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 As you may recall, they had withdrawn gold coins, which created a lot of problems.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 allowed them to leave. This may sound cruel, but that is what the cable said -- I personally read the cable.
Of course, Morgenthau got very worked up over that. He spoke to some people. Then he left with White and this other man and left me in England. He said, "See what you can work out." He, in the meantime, talked with and then, of course, introduced me to U.S. Ambassador Winant. He arranged just before he left for me to have a conference with Winant. And I went to see Winant and told him how important it was, in my opinion, that we accept this offer. I felt it had to be accepted. Otherwise, we would lose all the psychological benefits of everything we were trying to do. I might say that even before this, we had set up the War Refugee Board, that's where I was before I left for England and France with
Morgenthau; and I had become General Counsel of it. I had written a memorandum about it and it came out in the book about how six million died. Have you read that book? [Arthur D. Morse, While Six Million Died, 1967, Random House.]
MCKINZIE: I may have sometime ago.
DUBOIS: If you will note, there is this lengthy memorandum in there that I presented to Morgenthau. You may know that. Well, this was before that. Then I became General Counsel. I'm piecing everything together why he left me, specifically, behind; because I was General Counsel to the War Refugee Board. So, Winant went to see [Anthony] Eden and he got nowhere. So he came back, and I then took it upon myself: I said, "Well, how about if the United States enters into a signed understanding with England if by chance the acceptance of the offer, aside from its psychological effect, should in fact result in the release of the Jewish people, and if England can't take care of them, we will."
So Winant, a very basically decent guy, said, "If you'll take the responsibility, as far as your Board is concerned, I'll take the responsibility."
I said, "Yes, I'll take the responsibility." So, he went in to see Eden and Eden said okay. So between Winant and Eden they wrote this acceptance and then they put it in writing, I forget the exact form it took, but it embodied this basic understanding. The acceptance of the offer by the United States and England (without the "side" understanding) was widely publicized in the press and over the radio; including of course broadcasts to Europe. Then I left for the U.S. I was, of course, criticized by members of the State Department for having entered into the "side" agreement with the British, but Morgenthau, as Chairman of the War Refugee Board, supported me. Now that's an interesting story.
MCKINZIE: I guess so. Why do you think the British
were so reluctant, were they so hung up on their own survival problems?
DUBOIS: Well, they were never very good about helping us in that program. The War Refugee Board encountered many problems with the British because they just weren't cooperative. You could speculate on a number of reasons, I suppose.
MCKINZIE: Well, in this general area we are talking about now, essentially war's trying problems, Secretary Morgenthau got himself involved very heavily. Did you ever hear him discuss what he really considered the Treasury Department's role in foreign affairs to be? There were some people in the State Department who thought the Treasury was doing a little bit more than called for by the legislation under which the Treasury was operating.
DUBOIS: Yes, I know that he and his staff had many what you might call "battles with the State
Department," as to whether or not this was in our jurisdiction or whether it wasn't. Yes, that happens in Government, just like that fight now over what the Congress can do and what the President can do. Yes, there were those disagreements, there's no question about it; he thought he had more jurisdiction than the State Department thought he had. I guess it's that simple.
MCKINZIE: Well, he also had a special relationship with President Roosevelt.
DUBOIS: Oh, well that helped. That helped very much. Yes, I should have mentioned that. But I continued very actively, after I returned from England, on the problems of the War Refugee Board. I was the one who came up with this idea that we take Oswego, you know, and bring 10,000 Jewish people over.
MCKINZIE: Oh, you were?
DUBOIS: Yes, I was the origin of that. I have a memorandum on that.
MCKINZIE: How did you happen to figure out Oswego was the place to send them?
DUBOIS: Oh, I didn't pick Oswego, excuse me, but that we find a spot to bring some over as a token. I wanted more than what they brought but the figure wasn't important.
MCKINZIE: The idea was to show the good intention of the United States?
DUBOIS: Yes, good intention. Then the big argument by the State Department that if they get here they'll stay here, and they'll be staying here without a proper immigration visa, and all that bullshit. But, of course, they did wind up by staying here, they were right about that. But in any event, we had a battle.
MCKINZIE: Well, of course, you were facing all kinds
of problems with refugees in Italy and everything else.
DUBOIS: Oh, yes. There were so many programs involved in that War Refugee Board I could keep you here all day just telling you about them. Then we had tremendous battles with the State Department.
MCKINZIE: What can you give as the essence of the battles with the State Department? Was there one binding issue or one problem that was...
DUBOIS: Well, let's face it. There's no question in my mind that some of the people over there -- I put their names in my book -- were actually just plain anti-Semitic. It's just that simple, there's no question.
MCKINZIE: There were so many proposals about where to send Jewish refugees. There was a program at one time that talked about Australia, and there was one talked about Alaska, and some
DUBOIS: Oh, you could name almost -- there were many programs, debated and discussed.
MCKINZIE: When did the 100,000 immigration visas for Palestine proposal begin to "float to the top," as you might say?
