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The Experiences of the U.S. Consulate General in Warsaw on the Outbreak of World War II September 1939

by David A. Langbart

As a result of the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the U.S. consulate general in Warsaw and its staff faced extraordinary circumstances. The Department of State included a brief overview of those experiences in a background report on wartime hazards faced by the Foreign Service during the period before the United States entered World War II.1 The extreme nature of what the consulate general’s staff faced are such, however, that it is worth presenting the full report of Consul General John K. Davis. Written from Oslo, Norway, after evacuation to that city, Davis’s despatch provides a detailed and evocative description of the events and occurrences that befell the staff in Warsaw. The ordeal was great. As the Consul General noted, “for all practical purposes we found ourselves living in the midst of a battlefield.”

John K. Davis was born in China in 1882. He began his diplomatic and consular career in 1910 in Shanghai. He became consul general at Warsaw in December 1938, after service in both a diplomatic and consular capacity at a number of posts in China and the consulates general in London, Vancouver, and Victoria B.C. Subsequently, he served as consul general in Dublin and in the Department of State where he became chief of the Office of Philippine Affairs. Davis retired effective January 31, 1943.

Consul General Davis’s despatch received a great deal of attention in the Department of State. Loy Henderson, an assistant chief in the Division of European Affairs, thought it of such interest that he recommended that the Department’s leadership read it. Furthermore, he suggested that consideration be given to sending a copy to President Roosevelt. Eventually Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles and the three Assistant Secretaries of State (George Messersmith, Adolph Berle, and Henry Grady) saw it. Messersmith seconded Henderson’s recommendation to send it to the President, noting “After this despatch has been around the Dept. I believe the Secretary will wish to send it to the President.”

No evidence that Davis’s report went to the White House has been found. President Roosevelt was aware, however, of the dangers under which the Consul General and his staff had operated. Even before Davis penned his report, the President sent him the following letter:

The courage and devotion to duty of yourself and of the Foreign Service Officers and clerks of your staff are deserving of highest praise and special commendation. I am happy to learn that you are now out of the danger zone and I wish to convey to each and all of you my sincerest thanks and appreciation.2

The Department acknowledged Davis’s report. An instruction to Davis, noted that the despatch had been “read with interest.” Furthermore, it stated “the Department again desires to commend you and members of your staff for the manner in which you performed your duties and conducted yourselves during a protracted period of hardship and danger.”3


David A. Langbart is an archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives. Any opinions expressed in the introduction are those of the author and do not reflect those of any agency of the U.S. Government.



I have the honor to report below some facts concerning the operation of the Warsaw Consulate General during the German-Polish war and particularly during the period in which the city was virtually in a state of siege.

As the Department is aware from the telegram sent prior to the interruption of all communications, it had been planned to operate the Consulate General from Constancin if, and when, the city became too dangerous as a result of air bombing. This proved entirely impractical owing to the indiscriminate bombing and machine gunning of all traffic on the roads and the early arrival of a German mechanized column near Konstancin.

It appeared to me that the neighborhood of the Consulate General would be much more likely to be the object of attacks from the air than the chancery of the embassy. Consequently, in the afternoon of September 5th, the office personnel was moved to the latter place together with a minimum of necessary equipment and records. This decision proved to be most fortunate, since later the Consulate General was struck by a considerable number of shells and was very seriously damaged. Had the staff been there a large loss of life would inevitably have resulted.

The move to the chancery had not been completed before a large influx of American, French and British refugees commenced arriving. All of these were badly frightened and many who had made their way on foot from other cities were in a deplorable physical and mental condition owing to privations, fatigue, exposure and the horrors they had seen on the roads. We at once effected a hasty organization of the staff to meet the situation and each refugee was seen and given such assistance and advice as was possible.5 During the first few days there was still an irregular train service operated to Brest-Litovsk and the office was able in cooperation with the local authorities to get quite considerable numbers on these trains and thus to places which then appeared to much more safe than Warsaw. Vice Consul Morton6 had been sent to Brest-Litovsk and had a villa just out of that town where refugees could at least have shelter and food and where he could assist them in endeavoring to get out of the country by trains.

