EURDEMOCRACY

After Robert Schuman’s warning of the Nazi destruction of the Jews,
Why did those who were warned not act?

August 1942
“The Jews are being systematically destroyed.
There are no more Jews in the Ukraine. Men, women and children have been separated and taken. Men and women have been transported to concentration camps. Often they are sent with hardly any water and without food. They are left to die of starvation and cold. They are often made to dig huge trenches and they are then shot in front of them. They are set on fire with petrol, then covered in lime[1] and earth. The Polish Jews are often destroyed by such radical methods. They are transported, separating father, mothers and children. When the German populations are transported, the families are transferred. The same goes also for those from Alsace-Lorraine. But they had to leave without taking practically anything with them, leaving their country, and finding themselves in very difficult conditions.”

These words of Robert Schuman[2] are from a recorded conversation around 14 August 1942.[3] Schuman, later the creator of the European Community, had been the first French deputy arrested by the Nazis in World War II. His horrendous revelations were made as soon as Schuman, after having escaped from Germany, reached the Free French zone.

The words, summarized from a long conversation in note form, were recorded by Dom Basset, the Abbot of St Martin’s at Ligugé, near Poitiers, France. The impact of this and other revelations about the workings of the Nazi State were sufficient to determine his path to join the Resistance. In 1948, Schuman as Prime Minister awarded Dom Basset the Légion d’Honneur for his courageous acts during the war.

Was Schuman’s warning to Basset one of the first averting the Catholic hierarchy of the Jewish extermination? There is every reason to believe that Schuman made this information known to many other people, including ministers in the Vichy government, probably Allied diplomats and to a wide variety of other people in mass meetings attended by thousands of people. This message in August 1942 by Schuman that Nazis and their collaborators were perpetrating a vast, systematic and industrialized destruction of the Jews — the Holocaust — is probably the first warning to Allied governments by a reliable politician of unimpeachable honesty.

Where did Schuman’s information come from?

The source.
On 13 August 1942, after a number of hair-raising incidents, Schuman had crossed the demarcation line separating German-occupied France and that under control of the Pétain government at Vichy. It was a fortunate moment. Some weeks later the whole border area became firmly controlled with a no-man’s land. Schuman crossed the frontier at Montmorillon, 50 km east of Poitiers. No source says that he had received the information from the French Resistance.[4] He had little time to communicate with them. Like the other extraordinary, strategic information that he brought with him, it seems certain that he had gathered this information while a prisoner in Germany. Dom Basset was the first person across the line of demarcation with whom he had enough time and safety to be able to discuss the war at length. A massive manhunt was in progress for him in the Rhineland, Alsace-Lorraine (incorporated into the Reich) and German-occupied France.

The facts that Schuman presented also indicate that the source of the information was German. The Dom Basset notes indicate that Schuman had little news about what was going on in France. There is no indication of transports from France, Belgium, the Netherlands or the Nordic countries. He concentrated on three main areas: the Ukraine, Poland and Alsace-Lorraine –which had been incorporated into Germany — and Germany itself. A major killing programme of Einsatzgruppen was occurring in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as well as Belarus. These states were part of Ostland, ruled by Gauleiter Hinrich Lohse. The German-occupied Ukraine was ruled by Gauleiter Erich Koch, both under Reichminister Alfred Rosenberg.[5]

Official or private?
Was Schuman’s information from private or official sources? The fact that killing in eastern Europe, such as Rumania is not mentioned may be because the Basset notes do not write a list of all countries Schuman mentioned. Alternatively, it may be that Schuman did not know about these areas. Historians have shown that the mass murders in the Ukraine were the most horrific and publicly known. ‘Thousands had a hand in these murders — military personnel, police, native auxiliaries, civilian administrators in the various districts, and representatives of Rosenberg’s Ostministerium. In contrast to the extermination in Poland, ordered by the regiment of the death camps and dedicated to efficient operation, this was a primitive bloodbath — with the widest circle of complicity anywhere in Europe. In 1953, summing up these massacres, Gerald Reitlinger observed that their naked savagery was unsurpassed even in he history of the Final Solution.’[6]

It is likely therefore that Schuman put the picture together from his discussions with native Germans in the Palatinate where, officially, he was under house arrest. When the war broke out Schuman had been brought into the French Government. As a fluent German speaker (with a doctorate in German law and an extensive knowledge of Germany), Schuman had been made Under-Secretary of State in the Reynaud government charged with coordination and refugees. This involved intelligence matters and dealing with anti-Nazi groups. Schuman already had his own vast network of friends and contacts in Germany. He was therefore well-informed about whom to contact. But there is evidence that Schuman got much of his information direct from the highest Nazi officials.

