This post was originally published in 2011 on the Tangier American Legation blog.
In honor of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and the Soviet arrest of Raoul Wallenberg, the "Swedish Schindler," I republish three posts on a righteous American diplomat who helped more than a thousand Jews escape the Holocaust.
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Our post on J. Rives Childs, Chargé d'Affaires at the Tangier American Legation during World War II, has elicited a fascinating comment from a friend of his. We repeat David Meyer's letter below to give it proper attention, as Mr. Meyer begins to answer one of the questions we raised in January: does J. Rives Childs deserve "Righteous" recognition at Yad Vashem for his role in saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust? Mr. Meyer's letter addresses one of the key Yad Vashem criteria: "Righteous" designation is reserved for people who not only saved Jews, but also risked their own lives in doing so.
Images from Toledo sword cane inscribed to J. Rives Childs
TALIM Museum, Tangier American Legation
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"Rives Childs was a close personal friend of mine for many years, from 1971 until his death in 1987. Childs was promoted to the rank of Ambassador soon after the war and was the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia and then Saudi Arabia in the post-war years that proved pivotal for both the creation of Israel and the resulting conflicts. Childs worked diligently to keep the Arab states, especially the Saudis, from engaging in war with Israel. His rapport with the Saudi King was critical in this regard.
When Senator McCarthy began his campaign alleging that there were Communists in the State Department, Childs had just turned 60 years old and was elgible for retirement. His wife, whom he had married in 1922 in Moscow, was from a formerly prominent, aristocratic Russian family, but had of course had her assets seized by the Bolsheviks. Childs was in Russia at the time, helping Herbert Hoover address the widespread famine that was occuring in Russia, when he met his wife-to-be. Childs told me that he was concerned in the early 1950s that he may become a target of McCarthy, because his wife was Russian. He told me that if he was ever called before the Senate committee, he was prepared to defend himself, in part by reading the letter from Renee Reichmann.
Childs was a native of Virginia, and his family lineage was long and prominent. He told me that he probably could have asked the U.S. Senator Harry Byrd (Virginia) to support him, but he did not want to put his wife through such an ordeal. Consequently, he decided to retire. He lived in Nice, France for the next 20 years (1953-1973) before returning to the United States after his wife's death.
Note also that Childs was awarded the Medal of Freedom by Harry Truman (*see note at bottom of page) after the war for his contribution to the North African invasion by providing intelligence early and continuously to the Allies before Operation Torch began. At one point, the Nazis had targeted him for assassination. The Allies had discovered this (because they had broken the Nazi's code) but did not tell Childs. For whatever reason, the assassination never occurred. Childs discovered this later after the war.
I have in the past thought, like you, that Childs ought to be considered for recognition for his actions regarding the Hungarian Jews he helped save. He told me that there were other diplomats who said, in essence, "Why bother? You are putting yourself at risk." (Evidently, he WAS at risk, but did not realize how much so until after the war. My hunch is that the Nazis wanted him dead because they suspected him of spying for the Allies more than his actions regarding the Jews in Budapest, but who knows for certain?).
I met Childs in 1971 when I was 19 years old and a freshman at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. Childs was a 1912 graduate of Randolph-Macon (subsequently received his M.A. from Harvard) and would regularly visit the school for several months in 1971 and 1972. In my senior year, he left Nice, France and returned to the U.S. permanently.
We maintained a close friendship for the many years following my graduation in 1974 - in fact, he introduced me to a woman who became my wife (we have been married for 31 years). I told him that it was remarkable that he could still at the age of 85 have such a profound influence on people's lives by such simply "match making." He was always a modest person, but he found that humorous whenever I reminded him.
Obviously, he was one of many unsung heroes from that horrible time. While I sometimes wish that these types of persons would be able to live forever, I take solace in the fact that there are children and grandchilden alive today, making contributions to this world in ways we will never fully know, because Rives Childs saved those Budapest Jews from certain death in the concentration camps. I write this narrative on Yom Kippur as a testimony of one person's courage long ago that is an example of Atonement for all of us."
Fairfax, Virginia USA
* Note: James Cockfield, in his book on J. Rives Childs' work in famine relief in post-WW I Russia, says that Childs "was belatedly awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1946 for his work in cryptography" [in World War One]. Obviously, Childs (also a renowned expert on Casanova, and a prolific author) was quite a Renaissance man, in addition to being an unsung hero.
(originally posted October 9, 2011)