Letter of Resignation of James G. McDonald, High Commissioner for Refugees (Jewish and Other) Coming from Germany


James G. McDonald was an American diplomat who in October 1933 was appointed by the Council of the League of Nations to be high commissioner for refugees (Jewish and other) coming from Germany. His mandate was to “negotiate and direct” the “international collaboration” necessary to solve the “economic, financial and social problem” of refugees from Germany. McDonald held this position for more than two years. He resigned in December 1935, having concluded that the “conditions in Germany which create refugees have developed so catastrophically that a reconsideration by the League of Nations of the entire situation is essential.” In this strongly worded letter addressed to League secretary-general Joseph Avenol, McDonald summarized the situation facing “non-Aryans” in Germany, urged that the League take forceful political action to condemn Germany’s policies, and tendered his resignation. Attached to the letter was a detailed report by McDonald containing his analysis of Germany’s racial policies. McDonald accurately concluded that one of the primary goals of Nazi policy was to make life in Germany unbearable for Jews by stripping them of their professions, financial assets, citizenship, and legal rights. The letter is held in the archives of the League, which were transferred to the United Nations in 1946 and are housed at the UN office in Geneva. They were inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World register in 2010.

Last updated: August 5, 2016