Eleanor Roosevelt to James McDonald

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Eleanor Roosevelt to James McDonald

28 April 1946 [Hyde Park]

Dear Mr. McDonald:

I can well imagine what a terrible time you are having. I see you have recommended that 100,000 be allowed to go to Palestine at once and I am glad of that.

I think we should have the courage to tell the Arabs that we intend to protect Palestine, but I suppose that is asking too much of us at the present time, though it would only take a small air-force and it would seem to me to keep them in order.5

I shall be very glad to see you and have a chance to talk to you when you get back.

                                       Very sincerely yours,

                                       Eleanor Roosevelt


1. Beginning in 1933, James G. McDonald (1886–1964) served as high commissioner for refugees (Jewish and other) coming from Germany for the League of Nations but resigned in 1935, calling on the League and its member states to confront Germany about its increasingly hostile policies toward its Jewish and other "non-Aryan" populations. He visited the White House in May 1933, providing FDR and ER with a firsthand report on the situation in Germany, and stayed in regular contact with ER thereafter. They worked together to try to expedite the emigration of refugees from Europe, ER serving as a conduit between McDonald and the president. When communication broke down between the president's Advisory Committee on Political Refugees and the State and Justice Departments in 1940, ER arranged a meeting between McDonald, then committee chair, and FDR to resolve the problem ("Letter of Resignation of James G. McDonald," 27 December 1935, AUL; James McDonald to ER, 10 October 1940, JGMP, NCC-RB).

2. See Document 54.

3. Sydney Gruson, "Palestine Visas for 100,000 Urged by Anglo-U.S. Board," NYT, 23 April 1946, 1.

4. Most of the British members of the committee remained unhappy with the final result and the British government blocked implementation of the recommendations made in the report (Dinnerstein, 91, 93-95). See Document 60 for ER's views on the Anglo-American Committee. See Cohen, 127-30, for McDonald's efforts to secure Truman's commitment.

5. While the US government supported transporting Jewish refugees from Europe to Palestine, it opposed providing US troops to enforce the recommendations of the committee and protect the Jews in Palestine (Dinnerstein, 95).

Instructing the Nuclear Commission on Human Rights

When the San Francisco conference approved the UN Charter, it mandated that the General Assembly "set up commissions in economic and social fields and for the promotion of human rights."1 In 1946, following the opening session of the General Assembly, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) established a nine-member "nuclear" commission on human rights to recommend a structure and mission for the permanent Human Rights Commission (HRC).2 Unlike other commissions, however, the delegates appointed to this nuclear body would be chosen for their individual merits rather than their national affiliation.

When ER returned from London, she received a telegram from Secretary-General Lie asking if she would serve on the Human Rights Commission. After she accepted, ER then wrote Secretary Byrnes, "I have cabled Mr. Lie that I would accept. The cable stated that we would meet here in New York City and the meeting would last three weeks and my compensation would be $15 a day and traveling expenses." She then requested that the department supply secretarial help and a policy advisor.3

April 29 at New York's Hunter College, Henri Laugier, the assistant secretary-general for social affairs, called the first session of the nuclear commission to order. Laugier hoped the delegates would remember that "the free peoples" and "all of the people liberated from slavery, put in you their confidence and their hope, so that everywhere the authority of these rights, respect of which is the essential condition of the dignity of the person, be respected." After they elected their chair and agreed upon a structure for the full commission, they, with their other colleagues, "would start [the UN] on the road which the Charter set for it." He concluded his remarks:

You are the seed out of which great and beautiful harvests come. You will have before you the difficult but essential problem to define the violation of human rights within a nation, which would constitute a menace to the security and peace of the world and the existence of which is sufficient to put in movement the mechanism of the United Nations for peace and security. You will have to suggest the establishment of machinery of observation which will find and denounce the violations of the rights of man all over the world. Let us remember that if this machinery had existed a few years ago … the human community would have been able to stop those who started the war at the moment when they were still weak and the world catastrophe would have been avoided.

As soon as Laugier finished his remarks, Dr. C. L. Hsia from China nominated ER as the commission's chair. All the delegates endorsed the nomination. ER, who did not anticipate this appointment, thanked her colleagues, stating:

I shall do my best, although my knowledge of parliamentary law is somewhat limited. I know that we are all conscious of the great responsibility which rests upon us. I know we are all confident that we shall be able to do much to help the United Nations achieve its primary objective of keeping the peace of the world by helping human beings to live together happily and contentedly.4

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Eleanor Roosevelt to James McDonald

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Eleanor Roosevelt to James McDonald