The protection of British and French interests was a trying problem. At the last moment before the British and French official personnel left Warsaw, officers of the two embassies requested that I take over the protection of their interest. These were informed that this could not be undertaken until formal authorization had been received from the Department. Telegrams requesting such authorization were sent, but no replies were ever received from the Department.7 Accordingly, such good offices and informal assistance were afforded as were possible. The chanceries of both countries were sealed as were the doors of the British Consulate. Those individuals in the greatest need were permitted to sleep at night at our chancery until other arrangements could be made. In some cases food was given to those in the worst distress and many were assisted in getting to trains, while these were still being operated in one direction. An effort was made to foster the formation of a small committee of capable Englishmen to aid in housing in the air-raid shelter of the British Embassy those British citizens most in need of a place to sleep. Through one very brave and generous Frenchman we were able to give financial assistance to a number of the most needy French citizens. In general, however, the inability to afford British and French citizens adequate assistance was a cause of deep distress to me. I was not even permitted to visit in the detention camp in Konigsberg certain women whom I particularly wished to see and to try and comfort. Much of this could have been obviated had the request for protection of interests been made well in advance.8

Those Americans who could not get out of town before the trains ceased running, as well as many of the staff of the Consulate General, were given shelter in the cellars of the chancery and were fed. When the cellars became full others were sent to the offices of the Commercial Attache, which were within a few doors of the chancery, and a few were kept in the Consulate General until it became untenable. The handling and feeding of the large number of persons was a serious problem of organization.

The dangers to which all were exposed were considerable and increased as time went on. Commencing with September 1st, the city was subjected to daily bombings from the air. At first these were confined to bridges, railway freight yards, factories and similar objectives. Later, however, various parts of the city were subjected to air attacks and it was difficult to determine exactly what objectives were being sought. The air raiding became steadily more intense and the raids were so numerous that all count was lost of them. On some days there were as many as nine raids, some seemingly made by 60 or 70 planes. On the roof of the chancery were painted two large American flags and a large bunting flag was also placed there and, whether for this or some other reason only one air bomb fell close to it, and this fortunately did not explode. One air bomb also fell in the garden of the Ambassador’s residence, but this likewise did not explode. Commencing about September 9th, the city was subjected to a much more nerve-wracking and serious danger in the form of shelling by field guns of varying sizes. Several shells exploded in the rooms of the Consulate General, doing very serious damage, and the building was struck in many other places. The building immediately south of the chancery, and which physically touched it, was directly struck by five shells, fragments of which hit the chancery in many places and the concussion of which shattered all of the glass in the front part of the chancery building. One of these struck within 20 feet of the point where Mr. McDonald, an American businessman, and myself were sleeping on the floor; another struck the roof and a Polish clerk of the Embassy—Miss Woynilowicz9 —and myself who were standing by a window in direct line were pushed down by the concussion. Fortunately none of the fragments came through the window, although they splattered over that side of the chancery building. Consul Cramp, Vice Consul Birkeland, Mrs. Talmont10 and another clerk went to the Consulate General to get some necessary records and had just left the visa section for the front of the office, when a shell entered the visa room in which they had been and exploded. A difference of perhaps two minutes was all that saved their lives. Vice Consuls Blake and Birkeland11 were driving in a car to get certain things which were required and had just passed a car going in the opposite direction when the latter car was struck by a shell. Various of the officers and myself, when out in cars endeavoring to obtain food for the refugees, had to pass through streets on which buildings were being hit. In a word, the danger was serious and constant and the fact that none of the officers, staff or refugees were killed or even hit was simply a matter of chance.

Aside from the strain of falling shells and bombs the entire atmosphere was indescribably distressing. Nightly the sky was red from fires in many quarters; the number of civilian casualties reached into several thousands and the bodies were hastily buried in lawns of the nearest square or park; human corpses and mangled persons as well as dead and injured horses were to be seen as officers and clerks went out on necessary errands; Polish batteries were placed in all parks and large gardens, several very close to us, and their explosions mingled with those of the incoming shells made an incessant din; barricades and tank traps were erected and dug in the streets within one block of the chancery; and towards the end an increasing number of the apartments of the officers and clerks were either directly hit by shells or injured by those which struck nearby. It was impossible to go in any direction without at once seeing the effects of the shell fire and the firing was so indiscriminate that one could never tell when shells would be falling near. In a word, for all practical purposes we found ourselves living in the midst of a battlefield.

