11:42 CR77 McClelland continues to describe his motivations for sharing his story and expands on the technological and moral divide. He observes a growing gap between technology's rapid transformation and morality's relative stagnation. McClelland discusses the importance of Lanzmann's project and introduces the themes of sin and atonement. Specific mention is given to the German company IG Farben.

FILM ID 3436 -- Camera Roll #78, coupe - 01:00:28 to 01:04:30
01:00:28 CR78 The camera focuses on Lanzmann and records his expressions and reactions during a portion of the interview. There is no sound for this roll.

Event:  November 1978
Production:  1985
Chevy Chase, MD, United States
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Record last modified: 2023-11-07 12:38:47
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