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

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


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.


Barbara McDonald Stewart

In 1939 American Commander Victor “Pug” Henry was appointed naval attaché in Berlin. His attractive German-speaking wife Rhoda happened to catch Adolf Hitler’s eye at a reception shortly after their arrival. Using his connections and his shrewd judgment, Henry soon deduced that the Nazis were planning to sign a treaty with the Soviet Union and then go to war against Poland. His intelligence report on the subject landed in the Oval Office, and after events proved him right, President Franklin D. Roosevelt soon summoned him home for a face-to-face meeting.

Skeptics dismissed Henry, the fictional hero of Herman Wouk’s 1971 novel The Winds of War, as the stuff of melodrama, not history. No real person could find himself at the center of the action so consistently and talk directly and frankly to world leaders at so many critical moments.

In reality, one American did manage to secure a private meeting with Hitler and to deduce something of the Führer’s future plans. His encounters with Hitler and other high Nazi officials began in 1933—shortly after the establishment of the Nazi regime and in the midst of the Nazi revolution. His focus of interest was not Germany’s military ambitions, which he nonetheless sensed in a broad way, but Hitler’s policy toward the Jews. This same American reported his conversation with Hitler and his concerns about Nazi Germany to President Roosevelt on a number of occasions. Not a man of action, but a man of diplomatic initiatives, committees, and organizations, he nonetheless spent much of the next six years trying to prevent or reduce the scale of the catastrophes he saw looming from the beginning.

The man was James G. McDonald, who in 1933 became High Commissioner for Refugees (Jewish and Other) Coming from Germany under the League of Nations. He was also my father, and he wrote down all the efforts in which he was involved.

Well, that is not quite accurate. My father’s diary was actually dictated to stenographers and secretaries. He composed it often, usually daily, but when time or secretarial support was lacking, he left it to later, sometimes recapitulating events and conversations a week or two old. in one extreme case he admitted . . .

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