In June 1940, after resigning his government office at the Armistice, he had traveled back to his constituency in German-occupied Lorraine with some returning refugees. The intention was to report back to the French government about conditions there. A further major concern was to burn his correspondence he had had with Germans and with other figures across Europe who might be compromised.

The Germans arrested him in autumn 1940 because of his energetic defence of the local population against the Nazi occupation. This happened at the moment he was about to return to the ‘Free Zone’ of France. Thrown in solitary confinement for seven months, he was rescued (if that is the term) by a sympathetic German lawyer, Heinrich Welsch[7], on the orders of the Gauleiter Josef Bürckel.[8] The latter, who had been the Kommissar of Austria after the Anschluss, was described as a ‘brutal and efficient autocrat’.[9] The Gestapo wanted to interrogate him about his actions against the Nazi regime in Parliament. He had already undergone Gestapo interrogation, perhaps torture.[10]Bürckel took him to the Gau’s headquarters in Neustadt in the Rhineland Palatinate.[11] He hoped to ‘turn’ Schuman with his vast German and French culture and immense following among Lorrainers to support the Nazi regime.

Bürckel tried to find a point of weakness or means of blackmail. He threatened Schuman with the Dachau concentration camp. That meant death. ‘That decision is now mine alone,’ Bürckel threatened. Schuman did not bend. He parried with an argument aimed at Bürckel’s vanity: ‘You can, of course, always send me there, but that is not an argument.

Bürckel, as one of the leaders closest to Hitler, was no doubt well-informed about the systematic destruction of the Jews. It is likely that Bürckel who was involved in atrocities in the take-over of Austria, boasted to Schuman about the “Final Solution” and the bloody means by which it was being accomplished.

To show his usefulness and provide reasons that Schuman would not be eliminated also, the Gauleiter wanted Schuman to publish an article in German. Any article would have probably sufficed because it would be powerful propaganda that the most eminent Lorrainer known for his honesty had supported the Nazi cause. Honesty was one commodity in extreme short supply under the Nazis. By various stratagems, he eventually won from Bürckel the possibility to inform himself of what was going on in Nazi Germany. By subtle means, this also involved an unofficial enlarging of his confinement area. It allowed him to visit various localities, with the tacit complicity of his guards.

Schuman used his qualities as a sympathetic listener. On this basis Schuman was able to collect a great deal of information from the local population and libraries for a statistical analysis of war losses. He was also secretly in contact with the Lorraine and German resistance. Then he escaped across Germany and occupied France. Later the Germans had put a reward of 100,000 Reichmarks on his head — the same figure as the recently escaped General Giraud.

He told Dom Basset that very often officers and soldiers were anti-Hitler but that they obeyed when Hitler commanded. He described other areas of resistance including religious groups, both Protestant and Catholic. It is therefore a possibility that these were among his sources of information about Reich extermination practices and the results obtained so far.

Schuman obtained information of strategic and military importance. Germany had already lost 1.2 million men with three or four times that number rendered useless by disease or wounds. The immense forces of the Allies together with Russia opposed it. The crimes of Germany could only lead to its downfall.[12] He concluded that it had already lost the war. It was only a question of time.

In 1904, Schuman had been trained in statistics at the University of Munich by one of Germany’s leading state statisticians, Georg von Mayr.[13] He revelled in figures. As a long time member and Secretary of the French parliamentary Commission on Finance, Schuman was able to verify the losses both from the sample of war deaths in his locality and from library data. Germany was also limited by its material resources. Allied victory was a statistical certainty.