The absence of all communication with the outside world added a psychological hardship. We did not know whether any of our many messages had got through, and there was no indication in any of the radio broadcasts heard from London, Paris, Berlin or the United States to indicate that they had been. We were in effect a “lost battalion.”12

All of the higher Polish officials had left and the only authorities to whom we could turn were those of the city, and these were too harassed with their own problems to afford us any material help. Banks were either closed or not conducting their usual functions, which rendered most difficult the problem of getting the requisite money with which to purchase food. We were constantly the object of distressing requests for assistance from those in dire need but whom we were powerless to aid. The Polish army announced that the city would be defended from street to street and that every able bodied man would be expected to join up and aid the regular troops. Several times the water and electricity services were interrupted for a short period and it was announced that typhoid had broken out in the city and that great care should be exercised with food and water. Food could only be obtained with the exercise of the greatest ingenuity and by incurring constant danger in moving it. Gasoline could not be purchased and, had it not been for a few drums purchased by officers of the Embassy and left buried in the garden, we would not have been able to operate our vitally needed cars.

The cellars of the chancery were protected by sandbagging all windows and by bracing with posts those ceilings which appeared structurally the weakest. Careful organization and policing kept the cellar rooms as sanitary as possible in spite of the carelessness of some refugee women and children. In order to regulate all who entered or left, the front gate was kept constantly locked, and to guard against disaster from lack of warning of fire, officers were divided into watches which operated during all twenty-four hours. When heavy explosions were occurring in close proximity some officer and I went through the cellars to calm and reassure the women and children—two of the women were over 80 and one over 70; also after each nearby explosion the upstairs rooms and attic were inspected for incipient fires. Sand boxes and shovels were placed ready at all strategic points and a long hose was kept attached to a large faucet in the entrance courtyard.

In general, all plans were decided upon by myself in consultation with Consuls Haering and Cramp13 but all officers and clerks were informed that suggestions would always be welcome. Many valuable suggestions were received and acted upon and, with but few exceptions, all duties assigned were efficiently and cheerfully performed. In view of the dangerous, distressing and uncomfortable circumstances in which we were so long forced to live, congested like pigs in a pen on the cement floors of the cellars, the splendid spirit shown by all—lofficers and clerks, men and women—was a constant source of surprise and gratification to me. This was especially so in view of the fact that no one could get more than a few hours of sleep, and during our entire stay no one could get really rested.

Several of the male clerks of the Consulate General were called up to the colors and what has happened to them is of course as yet not known. Others disappeared and presumably tried to make their way through the country. The majority of the female clerks stayed and many of them came to the chancery where some of them were of conspicuous usefulness. The courage and willingness of three of these women were outstanding. Although they had lost much and stood to lose more—including the loss of members of their families—and although they slept in their coats on the hard cement floors of the cellars, they set a remarkable example by being always smiling and always eager to undertake whatever tasks were assigned them. Their indomitable spirit and loyalty was a constant inspiration to me and I am sure to the officers and the other clerks as well. One was Mrs. Talmont, an American citizen; one was Mrs. Kruczkowska, a Polish citizen; and the third was Miss Woynilowicz, a Polish citizen and a clerk on the Embassy staff.14 The first two were small, frail-looking women in whom one would not expect to find such spirit and courage.

Early in our stay in the chancery the staff was thoroughly organized to meet the situation and different duties were assigned to particular individuals. The feeding and housing of as many as 75 persons in the cellars of the chancery without injury or serious illness indicate how effectively everyone did his or her duty. Naturally each individual realized the danger, but in spite of this nothing was neglected. I feel deeply indebted to those whose courage and devotion made the effective handling or [of?] our problem possible.

At the beginning of the stay in the chancery I made two urgent requests of all of the officers: (1) that no person should needlessly expose himself or herself to danger, and (2) that, realizing the physical and nervous strain under which we should all be placed, each officer should endeavor to avoid making criticisms of the others and that if any should be made the one being criticized should be indulgent, remember the abnormal conditions obtaining and not take offence. I am glad to state that both requests were, with but few exceptions, most carefully observed.

