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August 13: The Riegner Cable

Lawrence Bush
August 12, 2016

The following telegram was sent by Gerhart Riegner, secretary of the World Jewish Congress in Geneva, to diplomats in the U.S. State Department and the British Foreign Office on August 8, 1942: "Received alarming report stating that, in the Fuehrer's Headquarters, a plan has been discussed, and is under consideration, according to which all Jews in countries occupied or controlled by Germany numbering 3½ to 4 millions should, after deportation and concentration in the East, be at one blow exterminated, in order to resolve, once and for all the Jewish question in Europe. Action is reported to be planned for the autumn. Ways of execution are still being discussed including the use of prussic acid. We transmit this information with all the necessary reservation, as exactitude cannot be confirmed by us. Our informant is reported to have close connexions with the highest German authorities, and his reports are generally reliable. Please inform and consult New York." On August 13th, 1942, officials in receipt of the cable decided to keep it secret. They passed it on to Rabbi Stephen S. Wise only two weeks later, and confirmed its contents and gave Wise permission to announce it to the world only on November 25th. It would not be until January, 1944, that President Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board with the aim of trying to save Jews from the Nazis.

"Never did I feel so strongly the sense of abandonment, powerlessness and loneliness as when I sent messages of disaster and horror to the free world, and no one believed me." --Gerhart Riegner

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.