Governmental duty
On his arrival in France, Schuman would not stop to rest. ‘Unfortunately it’s impossible,’ he told Robert Rochefort[14] who had welcomed him in ‘Free France’. ‘I have a duty to inform the Government. I have a lot of very important things to tell them, things that they can’t just brush aside. I must meet with the Head of State as soon as possible.’ Allied powers also had embassies at Vichy at this stage of the war. While in confinement Schuman had brushed up his English by making dictionaries on minute scraps of paper.

In 1940 Schuman had refused to take part in Pétain’s government, even though Pétain had wanted him and had reserved him in his absence the same post. Now Schuman judged it urgent to pass on his strategic information, not only to those susceptible of resistance, like his fellow Alsace-Lorrainers in exile but especially the Vichy government, whether they would receive him or not. Laval, for fear of the Gestapo, refused to meet him, though he waited in an antechamber. After a great deal of patience and guile, Schuman managed to see Marshall Pétain, who was then head of the rump French government of the south, still with a fig leaf of independence. Schuman buttonholed him at a dinner and had several minutes with him. It got nowhere.

For the public, however, Schuman’s huge reputation that he enjoyed before the war was enhanced by news of his dramatic escape. This was especially true for the Alsace-Lorrainers. He addressed about a dozen public meetings, some with upwards of 1500 people attending. No doubt he also spoke of matters he had raised with Dom Basset. Germany was certain to lose the war. Schuman proved the matter statistically based on the losses on the Eastern Front that he had collected. The Allied victory was only a matter of time. We have no direct proof that he mentioned the same things that Dom Basset recorded at the time but there is no reason to doubt it. Did Schuman explain to the public meetings what he had learned about the Nazi extermination of Jews and their culture? Lacking the ephemeral sources, it is difficult for the historian to be certain. He brought a great deal of information about the Nazi enslavement of the German and other peoples, military strategy and the certainty of victory. This became public knowledge.

What would have been the impact of news of Jewish extermination on the audiences of the time? The Pétain government had instigated an anti-Jewish policy among its first decrees.[15]

Schuman spoke largely to immigrant Alsace-Lorraine groups in various towns such as Lyon, where he addressed a crowd in the Jeanne d’Arc hall, La Salette, Bourg-en-Bresse, Châteauroux and Royat. His news ‘grave, full of hope, deep and spiritual’ that included the Nazis’ ultimate defeat had a hugely encouraging effect on morale.[16] He met up with old and trusted friends including parliamentarians. There seems no reason why he should not have divulged to his friends and compatriots what he manifestly told a stranger, Dom Basset. The latter was at the time not firmly in the Resistance. Many figures in the Roman church had quite different opinions. Besides the intricate sociological analysis of the Hitlerite tyranny on the population, the exterminations of Jewish, Russian and other populations would have rated only second in importance to his statistical prediction of the end of the war.

An old friend, the priest, Bernard de Solages, recalled that: ‘To my question if he was optimistic about the end of the war, he replied very affirmatively. He told me that his ‘sojourn’ in Germany had allowed him to enquire with sufficiently close exactitude into the enormous losses that Germany had succumbed to. To these losses, he had fixed numbers. He had no doubt about the outcome. Germany could not sustain its effort. It would have to capitulate.’[17] (emphasis added.)

German occupation
This period of comparative freedom in was cut short when the Germans invaded and completely took over the Vichy territory. Now the SS could make more intensive searches. Schuman chose to stay in France, despite a call from de Gaulle (who had also been an Under-Secretary of State in the Reynaud government) to come to London.

For remaining three years of war, Schuman risked his life to stay in contact with the some of the population and encourage them but moving from hideout to hideout. With other politicians in hiding, he spent a great deal of time formulating and researching plans for post-war European unity. His face was too well known to stay in any area where there was likely to be Alsace-Lorraine refugees. He had made major contributions to the stability of the provinces after World War One.

