Hidden Figures — Henrietta Stein Klotz: “The Watchdog of the Secretary of the Treasury”
Dr. Abby Gondek is the Roosevelt Institute’s 2019-2020 Morgenthau Scholar-in-Residence. Here she blogs her research and work in support of the Morgenthau Holocaust Collections Project – a digital history and pathfinding initiative to raise awareness of the FDR Library’s unique but under-explored resources for Holocaust Studies. Her “Hidden Figures” blog series examines the role several women played in influencing the Roosevelt Administration.
Guiding question: Who was Henrietta Stein Klotz and why was she important to the American effort to rescue Jews?
Henrietta Klotz served as Henry Morgenthau Jr.’s (HMJr) primary personal secretary for 37 years. She directly managed the Treasury Secretary’s schedule, and effectively ran his central office. Klotz supervised the curation and indexing of the Henry Morgenthau Jr. Diaries, a vast collection of 864 bound volumes of documentation spanning all 12 years of HMJr’s time in office. Mrs. Klotz curated Morgenthau’s key correspondence, memos, meeting and telephone transcripts for binding, with each volume typically covering 1-3 days. Treasury Librarian Isabella Diamond executed both the binding process and systematic subject indexing.
Henrietta not only “organized” HMJr’s appointment schedule and office records (a conclusion often made about women), but she was also a cross between an office manager and chief of staff, who directly impacted the stance and actions taken by the FDR administration through her relationship with Morgenthau.
She grew up in a poor Orthodox Jewish household, without much of an education.[i] From 1922, she worked as Henry Morgenthau Jr’s assistant for 37 years.[ii] According to Michael Beschloss, she became more influential than his wife, Elinor.[iii] Morgenthau called Henrietta “the watchdog of the Secretary of the Treasury” and his son (Henry Morgenthau III) said that she was “the key to getting him involved in Jewish things.”[iv]
According to her husband, Herman Klotz, Henrietta prodded and pressured Morgenthau to “get the President to take some action that would minimize the killing of the Jews.” So, every morning when HMJr saw her in the office, he would look at her hesitantly, her expression constantly inquiring “when?”[v]
The transcript of one of many “Jewish evacuation” meetings held at the Treasury Department provides an example of Henrietta’s influence on HMJr. This particular meeting occurred on December 18, 1943, which was the day that the Riegner license was finally issued to the World Jewish Congress. Gerhart Riegner was the World Jewish Congress representative in Switzerland and the author of a famous cable in August 1942, informing Rabbi Stephen S. Wise of the Nazi intention to exterminate European Jewry.[vi] From March-December of 1943, the State department had delayed the issue of a license to finance Gerhart Riegner’s plan for relief efforts of Jews from France and Romania, including the evacuation of children from France to Spain and Switzerland.[vii] Licenses were required for organizations (like the World Jewish Congress) to operate in “enemy territory.”
A few days earlier on December 15, 1943, John G. Winant (US Ambassador to the UK) sent a cable (#8717) to Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State. Winant stated that the Foreign Office (in the UK) was rejecting the Treasury’s proposal for a license to be issued for the rescue of Jews from France and Romania.
“The Foreign Office are concerned with the difficulties of disposing of any considerable number of Jews should they be rescued from enemy occupied territory.”[viii]
Winant explained that the Foreign Office found it “impossible to deal with anything like the number of 70,000 refugees” who would be rescued through this “Riegner Plan.”[ix]
The December 18, 1943 meeting was in response to this refusal to issue the license. Morgenthau’s staff initially wanted him to go directly to FDR, while Morgenthau felt he should see Cordell Hull first because he wanted to be able to tell FDR he had consulted with the Secretary of State.
To this, Josiah DuBois (Chief Counsel at Foreign Funds Control in the Treasury Department and eventual prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials) responded, “the bull has to be taken by the horns in dealing with this Jewish issue”; DuBois insisted that this must be taken out of the State Department’s hands and “into some agency’s hands that is willing to deal with it frontally.” DuBois added that the British response was basically: “we let [the Jews] die because we don’t know what to do with them.”[x]
John Pehle (who would become the Director of the War Refugee Board) agreed with DuBois’s suggestion, but HMJr still insisted that he should first approach Cordell Hull. Randolph Paul (a tax expert, and signatory of many memos to HMJr regarding the Riegner license) argued that if HMJr were to go to Hull, it would not be as the Secretary of the Treasury, but “in an individual capacity” since this was a “broad international issue.”[xi] HMJr insisted that he could not be Secretary of the Treasury one minute and “a private citizen” the next, but Pehle and Henrietta Klotz disagreed.
