Photo Credit: Saul Jay Singer

Myron C. Taylor (1874-1959) was a leading American industrialist and an important geopolitical diplomat during and after World War II. One of the great textile industry magnates, he later became the head of U.S. Steel before being selected by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 to represent the United States at the Évian Conference in France, and then as the president’s personal envoy to Pope Pius XII. As a diplomat, he played a leading role in some of the most important geopolitical events of the World War II era, and he devoted considerable effort to saving Jewish and other refugees from Hitler’s Europe. Notwithstanding all these accomplishments and the heavy public scrutiny that he bore throughout his life, he was a man who managed to retain his privacy and few remember him today.

Taylor portrait.

After earning a law degree from Cornell Law School in 1894, Taylor struggled to establish a small-town law practice for five years before joining his brother on Wall Street and turning to practicing corporate law. While handling litigation for his father’s tannery, he won a U.S. government contract to manufacture mail pouches and related products, and he moved into the textile and mail delivery business. His innovations included standardizing envelope sizes and inventing the ubiquitous transparent “window” in envelopes through which the recipient’s address is displayed, and he evidenced concern for his workers by providing insurance for them.


Taylor went on to acquire struggling cotton mills and, using what came to be known as “the Taylor Formula,” he transformed their labor practices and modernized their technology and, in relatively short order, he dominated the textile industry. Displaying the amazing foresight that characterized his entire life, he saw the potential of the nascent automobile industry and launched a textile firm that became the leading supplier of combined tire fabric for which, during World War I, he became the leading supplier for the American military war effort.

Then, again manifesting extraordinary prescience, Taylor anticipated the commodities market bust, abandoned the textile industry, and planned on an early retirement as a very wealthy man. However, he was recruited by his friend, J.P. Morgan, to turn around the finances of U.S. Steel, formerly the largest producer of steel and the largest corporation in the world; he saved the company during the Great Depression and restored it to vigorous health. After a meticulous and years-long analysis of the company’s struggling operations, his first step was to reduce the company’s stunning $400 million debt by $340 million immediately before the great stock market crash of 1929.

Taylor also reorganized U.S. Steel’s operations, upgraded its technology, and, in a move that stunned the world, struck a deal with John L. Lewis, head of the CIO (Committee for Industrial Organization) pursuant to which U.S. Steel would recognize a CIO subsidiary as the entity that would organize and represent the company’s workers. Few know that it was Taylor who was responsible for negotiating the first agreement with organized labor whereby the employer “recognizes the right of its employees to bargain collectively through representatives freely chosen by them without dictation, coercion or intimidation in any form or from any source.”

When President Roosevelt organized the Évian Conference, an international conference held in France on July 6-15, 1938, to address the problem of German and Austrian Jewish refugees seeking to escape the Third Reich, he appointed Taylor as the American representative to the Conference. Some viewed his selection, rather than the appointment of a professional diplomat, as an indication that FDR was not serious about the Conference and its work; in fact, many historians argue that the entire Évian fiasco was merely an attempt by FDR to deflect criticism for an American immigration policy that cruelly limited the quota of refugees, particularly Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler.

Taylor addressing the Évian Conference.

Nonetheless, Jews and Jewish organizations worldwide were hopeful about the possibilities presented by the Conference, and a joint cable was sent from the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the B’nai B’rith, and the Jewish Labor Committee to Taylor wishing him and the Conference every success in achieving and finding an effective and speedy solution to the refugee crisis. Their hopes would prove to be badly misplaced.

The Conference was attended by thirty-two countries, including England, France, the Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland, Mexico, and several South American states (the Soviet Union refused to participate). Because Third Reich observers were invited and FDR did not want to upset them, Taylor was ordered not to use the terms “Nazi,” “Hitler,” or even “Jew” during the Conference and, as it turned out, many of the nations, particularly from Latin America, fearing German retribution and resulting adverse economic repercussions, advised Taylor that they would veto any final resolution that overtly criticized Germany.

Moreover, any discussion regarding Eretz Yisrael as a place of permanent settlement for Jewish refugees was taken off the table. Taylor had been approached by Nachum Goldmann, who asked him to meet with Chaim Weizmann about the idea, but the British delegation vetoed such a meeting, and there was general agreement among the delegates that Zionist issues, which would generate “bitter passions” and threaten the success of the Conference, should be avoided.

