Ambassador Morgenthau’s Personal Library Donated To the Armenian Genocide Museum of America


WASHINGTON — The personal library of US Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, renowned for his extraordinary efforts to bring American and international attention to the Turkish government’s deportation and massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, has been donated to the Armenian Genocide Museum of America (AGMA).

“We are extremely grateful to the Morgenthau family for entrusting this invaluable collection of books to the museum, which provides a window into the breadth and depth of the Ambassador’s intellectual acumen and his humanitarian outlook,” said Van Z. Krikorian, museum trustee and chairman of the project’s Building and Operations Committee. “In the pantheon of heroes who have fought against genocide, the Morgenthau name is legendary. This collection is priceless and wonderful Thanksgiving news,” added Krikorian.

The gift of Ambassador Morgenthau’s personal library, which has been privately held by his family since his death in 1946, comes to AGMA from Henry Morgenthau III, the son of Henry Morgenthau Jr., and the grandson of the Ambassador. In making the gift to AGMA, Henry Morgenthau III said “I am only putting Ambassador Morgenthau’s effects where they belong.”

Morgenthau’s personal library includes books he acquired during his term of service in the Ottoman Empire, and others obtained in preparation for his diplomatic posting to expand his knowledge of the region, its history and people. The collection also includes Ambassador Morgenthau’s autographed copy of the official State Department publication “Instructions to the Diplomatic Officers of the United States,” which he was provided upon his appointment.

Krikorian said the Ambassador Morgenthau collection will be used by the research library, and to enhance the museum’s exhibits depicting the ambassador’s life and work. Ambassador Morgenthau was a naturalized American from a German-Jewish family and a successful lawyer active in Democratic Party politics. With the election of President Woodrow Wilson, he was appointed United States Ambassador to the Sublime Porte in 1913.

“Ambassador Morgenthau played a central role in documenting the Armenian Genocide, and the items related to his diplomatic service are critical pieces of his life story,” Krikorian said. “No one individual before Ambassador Morgenthau had so prominently alerted the international community to the consequences of the mass atrocities perpetrated against the Armenian population in Ottoman Turkey and analyzed the mechanisms of a state system devised to extinguish an entire people. Remarkably, the recent publication of Talaat Pasha’s diary dispositively confirms what Ambassador Morgenthau reported and wrote at the beginning of the last century.”

While in Constantinople, Ambassador Morgenthau had personal contact with the Young Turk leaders of the Ottoman Empire and architects of the Armenian Genocide, especially the Minister of the Interior, Talaat. When news of the deportations and massacres began to reach the Embassy in April 1915, Ambassador Morgenthau attempted to intervene to alleviate the plight of the Armenian population. He forwarded to Washington the stream of alarming reports he received from US consulates in the interior of the Ottoman Empire that detailed the extent of the measures taken against the Armenians.

On July 16, 1915, Morgenthau cabled the US Department of State his own dispatch whose alarm resonates to this day. He called the Young Turk policy of deportation “a campaign of race extermination.” In effect, he became the first person to officially transmit to the American government news that a state-sponsored systematic genocide was underway.

Drained by his disappointment in averting this disaster, Ambassador Morgenthau returned to the United States in 1916. For the remainder of the war years he dedicated himself to raising funds for the surviving Armenians. Ambassador Morgenthau was particularly instrumental in the founding of the Near East Relief organization, which became the main US private agency to deliver critical assistance to the survivors of the Armenian Genocide.

To bring his case to the attention of the public, he published Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story in 1918, a memoir of his years in Turkey in which he stressed the German influence and role in the Ottoman Empire. While he held Germany responsible for starting World War I, he placed the blame for the atrocities committed against the Armenians entirely upon the shoulders of the Young Turk Ittihadist cabinet, which he characterized as a violently radical regime.

Ambassador Morgenthau titled the chapter on the Armenians “The Murder of a Nation” and described the deportations and the atrocities as a “cold-blooded, calculating state policy.” He avowed at the time “I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this.”

Coinciding with the announcement of the gift to AGMA is the launch of a special exhibit titled “The Morgenthaus: A Legacy of Service,” at the Jewish Heritage Museum in New York City. The exhibit features Robert M. Morgenthau, Henry Morgenthau Jr., and Henry Morgenthau Sr., three men who courageously spoke out against injustice when no one else would. They represent more than a century of one family’s dedication to public service. Henry Morgenthau Jr. served as secretary of the treasury on President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s cabinet during the Great Depression and World War II. As the longest-serving district attorney in New York City, Robert M. Morgenthau effected far-reaching change in the legal system, and inspired new generations of professionals and public servants. The exhibition explores the ways in which three generations of a family raised awareness of tragedy around the world, and in doing so changed the course of world events, American politics, and Jewish history.

In her Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Samantha Power, who currently serves as director of Multilateral Affairs on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, wrote:

“In 1915 Henry Morgenthau Sr., the US Ambassador in Constantinople, responded to Turkey’s deportation and slaughter of its Armenian minority by urging Washington to condemn Turkey and pressure its wartime ally Germany. Morgenthau also defied diplomatic convention by personally protesting the atrocities, denouncing the regime, and raising money for humanitarian relief.”

Ambassador Morgenthau’s personal library is the sixth significant collection of Genocide-era and post-Genocide-era materials, which, in the past two years, have been donated or made available for use by AGMA. AGMA has been granted access to the archives of the Near East Foundation and the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute in Yerevan, Armenia.