The providing of food for the large number of refugees and ourselves was one that became increasingly difficult, owing to the seizure of most supplies by the military. A committee of Polish citizens was organized to assist in obtaining food for the foreign officials and their citizens, but owing to the abnormal conditions obtaining this did not function effectively. Towards the end I placed the Polish husband of Mrs. Talmont on the committee to represent the Consulate General and after that things were a little better. However, to get foods it was often necessary to proceed by motor car to distant warehouses and even though the start was made during a lull those going were often subjected to severe bombing and shelling dangers before they could return. No one actually went hungry although the food had to be what we could get.

In this general connection I wish to place on record my appreciation of the services of Mr. William C. McDonald, an American citizen connected with Messrs. Warren Brothers Company, 38 Charles River Road, Cambridge, Massachusetts, who has been doing road construction contract work in Poland for some years. He was taken on as a “dollar a year” assistant and rendered continuous and most valuable services of many kinds including driving his car under shell fire to obtain foods. I shall appreciate it, if the Department approves, the communication of my appreciation to Mr. McDonald’s firm.15

Repeated efforts were made to communicate with the Department both by direct and broadcasted messages, the latter being addressed to missions in nearby countries in order to advise the Department of our predicament. However, no replies were received and so far as we knew our messages were not received. Upon my arrival in Berlin I learned that one of the earliest had got through and that Mr. Kirk, Charge d’Affaires ad interim, had immediately and most energetically requested the German authorities to look after our safety. The only message received from the Department was its No. 92 of September 20th, which was received, how it is not known, just as we were in the throes of evacuating our refugees on September 21st.16

As has already been indicated, the city had been subjected to constant air bombing in certain sections and to seemingly indiscriminate intermittent shelling by field guns from about September 9th. On September 16th, at 3 P.M., German planes dropped leaflets over the city stating that the civilian population would be given a chance to leave the city by two roads, which were indicated, and that after twenty-four hours the city would be subjected to intense and unrestricted bombing. As a result of this threat representations were made to the Polish Commander in Chief in the Warsaw sector asking him to request a truce with the German army and to permit foreign officials and citizens to evacuate. Details of this action and my connection with it are given in a memorandum attached to this despatch.

As a result of this step and those which followed it, the foreign officials and many of their citizens actually evacuated Warsaw in the late afternoon of September 21st. Unfortunately, the American Consulate was not definitely informed that the evacuation would be possible until less than one hour before it commenced. This complicated the problem of getting word to the American citizens—mostly Polish-Americans—scattered throughout the city. Lists had been prepared earlier and the three telephone lines were used to telephone those having telephone numbers. To reach the others we had the remaining Polish radio station broadcast the information several times.

We had four motor cars available at the chancery, my own sedan, that of Mr. McDonald and two coupes belonging to Consul Cramp and Vice Consul Blake. As soon as possible those were filled with women and children and all officers left with the exception of Vice Consul Birkeland and myself. I did not wish to leave until I was certain that all at the chancery who wished to leave had had an opportunity to do so and Mr. Birkeland was arranging various records to take. After first attending to the American citizens I gave an opportunity to all of the Polish women clerks to leave, but with the exception of Miss Oparowska17 and Mrs. Kruczkowska, all elected to remain. Vice Consul Chylinski,18 whose wife is Polish, requested to be allowed to stay. He was, therefore, put in charge and given the requisite letters showing his authorization to act. I also prepared a letter addressed to the German General commanding the forces around Warsaw stating that Mr. Chylinski was being left in charge, that he and a large number of the staff were remaining in the chancery and that all of the officers had left their belongings in their respective apartments. I asked that the general take such measures as were possible to afford protection to the personnel and official property left in the chancery, the Consulate General, and the Commercial Attache’s Office, and assured him of our appreciation if he would afford the requested protection. This letter was handed to a representative of the German Foreign Office who was at the registration table at the point we entered the German lines, who promised to put it in the General’s hands.

Those Americans who were not at the chancery were told to go to the Hotel Bristol where there were many Polish army trucks waiting to take them out. As at the time of the actual evacuation, German planes were overhead and general firing was still continuing in all directions save that in which the evacuation was taking place, there was inevitably a great deal of excitement. This was heightened by the fact that one of the first cars to leave was hit by fragments of an exploding shell. By which side this was fired was unknown, but it appears probable that some German gunner inadvertently directed a salvo in the wrong sector. With between 1,000 and 1,200 persons of many nationalities to be taken out and many not entitled to the privilege endeavoring to slip in, the problem of identifying citizens and getting them into trucks was not simple. It was, however, attended to with coolness and efficiency by the officers of the Consulate General. There were among the refugees cases of exceptional bravery and coolness as well as instances of hysteria and cowardice, and to officers who had for 12 days been living in cellars under almost constant fire the strain of handling these people was great.