Most of the representatives at the Conference gave lip service to the need to help the Jewish refugees, but – with the notable exception of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and later Costa Rica – none of them took action to admit any more of them. During his address, Taylor tried to put a positive spin on American reluctance to admit more refugees by announcing that the U.S. would admit its full German/Austrian quota of 27,370 per year over the next five years (a number far lower than the 300,000 applicants on waiting lists for American visas) but, in fact, the State Department had no intention to effect any substantial changes in American immigration laws and regulations. Nonetheless, in the face of herculean difficulties, Taylor tried, but failed, to convince FDR to admit more Jewish refugees.

The Évian Conference did establish an Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees (ICR), which was charged with “approach[ing] the governments of the countries of refuge with a view to developing opportunities for permanent settlement,” but it received little authority or support from its member nations and fell into inaction. Golda Meir, who was the Yishuv’s representative at the Conference but was not permitted to speak or to participate in the proceedings, said “I don’t think that anyone who didn’t live through it can understand what I felt at Evian – a mixture of sorrow, rage, frustration and horror.” At the end of the day, and notwithstanding Taylor’s best efforts, the Évian Conference was an abysmal failure; worse than that, it constituted a betrayal of the Jews of Europe and provided fodder for Nazi propaganda, as the German government gleefully viewed the Conference as tacit approval of the Nazis’ handling of the “Jewish Problem.” As one wag sadly characterized it, “Hitler laughed all the way to Auschwitz.”

In December 1939, FDR wrote to religious leaders across the spectrum, including Rabbi Cyrus Adler as president of the Jewish Theological Seminary, seeking their support for his efforts to promote world peace. However, it was only in his letter to Pope Pius XII that he detailed his specific intention to appoint a representative to the Vatican and, on December 23, 1939, he appointed Taylor to serve as “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary” and as his personal envoy to the pope. The appointment was rather an anomaly because the United States had not had a representative in Vatican City since 1867, when Congress passed an act terminating diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Holy See.


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FDR purposely chose a non-Catholic; Taylor was a non-fervent Protestant Episcopalian with a Quaker background who lacked the inclination to immerse himself in ecclesiastical or theological issues. Interestingly, his appointment proved controversial when it was officially protested by many American Protestant Christian denominations, including Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists and Seventh-Day Adventists, all of whom objected to the United States maintaining diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Their virulent feelings were based not only upon the fear that the Vatican would exercise undue effect on the United States and American policy but also on constitutional grounds of separation between church and state.

On the other hand, the Jewish response was mixed. Rabbi Samuel Goldson of Manhattan’s Temple Emanuel joined many Jews in hailing Taylor’s appointment, particularly given his experience with refugees as Chairman of the Inter-governmental Committee on Refugees. Cyrus Adler of the JTS had concerns regarding Taylor’s appointment but, after a meeting with the president, he publicly expressed his support. However, in St. Louis, Rabbi Ferdinand M. Isserman, a founding member of the National Conference of Christians and Jews and a civil rights activist, publicly joined two protestant ministers in disapproving of the appointment on church-state grounds.

Before Taylor left for Italy, Roosevelt instructed him that “anti-Jewish feeling in Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Detroit is said to be encouraged by the Church. You should point out [to the pope] that this only causes anti-Catholic feeling in return.” Taylor, who was warmly welcomed by the pope, was granted weekly meetings with the pontiff, and a very close relationship developed between them. Although he was appointed only as FDR’s personal “Peace Ambassador,” the Vatican extended full ambassador status to him on February 13, 1940.

In this role, popularly referred to as the “Taylor Mission,” Taylor successfully lobbied the Vatican to have certain church officials tone down their criticism of American policies during the war (some were even openly supporting the Nazis). He helped to ensure controversial Lend-Lease aid to the Soviet Union in the face of great opposition by the pope by finding a middle ground to permit the Vatican to save face and preserve Church doctrine by proclaiming that the funds were not for the “godless communist government” but, rather, for the innocent people of the Soviet Union and its helpless refugees. He also lobbied Prime Minister Salazar of Portugal to permit an Allied airbase in that neutral country, and brokered Italy’s surrender and Mussolini’s departure (while ensuring that the Church did not abandon the Allies’ policy of unconditional surrender). He almost single-handedly provided the mechanism and means for Italy’s post-war recovery; he chaired the economic committee whose work resulted in the Bretton Woods Agreement, which rebuilt the international economic and monetary system pegged to the U.S. dollar, established the International Monetary Fund, and was crucial to the planning and ultimate success of the United Nations by, among other things, rounding up key Republican votes for FDR to support the UN.