Mr. Pehle: I think you can.
Mrs. Klotz: Yes, you can.[xii]
HMJr believed that he could present his argument as Secretary of the Treasury “as a question of treating minority races.” He continued, “Just because I am a Jew, why shouldn’t I look after the Jews, or the Catholics, or the Armenians.”[xiii]
His mention of the Armenians could be a connection to his father’s (Henry Morgenthau Sr.’s) involvement in the attempt to rescue Armenians impacted by the genocide in 1915.[xiv]
Mrs. Klotz: You got into this thing on a Treasury basis – on a financial basis. It has led into this thing, you see.
HMJr continued to insist that he could not go as a “private citizen.” Paul argued that HMJr would be speaking on a “broad humanitarian basis” as a Cabinet member.
Mrs. Klotz: It is tragic.
Klotz was referring to the British refusal to do anything to help the Jews. HMJr resolved to “exhaust Hull” and intriguingly brings up the fact that Hull’s wife was a “Jewess”:
H.M.Jr: I would like to say to Mr. Hull, ‘After all, if you were a member of the Cabinet in Germany today, you would be, most likely, in a prison camp, and your wife would be God knows where.’
HMJr then provided background on Hull’s wife, though in the transcript her maiden name is misspelled as Wirtz. (It was Witz.) HMJr emphasized that she “changed her name to Whitney” and he joked that if he were going to change his name from Wirtz he would pick a better name than Whitney.
Mrs. Klotz: Now you are being very funny. (Laughter)[xv]
HMJr then wondered if he shouldn’t bring Judge Rosenman (FDR’s speech writer and advisor and head of the American Jewish Committee) along with him but Paul advised him against it since Rosenman was “hands off” on this sort of [Jewish] issue. Ansel Luxford (also legal counsel at Treasury) and Randolph Paul suggested bringing Herbert Lehman, the Governor of New York, and Morgenthau’s uncle by marriage. HMJr preferred to go as the “Treasury” because he was concerned about taking a “Jewish delegation.”
Mrs. Klotz: Mr. Morgenthau, nobody would do – none of these people you mentioned, when they are put on the spot, will do what you will do.[xvi]
In this meeting transcript, it is clear that Henrietta was part of the staff closest to Morgenthau who influenced his decisions regarding what actions to take to rescue Jews in Europe. She laughed at HMJr’s jokes and complimented him. She used her voice to give weight to arguments she believed in, to convince Morgenthau to take actions she felt were necessary to help the Jews in Europe.
Post-Treasury Department: Continued Connection
Morgenthau handwrote a letter to Henrietta on August 5, 1945 after his tenure as Secretary of the Treasury had ended:
“I would like you, Herman and Elinor [Henrietta’s husband and daughter] to know how really important I consider your work as my assistant was.”[xvii]
HMJr stated: “during the hundreds of conferences that you sat at my side” Mrs. Klotz’s recommendations were “always sincere and of the best”; in fact, he explained, “Sometimes [your advice] was so good that it hurt.”[xviii]
Finally he wrote, “whatever credit I deserve” for helping to save Jewish refugees, “I want to share it equally with you.”[xix]
He especially emphasized her influence in “Jewish affairs” where she was “particularly understanding and helpful”; in fact, he felt that she “made a real contribution towards winning the war.”[xx]
After the War – United Jewish Appeal
After HMJr was forced to resign from the Treasury Department, he moved back to NY, and Henrietta remained at Treasury. HMJr “begged her” to come back to New York to work with him. Henrietta finally agreed to move to New York but only under the condition that Morgenthau would work in “public service.” She proceeded to organize meetings with many Jewish leaders, and Morgenthau was eventually offered the chairmanship of the United Jewish Appeal. Though her obituary (in the NYT) makes it appear that Morgenthau got this position on his own and then asked Henrietta to be his assistant, it seems that Henrietta organized the position for HMJr. Henrietta and Morgenthau travelled together nationally and internationally (especially to Israel) on behalf of the United Jewish Appeal and eventually launched the Israel Bond Program which had originated in the Treasury department.[xxi]
Harry Dexter White: An example of Mrs. Klotz’s gatekeeper position
