Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened February, 1976
Oral History Interview with
June 29, 1973
by Richard D. McKinzie
MCKINZIE: Perhaps you could tell us to begin, something about how you happened to achieve this career in the civil government?
DUBOIS: Well, I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania law school in '34 and was granted a fellowship and worked under Dean Goodrich of the law school for one year, largely on his work in connection with a restatement of the American Law Institute, that was on torts and on trusts, in particular.
Then, after that I worked for half a year,
again more or less under Dean Goodrich, for the American Institute on the restatement of trusts. Thereafter, the Dean, actually unbeknownst to me, recommended me to the Treasury Department. The Treasury Department had written to him for recommendations. They were looking for young lawyers. I was interviewed and granted the job, and I worked in the Treasury for two and a half years, actually, on, initially, the problems relating to gold. As you may recall, they had withdrawn gold coins, which created a lot of problems. Then I became involved in work which also included the Secret Service.
MCKINZIE: This is before 1938?
DUBOIS: Yes. This was from '36 until, let's say, I guess it would have been the summer of '38, when I resigned and came back here to work with my brother, Herbert, who is one of the partners now in this firm. But he had in the meantime
graduated and had set up a law business here, and it always had been my desire, to eventually go into practice of my own. So I came back here and I worked with him for, I would say, from the fall of '38 until sometime in 1940, when I got a call from one of the lawyers that I had worked with in the Treasury asking if I could come down there to Washington to assist them in work known later as the Foreign Funds Control. It involved, actually, what you might call the beginning of preparation of economic warfare directed against Germany. So, I said, "Well, I can come down for a short while, but I'm trying to set up a private practice."
So, I did go down. I stayed, I guess, for about two and a half or three months, and then returned to my practice. At this point, we were in Camden but not in this building. I got another call early in '41; things were getting hot, would I come back again?
I said, "Well, I'll come back for a short while." Actually, that time it lasted from January of '41 until the latter part of '46, that session. The initial work was a very active job on what I would call the economic warfare program.
And then, not too long after I had been with them, it would have been in '41, the year I returned, they sent me with one other person from the State Department on a two-man mission to Central America.
MCKINZIE: Can you describe a little bit about what happened?
DUBOIS: Yes, certainly. We went to every country in Central America and the idea of our mission, basically, was to try to get the Central American countries to do what we had done, namely (to oversimplify it), freeze all accounts in which the Germans had any kind of an interest, direct or indirect, so that they couldn't use the
monies in those accounts for espionage, sabotage, and spying activities in this country. There was every reason to believe, from all of our intelligence information, that once we had frozen their accounts they increased their activities in Central American and South American countries. The basic function of our mission to all of the Central American countries was not only to find out if we could, by talking to the Embassy officials, what was going on, but also put in effect a freezing program. We took down there various documents showing what we had done and how we had done it. And actually, I guess -- I'm not giving our mission the complete credit, but eventually they did freeze the German goods.
MCKINZIE: Who was the State Department man with whom you went, do you recall his name?
DUBOIS: Yes, John Hooker. I don't know whether he's still alive or not.
MCKINZIE: He hasn't answered our correspondence, so I don't know.
DUBOIS: I haven't heard from him for many, many years.
MCKINZIE: You were dealing mostly with Treasury Department officials in these areas?
DUBOIS: Well, no, not only. In fact we didn't have representatives in most of those Central American missions, the Treasury itself didn't. No, we would talk to the Embassy officials, we'd see the Ambassador himself, if they had an Ambassador. But then, of course, his staff, naturally, also. But, no, we were working together, he was from State and I was from Treasury, and we didn't separate our activities when we got there, we just both of us worked together. Of course, he had easy access to State Department officials and documents. It was a two-man operation but what you might call a single team. I wasn't
sent down there as a Treasury representative to do solely Treasury work, but merely as a Treasury man on this team, because the State Department and the Treasury Department had worked very closely together on this foreign funds control program. They had a unit in the State Department, we had a unit in the Treasury, that handled just that. As a matter of fact, the head of their unit was, or came to be, at least, Donald Hiss. And he was the brother of, as you know, Alger Hiss.
Then after that I, of course, continued my work on the foreign funds control aspect of it. I did become the chief counsel of the Foreign Funds Control Division, and to follow through on that, later Assistant General Counsel and then Assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury. I was also the chief counsel of the War Refugee Board.
Then, my next activity of any major significance
was when they sent me to North Africa. That was about a five or six month's mission. I went over with a group from the State Department, but I then met this other representative from the Treasury, William Taylor, who has since died; and we more or less worked under the guidance of (let me put it that way), so far as Treasury work was concerned, although we had to report to the State Department officials there, Colonel Bernard Bernstein, whom you probably have heard about.
MCKINZIE: He was later in Germany.
DUBOIS: Yes, he became, I guess you'd call it, counsel to General Eisenhower in connection with certain activities in Germany. But he was in North Africa. He was there when I got there. I'd known him from the Treasury days very well. But we still see each other and are very close friends.