DUBOIS: Well, to the best of my recollection, that floated to the top after I became less active in the War Refugee Board. (I was going to get to that.) Actually, before the War Refugee Board came to a close, this problem of reparations became very active, and I then began working on reparations programs in the Treasury, as well as working on this book of Morgenthau's, drafting chapters and so forth. My main thing from then on, actually, became in the field of reparations. So that when Truman came in, almost immediately he appointed Ambassador Edwin Pauley as his special ambassador in
charge of all reparations, both Germany and Japan. I was assigned by Morgenthau, actually before he, in effect, was fired by Truman, to work with Pauley. And from then on, I would say, my work was almost exclusively with Pauley. I went with him on three different missions. I went initially to Germany, this was right after the war. I was with him and went to what they called the Moscow Conference on Reparations, but it was really just getting together with the Soviet representatives. Then, I went with him from there to the Potsdam Conference. I was at the Potsdam Conference with Pauley's group with the official title of counsel (and later on our trip to Japan I was also named financial advisor).
MCKINZIE: So you began to phase out of the War Refugee Board and phase into the reparations question in the spring, then, of 1945?
DUBOIS: No, even before then, Doctor. I was working,
I thought I told you, in the Treasury almost exclusively on reparations and on Morgenthau's book quite some time before I was assigned to Pauley. In other words, I actually started work on that, in fact, when [John W.] Pehle left. He was the head of the War Refugee Board, and then they brought in that fellow [William O'Dwyer] who ran for mayor of New York and became mayor. Anyway, when John Pehle left and this other fellow took over, that was when I submitted my resignation, not because I didn't think I could get along with the guy but I was so heavily involved in reparations anyway.
So, then from there on, as I say, it was almost exclusively reparations. I would say starting sometime in '44. Probably early in '44. Then I went, as I say, with Pauley to Germany, Moscow and back to Potsdam. And then when he went to Japan I went to Japan with him; that was after the crash of Japan. Then he
took a trip around the world later to survey his work in Europe and in Japan, Germany in particular, and Japan. I didn't go with him, because frankly I was trying to get back to my private law practice. Then I got a cable from him from Japan (he had gone there first), requesting that I join him in Germany because there was a Paris Conference scheduled, which was to deal, among other things, with reparations.
MCKINZIE: Among other things.
DUBOIS: Yes. So I flew to Germany and I joined him there and then I went to the Paris Conference with him. While I was in Germany I also did some checking around. While I was there, Bernie Bernstein was still there and I discussed with him a number of things having to do with postwar problems in Germany.
MCKINZIE: Financial problems also?
DUBOIS: Including also a decree by the government
over there to better economically control what was going on in the postwar period. You see, the Army was still occupying a large portion of Germany, so there were problems connected with that. And with Pauley's consent I worked with Bernie on some of those. But we weren't there that long this last time. That second mission was probably only a couple of months.
And that, more or less, for the time being ended activities for the Government. I then came back and was asked for a while to work with the United Nations Committee on Economic Warfare. I went up there on a part time basis and did some work for that Committee on economic postwar problems.
Then the next thing that happened was, we were reasonably well set up here and I got this cable from Telford Taylor, Chief Prosecutor of War Crimes in Germany, requesting that I come over to head up the prosecution of the
directors of I.G. Farben. They had their problems with a guy who was heading it up. He was getting out. I was recommended to Taylor by a woman whom I'd worked with in the Treasury, Belle Meyer Zeck. She was over there with Taylor and Bernie. She was a very bright woman and very hep on the German problem. First I tried to get others to take it, including a Professor Schwartz over at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Lou Schwartz, whom I'd known, said he would check with the Dean. He called me back a day or two later and said he was sorry, he couldn't take it. I talked to my brother Herb and he said, "Why in the hell do you want to get involved with the Government again? Can't we get a law practice going here?" But he finally said okay -- of course he's the kind of guy who would say if you want to do it, do it.
So, I sent a cable back saying, "I'll come over for four months." I sent the cable in December of '46, but I was there from
January of '47 until about September of '48. I said, "I'm coming for four months, okay." So, I hadn't been over there much more than 3 months and I got a phone call from my wife that my dad was dying; that he didn't expect to live too much longer. So, I wanted to get back, if possible, before he died. He had a very serious diabetic condition among other things. So, I asked the Army if they'd put me on an early plane going back and they refused to do it. I was so goddamn mad...
MCKINZIE: I imagine you were.
DUBOIS: ...that I sent -- they claim it's the hottest cable that ever went through the Army wire. But, in any event, I went back.
MCKINZIE: Who did you send the cable to?
DUBOIS: Back to the War Department. I resigned, sent in my resignation, saying I was taking my
own plane back at my expense and telling what I thought of this kind of treatment.
So, I went back and then I got these urgent "comebacks," and I initially said, "To hell with you." But then finally they convinced me so then they sent me back by Army plane. I was there until the end of the trial. My book, The Devil's Chemists, covers the trial.
MCKINZIE: Could we go back and talk a little about the reparations work? You had to work a lot with the State Department, plus work with the British delegation and everybody else on reparations claims on all of those things, including the Soviet Union, I assume, at a fairly early stage?
