of Jews out of Nazi Germany has been the subject of much attention.
Virtually every country that witnessed the entry of Jews in the
1930s has had its experiences discussed in at least one book.(1)
Britain is no exception. The historical investigation of Jewish
immigration into Britain began with the opening of government archives
in the 1970s, though prior to this many contemporaries wrote their
accounts of the movement of European Jews to Britain. As early as
1936, whilst the migration of Jews was still underway, Norman Bentwich
published The Refugees from Germany, April 1933 to December
1935, (2) covering the
first wave of arrivals. He followed this up in 1956 with They
Found Refuge. An Account of British Jewry's Work for Victim of Nazi
Oppression, (3) an
insightful work that remains relevant today. Bentwich was well placed
to comment on the movement of Jews into Britain because of his personal
involvement. Other contemporary works were published covering the
subject. Norman Angell's and Dorothy Thompson's You and the Refugee
appeared as a Penguin Special in 1939. Critical of the government
handling of the refugee crisis, this work suggested that the refugees
should be permitted to seek employment as this would both relieve
them from having to accept charity and enable them to make a contribution
to the British economy.
The internment of the refugees in 1940 prompted
the publication of another Penguin critical of government policy,
François Lafitte's, The Internment of Aliens. This
book has since been reprinted, with a new introduction in which
the author did not back down from his position of 48 years earlier.(4)Yvonne
Kapp and Margaret Mynatt's, British Policy and the Refugees 1933-1941,(5)
was written in 1940, though not actually published until 1997. Both
of these books are critical of the government's immigration policy,
reserving their harshest judgements of the internment of refugees
as enemy aliens in 1940. The internment of enemy aliens during World
War II is a subject that has remained the most criticised of the
government's policies towards Jewish refugees. The knee-jerk reaction
of the government caused by the invasion scare has been the subject
of several historical studies, all of which have utilised government
sources that were unavailable to Lafitte, Kapp and Mynatt. (6)
The first historical account of the Jewish refugees
who entered Britain fleeing Nazism which utilised the then newly-opened
government records, was Island Refuge, (7)
written in 1973 by A.J. Sherman. Republished in 1994, it remains
as one of the most informative works written on the topic. Sherman
charted the formation of government policy, concluding that Britain
had been lenient in permitting entry to as many refugees as it did.
This work was followed by Austin Stevens, The Dispossessed,
(8) whose treatment of
the subject is more journalistic than Sherman's work. Since the
publication of these two works, the topic of Jewish immigration
has been studied from a variety of angles. Colin Holmes covered
the rise of political antisemitism in his Anti-Semitism in British
showing the impact of antisemitism on the Jewish refugees who arrived.
This work has remained the standard account of antisemitism in Britain,
although it can also be complemented by Gisela Lebzelter's, Political
Anti-Semitism in England 1918-1939 (10).
Bernard Wasserstein's Britain and the Jews of Europe, (11)
which appeared at the same time, goes beyond being merely a study
of Jewish refugees who entered or attempted to enter Britain and
includes an examination of the British attitude towards European
Jewry and the issue of the British mandated territory of Palestine.
More recently, antisemitism during the war has been covered by Tony
Kushner's Persistence of Prejudice, (12)
which, as well as examining government sources dealing with immigration,
also considers the impact of antisemitism on British society as
The study of Jewish immigration during the thirties
has also been furthered by several other works that deserve mention.
Gerhard Hirschfeld's edited work, Exile in Great Britain,(13)
contains articles covering both government policy in general and
more specific case studies of particular aspects of those able to
enter Britain from Nazi Germany. In addition, a conference in 1988
led to the publication of Second Chance. Two Centuries of German-speaking
Jews in the United Kingdom, (14)
which contains many relevant papers on inter-war Jewish immigration,
including one by Louise London herself, in which she outlines some
of the arguments that will be found in this present study. (15)
Marion Berghahn's work, Continental Britons, concentrates
on the refugees themselves and examines aspects of assimilation
and acculturation. (16)
Amy Zahl Gottlieb, on the other hand, in her work, Men of Vision,
examines the role that Anglo-Jewry played in assisting the refugees
from Nazi Germany, concentrating mostly on the Central British Fund.
