Tangier American Diplomat Among the Righteous?

TALIM J. Rives Childs Photo at left: J. Rives Childs, Chargé d'Affaires, American Legation Tangier, February 1941 – June 1945 (from the collection at TALIM).

The following letter is from one of Childs' many books, Vignettes, or Autobiographical Fragments, Vantage Press, 1977.

– – – – – – –

                                                                                                Tangier, 13 June 1945

Excellency:

Permit me, before your departure from Tangier, to express to Your Excellency from the bottom of my heart my most profound and everlasting gratitude for your extremely noble and generous assistance in the affair of the entry visas for Tangier for 500 children and adults, for the most part of large families of Hungarian Jews.

 It is without doubt, due to the intervention of Your Excellency that the requests for entry visas were accorded.

The International Red Cross of Budapest, not having received German transit visas for these persons, had, thanks to the entry visas for Tangier, been able to arrange for the departure of this number of Jews from a Nazi concentration camp, place them in safety in a building rented by it which was, in consequence of the authorization of entry visas, protected by the Spanish Consulate in Budapest.

Thus 1200 innocent souls owe their survival to Your Excellency.

I pray God and hope for Your Excellency that benedictions and success accompany all your life each of your steps.

Please accept, Excellency, this testimony of my most profound respect and most distinguished thanks.

                                                                                                Your very devoted,

                                                                                                Renée Reichmann

– – – – – – –

Renée Reichmann, when she wrote this letter, was in Tangier representing the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).  The incident is partially described in this 1997 Business Week excerpt from Anthony Bianco's book on the Reichmanns.

J. Rives Childs, in his 1977 book, wrote "All these years… I have carried a copy of Mme. Reichmann's letter in my wallet."  In his autobiography, Let the Credit Go (1983, Frederick Fell Publishers), Childs modestly gave credit for the rescue to Reichmann and to General Luis Orgaz, high commissioner of the Spanish Zone of Morocco, who had ordered the visas issued.

My question is this: shouldn't J. Rives Childs be considered one of The Righteous, and be properly recognized in Yad Vashem?  Childs, in Vignettes, wrote: "I cannot now recall whether, in the hurly-burly of leavetaking of Tangier, I made Mme. Reichmann's letter a matter of official record or ever reported to Washington my unofficial and personal intervention with General Orgaz."  Might there be some mention of this event in Childs' State Department file or at the National Archives?

Childs died on July 15, 1987 at the age of 94, but even posthumous recognition would do him honor.

Next month, it will have been 70 years since Childs took up his post as Chargé at the American Legation, a key post given the events that would unfold here over the next two years, culminating in the first American combat operation in the European theatre of World War II: Operation Torch, the North Africa landings that started to turn the tide on the Western Front.

We knew he was in charge of sensitive diplomatic relations then; we didn't know that he was a hero, a righteous man.

Gerald Loftus

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3 Responses to Tangier American Diplomat Among the Righteous?

  1. Mark Holbrook says:

    Fascinating! What an inspiring story…and what a service you’ve done the memory of Mr Childs and the institutional memory of TALM in bringing this to light.

  2. Dorothy Weems says:

    My mother worked at the US Legation in the early 1940’s.

  3. David Meyer says:

    Dear Mr. Holbrook,
    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 Saudia 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 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 that 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.
    David Meyer
    Fairfax, Virginia USA

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