Schuman’s record after the First World War
As a young Deputy, Schuman had been largely responsible for the mammoth task of reconciling the body of German law in Alsace-Lorraine with the laws of metropolitan France. This codification is still known as the Lex Schuman. The Lex Schuman provided for the retention of advantages legislated under the Bismarckian period that were not incompatible with French metropolitan law. For example, Alsace-Lorrainers benefited from a superior social insurance system.

With the return to France of the ‘lost provinces’, Schuman energetically defended the democratic rights of the population to chose their religion and education. In Alsace and Lorraine, the three main religious divisions of Roman Catholic, Protestant and Jewish had been able to maintain their own schools. The majority of the population was up in arms at the enforced secularisation proposed by Paris. Schuman defended vigorously their democratic right to continue to follow their conscience. The centralizing policy was in ‘plain contradiction with the programmes on which seven eighths of the representatives of the affected region were elected. To pursue the introduction of such a programme would not only be contrary to democratic principles, but would be to throw into our region a source of grave trouble for which we can take no responsibility.’ To this day Alsace-Lorraine still enjoys extra freedoms and advantages it had gained from his efforts. From years before the First World War, Schuman had devoted himself to create a system of law and governance that would bring peace to Europe. In 1939, even in that winter of the ‘phoney war’, he made it clear to friends, the need for the reconciliation of peoples after they had won the war. As quickly as possible Europeans should get to understand one another with an aim of putting an end once and for all to such fratricidal and destructive wars that had decimated the population of Europe, not only recently but over the last centuries.[18]

Post-war action
He was re-elected to Parliament after the war and saw office as Minister of Finance (1946-7) Prime Minister (1947-8), Foreign Minister (1948-53) and Minister of Justice (1955-6).

As Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Schuman announced the start of a new era following the centuries of war and destruction. Human rights, protected by supranational law was the major instrument, not only in protecting minorities against persecution. It was the definition of the boundaries and borders of the NEW EUROPE. This he announced with the approval of all signatory States at the signing of the Statutes of the Council of Europe at St James’s Palace, London on 5 May 1949.

In a series of speeches, conferences and press statements, he stated that the past bloody centuries of the clash of nationalism and nationalities must cede to that of supranational unions of democracies focused on peace. Under his leadership, France created a means to prevent such problems re-occurring. The Council of Europe created the framework for the Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This was directly based on the need to stop a slide to Dachau by such State gangsterism.

His policy went beyond a concerted policy of encouraging Franco-German reconciliation after the hate and destruction of war. In 1949, he announced that a new era must be opened to change for ever the deadly harvest of nationalisms and rivalries. This continual slaughter had lasted several centuries. It had brought the planet to the brink of suicide. He now called for a supranational association or an enduring supranational union of democracies that would ‘make war impossible’. The supranational system was a means to encourage the positive aspects of human development, while developing its moral growth. It would lay foundations for spiritual and political growth.[19] It was a great ‘European experiment’ based on the democratic principle ‘Loving your neighbor as yourself’ writ large for states and peoples.[20]

Democracy was defined by its goals and the means it used to attain them. The goals must start with peace and the means, works of peace. As for the definition of democracy itself, Schuman used a scientific touchstone, more precise than US President Abraham Lincoln’s. ‘Democracy,’ he said, ‘was at the service of the people and acting in agreement with it.’ This, he said, was how it should be understood in a Judeo-Christian context, rather than that of the Hellenistic age. Such a crude democracy based only on majority voting would end up in tyranny or anarchy.[21]

The Community model with its five key institutions was little known at the time. A year later on 9 May 1950, Schuman announced the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community. It was based on this new concept that could not be described either as a federation or a confederation. On numerous occasions, he made clear that the European Community could be identified with this, until-then, theoretical supranational structure based on the international rule of law. The European Community was the ‘first example of an independent supranational institution’ in world history. Some of these key speeches have been published in the volume: Schuman or Monnet? The real Architect of Europe.[22]

Now more than half a century afterwards, historians can affirm that the present generation is the only one in Western Europe that has not known internal war for such a long period. Europeans are moving into a new age where no one in their family has lost a loved one in a European war. Without realizing the profound reasons for its existence, states — from the former Soviet zone to the Mediterranean — are now queuing to join. The experience of long-term member states indicates that they have not lost sovereignty by taking joint decisions together. Rather they have strengthened democracy and increased prosperity beyond expectation. (Predictions in 1950 –before the European Community was announced– had considered that Western Europe would remain a powerless zone riven by poverty and internal squabbles.) Today the European Union can embrace about half a billion citizens of cultures as different as Greek and Finnish, Hungarian and Irish. They all seek peace and a stabilized democratic process.