Those taken out in Polish trucks were transferred at the German lines to German trucks in which they were taken to a point where they were put on special trains and conveyed to Konigsberg.19 Those who went by motor cars were formed into a cavalcade and were escorted by German officers to Konigsberg. As the motor cars left Warsaw at about four o’clock in the afternoon and did not reach Konigsberg until 1:00 P.M. on the 22nd, the all night drive through the war devastated country was an added strain. All of the officers save Vice Consul Jenkins went in motor cars all of the way.

The faces of the officers of the Consulate General when they arrived in Konigsberg were distressing to see. Each appeared haggard and as if he had been through a long illness. In spite of their weariness, however, they were at once put to work trying to check up on the American refugees and, as these were scattered in various hotels, the task was complicated. Information and assistance was also afforded to the American refugees so far as this was possible. The detailed lists were later made available to the American Embassy and the Consulate General in Berlin and our officers endeavored to assist there with their personal knowledge of some of the more complicated cases.

In order to make possible the quick evacuation of as many persons as possible it was decided that each person would only be permitted to take out one small bag or suitcase. As a result each officer only brought out the clothes in which he stood and the few shirts and collars he had with him at the chancery.  There was not even time in which to get hold of our warm overcoats. Thus, each officer was faced with the problem of adequate clothing.

Since the details of the movement of the refugees from Konigsberg to Berlin have been reported from our Berlin offices these need not be recounted here.

The majority of the officers and myself proceeded from Konigsberg to Berlin by motor cars. We left on the morning of the 24th and arrived in the late evening of the 25th.

During both the evacuation from Warsaw and the trip to Berlin everything was thoroughly arranged by the German military authorities and we were afforded every assistance needed.

On September 28th Consul Cramp, Vice Consuls Blake and Jenkins left Berlin. The first mentioned stopped in Copenhagen and the other two came to Oslo. On the morning of October 1st Vice Consul Bailey20 and I left Berlin by motor car and arrived in Oslo late at night on the 2nd. Consul Haering and Vice Consul Birkeland remained in Berlin in the hope of being able to return to Warsaw at the first opportunity.

Miss Oparowska and her old mother, as well as Mrs. Kruczkowska, also remained in Berlin as the necessary German permits for them to leave the country had not yet been received. Both Miss Oparowska and Mrs. Kruczkowska desire to be assigned to some office other than that in Warsaw. Both were very useful during the siege and rendered many services while we were travelling. I am particularly grateful to Mrs. Kruczkowska for her example and assistance and should be very grateful if it can be made possible to have her in whatever office I may be assigned because of her abilities and great loyalty. Naturally, both realize that they can not be given travel expenses in proceeding to another post. If these two clerks are able to proceed to Oslo I shall be glad personally to assist them with their problems of housing and subsistence until they can safely proceed elsewhere.

All of the officers are very much worn out by the experiences to which they have been subjected and several are suffering from severe colds. The psychological suffering has in my mind been even more severe than the physical.

During our stay in Berlin every assistance and kindness was afforded us by Mr. Kirk, Charge d’Affaires ad interim, by Consul Geist21 and all of the officers and clerks of the Embassy and Consulate General. Not only was everything done with great efficiency, but the sprit in which it was done showed such great consideration that all of us were not only grateful but deeply touched as well. I also consider that our safe evacuation from Warsaw by the German army was primarily due to the prompt, energetic and effective action taken by Mr. Kirk with the German Foreign Office.

I also wish to avail myself of this opportunity to express our appreciation for the kindnesses and assistance to ourselves and our wives by Mrs. Harriman, American Minister, by Consul General Beck22 and by the officers of both the Legation and Consulate General in Oslo. It is due to the assistance of Mr. Beck that the typing of this despatch has been made possible.

I am painfully aware that this despatch is probably lacking in many respects and that it contains repetitions. It has of necessity been drafted in part at night in a hotel room and when I am physically and mentally more or less worn out. However, as mail is leaving today and since I wish the Department to be promptly informed of many of the details of what was done, I am sending it as it is rather than delay in getting the information to the Department.