Tony Kushner's 1994 study, The Holocaust and the Liberal
provides a summary of not just the government attitudes towards
Jewish refugees both inter and post-war, but also with the attitude
of the British and American governments and society towards the
Holocaust. Finally, Bill Rubinstein has entered the field, with
his controversial study, The Myth of Rescue, (19)
in which he criticises virtually all who have written on this topic,
claiming that Britain was not only lenient in its attitude towards
Jewish immigrant, but also that there was nothing else they or the
Allies could have done to relieve the suffering of Continental Jewry.
Rubinstein accuses previous authors of being ahistorical in their
examination of inter-war Jewish migration, arguing that the Holocaust
could not have been predicted and, as a result, receiving countries
should not be criticised. It can be imagined that Rubinstein would
also have problems with London's work, since she too is critical
of the government's restrictive attitude towards Jewish immigration
in the 1930s and 1940s.
The study of Jewish immigration seems to have
matured from a subject that was on the periphery of even Anglo-Jewish
history, into a serious topic for mainstream historians. With all
of this previous work that has been undertaken on the entry of Jewish
refugees, the question of whether another book on this topic is
needed, has to addressed. The simplest way to answer this query
is to ask whether London's work adds anything new to the topic.
The answer is undoubtedly 'yes'. She goes beyond the sources that
previously have been utilised, and opens up new areas of interest,
as well as presenting a well-developed and supported argument.
Louise London is uniquely qualified to complete a study of British
immigration history. A solicitor who has dealt with modern day refugees,
she is herself a child of Jewish refugees. Her thesis, which is
the basis of this book, was completed at London University in 1992
and she has already published several articles from this.(20)
London's conclusions towards British immigration policy are more
critical than those of Sherman's. Though by the second edition of
his work he had examined the more recent literature critical of
the behaviour of the government in dealing with Jewish refugees,
he maintained, nevertheless, that Britain was generous in its attitude.
The arguments presented here are diametrically opposite to this.
London states that Britain did not view Jewish refugees in a humanitarian
light, but through the eyes of self-interest. More could have been
done in trying to assist Jews fleeing from Nazi Germany and also
to permit the shattered remnants of European Jewry to enter post-Holocaust
London's work follows in the line of those more
critical of Britain's role in the Holocaust, most notably Martin
Gilbert, Tony Kushner and David Cesarani.(21)
In fact, Cesarani and Kushner are able to lay claim to a new school
of thought on Anglo-Jewish relations.(22)
In his work Kushner has advanced the argument that Britain's claim
to be a liberal, tolerant country is not true. A form of antisemitism
lies at the heart of Britain's liberality in that there is a desire
in British society for the Jews to assimilate and, when they choose
not to, they are viewed as problematic, which is an argument with
which London would certainly concur. She begins her work by stating
that between 1933 and 1948 Britain held a consistent line on limiting
Jewish immigration (p2). Refugees would be assisted only if it was
in the interests of Britain, a concept that holds true today if
the attitude taken by many towards the current issue of asylum is
considered. Thus, while Britain would 'tolerate' a certain amount
of immigration for humanitarian reason, this 'toleration' was limited
by several interlinked factors.
The first, was the perceived effect that this
process could have on the fabric of British society. The charge
that antisemitism would increase if too many Jewish refugees were
granted entry was stated throughout the inter-war period, by both
by government officials and the already-established Anglo-Jewish
community. The second factor that was cited was employment, or more
precisely unemployment. For this reason, refugees were landed on
condition that they did not seek to enter the labour market without
permission from the Ministry of Labour. This stipulation, however,
was waived in two cases, firstly for refugees able to leave Europe
with their business intact and willing to establish new firms in
Britain and secondly for those who were able to enter Britain as
domestic servants. Thus, on the one hand, refugees had to be able
to either create jobs in Britain or had to demean themselves by
working in low-paid, low skilled employment, whatever their former
circumstances. A third factor was that of assimilation. Foreign
Jews were expected both by the government and by the Anglo-Jewish
establishment to conform to the British way of life and to minimise
their 'foreignness'. They were inundated with advice to avoid showing
their alien nature, such as not speaking German in public. Fourthly,
the refugees were landed on a temporary basis, on the understanding
that they would in the future leave Britain. Whilst in reality some
40,000 remained in Britain, this had not been the government's intention.
