HENRIETTA STEIN KLOTZ: The Women Behind the Story Series, Blog 1, From the Desk of the Morgenthau Scholar-in-Residence Dr. Abby Gondek

Henrietta Stein Klotz: 2 minutes before closing, 860 volumes & changing the American response to the Holocaust

Who was Henrietta Stein Klotz and why was she important to the American effort to rescue Jews?

Henrietta Klotz is pictured on the right of this photograph, from the Harris and Ewing collection. Interestingly (and unsurprisingly) she is not listed anywhere in the photo's information. The title: 
"Firm financeer. Sec. Henry Morgenthau, Jr., photographed at a press conference where he answered questions concerning the pending financing. Among other things, the administration says that the carrying-charge on the bonded debt of the United States has been reduced materially under the leadership of Sec. Morgenthau in the Treasury. 12/3/35" This photograph can be found here.

Henrietta was the woman who organized and indexed the Morgenthau Diaries, a collection which spans 12 years, 138 cubic feet and includes over 860 volumes. Mrs. Klotz compiled all of Morgenthau’s correspondence, memos, and transcripts of his conversations into bound volumes. Each volume is a book spanning a few days. As soon as I learned this fact (in the first few days of my work at the FDR library), I was determined to find out more about this incredible woman.

This is an example of one of the index cards Henrietta developed. This is part of the key term "Refugees" and you can find the full pdf that this comes from by following this link. I selected this specific card because I was working on a presentation (@ an EHRI conference) about Jewish refugee children's escape routes from France through Switzerland and Spain. I will talk more about this presentation @ the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris in a future post. The index cards include the Volume # in the upper right hand corner and then the page number from this specific volume next to each sub-topic on the card. This corresponds to a specific document in the diaries.

Henrietta did not only “organize” (a conclusion often made about women, including in the academic world). She was also what we would now call an “influencer” and directly impacted the stance and actions taken by the FDR administration through her relationship with Henry Morgenthau.

She grew up in a poor Orthodox Jewish household, without much of an education. From 1922, she worked as Henry Morgenthau Jr’s assistant for 37 years, becoming more influential on him than his wife, Elinor. He called Henrietta “the watchdog of the Secretary of the Treasury” & his son said that she was “the key to getting him involved in Jewish things.” 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 HMJ saw her in the office, he would look at her hesitantly, her expression constantly inquiring “when?” Morgenthau would eventually write to Klotz, “whatever credit I deserve” for helping to save Jewish refugees, “I want to share it equally with you.”

- Beschloss 2002, pages 53, 58; Beschloss utilized resources held within the Morgenthau Family Papers held at the USHMM

Intriguingly, Henrietta had a personal connection with a Jewish advisor to Morgenthau, a man who was accused of being a Soviet spy and a communist in the McCarthy trials in 1948 and died five days later of a heart attack. This man was Harry Dexter White, of Russian Jewish descent, who tutored Henrietta on the financial matters she witnessed every day in the Treasury Department. Harry’s wife, Anne Terry White, was also of Russian Jewish descent, and a children’s book author. She taught Henrietta about psychiatry; Klotz was keen to learn in order to support her daughter who had been born with a visual disability (in an interesting parallel Morgenthau had a learning disability).

I have been using a digital humanities tool called nodegoat to visualize the connections between people in my research.

This network visualization shows the connections between HMJ, Henrietta Klotz and Anne and Harry White. I limited the visualization to only show the following categories: gender, disciplinary training, institutional/political affiliations, racial or ethnic identity, religious background, and people who advised or influenced these four individuals.
It is also through her connection with Harry White, that a rumor emerges that Morgenthau and Mrs. Klotz were romantically involved and that she had a child with him. The man who provided this information was one of White’s friends, Nathan Gregory Silvermaster (a Soviet agent and a colleague in the Treasury Department).

-Beschloss 2002, pages 151, 155-156
Photo of Harry Dexter White

Correspondence between Harry White and HMJ can be found at the FDR library in the HMJ Papers, Series 13 Post-war correspondence, Box 811 - this correspondence will be discussed in a future blog post.