The High Court of History
During a conference visit to Switzerland in December 1952, Schuman stopped at a snow-covered villa above the lake of Zurich. It was for a very special ceremony. In the name of the French government he presented Thomas Mann, the German writer, with the insignia of officer of the Légion d’Honneur. Attached to the correspondence was found his hand-written note: ‘When in 1952 I found out that the French government had not until then given any honorific distinction to Thomas Mann, I was astonished and somewhat shocked. The decree of 16 December 1952 conferring on him the cross of officer of the Légion d’Honneur was one of my last acts as Foreign Minister.’[23] Thomas Mann’s novelist brother Heinrich, also a great proponent of European unity, described his first novel as representing ‘more than himself, a country and a tradition, more than a whole civilization, {it is} the supranational conscience of man.’[24]

Hitler, who both the brothers Mann vigorously opposed, fulminated against the supranational. It was contrary his own egocentric and destructive form of nationalism and to him conscience was a Jewish invention.[25]

For Schuman conscience was the most precious thing for actors in politics and history. A conscience directed by the love of God and the love of one’s neighbor was a guide. It was a belief that Schuman held on to in the darkest days of his captivity. In April 1942 Nazi Germany was at its zenith and at the gates of Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad.

When his friend, Georges Ditsch, a former trainee lawyer at his chambers, met him secretly during his ‘sojourn’ in Germany, he told him: ‘This war, terrible as it is, will finish one fine day and it will finish by the victory of the free world. Might has never been able to triumph over right.’ He then modified a quotation of Schiller: ‘Das Weltgewissen ist ein Weltgericht’ — The conscience of the world is the High Court of the world.[26] ‘There can no longer be a question of perpetuating hate and resentment against the Germans. On the contrary, without forgetting the past, it will be necessary to rally them and do everything possible to integrate them into the free world. As soon as peace has returned it will be necessary to find out with our allies the cause of wars and think out structures which will render such cataclysmic events impossible.

The solutions could only be found in the context of a United Europe. Such a thing had already been attempted in the past but by means of brute force. Only a democratic enterprise would be susceptible of gaining the consent of nations.

This time,’ he concluded, ‘we will need to start off with a clean slate free of the territorial ambitions which are the source of new conflicts and find a union for everybody through co-operation.’ Schuman had no illusions about Germany’s rôle in European history. His description of two thousand years of German history shocked many Germans. His introduction of the supranational system for Europe was done ‘not out of enthusiasm, nor apprehension of its outcome… It was not an end in itself but a necessity.’ [27]

Schuman’s policy was based on political realism. He had spoken out against Nazi injustice and for that he had been thrown into a freezing cell in solitary confinement. Several times he had barely escaped being sent to Dachau and exterminated. He had been hunted like a criminal across Germany and France for three years with a massive reward on his head. Yet his politics before, during and after the war were not based on hate or revenge. He chose to stay in France when his life was at risk every minute to work for the postwar world.
The success, security and prosperity of the European Community is a practical demonstration of his living principle of politics ‘to love your enemy as yourself.’[28] Thus we help ourselves and glorify our Maker.

Edited version of Study first published in 2004 on the occasion of the European Commission’s Conference on Anti-Semitism (c) Bron

[1] This seems to indicate that the source comes from an eyewitness. Lime was often used to cover the fallen bodies. Lime is a product of chalk and physically similar. It is made by heating chalk, then slaking it by adding water.