Refuge was to be for a limited time, in the hope that most would
seek other countries in which to settle permanently. Lastly and
of greatest importance, was the issue of finance. From the very
beginnings of this movement, the Anglo-Jewish community was expected
to find the funds that would be required to support the refugees
whilst they were in Britain. Foreign Jews were not to become chargeable
to state finance in any shape. Again this situation would change,
as by 1939 the Anglo-Jewish community had exhausted its funds and
came to rely upon government grants.
Throughout her work, London shows the complexity
of government policy towards refugees. She reveals how the government
actually sought to avoid introducing specific legislation to limit
the number of Jews that entered Britain. Whilst in the United States
there was quota system that dictated how many refugees of particular
nationalities could enter, in Britain's legislation remained vague
on the issue of refugees. Throughout the inter-war period immigration
into Britain took place under the provisions on the 1919 Aliens
Act and subsequent Aliens Orders. This had originated in the 1914
Aliens Act, an emergency measure that had been passed in the first
few days of the First World War. Under this legislation, power to
decide immigration policy rested almost exclusively with the Home
Secretary. After Hitler's rise to power in Germany, when it was
first noted that the number of German Jews arriving in Britain had
increased dramatically, it was decided at Cabinet level not to introduce
new legislation. This situation continued until the introduction
of visas for immigrants from Germany and Austria in 1938. These
had been introduced so that the government could be more selective
over who was granted entry. In the words of one official, visas
allow immigrants to be selected "at leisure and in advance."
[p.59] Even with visas, however, the government and, more specifically
the Home Office, were reluctant to outline immigration policy. As
London effectively shows, the government maintained this policy
of trying to avoid having a policy throughout the period that she
examines. By not having a specific policy, the government could
be as restrictive or as compassionate as it (or rather the Home
Secretary) chose to be.
London's work goes beyond September 1939, when
all issued visas were cancelled on the start of war. She emphasises
the government's reluctance to admit Jewish refugees during the
war and the consistent government line that the rescue of Jews was
not a war aim. In fact, the government maintained that the only
way to rescue European Jewry was for the Allies to win the war in
the shortest possible time. This is the most contentious part of
the book and the section that with which a critic such as Rubinstein,
would focus upon. London has very much followed the lead of Kushner
in his criticisms of British inaction when it came to the issue
of Jews during the war. Britain did not want to be seen to be fighting
a war on behalf of Jewry is the standard accusation levelled. This
stance, in Kushner's view, shows the antisemitism that was an integral
part of the British government's 'liberality'. London, too, is critical
of government policy and she covers the failed schemes that were
suggested to assist the Jews being persecuted in Nazi-dominated
Europe. However, this section does need to be contextualised more.
Was it possible that anything realistic could have been done to
rescue the Jews? The answer is probably 'no'. The main criticism,
however, lies elsewhere. The government's largest failure was not
its failure to the rescue European Jews, something that was impossible
to do. The failure was, firstly, to keep silent on what was happening
in Nazi Europe. More information about the Holocaust should have
been made public, along with more specific mention of the fact that
the Jews were being persecuted and exterminated because of their
race. Secondly, the government's complete denial that the rescue
of Jews was impossible should not have deflected them from attempting
to ascertain if something could have been done. When opportunities
did arise, the government sought to find a way to avoid doing anything
to assist the Jews, rather than seeing if the opportunity could
London's work also moves into the post-war situation.
She examines the position of the refugees who had entered prior
to 1939, showing how they were eventually able to apply for naturalisation.