The function of the North African trip was actually two-fold, but I guess the main function was the Treasury had issued, or were issuing, this gold seal currency, which you've probably heard about, which they used in North Africa. And the main idea of that, of course, was to dry up the currency which we felt the Germans had more or less secreted in North Africa, and rather than to permit that to be used in connection with our operations we wanted our own currency; and a lot of my legal work had to do with that. Of course, naturally, issuing a new currency had caused a lot of problems which required a lot of drafting and so forth.
MCKINZIE: Whose idea was the gold seal currency? Did you ever understand that?
DUBOIS: To be completely honest with you, I'm not sure whether it was Harry White himself or some
of his aides. I've never been 100 percent sure of that. The idea came out of his office, that's for sure. Who was really the individual who originally thought of that, I couldn't answer that; but you could probably find someone who can. I'm sure Bernie Bernstein could answer that. Have you interviewed him?
MCKINZIE: No, I haven't interviewed him yet.
DUBOIS: He could answer that question for you. And in addition to that, there naturally was a lot of problems following an invasion. Legal problems that relate to financing and that kind of thing. I worked generally on that, also, just general financial problems created by the invasion, and reported on those problems principally to Colonel Bernstein, but also worked with the State Department.
MCKINZIE: Did you travel in North Africa?
DUBOIS: No, we were based in Algiers but I did get
to Casablanca and, of course, other areas of the invaded territory, yes.
MCKINZIE: Almost on their heels coming back.
DUBOIS: Well practically, yes. Oh, we arrived within less than a month after the invasion.
I'll never forget, the very first day I was there they put me in a temporary hotel, and the German planes were still coming over and one of them hit a hotel right across the street from me. It scared the shit out of me! A night or two later, I was attending some kind of a cocktail party or something, with Bernie Bernstein and a few others, and there was a porch out there. I heard these planes roaring and I wanted to see what was going on. I just walked out on the porch and looked up. Bernie came out and grabbed me by the collar, "What are you doing, are you crazy, standing out there?" I wasn't thinking. Anyway, there were humorous
parts to some of them.
Let me see, after that -- you would be very interested in this. I accompanied Secretary [Henry, Jr.] Morgenthau, Assistant Secretary Harry White, and a press agent, whose name I can't even think of (he was in the Treasury in public relations), to England and France. I would say that this trip led to the birth of the so-called Morgenthau plan.
MCKINZIE: Can you describe it?
DUBOIS: Yes, I can. It's a very interesting thing.
MCKINZIE: What prompted the trip?
DUBOIS: Well, it wasn't that, but that became an important part of it, by coincidence or otherwise. What prompted the trip was simply that there had been the invasion of the Continent by then.
MCKINZIE: The D-Day?
DUBOIS: The D-Day. This was, again, within, I would say, a month after D-Day. We went to England and then we went over to Normandy, and, naturally, saw General [Omar N.] Bradley while we were there. Morgenthau and his aides took the trip to check on currency and other financial problems connected with the invasion.
But, in any event, a week or so before I went on that trip, I was in Harry White's office -- for what purpose I don't remember; and he said, "Joe, let me show you a memorandum I just got from the State Department." It had to do with a so-called postwar program, once they were defeated, and had to do with the idea of reparations and their idea of reparations, as put forth in that memorandum, was we would get reparations by them furnishing us with all kinds of goods. White said, "You realize what that means."
Well, I'm not that smart in economics to immediately pick it out. And I said, "No, what does it mean?"
He said, "It means we're just going to be rebuilding Germany. How are they going to supply us with goods if we don't rebuild their factories?" And, of course, his thinking was reparations would come in terms of actually taking their plants, in part; that is their heavy industrial plants.
So, on the plane all the way to England he sat with Morgenthau. I wasn't snooping but I couldn't help but hear. (It was no secret -- Harry White told me what he had been discussing later.) But they were obviously discussing very intensely this memorandum, and I'm sure he did get over to Morgenthau what it would mean.
So, at that point, wherever he went in England -- although I didn't personally accompany him when he saw Eisenhower, but I was with him when
he talked to other people -- he kept hammering on this idea of what the State Department was trying to do and how bad it would be. So that, I would say, was the origin of the program. Then he became very much intense about it to the point where he wrote a book, [Henry Morgenthau, Jr. Germany Is Our Problem. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1945.] as you probably know, and I helped with that. I wrote the draft of several of the chapters, I would say, of that book.
MCKINZIE: Did Morgenthau at that time on that plane seem to need any convincing about Harry Dexter White's position on the State Department's memorandum?
DUBOIS: Well, I can't say how much, I really wouldn't want to speculate on that, but I know he eventually became completely sold. There's no question about that.
MCKINZIE: I just wondered if he showed any initial
DUBOIS: Well, I wasn't listening that closely, I couldn't answer that question. But certainly by the time we arrived in England, he was convinced, I can tell you that. That's all he seemed to want to talk about.
MCKINZIE: Did he at that time bring the subject up with the British he talked to?
DUBOIS: Oh, sure. Oh, certainly.
MCKINZIE: What kind of work did you do on that trip?
DUBOIS: Just before we left on the trip a cable came in from our Embassy in England stating the Germans had offered to release all the Jews the Allies would take. The cable from the Embassy in England that came shortly before we left on that trip, said in effect that the British were opposed, because, according to
the British there was no place to put the Jews even if the Germans