BRITAIN AND THE JEWS OF EUROPE 1939-1945 by Bernard Wasserstein


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There is little to celebrate in this account of British policy towards the Jews between 1939 and 1945,"" concludes Wasserstein in this straightforward scholarly presentation of evidence from British, American, and Israeli archives. His is a British counterpart to Morse's assessment of American policy in While Six Million Died (1967). Churchill's sympathetic compassion towards the Jewish plight was blunted by government policy, Wasserstein finds, especially the 1939 White Paper which restricted immigration into Palestine, and by the bureaucrats. Where Churchill was interested in bombing Auschwitz, requesting plans of the camp in order to test the operation's feasibility, the plans never reached the Air Ministry; they were blocked by the Foreign Office. The bureaucrats were involved even before the war broke out. When it was possible to save lives, there was reluctance to receive German Jews into Britain for fear of arousing latent anti-Semitism. Direct British pressure was placed both on the Turkish government to send the refugee ship Strurna back into the Black Sea, and on Central European and Balkan states not to issue exit visas to Jews. Was it political expediency--or active anti-Semitism? The latter, certainly, in a Foreign Office official's discrimination between real war refugees and merely racial refugees. But British response to the Jews also reflected a change in perception of the Jews as a nation. To Britain in World War I Jewish support was crucial, hence the Balfour Declaration. The Nazis only proved to the British who did not have to rely on a Jewish vote that the Jews really had no political clout, thus they received low priority in the war effort. Despite the blockade, thousands of tons of foodstuffs' were sent to Greece between 1943 and 1945 while no relief was provided the Jews in occupied Europe; and there was an extraordinary effort to provision the Polish Home Army in its Warsaw rising a year after the Allies' total abandonment of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. British paranoiac fear of a German fifth column from the influx of Jewish immigrants (Jews from Axis countries were considered enemy aliens), the need for Arab support in the Middle East (Jewish support was taken for granted), and the failure to absorb the enormity of the slaughter (despite knowledge of its extent), are some of the reasons, Wasserstein demonstrates, for the lack of British response to the Holocaust. A dispassionate assessment that puts important new information on record.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press