Eleanor Roosevelt to Freda Kirchwey

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Eleanor Roosevelt to Freda Kirchwey

[?] December 1946


I have your letter of Dec 11 which I read with interest. Of course you know we have no ambassador in Madrid.17 I am not sure about your statement about telling Franco he must go.


1. Unsatisfied with public statements condemning the dictator, the Polish delegate to the Security Council introduced a resolution in April 1946 that demanded all UN member nations sever diplomatic ties with Spain. When the council concluded that Spain had not taken any action that constituted an act of aggression and that the matter therefore remained outside their jurisdiction, the council recommended that the General Assembly consider the resolution (Paul B. Kennedy, "Franco Pushing 'Reform' Program," NYT, 22 April 1945, E5; "Franco Condemned," NYT, 30 April 1946, 1; "Text of Report on Franco Investigation by the Security Council Subcommittee," NYT, 2 June 1946, 32; Liedtke, 5-29; Edwards, 3-100).

2. The American resolution, which employed harsher language than any previous American statement on Franco, referenced "the Franco Fascist Government of Spain, which was imposed by force upon the Spanish people" ("U.S. Resolution on Franco," NYT, 3 December 1946, 6).

3. The question of what to do about Franco had divided diplomats since the generalissimo's rise to power, with the aid of Hitler and Mussolini, during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). Ten years after the civil war, reports of the arrest and execution of political dissidents continued to fill the pages of newspapers throughout the world. The Soviets and the French called for immediate action, such as severing relations with Spain or imposing sanctions. British and American diplomats, wary of starting another civil war that might allow the Communists to take control of the government, preferred a more moderate approach. At both the Potsdam and San Francisco conferences they declared Spain ineligible for UN membership as long as Franco remained in power ("The U.N. and Spain," NYT, 5 December 1946, 28).

4. "Spain Is the Key," Nation, 13 February 1937, 172.

5. The New York Herald Tribune referred to Connally's resolution as "the first positive American policy on Spain in the U.N." However, given the State Department's fear that any action might prompt a civil war, the paper "failed to see how today's American resolution met that test any better than the proposed diplomatic break which the United States opposes." In effect, the resolution was "an appeal to the militarists and the Roman Catholic Church in Spain, probably the only groups that could possibly persuade Franco to step down." The New York Times echoed the Tribune's sentiment that the resolution "marks an advance over the previous attitude of the United States Government," but it too pointed out that getting rid of Franco without outside help might prove "a difficult task, particularly in view of the military equipment received by the Spanish Army, first from Hitler and Mussolini, and more recently by purchase of surplus United States Army supplies at bargain prices" ("U.S. Proposes U.N. Offer Spain Membership if Franco Is Ousted," New York Herald Tribune, 3 December 1946, 1; "U.S. Calls on Franco to Quit, Or for Spain to Depose Him," NYT, 3 December 1946, 1).

6. In August 1945, Spanish refugees who participated in the short-lived Popular Front government met in Mexico City to establish a Spanish government in exile. Immediately after winning the elections of February 1936, the coalition of left and moderate parties that comprised the Popular Front disintegrated, creating the backdrop of political turmoil against which Franco's Nationalist forces revolted in July 1936. At the Mexico City conference, leftists and moderates once again attempted to unite, chosing leftist Republican José Giral Pereira (1879–1962) over the radical Socialist Juan Negrín Lopez to head their new government. The Communist Party, who endorsed Negrín, refused to support Giral, leaving a coalition comprised of Republicans and Socialists. The Giral government called upon UN nations to sever diplomatic ties with Franco and recognize the government in exile as the rightful government of Spain, a course of action which Giral regarded as the "only … diplomatic means of effecting a pacific solution of the Spanish problem"(William P. Carney, "Spanish Premier Fights Extremists," NYT, 22 March 1936, E13; "Republicans Name Premier," NYT, 23 August 1945, 8; Camille M. Cianfarra, "Spaniards in Exile Name 10 Ministers," NYT, 27 August 1945, 10; Camille M. Cianfarra, "Full Break With Spain Is Needed Premier Says in Paris," NYT, 7 March 1946, 13).

7. Kirchwey and Sigrid Lillian Schultz (1893–1980), the director of the Nation Associates, wrote Secretary Byrnes on December 3. As the Chicago Tribune's bureau chief in Berlin covering developments in central Europe prior to World War II, the multilingual Schultz made a name for herself among American liberals with her early criticism of European Fascism. In their letter, Schultz and Kirchwey warned the secretary that Perón's Argentina and Franco's Spain constituted "a new Axis." Kirchwey pointed out that both countries provided economic aid to the Axis powers long after the rest of the world condemned Fascism and that, after the war, both nations provided safe haven for Nazi agents. "No liberal American can comprehend the reasons why … we continue to maintain diplomatic relations with [Spain] now that the war is over," Kirchwey continued. "Nor can any American understand that the authority of the United States, coupled with that of the United Nations, should be unequal to finding a peaceful means of disposing of this enemy." In the letter to Byrnes, the Nation editor advocated the same actions she suggested in her letter to ER: the United States should sponsor a resolution that explicitly declared Franco the "illegal usurper of authority of the legally elected government of Spain," encouraged UN members to sever diplomatic relations with the Fascist government, and stated the intentions of the UN to work with Giral's government in exile to establish a provisional republican government that all UN nations could recognize (George Goodman, Jr., "Sigrid L. Schultz, Reporter Who Covered Rise of Nazism, Is Dead," NYT, 17 May 1980, 28; Freda Kirchwey to James F. Byrnes, 3 December 1946, AERP). For more on the Perón government of Argentina see n10 Document 87, n2 Document 121, and Document 202.

