Eleanor Roosevelt to G. Bromley Oxnam

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Eleanor Roosevelt to G. Bromley Oxnam

21 December 1946 [New York City]

Dear Bishop Oxnam:

I am perfectly willing to meet Pastor Neimoeller10 though I am not very anxious to see him.

I think you have missed the reason why I do not think the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America should have had him come to speak in this country.

After the last war we succeeded as a people in making ourselves believe that the leaders in Germany were to blame and not the people and we brought on a Second World War. This kind of thing which having Pastor Neimoeller come over here and air his view before American audiences repeatedly will lull them to sleep again. I want us to be vividly aware of the fact that the German people are to blame, that they committed horrible crimes.

Therefore, I think you are doing something which is stupid beyond words in bringing this gentleman here and having him touring the country, no matter how much you like him.

                                    Very sincerely yours,

                                    Eleanor Roosevelt


1. See Document 27 and Document 29.

2. MD, 4 December 1946. (The column appeared in a few newspapers on December 5.)

3. See Document 65.

4. See DAB; G. Bromley Oxnam to ER, 5 December 1946, AERP.

5. United Feature Syndicate distributed ER's My Day column.

6. ER did not name her sources. She may have drawn in part on Sam Pope Brewer's column, "Niemoeller Asks Iron Rule of Reich," NYT, 6 June 1945, 11. See Document 27 for a full discussion of ER's earlier response to Niemöller.

7. If Niemöller and ER met, they left no written evidence of their encounter.

8. G. Bromley Oxnam to ER, 13 December 1946, AERP.

9. December 27, Oxnam angrily replied to ER's dismissal, saying that while he initially thought ER's objection to Niemöller was based on his volunteering to serve in the navy and "that in so far as he had opposed Hitler, it was merely a matter of objecting to Hitler's coercion of the church," Oxnam realized he was mistaken.

I now find that it is not because you were mistaken in thinking Pastor Niemoeller a Nazi, but rather because he is a German that you object to his presence here. I hold precisely the same view you do concerning the guilt of the German people … It is because we have wished to make it known in Germany that leadership that admits such guilt and stands for a democratic Germany receives the cooperation of the American churches, that we have brought Pastor Niemoeller here.

Niemöller, Oxnam concluded, "deserves cooperation" because he "is calling the church to repentance. Therefore, he hoped that she would "pardon me when I say that I cannot accept our judgement that what we are doing is stupid beyond words." He found "it very difficult to justify a policy that refuses constructive cooperation with those in Germany who fought the Nazi philosophy before our own country was alerted to its menace" (G. Bromley Oxnam to ER, 27 December 1946, AERP).

10. ER misspelled Niemöller.

Interceding for Refugees

The publicity ER received as a spokesperson for refugees at the United Nations and as chair of the Human Rights Commission led hundreds of refugees to seek her help in reuniting their families or retrieving lost or stolen property. In most cases, ER could do little to assist them; however, sometimes she forwarded their letters to people whom she knew who were in a position to investigate or intervene on the refugee's behalf.1

December 3, ER sent Jan Masaryk, the Czech foreign minister and leader of the Czech delegation to the General Assembly,2 an appeal she had received with the hope that he might provide assistance. In her cover letter, ER wrote:

The enclosed letter from Mrs. Ona Ludwig of London tells the story of the detention of her nephew, Hubert Glatzel, by the War Ministry of Czechoslovakia in Prague. She states that he is desperately needed by his family who is without means of support.

It would be appreciated if you would initiate action with a view to uniting Mr. Glatzel with his family.3

The following day, ER received a letter from Peter Buschina, a nationalized American citizen of Czech origin then living in Long Island City, New York. Buschina, who had heard ER and Masaryk on a recent radio broadcast wrote, "I can not help in writing to you Mrs. Roosevelt, how a man like Mr. Masaryk can say such nice things and the same time have the devil in him." He then went on to tell ER that the Russians had murdered his father during the Soviet invasion in May 1945, and the Czech government had recently confiscated his mother's property and bank account and sent her to a refugee camp. Attesting that his parents had "never belong[ed] to the Nazis," he asked her to speak with Masaryk to see if he could help Buschina's mother. December 9, ER wrote Masaryk again asking for his advice.4

I receive many letters daily from American citizens appealing to me for justice for their relatives and friends in Europe. I would welcome any factual assistance you can give me relating to the individual case referred to above—and any subsequent inquiries I may have regarding people within the boundaries of your country.5

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Eleanor Roosevelt to G. Bromley Oxnam