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Henry Morgenthau

A photograph of Morgenthau

In office
1913 – 1916
President Woodrow Wilson
Preceded by William Woodville Rockhill
Succeeded by Abram I. Elkus

Born April 26, 1856(1856-04-26)
Mannheim, Germany
Died November 25, 1946 (aged 90)
New York City
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Josephine Sykes
Children Henry Morgenthau Jr.
Alma mater Columbia Law School
Profession Lawyer
Religion Judaism

Henry Morgenthau (pronounced /ˈmɔrɡəntaʊ/, with a /t/; April 26, 1856 – November 25, 1946) was a lawyer, businessman and United States ambassador, most famous as the American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. He was father of the politician Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and the grandfather of Robert M. Morgenthau, who was the District Attorney of Manhattan (New York County) for 35 years, and of the historian Barbara Tuchman. As ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during World War I, Morgenthau has come to be identified as the most prominent American to be associated with the Armenian Genocide.[1]


Early life

Morgenthau was born, the 9th of 11 living children, in Mannheim, Germany in 1856 into a Bavarian Jewish family of twelve children. He was the son of Lazarus and Babette Morgenthau. Lazarus was an extremely successful cigar manufacturer who had cigar factories at Mannheim, Lorsch and Heppenheim, employing as many as 1,000 people. [Mannheim had a population of 21,000 during this period] Having suffered a severe financial setback during the American Civil War, due to an 1862 tobacco tariff on imports, which closed German tobacco exports to the US forever, the family emigrated to New York in 1866. There, Lazaraus, despite a considerable 'nest egg' of cash, was unsuccessful in re-establishing himself in business, as his development and marketing of various inventions and his investments in other enterprises failed. His son, Henry, attended City College, BA, and then graduated from Columbia Law School. He began his career as a lawyer, but he made a substantial fortune in real estate investments. [2] He married Josephine Sykes in 1882 and had four children: Helen, Alma, Henry Jr. and Ruth. Morgenthau built a successful career as a lawyer and served as the leader of the Reform Jewish community in New York.[3]

Democratic Party

Morgenthau's career enabled him to contribute handsomely to President Woodrow Wilson's election campaign in 1912. He had first met Wilson in 1911 at a dinner celebrating the fourth anniversary of the founding of the Free Synagogue society and the two "seem to have bonded," marking the "turning point in Morgenthau's political career."[4] His role in American politics grew more pronounced in later months and though his desire of being designated the financial chairman of the campaign finance committee went unfulfilled, Wilson offered him the position of ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. He had hoped for a cabinet post as well, but was not successful in gaining one.

Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire

A telegram written by Morgenthau to the State Department in 1915 described the massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as a "campaign of race extermination."

Because Morgenthau was Jewish, Wilson considered him as an ideal candidate as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, bridging a divide that separated Muslims and Christians.[5] Morgenthau was initially skeptical of this assumption and rejected the position. Following a trip to Europe and the Holy Land, however, he reconsidered his decision and, with the encouragement of his friend Rabbi Stephen Wise, accepted Wilson's offer.[6] He was appointed as U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in 1913 and served in this position until 1916.

Although the safety of Christian missionaries and Jews in the Ottoman Empire was a major concern early on in his ambassadorship, Morgenthau stated that the one issue he was most preoccupied was the Armenian Question.[7] After the outbreak of war, the American embassy – and by extension Morgenthau – also represented many of the Allies in Constantinople, as they had withdrawn their diplomatic missions due to the hostilities. As Ottoman authorities began the extermination campaign of the Armenians in 1914-1915, Morgenthau's desk was flooded with reports nearly every hour by the American consuls residing in different parts of the Empire, documenting the massacres and deportation marches that were taking place. Faced with the accumulating evidence, he informed his government of the activities of the Ottoman government and asked for it to intervene.[8]