According to Henry Morgenthau III (HMIII), Henrietta used her position as the “watchdog” to “regulate access to her boss.” HMIII explained that Treasury staff “courted her as a useful ally when they had difficulty selling an idea” to HMJr. HMIII argued that Harry Dexter White, a Jewish senior economic aide and advisor to HMJr, “benefited most from this” by his “manipulation of Henrietta”; manipulation is a loaded word, one could say that Harry was an important and close friend to Henrietta. HMIII implied that it was through Henrietta that Harry White became the “most influential advisor” by the end of HMJr’s term as Secretary of the Treasury. HMIII argued that his father increasingly depended on White’s “intelligence and judgment.”[xxii]
White was one of the primary creators of the Bretton Woods institutions (like the International Monetary Fund-IMF- and the World Bank). Truman appointed him as the first Director of the IMF in 1946. White also played a key role in the development of the Morgenthau Plan, which some have argued was overly pro-Soviet, and he was a “dominant influence on US international economic policy throughout World War II.”[xxiii]
As James Boughton explained, White’s efforts to include the Soviet Union in Bretton Woods and the IMF, and his meetings with Soviet officials, as well as his role in the Morgenthau plan, which would restrict Germany’s re-industrialization, were considered actions aimed at supporting the Soviet Union. Thus he was accused of being a communist and Soviet spy. He testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1948 and died five days later of a heart attack.[xxiv] HMIII describes White as recruiting six men to the Treasury who later were charged as Soviet spies and HMIII suggests that White succeeded because of his friendship with Henrietta Klotz.[xxv]
Henrietta’s close friendships with Russian Jews (non-religious) like Harry White and his wife, Anne Terry White, (Henrietta visited their home 2-3 times a week) demonstrate the kinds of interpersonal networks she developed that would have influenced HMJr because of her position as “watchdog.” Harry tutored Henrietta on financial matters while Anne, a children’s book author, taught Henrietta about psychiatry in order to help Henrietta’s daughter who had a visual disability. Henrietta was also “very close” to Nathan Silvermaster and Lud Ullmann, friends of White’s (who were accused of being Soviet agents and worked in the Treasury Department).[xxvi] Henrietta admitted knowing that “a lot of [Harry’s] friends were Communists”; she vacationed at Silvermaster’s home which he shared with Ullmann. In 1953, Henrietta testified in a closed Senate session of the Internal Security subcommittee about her relationships with White and his group of friends and colleagues.[xxvii]
White was not only influential on international economic policy, but also on the Jewish refugee question. At a Jewish evacuation meeting on January 13, 1944, at which Morgenthau’s staff presented him with their “Report to the Secretary of the Acquiescence of this Government in the Murder of the Jews,” White forcefully argued for the creation of an administrative body which could have the power to take action to rescue Jews. In addition to White, Randolph Paul, Herbert Gaston, Ansel Luxford, Josiah DuBois, John Pehle and Henrietta Klotz were present.
White maintained that there were not just specific cases upon which action could be taken: “…it is because the cases are far more obscure, they are far more generalized, they required day-to-day decisions, impelled by the most forceful kind of desire, and they require something which is not merely a statement… or a specific decision, but a whole host of little actions…which depend upon the right kind of administration.” HMJr interjected: “Let me interrupt you, Harry, because I can’t take too much pounding today.”[xxviii]
White: We have a specific proposal.
Pehle: An executive order, Mr. Secretary.[xxix]
Later in the conversation, White contended that the lack of action on the part of the U.S. government was worse than what Hitler was doing.
HMJr: What the Commanding General says is not different from what the English Foreign Office says… the whole strain is this: “This thing [Jewish refugees] is a damned nuisance”… When you get through with it, the attitude to date is no different from Hitler’s attitude.
