An American Hero of the Holocaust

Josiah E. DuBois, Jr. Risked His Career to Help Save Jews from the Nazis

The unknown story of an American hero of the Holocaust is finally coming to light, with the much-anticipated publication of Blowing the Whistle on Genocide: Josiah E. DuBois, Jr. and the Struggle for a U.S. Response to the Holocaust, by Dr. Rafael Medoff.

The book, which has just been published by Purdue University Press, was made possible thanks to generous support from the Eugene & Emily Grant Family Foundation, the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, and the Goodwin Foundation.

In recent weeks, Dr. Medoff has lectured about DuBois at, among other institutions, the Fordham University School of Law, Manhattanville College, the Hadassah Annual Book Luncheon, and the Kemp Mill Synagogue, one of the largest synagogues in the Washington, D.C. area. He was also the keynote speaker at the annual international conference of Aish HaTorah, the Jewish educational organization.

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At a time when most Americans were indifferent to the Nazi genocide, DuBois tried to do something to save lives--and succeeded. It’s an eye-opening and inspiring story, as an unknown whistle-blower takes on an entire government, risking his career in order to help others and bringing down the powerful Assistant Secretary of State who administered America’s refugee policy.


DuBois (1913-1983), grew up in Camden, New Jersey, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1934. DuBois, who was Protestant, had no particular interest in, or knowledge of, the plight of the Jews in Europe under Hitler. He was a most unlikely person to become a hero of Holocaust rescue.

In the spring of 1943, at the height of the Holocaust, DuBois was working on the staff of the Treasury Department’s Foreign Funds Control Division. American Jewish organizations seeking to ransom Jews in Europe asked the Roosevelt administration for a license to send the funds into Axis-controlled territory, which was normally prohibited by law because of the war. DuBois and his colleagues at Treasury approved the request, but the State Department delayed it for many months.

Frustrated by these delays, DuBois began his search for the source of the opposition, and gradually unraveled a story far more shocking than he had imagined: that the State Department and the British Foreign Office were secretly collaborating in blocking the granting of the license because they feared the rescue of large numbers of Jews would put pressure on the U.S. and Britain to give them refuge. DuBois also discovered that the State Department had ordered U.S. diplomats in Europe to refrain from sending Washington information about the mass murder of Jews.


On Christmas Day, 1943, DuBois sat down at his desk in his home in Maryland, and composed a report that would change history. His 18-page "Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews," presented the indisputable evidence of the State Department's deliberate attempts to sabotage the rescue of Jews from Hitler. The report convinced Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau to go directly to President Roosevelt
to request creation of a government agency to rescue Jews.

At the same time, the activist Bergson Group and its supporters in Congress were making progress in advancing a congressional resolution which likewise called for such an agency. Under this pressure from Treasury and Congress, FDR agreed, in January 1944, to establish the War Refugee Board.

DuBois became Chief Counsel of the WRB. Although under-staffed and under-financed (the administration gave it almost no funding; private Jewish groups raised nearly all its budget), the Board accomplished wonders. It hired agents in Europe and the Mediterranean who energetically employed unorthodox means of rescue, including bribery of border officials and the production of forged identification papers and other documents to protect refugees from the Nazis. They arranged for tens of thousands of Jews to be moved out of areas where they would have been in the path of the retreating German army; they engineered an international pressure campaign that halted the deportation of Jews from Nazi-occupied Hungary to Auschwitz; and it was the Board which sent Raoul Wallenberg to Budapest and financed his amazing rescue work there, which included personally pulling Jews off trains bound for the death camps.


DuBois personally conceived the Board's proposal to establish temporary havens for refugees in the United States, although FDR ultimately agreed to only one such haven, in upstate New York, which saved 982 lives.

Altogether, the book calculates, the Board played a central role in the rescue of more than 200,000 refugees during the last fifteen months of the war.

After the war, DuBois served as chief prosecutor at the section of the Nuremberg Trials dealing with the directors of the German company I. G. Farben. The man who did everything he could to save Jews from Nazi killers then later helped put some of those killers behind bars. The bitter irony, however, is that John McCloy, who as Assistant Secretary of War was the one who rejected requests by DuBois and his colleagues to bomb Auschwitz, later became High Commissioner of Germany and pardoned many of the Nazi war criminals whom DuBois sent to prison.

Returning to Camden in September 1948, DuBois set up a law practice, at which he remained for the rest of his life. His role in Holocaust rescue has remained generally unknown--until now.


The early reviews of Blowing the Whistle on Genocide have been overwhelmingly positive.

* Deborah Dwork. Rose Professor of Holocaust History and director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University, wrote that Blowing the Whistle on Genocide was particularly valuable for her students as they debate America’s response to the Darfur genocide. The book “brings the ring the students into direct contact, as it were, with a government official who serves as a model of both agency and action.”

* Leonard Swidler, Professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue at Temple University and co-founder and editor of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, said that Blowing the Whistle on Genocide “adds significantly to our knowledge and understanding of what happened, or did not happen. The Holocaust is an event that has torn ragged the American soul. It will not begin to find rest until it is properly cauterized by all the dark truth being told. Students of America, of modern history, of the Holocaust want to know. This volume will help in the healing."

* Alan L. Berger, Raddock Eminent Scholar Chair for Holocaust Studies and director of the Center for the Study of Values and Violence after Auschwitz, at Florida Atlantic University, called Blowing the Whistle on Genocide “an important addition to the materials I use to teach about America's response to the Holocaust.”

The foreword to Blowing the Whistle on Genocide was authored by Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat, who served as President Clinton’s envoy for Holocaust issues, and negotiated the Swiss banks restitution agreements. Eizenstat describes how he met Arthur Morse shortly after Morse's blockbuster book, While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy, was published, and how Morse completely changed Eizenstat's understanding of the U.S. response to the Holocaust. "Now, Rafael Medoff finishes the job that Arthur Morse began," Eizenstat writes in the foreword, "by telling for the first time the complete story of what DuBois did and what motivated him to take such heroic and selfless action. It is long overdue, and it is a story in which every American can take pride."

The book’s dramatic cover portrait of DuBois and Auschwitz was created by internationally renowned illustrator and political caricaturist, Gerry Gersten. This marks the first time in forty years that Gersten has drawn a Holocaust-related book cover; the last one was his famous illustration of FDR averting his eyes, for the cover of Arthur Morse’s While Six Million Died.

Additional support for the publication of Blowing the Whistle on Genocide was provided by the members of the Josiah E. DuBois Memorial Publication Committee: Regine & Edward Barshak, James Blum, Richard C. Goodwin, Annette Lidawer, Dr. Nathan Moskowitz, Dr. Jay Rothschild, and Bernice Zoslaw.

Contributions to the new Josiah E. DuBois, Jr. Teach the Children Fund, to help publicize the lessons of DuBois’s heroism, have been received from Mitchell R. Kline, Marsha Merrill, June B. Meyer, Helen Rothstein, and Andrew L. Somers, Jr.