High School Students Learn about Diplomat’s
Struggle to Prevent Nazi Holocaust
Nov. 28, 2007
Just about every school child knows the heartbreaking story of Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who kept a diary while in hiding with her family from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II. Far fewer know about James G. McDonald.
But like Anne Frank, McDonald was a diarist, too. Her writing put a face on the more than 6 million European Jews who died in Nazi death camps; his diary is the story of an attempt to prevent those murders.
Last week at the University of Texas at Dallas, Holocaust scholar Richard Breitman, who co-edited the papers and diaries of McDonald, shared the story of this largely forgotten American diplomat.
In his book, Advocate for the Doomed: the Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald 1933-35, Breitman says McDonald tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Nazis to use immigration to move German Jews out of Germany.
McDonald had access to top government officials in the U.S. and Germany because he was the League of Nations high commissioner for refugees from 1933 to 1935.
“There was no carefully calculated plan for German Jews to emigrate,” said Breitman, a professor at American University and the editor-in-chief of the journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies. “There was only a plan of punishment.”
McDonald’s diaries record his early awakening to the Nazis’ plans for Jews in their midst and pushed him to incite other governments to help Jewish refugees escape.
“The casual expressions used by both men in speaking of the Jews were such to make one cringe, because one would not speak so of even a most degenerate people,” he wrote on April 4, 1933, after a meeting with two Nazi party officials.
Breitman’s audiences included 25 Lancaster High School students. It was a stark lesson for these young people to learn.
Lancaster High School student Vonkisa Baker was moved by the lecture, “It was excellent to be able to hear the quotes from the diary of somebody who had a first-person experience with the Holocaust,” she said. “It added a whole other level of interest to the lecture.”
Even with the best connections – McDonald’s diary recorded meetings with President Franklin Roosevelt and Pope Pius XII, among others – earnest pleas can still fall on deaf ears. McDonald was unable to prevent genocide because, as Breitman said, “Most of us cannot take in the horror of the wanton murder of Europe’s six million Jews.”
Breitman spoke at UT Dallas as part of the Burton C. Einspruch Holocaust Lecture Series, presented by the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies. The Einspruch lectures bring the world’s most distinguished Holocaust scholars to UT Dallas and the North Texas community.