White: I think it is worse, because it is covered up by a species of hypocrisy in which men are deterred from doing what they should wish to do, either because it is difficult—[he is cut off by Gaston]
Eventually, White stated, “It is curious how many different reasons can be thought up for not taking action.”[xxx]
In this last excerpt, both Henrietta Klotz and Harry Dexter White voiced their reflections on Morgenthau’s argument that the US or Britain were no different from Hitler. Klotz agreed while White took this a step further, insisting that, in fact, what other countries (including the US) were doing was worse because they were being hypocritical. As Henry Morgenthau III maintained, it was through Henrietta Klotz that White was able to be so influential.
The closeness between HMJr and Henrietta
There are multiple sources which discuss rumors about a romantic relationship between Henrietta Klotz and Henry Morgenthau Jr., though Henrietta adamantly denied any such relationship. [xxxi] In fact, Henrietta repeatedly mentioned in her interview with HMIII how much she admired HMJr’s wife, Elinor Morgenthau. She called Elinor: “one of the great human beings.”[xxxii] Henrietta exclaimed to HMIII: “I adored your mother. I had a great respect for her.” Intriguingly, this part of the conversation directly followed HMIII’s statement that his father “was very close to you and depended [on you]…” Henrietta affirmed that this was true. HMIII then stated: “He was as close to you as he was to any human being.”[xxxiii]
At various points in his book, HMIII implies that Henrietta played a much more influential role for his father than Elinor did, especially because as a traditional wife from an elite class, she could not be a career woman (like Henrietta), she preferred that HMJr avoid “the plight of European Jewry” (while Henrietta actively pushed HMJr to advocate for Jews) and finally, Elinor became ill during World War II.[xxxiv]
The veracity of the rumors about Henrietta and Henry Morgenthau Jr. is not as important as the underlying closeness between them which caused others to speculate about the nature of their relationship. Henrietta’s connection with her own Jewishness and her networks with other Jews deeply influenced Henry Morgenthau Jr. to take a more active role in the rescue of Jews from Europe. Mrs. Klotz continued to play a central role in his life after their time at the Treasury had ended, as she secured a position for him with the United Jewish Appeal and traveled with him to fundraise for Israel.
An online exhibit entitled Jewish refugee
children & the establishment of the War Refugee Board, 1943-1944 is
currently in the works, please check back soon. https://www.fdrlibrary.org/morgenthauproject
[i] Herman Klotz, “Letter to Henry Morgenthau III, October 16, 1986” (Washington D.C.: USHMM 2015.255.1 Morgenthau Family Papers, Box 32, File 11, Henrietta Klotz File), 7.
[ii] New York Times Archive, “H.S. Klotz, 87, Aide to Treasury Secretary,” New York Times Online, December 21, 1988, 19. https://www.nytimes.com/1988/12/21/obituaries/h-s-klotz-87-aide-to-treasury-secretary.html
[iii] Michael Beschloss, The Conquerers: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1941-1945 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), 55.
[iv] Beschloss, The Conquerers, 53; Henry Morgenthau Jr., “Handwritten Letter from Henry Morgenthau Jr. to Mrs. Henrietta Klotz, August 5, 1945” (Washington D.C.: USHMM 2015.255.1 Morgenthau Family Papers, Box 32, File 11, Henrietta Klotz File), 5. https://collections.ushmm.org/findingaids/2015.255.1_01_fnd_en.pdf
[v] Herman Klotz, “Letter to Henry Morgenthau III, October 16, 1986,” 5-6.
[vii] Erbelding, Rescue Board, 27-44.
[viii] John G. Winant, “Cable 8717 to Cordell Hull, December 15, 1943” (Hyde Park: FDR Library, Morgenthau Diaries, Vol. 688II), 95.
[ix] Winant, “Cable 8717,” 96.
[x] Josiah DuBois, “Jewish Evacuation Meeting Transcript, December 18, 1943” (Hyde Park: FDR Library, Morgenthau Diaries, Vol. 688II), 85.
[xi] Henry Morgenthau Jr. and Randolph Paul, “Jewish Evacuation Meeting Transcript, December 18, 1943” (Hyde Park: FDR Library, Morgenthau Diaries, Vol. 688II), 85-86.
