Evian Conference Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Evian meeting was an international conference, convened at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s initiative, to discuss comprehensive emigration policy in response to the rapidly accelerating numbers of Jewish refugees. The conference represented a critical turning point in the evolution of the Holocaust.

Summary of Event

The Evian Conference took place in the French resort community along Lake Geneva from July 6 through July 15, 1938. A climate of deep, ubiquitous anti-Semitism Anti-Semitism[Antisemitism];Nazi Germany had been spreading throughout Nazi Germany, and it was unfolding with increasing viciousness. On September 15, 1935, Nazi Germany had legislated and begun the implementation of the Nuremberg Laws, Nuremberg Laws (1935) racist statutes of the Third Reich that were critical to the marginalization, segregation, and dehumanization of German (and eventually Austrian) Jews. The Anschluss, Anschluss which annexed Austria to Germany in March, 1938, provoked the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt to respond to the proliferating crisis faced by European Jews. [kw]Evian Conference (July 6-15, 1938) [kw]Conference, Evian (July 6-15, 1938) Evian Conference Holocaust;international response Refugees;Jews Jews;refugees [g]France;July 6-15, 1938: Evian Conference[09810] [c]Atrocities and war crimes;July 6-15, 1938: Evian Conference[09810] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;July 6-15, 1938: Evian Conference[09810] [c]Human rights;July 6-15, 1938: Evian Conference[09810] Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;Evian Conference Hitler, Adolf Taylor, Myron C. Rublee, George

The Anschluss made the situation of Jewish refugees much worse: It shattered the pattern of gradual German Jewish emigration. Prior to the Anschluss, Jewish emigration from Nazi Germany was slow, steady, and relatively small. The Jewish refugee crisis was deliberately and systematically precipitated by Nazi Germany’s relentless attempts to eliminate “undesirables”; the Third Reich was eager to remove Jews from all its territories. The Evian Conference was a direct result of this urgent need for nations to deal with the Jewish refugee crisis.

Soon after the Anschluss, Roosevelt recommended that heads of state convene at an international meeting to negotiate a remedy to the plight of stateless Jewish émigrés. Although it is difficult to determine Roosevelt’s exact motives for calling for such a meeting, it is clear that the president was responding to domestic political pressures, particularly from the isolationist forces in the United States and from groups of American Jews.

In the late 1930’s, when the United States and most European countries were still attempting to emerge from the Great Depression, Roosevelt might have thought that the American public was unwilling to accept European Jewish refugees, given that the United States continued to have unemployment concerns for its own citizens. Strategically, the United States may have intentionally placed itself in a win-win situation: By calling for the conference, it communicated concern over the refugee crisis, but the country did not make any significant reforms to its own restrictive immigration policy. Instead, the Americans continued to maintain barriers that reduced the number of Jewish émigrés entering the United States. It appears that Roosevelt’s strategy was to head off progressive immigration demands while circumventing any radical shift in immigration policy.

Representatives from thirty-two nations, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa, the United States, and countries in Latin America, attended the meeting. Myron C. Taylor, former chairman of the United States Steel Corporation and a friend of Roosevelt, was charged with organizing the meeting at Evian and appointed as the conference chairman.

Throughout the meeting, a consensus of passivity and indifference in resolving the refugee crisis emerged among the delegates. At the conference’s commencement, the U.S. delegation immediately assumed an apathetic and constrained posture by refusing to articulate a radical shift in its immigration policy or offer a systematic, comprehensive resolution to the crisis. Instead, the United States announced that it would honor its established immigration policy by merging the quotas for German and Austrian immigrants (which allowed for a combined annual maximum of 27,370 refugees). The British declared that Great Britain and its colonies were incapable of accepting any additional refugees and should be excluded from the absorption of any significant number of Jewish immigrants. In particular, Great Britain was reluctant to open its doors to greater numbers of Jewish refugees because of its resistance to external pressures to greatly increase European Jewish immigration to Palestine.