During my search for information on a woman who seemed to me to be both an incredible organizer and influencer, I came across a very negative representation of Henrietta. Any historical source should be approached with a position of doubt and should never be taken as the ultimate truth. The perspective I quote below is interesting because it reveals how some people who interacted with Henrietta perceived her.

In order to organize 860 volumes and thoroughly index them by subject every day for a twelve-year period, a person must have a certain kind of personality and determination. She likely demanded a lot of herself and those who worked with her.

The woman who made the following statements about her was Elizebeth Smith Friedman, a pioneer military & government cryptologist. Since I am interested in unearthing the network of women involved in the administration’s response to the Holocaust, identifying another woman who worked in the government at that time was extremely exciting, even if she was bad-mouthing Henrietta. Anyway, her insults seem to me to be compliments.

From my previous research about Jewish women’s networks inthe history of the disciplines of sociology and anthropology, I am familiar with falling outs and conflicts between women. These kinds of “finds” in the archives reveal that the category “woman” is never homogenous or unified and that as a researcher, I have to understand all the people and institutions which have influenced each woman’s views.

But also reading about these conflicts between women illustrate the effects of internalized sexism, the way that women internalize sexist ideas about women’s roles and criticize each other. In the account below, it seems to me that Henrietta was perceived as being “demanding” and that because she was a woman, this was not seen positively.  

"From 1938-1941 my office was the eyes and ears for Henry Morgenthau Jr... was a very conscientious man I am sure, and set out to do his very best by every bureau or activity... Secretary Morgenthau brought with him to Washington a woman administrative assistant by the name of Mrs. Henrietta Klotz.

In all my years of dealing with government officials and with women, in many, if not most walks of life, and with men who were both superior and inferior to me in rank, I had never had any contact with anyone of a long list of persons who had impressed me so unfavorably as Mrs. Klotz.

She was a very small woman with an obvious feeling of tremendous insecurity which was revealed in her manner by the use of rapid fire dictator-sort of requests which, of course, issued from her peremptory orders. We used to have a saying in our office, that we always knew when it was four twenty-eight in the afternoon because the telephone invariably rang at four-twenty-eight or four twenty-nine, the closing hour being four-thirty, and it would be Mrs. Klotz on the phone with some snappish order from Secretary Morgenthau, so she said, which always had to be executed by nine o'clock the next morning and ready for his perusing, even though her order might cover a demand for a report of a nature which would take at least three months to prepare.

There was no use mentioning this fact to Mrs. Klotz; her order was a royal command. I recall that once I attempted to explain to her while she was still issuing the telephone order that it would take a number of persons a number of weeks to fulfill her demand, whereupon she said to me, 'shut up, you fool'.

It is comforting, I hope to the reader, to relate that Secretary Morgenthau usually called the next morning and remanded the order, unless it was one which could be completed in a given amount of time. But he himself was not the person who demanded something of magnitude to be produced as of yesterday.

Mrs. Klotz intrigued my psychological curiosity, therefore, when I saw her at receptions at the Morgenthau home, I used to attempt to engage her in conversation to find out something about her which made her tick. However, it was hopeless. Henrietta Klotz was just as insecure at an afternoon tea or a social occasion as she was when operating as the official administrative assistant to a Cabinet officer.”

Elizebeth Smith Friedman seemed to have been a hater, but her statements about Henrietta just made me like Henrietta more. I don’t think that Henrietta was insecure at all. Maybe she was just private, only sharing personal things with those close to her, whom she trusted. Maybe she was most interested in the work itself and didn’t care to chat about personal matters when there were more pressing things to attend to. Friedman’s comments cause Henrietta to seem mysterious, an enigma… I hope to continue to learn more about her as the year continues. And I will update you as more evidence emerges. Stay tuned!

My next step will be to read the interview with Henrietta Klotz held at the USHMM in the

A picture of me presenting about my research was tweeted here.


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