Original newspaper photo of President Truman awarding the Medal of Merit to Taylor (December 28, 1948).

For his service, Taylor was named a Knight of the Order of Pope Pius IX and, on December 20, 1948, President Truman awarded him the Medal for Merit, one of the highest civilian decorations of the U.S. awarded to civilians for exceptionally meritorious conduct. Truman praised Taylor for having “earned the accolades of his countrymen whom he has served faithfully and well wherever duty called him.”


In the January 4, 1940, correspondence exhibited here, which was written less than two weeks after Taylor’s appointment, FDR writes on his presidential letterhead to Frederic R. Coudert, a Republican congressman from New York (1947-1959), concerning his appointment of Taylor as his envoy to the Pope to tackle Nazi persecution of Jewish people and others.

Historic FDR letter regarding the appointment of Myron Taylor as his envoy to the Vatican.

I received your letter through the good hands of your brother-in-law and I want to thank you very much for the sentiments expressed therein regarding the appointment of Myron Taylor. I agree with you fully as to his qualifications. I hope and expect that something beneficial to us all will develop from this peace effort.

Taylor’s first assignment on behalf of the president in his new role was to help solve the intensifying crisis of Jewish refugees attempting to flee Nazi persecution, and he soon negotiated a deal with Hitler and Goering that Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles told FDR was “better than we hoped for”: the Nazis agreed to permit 150,000 “able-bodied” Jews to emigrate, with their dependents allowed to follow later. Unfortunately, because of the Nazi takeover of Czechoslovakia and Poland and the onset of World War II, those efforts ultimately achieved no tangible results.

Taylor worked to save European Jews from the Holocaust and he interacted directly with the pope in this effort. He brought the first documented proof of the Holocaust to the Vatican in a detailed memorandum to Cardinal Luigi Maglione, effectively the Vatican’s secretary of state, in which he presented evidence of the death transport of Jews from Germany and other European countries and of the extermination of Jews in Poland. During his last visit to the Vatican before Mussolini withdrew his authorization to cross the Italian border, Taylor demanded that the Vatican publicly protest the Nazis’ treatment of Jews, but all his efforts proved futile. (Historians still wage pitched battles about whether the pope was a saint who protected the Church and Jews alike, a leader who did the best he could under very trying circumstances, or “Hitler’s Pope – “a man who abandoned the Jews to the Final Solution.”)

The American Hebrew magazine, a popular Jewish weekly published in New York City, honored Taylor with its 1939 medal for Promotion of Better Understanding between Christian and Jew in America, citing “his completely unselfish effort to find havens for Christian and Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution … ”

The Vatican, which under Pope Benedict XV had opposed the Balfour Declaration of 1917, was blunt and unequivocal in its objection to Jewish immigration into Eretz Yisrael. In July 1943, Archbishop Cicognani, Pope Pius XI’s special representative in Washington, advised Taylor that “if a Hebrew home is desired, it would not be too difficult to find a more fitting territory than Palestine. With an increase in the Jewish population there, grave, new international problems would arise. Catholics the world over would be aroused. The Holy See would be saddened and justly so, by such a move.” Some commentators argue that the Vatican’s position on Zionism and Taylor’s close relationship with Pius played a role in the evolution of Taylor’s anti-Zionism.

Taylor believed that a limited and controlled number of Jews should be admitted to Eretz Yisrael based upon the limited resources available in the land. In a 1946 letter to President Truman, he wrote:

Having the best interests of the Jews at heart and without offending the Moslem World, I believe the solution [to the Jewish refugee problem] is a broad dispersion – not a concentration anywhere. To create a purely racial state is contrary to American traditions and ideals … Germany, Austria, and Poland should not be depopulated of their Jewish population by a mass impulse of the Jewish nationals [i.e., Zionists] to move to more prosperous lands … regarding Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth, … these holy places are not justly the mecca of one race or religious sect, but of the Christian, Jewish, and Moslem worlds.

He went on to argue that putting too much pressure on the Arabs would be met with “ultimate violent resistance” and that “my own firm conviction is that this presents with certainty the next war.” He wrote that “the Soviet Union would take advantage of a war in Palestine to make inroads in the Middle East” and that American support for Zionism would draw the Middle East closer to the Soviets.

