Reading

Cordell Hull’s Telegram to Hiram Bingham, September 18, 1940

The letter below was written to Hiram Bingham by the Secretary of State Cordell Hull, in response to rescue efforts of Jews and non-Jews in Vichy France.1In addition to Hiram Bingham, who served as a Vice Consul in Marseilles, France, and as such was in charge of issuing US visas, the letter mentions two other men. The first man is Dr. Frank Bohn, a representative of US labor organizations who helped to locate and rescue communists and socialists who were targeted by the Nazis for their political beliefs. The other man, Varian Fry, was a journalist sent by the Emergency Rescue Committee to Southern France, where the government of Vichy France agreed to turn all anti-Nazi activists in to the Nazis. Fry played a major role in rescuing thousands.


September 18, 1940

AMERICAN EMBASSY,

VICHY (France) FOR PARIS

Your 539, September 11, 10 a.m. and 566, September 14, 6 p.m.

You should inform Dr. Bohn and Mr. Fry in personal interview if this can be arranged immediately that while Department is sympathetic with the plight of unfortunate refugees, and has authorized consular officers to give immediate and sympathetic consideration to their applications for visas, this Government can not repeat not countenance the activities as reported of Dr. Bohn and Mr. Fry and other persons, however well-meaning their motives may be, in carrying on activities evading the laws of countries with which the United States maintains friendly relations.

You are requested in your discretion, to inform the appropriate officials of the Foreign Office that while aliens who qualify for and obtain visas at American consular offices as meeting the requirements of American immigration laws have the required visa documentation to proceed to the United States, this Government does not repeat not countenance any activity by American citizens desiring to evade the laws of the governments with which this country maintains friendly relations. You may also ask Mr. Hurley to inform the Prefect at Marseille in this sense. Consul at Marseille should also be informed that Dr. Bohn has been requested to return to United States immediately. You may also advise Embassy Paris and Consuls at Bordeaux and Nice regarding situation. Keep Department advised of developments.

Hull2

Citations

  • 1 : For an additional document relating to the activity of this network, known as the American Rescue Center, see excerpts “from a report of the Chief of the French Police in the Bouches du Rhone Department to the Minister of the Interior, 30 December 1940,” Yad Vashem website, May 30, 2013.
  • 2 : Secretary of State Cordell Hull to the American Embassy in Vichy, France, telegram, September 18, 1940.

Connection Questions

  1. Study the image of the Cordell Hull telegram to Bingham and compare the excerpt with the original. Do you think the excerpt represents the spirit of the document? Would you choose the same excerpt? Why?
  2. Cordell Hull calls the people that Bingham and his network helped “unfortunate refugees.” Is this term appropriate?  What does its use imply about the responsibilities of the State Department for the fate of these people?
  3.  Hull explains that the United States government cannot support actions that violate the laws of nations with which the US has friendly relationships. Could a violation of this practice ever be deemed necessary? How do you think the United States would react if a foreign diplomat broke laws that he or she deemed unjust? 

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