The immigration of Jews after 1945 is also examined. It is unfortunate
that this section is so short, since virtually nothing has been
written on this subject.(23)
London shows how the new Labour government continued the restrictive
policies that had been introduced prior to the war. London and all
others who write on immigration, need to make more of this point,
that the political hue of the party in power has little impact on
immigration policy, which, on the whole, remains restrictive. London
also compares the post-war entry of Jews with the European Volunteer
Workers (EVW) scheme that the government established to bring foreign
labour into a British industry short of man and woman power.(24)
Her criticism is that the government sought to exclude Jews because
of their Jewishness, whilst at the same time encouraging the entry
of East Europeans. However, there are various problems with this
claim. Firstly, the timing of the EVW scheme. It was introduced
in 1947, by which time the majority of the displaced Jews in Europe
had firmly decided to settle only in Palestine and so would not
have wished to enter Britain. Secondly, though London mentions the
political reasons behind the EVW scheme, namely the need to clear
the displaced persons (DPs) from Europe, she does not cover the
international aspects of this situation. Britain was obliged to
do something to alleviate the post-war refugee situation in Europe,
especially if it expected the United States to assist in its solution.
Furthermore, in accepting a share of the DPs, Britain was able to
combine humanitarianism with the advantage that these people could
work in British industry. Thirdly, London views the scheme only
on its positive terms, rather than seeing it as an exploitation
of foreign labour carried out by a government which wanted to get
British industry back onto a peacetime footing. (25)
Finally, the government ensured that there was a fail-safe mechanism
at the centre of the EVW scheme. If the former DPs proved to be
unreliable, they could be deported back to Germany. It is doubtful
that this would have been possible with Jewish immigrants, who would
not have wanted to return to the country which had murdered so many
of their co-religionists.
Throughout the period that London's work covers,
there is an overall consistency in government refugee policy which
can be summed up with several interlinked key themes that are used
constantly by both ministers and officials. Tradition, precedent,
sovereignty, individuality and temporary were the words most commonly
used by ministers and officials when discussing Jewish immigration.
Traditionally, it was stated, Britain was not a country of immigration,
though it had accepted its fair share of refugees in the past. This
claimed lack of an immigration tradition meant that Britain would
not be able to offer refuge to the many refugees who would wish
to come here. The fear of setting a precedent by relaxing immigration
regulations prompted officials to claim that any relaxation was
a one-off, an exception rather than the rule. Britain had to maintain
its sovereignty over immigration. Though it would participate in
the international efforts to solve the refugee problem, Britain
had to maintain sovereign control over who would be granted entry.
Furthermore, each case would be examined on its individual merits.
Britain attempted to deal with the mass movement of Jews at an individual
level. Though Britain did permit the entry of groups, for example
the Kindertransporte, this came under the heading of precedent.
Finally, since it was suggested that Britain was not a country of
immigration, the refugees would be admitted only on a temporary
basis, pending their re-emigration to a country of permanent settlement.
London shows how these themes permeate the story from 1933 until
For those who are knowledgeable about this topic
this study contains many familiar arguments. Britain did not do
enough to save Jews from the Holocaust, more refugees could have
been admitted, but governments remained keen to exclude them because
of their very Jewishness. London amasses a substantial body of evidence
to back-up these arguments. It is interesting to note that she has
not only examined the records of the Home Office or the Foreign
Office (God save us all from studies that remain moribund within
FO 371!), but has also included many references to Treasury records,
interviews and private papers of some of the key individuals involved
with Jewish immigration, adding a new light to the subject. The
use of Treasury records allows her to support her argument that,
in 1933, "British policy towards the refugees revolved around
the issue of finance." (p26) After all, it was only after the
Anglo-Jewish community's promise of 1933 that any Jewish refugee
admitted would not become a burden on the state that the government
decided not to introduce further restriction on German Jews seeking
to enter Britain. This situation continued from 1933 until the end
of the period examined by London and is key to an understanding
of the government's immigration policy.