DUBOIS: Yes, but that was the Moscow Conference that I went to with Pauley; it had to do with coordinating the activities, naturally, of the Russians and the British and it was -- the Potsdam
Conference, of course, everybody got together. At the Potsdam Conference, of course, part of the final result had to do with reparations. And that was, of course, where the four major parties got together, including France, of course.
MCKINZIE: What were your feelings at that time about the future cooperativeness of the Soviets? There had been some talk earlier at Yalta of a $20 billion figure.
DUBOIS: Well, there was not any specific figures thrown around. The main thing was what was the theory of the reparations program going to be? Although, in the end result, what appeared in the Potsdam Conference wasn't what you would call the Morgenthau plan per se; the theory was a hell of a lot closer to the Morgenthau plan than it was to that State Department memorandum that I mentioned to you. But, of course, it was never followed through. The U.S. officials did do just what Morgenthau was afraid of, and in effect
what the State Department memorandum recommended.
MCKINZIE: Was it discussed at that time?
DUBOIS: At the time I believed in it, I was convinced at the time. I was very much personally opposed, for whatever that meant, and fearful of a strong Germany again. At this Potsdam Conference, there was circulated and shown to me what I regarded at the time as a shocking memorandum. I came to know Pauley very well and he showed me a memorandum by the State Department representative over there, in effect saying just exactly that. That our goal should be -- this was just circulated within the American delegation of course -- our goal should be rebuilding a strong Germany as a buffer against Communism; in so many words, it said that.
MCKINZIE: At that time, that early?
DUBOIS: At that early time, definitely. I saw the
MCKINZIE: Was this ever discussed in the delegation meetings?
DUBOIS: No, no. It was not openly discussed -- it was hush, hush. At least at that conference as far as I know; I didn't hear any formal discussion on it by anybody. Somebody showed me a copy of the memo before Pauley showed it to me; labeling it a United States "hush, hush document."
MCKINZIE: Now, when you went to that Moscow Conference, you say there was no discussion of the amount of the reparations?
DUBOIS: We weren't talking in terms of amounts at any time that I could remember. It was more the theory of, do you do it in form of taking their goods, or do you do it by taking their plants, or how do you do it? I can't say there were never
discussion of amounts around the table where I was not privy to it. It may well have been, but certainly there was no official documents having anything to do with reparations. I didn't ever see a dollar figure. They weren't thinking in those terms.
MCKINZIE: By the time of that Paris Conference in 1946, which was in connection with the signing of peace treaties, I guess for Italy, Bulgaria, and Romania and all that, there was in conjunction or roughly at the same time, a meeting with reparation people, right?
DUBOIS: I think conceivably there could be more than one Paris Conference that we're talking about. Let me just put it to you this way. All the conferences that I had to deal with were all basically dealing with the theory of reparations, not who was to get what. There was no discussion of that.
MCKINZIE: May we talk about Secretary Morgenthau and his going out of office? You mentioned you worked drafting chapters of his book. President Truman's account of his problem with Secretary Morgenthau was that Secretary Morgenthau was always threatening to resign if he didn't get his way, and he, Truman, just decided to let him threaten and not ask him to come back. Obviously there is another side to that and I wondered what it looked like from inside the Treasury Department?
DUBOIS: There I'm really at a lost to give you too much information. For the simple reason that -- I can't remember when Truman appointed Pauley, but it was certainly shortly after he took office -- from there on I worked exclusively with Pauley. Technically, Pauley was the President's personal representative on reparations, and I worked exclusively with him. In fact I was quite shocked when I got the news while I was in Germany with Pauley that Morgenthau
was no longer Secretary of Treasury. I was very fond of the man, incidentally, and I was quite shocked and upset. So, it came as a complete surprise to me, but I just lost contact with the Treasury situation.
MCKINZIE: But in that interim period between the time Truman became President and the time he appointed Pauley you didn't notice any difficulty with Morgenthau? From your position you didn't see any terrible difficulty with the President?
DUBOIS: No, but it was such a short period of time, Doctor, very short period. In fact, even then I was working exclusively on reparations. I think I told you that from early '44 on my field was reparations, and working on Morgenthau's book; but on that phase of it that you're talking about, his relations with Truman, I can't shed any light on that.
MCKINZIE: You covered this in your book?
DUBOIS: Yes, The Devil's Chemist.
MCKINZIE: Are there incidents which are illustrative of historical events in which you would have participated or have knowledge, that you might put on this oral record, which you know is not recorded in documents? You know there are sometimes quiet conversations in an office but which may have had an effect on something later on, in the existence of another document in dealing with reparations, in dealing with monetary matters at the end of the war, and refugees. Are there any anecdotes?
DUBOIS: Well, frankly, I naturally tried to make my book as good a seller as I could make it. I brought in a fellow I didn't know, who was recommended to me, who did most of the writing. In a way I'm sorry I didn't try it myself, but I didn't have time. I think at times it got a little bit complicated.