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Howard Elting Jr.

By: Brace Pattou

This is a World War II story to add to Elting family lore. It's about Howard Elting, Jr., now of San Rafael, California. He is the son of Howard Elting, close boyhood friend of my great uncle Victor Elting. They were third cousins, so I guess that makes Howard, Jr. and me fifth cousins twice removed.

The senior Howard Elting moved to Chicago in 1904 to join Philip Elting in the Adams & Elting Company, paint manufacturers. He retired in 1933 and died in 1954 at age 85.

His son goes into the history books because as a career Foreign Service officer and Vice Consul in the U.S. consulate in Geneva, Switzerland, he was in his office to receive an important visitor. His visitor brought with him the first incontrovertible proof of the German government's plan to mass murder the Jews of Europe.

The date was August 8, 1942. Howard was the first American to see the report because on that date he was filling in for his boss who was on a skiing vacation in the Swiss Alps.

Howard's visitor that day was a World Jewish Congress representative. In his possession was the report of a German industrialist who at great personal risk had documented the build-up and beginning of the extermination--by gas--of the Jews in occupied Europe.

The courageous source of the information himself was back in Germany, his identity concealed. As a prominent business executive, permitted to make frequent trips outside wartime Germany, he had learned from purchase orders that poison gas was involved. This was in 1942, when the outside world was unaware that Auschwitz had begun the use of prussic acid and that Sobibor and Treblinka were already killing camps.

It became Howard's job to assess the report's importance to his government. At first he had doubts. Mass murder by prussic acid? Atrocity propaganda? Hysterical war rumors?

The emissary overcame the doubts of the young Howard. Despite his very junior rank, lowest in the Foreign Service hierarchy, Howard was determined to forward the report to his Washington superiors and thence to its main intended recipient, Stephen Wise, President of the American Jewish Congress in New York.

Howard went as far as he could to help his visitor, a fact that should make Eltings everywhere proud.

His transmittal letter read:

"My personal opinion is that Riegner (the emissary for the German informant) is a serious and balanced individual and that he would never have come to the Consulate if he had not had confidence in his informant's reliability and if he did not seriously consider that the report may well contain an element of truth. It is my opinion that the report should be passed on to the Department (State) for what it is worth."

My source for this story is the book, BREAKING THE SILENCE, "the story of Eduard Schulte, the German industrialist who risked everything to oppose the Nazis and was the first to tell the world of the fate of the Jews in Hitler's Europe." (Authors: Walter Laqueur and Richard Breetman, University Press of New England, 1994).

What, then, did this inside Germany report of Herr Schulte accomplish? From Howard we know that the emissary's telegram to Rabbi Stephen Wise was strongly worded. It said: 

"Informer is reported to have close connections with highest German authorities and his reports to be generally reliable."

Sadly, as we know, diplomatic authorities waffled on the issue. The U.S. State Department evidently chose to believe that while a lot of Jews were dying in Europe, it was from mistreatment and disease, not that the Nazis had decided to kill all of them.

A small step forward was an FDR announcement on October 7, 1942, calling for investigation of war crimes. "It was a sign that the White House had seen some of the information from Switzerland about the Final Solution," the book's authors noted.

Eduard Schulte himself didn't fare much better for all his outstanding and risky service to the Allies. He was slated to take a major postwar position in the German government. But that foundered as American occupying bureaucrats tied it up in senseless de-Nazification procedures. He died in Zurich in 1966.

In April 2000 an exhibit honoring Howard and other diplomats was opened at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. They were cited for rescuing Jews and other refugees during the Holocaust.

In an article in the Bevier-Elting family association newsletter, Howard is described as having been, "a profoundly ethical man for whom there was no room for equivocation on issues of conscience."

Another evidence of this quality was Howard's courageous support of John W. Service, a fellow Foreign Service officer. Service, an old China hand, was a prime target of Senator Joseph McCarthy whose red baiting charges sought Service's dismissal from Foreign Service.

This article copyright Brace Pattou.




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