[2] Robert Schuman: 1886- 1963. Politician and Statesman. Twice Prime Minister. Minister in a dozen governments. Born in Luxembourg of Lorraine father, Jean Pierre, in self-exile in Luxembourg, and Luxembourgish mother, Eugénie Duren. Lawyer, studied at the universities of Bonn, Munich, Berlin and Strasbourg. Doctorate in civil law. Deputy in French Parliament for Thionville, 1919 to 1959 (except for war). As Prime Minister, initiator of Council of Europe, as Foreign Minister initiator of European Community and co-author of NATO Treaty.

[3] The presumably undated notes of Dom Basset are recorded as July 1942 by Rochefort. This cannot be true as Schuman only escaped in the first week of August. The correct date must be 13 or 14 August. He stayed in Ligugé several days and left by train, arriving in Lyon on 15 August 1942 where he stayed with Monsignor Léon Schmit, his cousin. Léon Schmit was vicar general and professor at Great Seminary of Metz.

[4] Schuman did receive information from the Lorraine Resistance on other matters, including secret internal German reports. It is not clear whether in fact the French Resistance knew about Jewish extermination to this extent. In that case, Schuman was bringing to the Resistance the most vital information of the time.

[5] Marrus, Michael R: The Holocaust in History, p64. New York 1987.

[6] Marrus, p65.

[7] Welsch, Heinrich: 1888- 1976. Lawyer, barrister. In 1955-6 Welsch became Minister President of Saarland.

[8] Bürckel, Josef: 1895-1944. School teacher. 1926 Party Gauleiter of the Rhineland Palatinate. 1934 Reichskommissar for the Return of the Saar. 1938 Governor (Reichstatthalter) of Westmark. In 1939 Hitler gave him responsibilities for bringing Austria into the Hitler Reich. 1940 he became Hitler’s Commissar (Reichskommissar) for Lorraine.
[9] Lejeune, René: Robert Schuman, une âme pour l’Europe, p84. Paris 1986.
[10] September 1940. Schuman, Robert: Pour l’Europe, p92. Paris 1963.
[11] The Gau was a province in the Hitler Reich. Lorraine had been absorbed into the German Reich as German territory as part as Gau Westmark (Western Marches). Some of the population had been expelled, others were subject to German racial law. In 1940 Bürckel assumed the title of Reichskommissar for Lorraine.

[12] Schuman was convinced about moral force in history.

[13] Mayr, Georg von: 1841-1925. Professor of Statistics, Munich. Politician. Author of Statistik und Gesellschaftslehre and other books on statistics. Responsible for statistical survey in both Bavaria and Alsace-Lorraine where he was Under Secretary of State. Member of Commission for Tariff Reform.

[14] Robert Rochefort later became a member of Schuman’s ministerial cabinet. He wrote an outstanding biography of Schuman.
[15] The ‘Statut des Juifs’ published 3 October 1940 excluded Jews from government, and the liberal professions such as medicine and law.
[16] Robert Garric in Rochefort, Robert: Robert Schuman, p125. Paris 1968.

[17] Rochefort, Robert: Robert Schuman, p127.

[18] Conversations with Marcel Bérain in Poitiers where many Alsace-Lorrainers had fled.

[19] Speech at St James’s Palace, London, May 1949 in Schuman or Monnet? p 36.
[20] Schuman or Monnet? p28. Lev: 19:18.

[21] Schuman or Monnet? p27. Schuman: Pour l’Europe, p70.
[22] Bron Communications, ISBN: 09527276 41, February 2004

[23] Rochefort: Robert Schuman, p317.

[24] Chronique de l’Humanité, p985. Paris 1986.
[25] Hermann Rauschning, Hitler m’a dit.

[26] Georges Ditsch interview. Also cited in Lejeune’s Robert Schuman, une âme pour l’Europe, pp89-90 but attributed to Goethe. Friedrich von Schiller wrote: Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht. (World history is the Court of the world.) Resignation, 1784. This was reinterpreted by some German nationalists to mean historical facts on the ground. The victims of such a policy would neither agree to the history (world history not national history) or the egocentric interpretation.
[27] Speech to the Council of Europe, 10 August 1950 in Schuman or Monnet? p94.

[28] Matt. 5:43-48.

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