[xii] John Pehle and Henrietta Klotz, “Jewish Evacuation Meeting Transcript, December 18, 1943” (Hyde Park: FDR Library, Morgenthau Diaries, Vol. 688II), 86-87.
[xiii] Henry Morgenthau Jr., “Jewish Evacuation Meeting Transcript, December 18, 1943” (Hyde Park: FDR Library, Morgenthau Diaries, Vol. 688II), 87.
[xiv] Rouben Paul Adalian, “Morgenthau, Ambassador Henry, Sr.,”
Armenian National Institute, 2019, https://www.armenian-genocide.org/morgenthau.html
[xv] Henry Morgenthau Jr., Randolph Paul, Henrietta Klotz, “Jewish Evacuation Meeting Transcript, December 18, 1943” (Hyde Park: FDR Library, Morgenthau Diaries, Vol. 688II), 87-88.
[xvi] Henry Morgenthau Jr., Randolph Paul, Ansel Luxford, Henrietta Klotz, “Jewish Evacuation Meeting Transcript, December 18, 1943” (Hyde Park: FDR Library, Morgenthau Diaries, Vol. 688II), 89.
[xvii] Morgenthau Jr., “Handwritten Letter, August 5, 1945,” 6.
[xviii] Morgenthau Jr., “Handwritten Letter, August 5, 1945,” 7.
[xix] Morgenthau Jr., “Handwritten Letter, August 5, 1945,” 8-9.
[xx] Morgenthau Jr., “Handwritten Letter, August 5, 1945,” 10.
[xxi] Anonymous (potentially Herman Klotz), “Undated explanation of Henry Morgenthau Jr.’s letter to Henrietta Klotz, of August 5, 1945” (Washington D.C.: USHMM 2015.255.1 Morgenthau Family Papers, Box 32, File 11, Henrietta Klotz File), 2 pages.
[xxii] Henry Morgenthau III, Mostly Morgenthaus: A Family History (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1991), 305-306, 310. https://www.amazon.com/Mostly-Morgenthaus-History-Henry-Morgenthau/dp/0899199763
[xxiii] James M. Boughton, “Harry Dexter White and the International Monetary Fund,” Finance and Development: A quarterly magazine of the IMF 35, no. 3 (September 1998), https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/1998/09/boughton.htm ;
James C. Van Hook, “Intelligence in Recent Public Literature,” a review of Treasonable Doubt: The Harry Dexter White Spy Case by R. Bruce Craig, Studies in Intelligence: Journal of the American Intelligence Professional 49, no. 1, (2005).
[xxiv] Beschloss, The Conquerers, 151.
[xxv] Morgenthau III, Mostly Morgenthaus, 311.
[xxvi] Beschloss, The Conquerers, 155.
[xxvii] Henrietta Klotz, “Interview with Henry Morgenthau III, September 19, 1978,” (Washington D.C.: USHMM 2015.255.1 Morgenthau Family Papers, Box 32, File 11, Henrietta Klotz File), 63-68; “Morgenthau Aide is Heard by Senate Subcommittee” (Hyde Park: FDR Library, Henry Morgenthau Jr. Papers, Box 811, Folder 14, Harry Dexter White: Revival of Charges, 1953-56), http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/collections/franklin/?p=collections/findingaid&id=159&rootcontentid=70808&q=harry+dexter+white#id71218
[xxviii] Harry Dexter White and Henry Morgenthau Jr., “Jewish evacuation meeting, January 13, 1944,” (Hyde Park: Morgenthau Diaries Vol. 693), 187, 195
[xxix] Harry Dexter White, John Pehle, “Jewish evacuation meeting, January 13, 1944,” 196.
[xxx] Henry Morgenthau Jr., Henrietta Klotz, Harry Dexter White, “Jewish evacuation meeting, January 13, 1944,” 200-201.
[xxxi] Beschloss, The Conquerers, 155-156 (Nathan Gregory Silvermaster, whom Henrietta knew through White was the source of one such rumor); Morgenthau III, Mostly Morgenthaus, 305-306; Klotz, Interview, 16.
[xxxii] Klotz, Interview, 2.
[xxxiii] Klotz, Interview, 14-15.
[xxxiv] Morgenthau III, Mostly Morgenthaus, 223, 303, 305