In conclusion I wish to express myself on behalf of the officers, clerks and myself [appreciation]23 of the Department’s kind telegram of commendation as well as of all that has been done to afford the officers and myself an opportunity to recuperate and to see our wives.

Respectfully yours,
/s/ John K. Davis
John K. Davis
American Consul General at Warsaw
(temporarily in Oslo.)

●  ●  ●   ●  ●  ●


At about 5 o’clock in the afternoon of September 16th, Mr. Ditleff24, Norwegian Minister and Doyen of the Corps Diplomatique called me on the telephone and asked me to go immediately to his office on a matter of grave importance. Although the streets were being heavily shelled I was at once driven to Mr. Ditleff’s office by Mr. McDonald.

Upon arriving there Mr. Ditleff informed me that in view of the German ultimatum, dropped in the form of leaflets from airplanes at 3:10 that afternoon and announcing that unless the city of Warsaw was surrendered in 24 hours the city would be subjected to unrestricted bombardment both from airplanes and by field guns, it was imperative that some immediate attempt be made to protect the foreign officials and their nationals remaining in Warsaw.

After consultation Mr. Ditleff, the Argentine Minister and I decided that we should attempt to see the Polish general commanding the Warsaw sector and to request him to have a message sent out to the German High Commanding officer asking the latter to agree to a truce and for a meeting of representatives of the Diplomatic Corps and a German officer in order to arrange for the safe evacuation through the lines of the foreign officials, their staffs and resident nationals.

After some delay we managed to get into touch with the General’s staff and the latter asked that we first receive a Colonel with whom we might have preliminary conversations. At about 7 p.m. the Colonel arrived and the entire problem was discussed. The Colonel stated that (1) the General would not discuss the questions of the possible surrender of the city or of the evacuation of the Polish civil population, but (2) that the General would see us and would probably do all he consistently could towards furthering the evacuation of foreigners.

A document was drawn up in French for presentation to the General, setting forth our request. Incidentally, the Norwegian Minister stated he had not called a meeting of all of the chiefs of missions and charges, since such meetings in the past had resulted in confusion, owing to the excitement of many of these gentlemen.

At about 8 o’clock the Colonel, the Norwegian Minister, the Belgian Chargé, whom we had sent for by telephone, a Polish gentleman who came as interpreter, and myself, proceeded by two cars to the headquarters of the Polish Army on the south-eastern outskirts of Warsaw. As the streets were barricaded, entirely dark, heavily guarded by troops who were under great strain owing to the shelling and who were reluctant to let us pass although accompanied by the Colonel, the trip was not a pleasant one. The next day a hole was found in the back of our car, evidently made by a shell fragment.

The General received us courteously, though somewhat coldly, and agreed to our request. A message was prepared in German, after some discussion as to its wording, and the General ordered that it at once be put on the air in the form of a broadcast to be repeated at intervals until some response was forthcoming from the Germans.

The Norwegian Minister, who had been under a very heavy strain for days and was much disturbed by the shells falling in the immediate vicinity of his Legation while we talked, was in a very excited and nervous condition. Fearing he might unintentionally be tactless I took the liberty of trying to calm him down and to impress upon him the imperative need of appearing cool and collected and of exercising the greatest tact, since otherwise our mission might be foredoomed to failure. The Belgian Charge, although greatly excited, was much more calm.

In our interview with the General, during which he and his officers kept stressing the point that the honor of the Polish Army must be preserved by refusing to treat with the German Army, I took the liberty of bringing forward a consideration which I thought might appeal to them. I pointed out that American and Polish relations have been most friendly and that, while strictly neutral, Americans had a very high admiration for the bravery of the Polish defense. I then added that if in such a crisis the Polish Army would take the time and necessary effort to assist in the evacuation to a place of safety of neutral officials and citizens, this act would inevitably add further luster to the honor of the Army and would be recognized by the American people and all neutral peoples as a generous and humanitarian act. This made a noticeable impression and seemingly contributed towards the General’s willingness to do as we requested.