The delegates of other countries responded to the reticence or reluctance of the United States and Great Britain to liberalize and expand their immigration policies by continuing their own restrictive immigration policies. As pretexts for their refusal to increase the number of refugees admitted to their respective countries, the delegates articulated a variety of claims, including that they were already saturated with such refugees and that their countries were suffering from profound economic problems.

The delegations did not discuss the reasons behind the massive immigration of European Jews or the Nazis’ perpetration of anti-Semitic policies. Furthermore, the lack of public criticism of Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitism was a manifestation of the countries’ implicit recognition of Nazi Germany’s sovereignty. By the end of the conference, the delegates of the thirty-two nation-states were virtually unanimous in their resistance to any liberalization or expansion of their respective immigration policies, with the sole exception of the Dominican Republic, which accepted a meager number of Jewish refugees supported by American Jewish philanthropic aid.

The conference also resulted in the creation of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees (IGCR), which sought to mitigate the problem of Jewish refugees by systematically facilitating global attempts to resettle émigrés. George Rublee was the chair of this committee, which was established in London. The Evian delegates gave the IGCR the power to negotiate with Nazi Germany to systematize the continuous emigration of Jewish refugees and to increase the flow of immigration, and to foster long-term assimilation of these immigrants in their newly adopted homelands. In essence, this committee’s task was to serve as a global instrument to diplomatically resolve the Jewish refugee problem with Nazi Germany. However, the committee immediately faced the dilemma of solving the massive Jewish refugee problem without disrupting the current restrictive immigration policies of Evian’s participants.

Although it is ironic that both the IGCR, under Rublee’s leadership, and Nazi Germany shared a common objective of expediting the emigration of Jews, they disagreed about the logistics. The committee preferred that Jewish refugees emigrate with some of their possessions, while Nazi Germany wanted to receive compensation for Jews’ departure. This impasse resulted in dire consequences for many of Germany’s and Austria’s remaining Jews. Furthermore, the nation-states represented by the IGCR contributed very little to efforts to resettle the European Jewish refugees, and this diminished the perception of the IGCR’s potency and credibility. Ultimately, the IGCR did not have the support it needed to rescue Jewish refugees.

Significance

Holocaust scholars widely regard the Evian Conference as a dismal failure and a watershed event in the history of the Holocaust. The inability of the proceedings at Evian to reform the participants’ immigration policies resulted in a rapidly deteriorating situation for German Jews, and Jews desperate to escape Nazi Germany were hugely disappointed. This meeting signaled to Nazi Germany that the participants in the Evian Conference would respect the Nazis’ sovereignty and domestic affairs. Furthermore, the delegates’ reluctance to condemn the anti-Semitic policies of the Third Reich openly and officially was linked to Germany’s accelerated path toward the “final solution”: the extermination of the Jews. Adolf Hitler and the Nazis may have believed that the participants in the Evian Conference would also ignore or be bystanders to an accelerated German policy of genocide against European Jews.

Regrettably, at a critical moment for the fate of many European Jews, the ineptness and indifference of the states represented at Evian negated the potential to rescue a significant number of victims of the Holocaust. Organized attempts to rescue Jewish refugees for the duration of World War II remained inconsequential: The Bermuda Conference, which took place in April of 1943, was equally ineffective in its efforts to plan for the rescue of Jewish refugees. Evian Conference Holocaust;international response Refugees;Jews Jews;refugees

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bauer, Yehuda. Jews for Sale? Nazi-Jewish Negotiations, 1933-1945. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994. Intellectual historical investigation of the efforts to rescue Jews by negotiating with the Nazis.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Rethinking the Holocaust. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. Presents an analytical evaluation and articulates insights on a range of problematic topics of the Holocaust.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Feingold, Henry L. The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938-1945. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1970. Classic historical study of the systematic efforts of the Roosevelt administration to assist European Jews threatened by Nazi Germany’s plans for extermination.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Friedlander, Saul. The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939. Vol. 1 in Nazi Germany and the Jews. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. Meticulous study of the complex historical factors that led to the Holocaust.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wyman, David S. The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984. Historical study of the inadequate efforts of the United States to rescue European Jews.

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