The American government, however, was a neutral power at the time and voiced little public reaction. Morgenthau held high-level meetings with the leaders of the Ottoman Empire to help alleviate the position of the Armenians but his protestations were waived and ignored. He famously admonished the country's Interior Minister Talaat Pasha, stating that "Our people will never forget these massacres."[9] As the massacres continued unabated, Morgenthau and several other Americans decided to form a public fund raising committee that would assist the Armenians, the Committee on Armenian Atrocities (later renamed the Near East Relief), raising over $100 million in aid.[10] Exasperated with his relationship with the Ottoman government, he resigned from the ambassadorship in 1916. Looking back on that decision in his The Murder of a Nation, he had come to see Turkey as “a place of horror. I had reached the end of my resources. I found intolerable my further daily association with men, however gracious and accommodating…who were still reeking with the blood of nearly a million human beings.”[11] His conversations with Ottoman leaders and his account of the Armenian Genocide was later published in 1918 under the title Ambassador Morgenthau's Story.[12]

In 1918, Ambassador Morgenthau gave public speeches in the United States warning that the Greeks and Assyrians were being subjected to the "same methods" of deportation and "wholesale massacre" as the Armenians, and that two million Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians had already perished.[13 ] In June 1917, Felix Frankfurter accompanied him, as a representative of the War Department, on a secret mission to persuade Turkey to abandon the Central Powers in the war effort, the stated purpose for the mission was to "ameliorate the condition of the Jewish communities in Palestine."[14]

Interwar Period

After the war, he attended the Paris Peace Conference, as an advisor regarding Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and later worked with war-related charitable bodies, including the Relief Committee for the Middle East, the Greek Refugee Settlement Commission and the American Red Cross. In 1919 he headed the United States government fact-finding mission to Poland resulting in the Morgenthau Report. In 1933, he was the American representative at the Geneva Conference

He died in 1946 following a cerebral hemorrhage, in New York City, and was buried in Hawthorne, NY. His son, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., was a Secretary of the Treasury. His daughter, Alma Wertheim, was the mother of historian Barbara Tuchman.


He published several books. The Library of Congress holds some 30,000 documents from his personal papers.

  • Ambassador Morgenthau's Story (1918). Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.
  • The Secrets of the Bosphorus (1918) also covers this period.
  • The Morgenthau Report (October 3, 1919) concerning alleged mistreatment of Jews by the Poles.
  • I was sent to Athens (1929) deals with his time working with Greek refugees.
  • The Murder of a Nation (1974). With preface by W. N. Medlicott. New York: Armenian General Benevolent Union of America.

Official Documents

  • Ara Sarafian (ed.): United States Official Records On The Armenian Genocide. 1915-1917, Gomidas Institute, Princeton & London 2004 ISBN 1-903656-39-7

Further reading

See also


  1. ^ Balakian, Peter (2003). The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 219-221. ISBN 0-0605-5870-9.  
  2. ^ Balakian. The Burning Tigris, p. 219.
  3. ^ Oren, Michael B (2007). Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. pp. 332-333. ISBN 0-3933-3030-3.  
  4. ^ Balakian. The Burning Tigris, p. 220.
  5. ^ Oren. Power, Faith, and Fantasy, p. 333.
  6. ^ Balakian. The Burning Tigris, p. 222.
  7. ^ Balakian. The Burning Tigris, p. 223.
  8. ^ Oren. Power, Faith, and Fantasy, pp. 333-336.
  9. ^ Oren. Power, Faith, and Fantasy, p. 335.
  10. ^ Oren. Power, Faith, and Fantasy, p. 336.
  11. ^ Oren. Power, Faith, and Fantasy, p. 337.
  12. ^ Morgenthau, Henry (1918). Ambassador Morgenthau's Story. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.
  13. ^ Travis, Hannibal. "Native Christians Massacred: The Ottoman Genocide of the Assyrians during World War I." Genocide Studies and Prevention, Vol. 1, No. 3, December 2006, p. 327.
  14. ^ Hirsch, H. N. (1981). The Enigma of Felix Frankfurter. New York: Basic Books. p. 53. ISBN 0-4650-1979-X.  

External links


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