8. Most observers of developments in Spain doubted that the country would ever enjoy free elections as long as Franco remained in power. Norman Armour, the American ambassador in Madrid, reported in December 1945 that Franco spent more than one-third of the nation's budget on his military and maintained an army of 600,000 to 700,000 soldiers that he did not hesitate to use to consolidate his power. A few months later, C. L. Sulzberger, then correspondent for the New York Times in Spain, claimed that Franco held "at least 30,000 political prisoners in jails and an unestimated number in labor camps." Many of these prisoners expressed views akin to "mild liberals by civilized standards," but Franco's police arrested, tortured, and even executed political dissidents whom they deemed subversive "Reds" ("Franco's Changes Toward Democracy Not Yet Satisfactory, Armour Declares," NYT, 22 December 1945, 20; "Spain's 70 Per Cent," NYT, 27 February 1946, 20; Edwards, 56-57).

9. As Senator Tom Connally (D-TX), not Vandenberg, served on the committee handling the issue, Vandenberg refrained from publicly commenting on the American position. Correspondence between ER and Vandenberg relating to the 1946 UN debates on Franco does not appear in either of their files, suggesting that Vandenberg most likely confided in ER in a face-to-face meeting.

10. On December 11, the New York Times reported that the US delegation would vote for the resolution adopted by the Political and Security Committee when it came before the General Assembly. The resolution—a compromise proposed by the Belgian delegate to offer a middle option between the subcommittee's resolution calling upon UN member nations to completely sever diplomatic relations with Spain and the US resolution that refrained from calling upon member nations to take specific actions—recommended "that all members of the United Nations immediately recall from Madrid their Ambassadors and Ministers Plenipotentiary, accredited there." The United States abstained from the vote on this resolution in the Political and Security Committee, but did vote in favor of the resolution on December 12 at the plenary session of the General Assembly ("U.S. to Back U.N. on Spain," NYT, 11 November 1946, 20; Thomas J. Hamilton, "U.N. Committee Asks Recall of Mission Heads in Madrid," NYT, 10 December 1946, 1; "Text of U.N. Committee Resolution on Spain," NYT, 10 December 1946, 4; "34-to-6 Vote on Spain Urges Recall of Heads of Mission," NYT, 13 December 1946, 1).

11. On December 7, during the debates over Spain in the Political and Security Committee, Connally made it clear that the United States would not change its position, stating, "I say very kindly but firmly that you have to adopt some other plan besides the break of diplomatic relations or the imposition of economic sanctions because the United States cannot go along with either one of these plans." Several delegates were taken aback: Justice Wold of Norway described Connally's attitude as "unbecoming" and believed the US delegate to have stated that even if the General Assembly passed a resolution recommending the severing of diplomatic relations, the United States would not break with Spain. Carlos Stolk of Venezuela described Connally's position as a "kind of a veto" which "carr[ied] a lot of weight" and would influence other delegations when the General Assembly considered the resolution. Connally's words provoked such a negative reaction that a spokesman for the American delegation attempted to pacify the situation by explaining that although the United States desired to go on record as opposing a complete diplomatic break with Spain, the government had not yet made a final decision as to their course of action and would do so only after the General Assembly voted on the matter. Two days later, when the committee voted on the various resolutions concerning Spain, Connally exhibited such a flippant attitude that the New York Times felt it worthy of comment: "The atmosphere of the committee meeting was the tensest yet encountered at this session of the General Assembly, and Paul-Henri Spaak, the usually urbane president, rebuked Senator Tom Connally when the United States representative jokingly recorded one of his abstentions by pronouncing 'abstention' in what he thought was a French accent" ("U.S. Limits Share in Spanish Break," NYT, 8 December 1946, 13; Thomas J. Hamilton, "U.N. Committee Asks Recall of Mission Heads in Madrid," NYT, 10 December 1946, 1).

12. The Columbian delegate introduced a resolution that would postpone the vote on taking any action in the Spanish matter until the next session of the General Assembly, declaring that the intervening year would allow the Latin American nations to work with various Spanish groups to establish a new regime in Spain that would include the government in exile. The Cuban delegate supported the idea of postponement, but made it clear that Cuba viewed the government in exile's claims as illegitimate and would not break relations with Spain even if the General Assembly passed a resolution recommending members to do so (Thomas J. Hamilton, "U.N. Committee Asks Recall of Mission Heads in Madrid," NYT, 10 December 1946, 1).

13. Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Quisling (1887–1945), who began his career as an Norwegian intelligence officer, represented the Agrarian Party in the Norwegian parliament before becoming minister of defense in 1931. In 1933, after leaving the ministry, he founded Norway's National Party, modeled after Hitler's German National Socialist Party. After traveling to Berlin in 1939, he returned home, pledged to assist in the German invasion of Norway planned for the following year. In reward for his cooperation, Hitler then installed him as governor of Nazi-controlled Norway a position he used to mirror German social and political practices. After Norway's liberation in 1945, Quisling was convicted of treason and sentenced to death. His surname quickly came to signify a citizen who collaborates with the enemy (OWWTC).

14. Henri-Philipe Omer Pétain (1856–1951), the French general who became a national hero after his defense of Verdun, rose rapidly through military ranks before retiring as commander-in-chief of all French forces in 1931. His political career began with his appointment as minister of defense in 1934. In 1940, he replaced Paul Reynaud as prime minister and immediately negotiated a truce with Germany, which required the disarming of French troops and German control of three-fifths of French land. He then governed what was left to France (the Vichy government) in ways that reflected German policy. Arrested by forces loyal to de Gaulle in 1944, Pétain was convicted of treason in 1945 and sentenced to death, only to have his punishment commuted to life-imprisonment due to his old age. He died imprisoned on the Île d'Yeu at the age of ninety-one (OEWH, OWWTC).

15. In December 1942, Hitler appointed Anton Adriaan Mussert (1894–1946), the Dutch engineer who founded and led the Dutch Nazi Party, "leader of the Netherlands people." Convicted in 1945 of collaboration with the enemy, Mussert was sentenced to death December 12, 1945. His trial drew wide attention when he refused to denounce Hitler and said he had once suggested to Hitler than his homeland become part of a "League of Germanic Peoples" ("Dutch Sentence Mussert to Die as Collaborator," NYT, 13 December 1945, 11).

16. Léon Degrelle (1906–1994), head of Belgium's Rexist (Fascist) Party, proved himself so devoted to Hitler's views that Hitler allegedly referred to Degrelle as the man he would like to have for a son. Promoted to major after his service in the campaign against Russia, Degrelle, upon his return home, promoted himself to governor of Belgium. He fled to Germany after Belgium's liberation and, in 1945, commanded an elite Walloon brigade in a futile, last-ditch effort to keep the Allies from reaching Berlin. When Berlin fell, Degrelle fled to Spain, where he remained at the time of this correspondence. Degrelle had been tried (in absentia) and convicted of treason by the Belgian courts, which, December 28, 1944, sentenced him to death ("Degrelle Reported Promoted," NYT, 9 April 1944, 9; "Degrelle on Nazis' Coattails," NYT, 30 January 1945, 8; "Rexist Reported in Spain," NYT, 22 June 1947; Keegan, 518, 525).

17. When Norman Armour, the US ambassador to Spain, announced his plans to retire in November 1945, the State Department did not make public any plans to replace him. Although Armour claimed to retire for "personal reasons," the press speculated that the State Department's failure to immediately replace him was a "diplomatic way of voicing our disapproval of the Franco regime." The State Department refrained from replacing Armour during 1946, so on December 12, when the General Assembly approved the resolution recommending that all UN member nations withdraw their ambassadors from Madrid, the United States did not have to take any action to conform to the resolution. Not until after the UN rescinded this resolution in November 1950 did the United States send another ambassador to Spain ("Armour Expected To Quit Spain Post," NYT, 21 November 1945, 10; "U.S. May Not Send New Envoy To Spain," NYT, 22 November 1945, 18; "Griffis Appointed Envoy To Madrid," NYT, 28 December 1950, 12).

On Martin Nieöller, Part 2

ER continued to criticize Pastor Martin Niemöller despite the defense noted clergy offered on his behalf.1 When the clergyman arrived in the United States in early December, she told readers of My Day:

I see by the papers that Pastor Martin Niemoeller, German Lutheran churchman who was jailed by the Nazis, has arrived in this country and is scheduled to make a lecture tour. I understand that Dr. Niemoeller has stated in the past that he was against the Nazis because of what they did to the church, but that he had no quarrel with them politically. And I think I remember reading a report that, when his country went to war, he offered his services for submarine work in the Navy. One may applaud his bravery and his devotion to his church, but one can hardly applaud his attitude on the Nazi politics, and I cannot quite see why we should be asked to listen to his lectures. I am sure he is a good man according to his lights, but his lights are not those of the people of the United States who did not like the Hitler political doctrines.2

The day after the column appeared, ER received the following telegram from Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam, who joined ER the previous year to support the striking GM workers.3 As president of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, the organization sponsoring Niemöller's lecture tour, Oxnam objected to ER's position:

deeply regret the misinformation on which your remarks about pastor niemoeller in your column of december 5th is based. the record clearly shows that he repeatedly spoke against the political aims of the nazis. as early as 1933 he was forbidden to preach as a result of his speaking against hitler's racialistic program. we urge you to correct erroneous impression created by your column and give recognition to the fact that niemoeller took a courageous stand against nazi policies long before our own country was alert to their danger.4

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