Henry Morgenthau was a man with the courage to stand alone.
As the US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, appointed by President Wilson in 1913, Morgenthau found himself confronting a tide of reports detailing wholesale massacre across the Ottoman Empire.
As the Genocide began in 1915, Morgenthau watched and listened in disbelief.
He implored his government to intervene, famously telling Interior Minister Talaat Pasha:
"Our people will never forget these massacres."
In 1915 he wrote to the U.S. State Department asking for funds to help the Armenian people, warning that a campaign of “race extermination” was being perpetrated by Turkey only vaguely disguised as a reprisal against rebellion.
Over the next 15 years the fundraising committee, named Near East Relief, raised an astonishing $100 million (worth more than $1 billion today), provided aid, manpower and built hospitals and orphanages.
But throughout 1915 his main task was to speak out, ensuring that while he could not stop the slaughter, he could make sure the world watched.
Finally, appalled by political inaction as the slaughter continued, Morgenthau resigned as ambassador in 1916.
His words remain as his legacy.
“I found inacceptable my further association with people, however gracious and accommodating, who were still able to spill the blood of a million human beings,” he told the international community.
Two years later he published “Ambassador Morgenthau's Story,” which laid bare the unmitigated truth of the mass killings and deportations. He exposed the robbery and destruction behind the forced marches into the desert, the reality of a new method of massacre. When the Ottoman authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race, he wrote.
Morgenthau was born in 1856 in Mannheim, Germany, the ninth of 11 children born to a prosperous cigar manufacturer who moved the family to New York in 1866. Morgenthau became a successful lawyer, a supporter of the Democratic Party and a friend to Woodrow Wilson.
Although his experiences in the Ottoman Empire defined him, and he would organize the rescue and resettlement of thousands of survivors from the Smyrna massacres in 1923 as head of the League of Nations' Refugee Settlement Committee, his compassion was not limited to Armenians.
He died in 1946, but his publications and the moral courage they represent outlive him.
Images courtesy of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute.
The story is verified by the 100 LIVES Research Team