When the British decided to punt their administration of the Palestine Mandate to the UN and UNSCOP (United Nations Special Committee on Palestine) was formed, Taylor again reiterated his opposition to a Zionist state in Eretz Yisrael. In a letter to Truman, he urged “a deflation of the common Jewish attitude that Palestine is the sole destination for the Jews leaving Eastern Europe” and argued that yielding to the “Zionist solution” would be inimical to evolving American interests and those of the Western nations:

We cannot argue uncomfortable or disturbing facts away: The idea of a Jewish National Home in Palestine is a fact, Arab nationalism is a fact. But we can place Palestine in the wider context of the Jewish migrant as a whole for which no one place can offer a solution.

As history teaches us, Truman emphatically rejected Taylor’s opinions, took on his own State Department, advocated for Jewish immigration to Eretz Yisrael, and became the first world leader to recognize Israel in 1948.

On the other hand, Taylor opposed Arab unification and, in response to Britain’s encouragement of the formation of the League of Arab States, aka the “Arab League,” Taylor wrote to Secretary of State Cordell Hull to express his apprehension regarding the “consolidation of the Arab world” because it “is filled with dangers of many sorts.” He was concerned that American leadership was insufficiently familiar with the Arab world and added, with amazing foresight and intuition, “Perhaps one thing the world has to fear in the future is that strong aggregation of people bound by ties of blood and religion, especially those who are almost fanatical, now separated into groups and tribes and states, may join themselves together to oppose… the relatively smaller numbers of the Anglo-Saxon world.”

In his April 1, 1944, response, Hull cited British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, who clearly shaped Hull’s views on the issue: “It seems to me both natural and right that cultural and economic ties between the Arab countries, yes, and the political ties too, should be strengthened. His Majesty’s government for their part will give their full support to any scheme that commands general approval.” Hull thereafter dismissed Taylor’s concerns.

Hull and Eden could not have been more wrong; the Arab League Pact was entered into on March 22, 1945, and, less than a year later, it boycotted Jewish businesses in Eretz Yisrael and became vicious opponents of a Jewish state. Some historians argue that the British withdrawal from its Mandate, based upon its admission that it could not find a resolution of the problem acceptable to both Jews and Arabs, was at least in part due to the failure of the United States to heed Taylor’s warnings. Taylor continued to urge President Truman to take action with respect to his warnings regarding the threat presented by a consolidated Arab world, but he lost the ensuing bitter intra-administrative debate when Truman sided with Secretary of State George Marshall.

When Truman sought to appoint Taylor’s successor, General Mark Clark, public opposition to the appointment led to threats of “violent activism” such that the president was forced to withdraw his nomination. Truman then reappointed Taylor, but this selection generated great concern in some quarters. In this July 7, 1949, correspondence on his presidential letterhead, Truman writes to Bishop Oxnam that nothing has changed regarding the scope of Taylor’s work:

Historic FDR letter regarding the appointment of Myron Taylor as his envoy to the Vatican.

I have your letter of June thirteenth. As you surmise, there is no basis in fact for the statement in the press [to] which you refer. At the present time no change is contemplated in the mission of Mr. Myron C. Taylor.

At the time this letter was written, Garfield Bromley Oxnam (1891-1963), bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, was involved in an especially nasty feud with New York’s Cardinal Francis Spellman. Oxnam strongly objected to the United States establishing official relations with the Holy See, and he feared that the potential appointment of General Clark would be a violation of the separation between church and state. In our letter, Truman assured him that Taylor would continue as ambassador and not enmesh himself in Church affairs.

Finally, a lovely anecdote demonstrating Taylor’s sensitivity to Jews and Judaism, notwithstanding his anti-Zionism. In 1962, he donated $1.5 million to Cornell, his alma mater, to build something unheard of at the time: an interfaith place of worship, which was to contain a revolving altar so that the facility could be used by students of all faiths. However, the chapel’s set of stained-glass windows, which were designed at great expense to Taylor, proved objectionable to Jews because they contained human figures, which are not permitted at sites of Jewish worship. The issue became a source of great controversy until Taylor personally intervened and agreed to pay for new windows depicting objects in nature, again at great personal expense. He was celebrated for his belief in the brotherhood of all faiths and, in particular, for his consideration of Jewish needs.


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Saul Jay Singer serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar and is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters. He welcomes comments at at [email protected].