In May 2003, a Washington lawyer was cleaning her basement when she came upon fragments of an old diary. Archivist Stephen Mize at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., found it to be a treasure trove: more than 10,000 pages chronicling one man’s desperate attempts to help Europe’s Jews escape the Nazis. James G. McDonald, high commissioner for refugees for the League of Nations and America’s first ambassador to Israel, details meetings with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini as well as with Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who would become Pope Pius XII. McDonald writes that he feared the Nazis were planning as early as 1933 to annihilate the Jews of Europe.
“You really hear McDonald’s frustration,” Mize said. “He’s going country to country trying to find safe haven for Jews and others who were persecuted by the Nazis. Time and time again he runs into leaders willing to offer sympathy but not action.” McDonald pleads with Hitler himself to let the Jews emigrate. “Hitler responds by saying, look, other countries including the U.S. have shut Jews out of their country,” Mize said. McDonald began his post as high commissioner for refugees in 1933, just as Hitler was coming to power. He resigned two years later after offering a “scathing collective indictment of the world for their indifference to the extirpation of the Jews from Europe,” Mize said.