The next day, the 17th, a reply was received from the German General by the Polish military radio agreeing to the request made in the name of the Diplomatic Corps, and naming a place to which representatives might go under a flag of truce. Unfortunately, however, severe fighting was occurring in the sector named and the Polish General stated that he feared it would be impossible on such short notice to arrange its cessation in time to render the trip safe. As a result we requested the Polish General to send out a second message explaining the reason for the failure to meet the German representative at the point and time named and asking for the making of another appointment. This was done and on the evening of the 20th and the morning of the 21st German officers were met and arrangements were made which led to the actual evacuation on the afternoon of the 21st.

The energy, courage and devotion of the Norwegian Minister throughout the arrangements is deserving of the highest praise. He had been under long and severe strain, he is probably over 60 years of age and had had to deal with a badly frightened and—in some instances—unreasonable group of officers in charge of the various missions. It is due to his tact and patience that the matter of the evacuation was brought to a successful issue. I feel greatly complimented that throughout the crisis he turned to me for advice and assistance rather than to some of the several ministers and chargés.

Baron Gervers, the Second Secretary and Chargé of the Netherlands Legation, played a very important part in the actual negotiations with the German officers. He displayed great courage, common sense and tact which—together with the fact that he had been protecting the German interests—constituted him an ideal negotiator. I am sure that he is deserving of our sincere gratitude.End.


1. For the text of that report see:

2. Franklin D. Roosevelt to John K. Davis, September 27, 1939, file 123 D 292/571, 1930-39 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.

3. Department of State to American Consul General Warsaw (now at Oslo), Unnumbered Instruction, November 1, 1939, file 125.981/73, 1930-39 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.

4. Consulate General Warsaw (at Oslo) to Department of State, Despatch 2, October 4, 1939, file 125.981/73, 1930-39 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives. A few spelling errors have been corrected.

5. In a telegram sent at the time, Davis indicated that about 80 people took refuge, including 50 women and children. See Consulate Warsaw to Department of State, Telegram 4, September 11, 1939, file 125.981/57, 1930-39 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.

6. William A. Morton, age 60, assigned to Warsaw in 1935.

7. At this point there is a marginal note in an unknown hand stating “Telegrams were sent.”

8. For more on the protection of interests see: William M. Franklin, PROTECTION OF FOREIGN INTERESTS: A STUDY IN DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR PRACTICE, Washington: USGPO, 1946.

9. Miss Woynilowicz is not further identified.

10. William M. Cramp, age 37, assigned to Warsaw in June 1939; Carl Birkeland, age 53, assigned to Warsaw in 1929; Sophie Talmont.

11. Monroe W. Blake, age 39, assigned to Warsaw in 1936.

12. The index to the central files of the Department of State indicates that the Department received some messages and sent replies.

13. George J. Haering, age 44, assigned to Warsaw in 1937.

14. Eugenia Joanna Kruczkowska.

15. See Secretary of State Cordell Hull to Mssrs. Warren Brothers Company, November 1, 1939, file 125.981/73, 1930-39 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.

16. “No. 92 of September 20th” is underlined and in the margin is written “Telegram expressing appreciation of hardships.” That telegram read in full: “Please telegraph at once regarding welfare of yourself and staff. Department appreciates to the full the hardships and dangers which all of you are incurring in line of duty. Is it possible to render you assistance of any kind? Families send love.” Department of State to Consulate General Warsaw, Telegram 92, September 20, 1939, file 125.981/61A, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.

17. Nadzieja Oparowska.

18. Thaddeus H. Chylinski, age 40, began work in the Consulate General in Warsaw in 1920 as a clerk and became a vice consul there in 1936.

19. A major German city in East Prussia. Now Kaliningrad, Russia.

20. Edwin Tomlin Bailey, age 32, assigned to Warsaw in 1937.

21. Alexander C. Kirk, Charge d’Affaires of the U.S. embassy in Germany since recall of the U.S. ambassador in November 1938; Raymond H. Geist, age 44, First Secretary of Embassy and Consul at Berlin.

22. Florence J. Harriman, U.S. Minister to Norway; William H. Beck, age 47, Consul General at Oslo.

23. This word inserted in the handwriting of an unidentified individual.

24. M. Nils Christian Ditleff


David A. Langbart
David A. Langbart

David A. Langbart is an archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives. The opinions expressed in the introduction are those of the author and do not reflect those of any agency of the U.S. Government. The author thanks former Foreign Service Officer Charles V. Hawley for his assistance.


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