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“The Diaries contain valuable information about what was going on in Nazi Germany in 1932-1935 and the reaction of public officials and prominent citizens in the United States and elsewhere to the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich. It is particularly valuable because of the paucity of material and lack of information about this period.”
— Robert M. Morgenthau, District Attorney, County of New York
“James G. McDonald . . . knew every major public figure in the 1930s as Europe and later the rest of the world rushed to war. He was also . . . a dedicated and precise diarist, recording his meetings with Hitler, Mussolini, and President Roosevelt and detailing his own impressions of Nazi intentions. . . . The diaries show that McDonald believed as early as 1933 that the Nazis were considering the mass killing of Europe’s Jews.”
— Neil A. Lewis, The New York Times
“Very few individuals interact with such a stunning array of historical figures—Hitler, Mussolini, FDR, Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pius XII), and Chaim Weizmann. McDonald was ‘present at the creation’ of so many of the formative events that shape our world. Yet McDonald’s diaries are much more than historic; they are filled with candor and eloquence as well as insight and emotion.”
— Sara J. Bloomfield, Director, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
“Publication of James McDonald’s diaries is a much-anticipated event. The diaries enhance our understanding of the life and work of one of the last century’s most dedicated and interesting public servants. They show what one man—altruistic, high-minded, and intent on doing what is right—can achieve.”
— Daniel C. Kurtzer, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt
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. But McDonald met with little success. The lack of international movement on the refugee issue caused him to resign in December 1935 in protest at the lack of support for his work.
Not written for publication and never revised, this diary shows McDonald in the 1930s shuttling back and forth among key political and financial authorities in the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Latin America, and the Vatican. A shrewd observer, McDonald meticulously recorded his extraordinary insights into their thoughts and motives. This invaluable, almost day-to-day record of efforts to help increasingly desperate German Jews seeking refuge will fascinate readers interested in this tragic period and will benefit scholars for generations.
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, and its aftermath. Volume two is Refugees and Rescue: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald, 1935-1945.
“McDonald’s diaries shed important new light on efforts to assist Jews fleeing Germany in the years 1933-1935 from the perspective of an individual deeply involved in those efforts—and one who did not revise whatever he wrote at the time. . . . The volume, with its extensive new information, will appeal to a substantial audience, not only in the academic world but among a wider readership likely to extend well beyond U.S. borders.”
— Gerhard L. Weinberg, William Rand Kenan, Jr., Professor of History Emeritus, University of North Carolina
“When it comes to the history of the Third Reich, particularly in its early years, James G. McDonald had unparalled access to decision makers and critics, persecutors and victims, and both German and American political leaders. His diary is not only filled with important information but it gives a unique and utterly fascinating insight into diplomatic life in Germany. McDonald, unlike so many of his contemporaries, tried to make a difference in what would become a unique story of doom and destruction. Advocate for the Doomed is the gripping story of his tireless efforts.”
— Deborah E. Lipstadt, author of History on Trial
“James McDonald’s Diaries, admirably edited by Richard Breitman and his colleagues, are a treasure-house for historians and will be of great interest to general readers. The author was League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at the time he met Hitler and Roosevelt, Weizmann, Einstein, and countless other public figures in an ultimately futile attempt to alleviate the lot of the growing number of refugees from Germany. It is essential reading for the understanding of the first act of the tragedy that followed.”
— Walter Laqueur
Richard Breitman is Professor of History at American University. His books include The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution and (with Alan Kraut) American Refugee Policy and European Jewry, 1933-1954. He is editor of the journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.
Barbara McDonald Stewart has taught at George Mason University and is author of United States Government Policy on Refugees from Nazism, 1933-1940. She lives in Vienna, Virginia
Severin Hochberg is a historian at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He lives in Washington, D.C.