The only concern with any history of immigration,
including London's, is that the full story is still not known. Under
the 1919Aliens Act, entry into Britain was in the hands of the Home
Secretary. In practice this power was devolved to the Immigration
Officers working at the ports of entry, who administered the entry
of Aliens under the 1920 Aliens Order. London has certainly drawn
attention to the possibility of discrepancy between policy decisions
and how those decisions were actually put in to practice on a day-to-day
basis, accepting that "The more generous aspects of the government's
practice went largely unacknowledged."[p.46] This then is the
crux of the problem for historians; whilst we have the records that
cover the making of high policy, the individual case files are not
yet publicly available. There is hope that a selection of these
records will become available in the future. A new class of records
at the Public Record Office, HO 382 Aliens Department: Aliens Personnel
Files, has been established and contains some of the records that
have already been opened, for example the case of William Joyce
and that of Mikhail Borodin. Further cases will be deposited there,
both of famous individuals and "specimen file[s] to illustrate
how the Home Office handled various aspects of immigration control
and how immigration policy was applied in actual cases." Apparently,
the selection of pre-war files will be "generous", though
this does depend on whether the person concerned is still alive.(26)
It is believed that these files have the potential to change the
study of immigration into Britain and will show that often officials
looked favourably upon individual cases, even those which, in terms
of government policy and legislation, would have been unable to
Overall this book certainly adds to the topic
and should be used as an example by others seeking to write the
history of groups that migrated to Britain.. London clearly argues
how the government's immigration policy was a non-policy. That legislation
did not need to be amended for it to be restrictive, as the Home
Secretary held the key to entry into Britain. Appeasement of Germany
in the 1930s meant that Britain could not criticise the Nazi government
for their treatment of the Jews. The unwillingness of Britain and
other countries to view the refugee issue as one of international
concern, has been a feature of the twentieth century. Restrictions
against immigration have increased, while efforts to solve the problems
that cause refugees have not been undertaken. London's work undeniably
supports Chaim Weizmann's contention to the 1937 Peel Commission
that "the world is divided into places where [the Jews] cannot
live and places where they may not enter." (28)
for instance, on the United States, David Wyman, Paper walls.
America and the Refugee crisis, 1938-1941, Amherst:
University of Massachusetts Press (1968) and Henry L. Feingold,
The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the
Holocaust, 1938-1945, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Tutgers University
Press (1970); on the Netherlands, Bob Moore, Refugees from
Nazi Germany in the Netherlands, 1933-1940, Dordrecht; Boston;
Lancaster: Nijhoff (1986); on France, Vicki Caron, Uneasy Asylum:
France and the Jewish Refugee Crisis, 1933-1942, Stanford: Stanford
University Press (1999); on Canada see Irving Abella and Harold
Troper, None is too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933-1948,
Toronto: Lester and Orpen Dennys (1982); on Australia see Michael
Blakeney, Australia and the Jewish Refugees, 1933-1948, Sydney:
Croom Helm (1985), on Brazil see, Jeffrey Lesser, Welcoming the
Undesirables, Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California
Press (1995); and on India, Anil Bhatti and Johannes H. Voigt (eds.),
Jewish Exile in India 1933-1945, New Delhi: Max Mueller
Allen & Unwin (1936).
London: The Cresset Press (1956).
Libris (1988, first published by Penguin Books, 1940).
Frank Cass (1997).
Peter and Leni Gillman, 'Collar the Lot': How Britain Interned
and Expelled its Wartime Refugees, London: Quartet Books (1980);
Ronald Stent, A Bespattered Page? The Internment of 'His Majesty's
Most Loyal Enemy Aliens' , London: Deutsch (1980); David Cesarani
and Tony Kushner, The Internment of Aliens in Twentieth Century
Britain, London: Frank Cass (1993).
London: Frank Cass (2nd edition, 1994, first published, 1973).
London: Barrie and Jenkins (1975).
Edward Arnold (1979).
London: Leicester University Press (2nd edition, 1999, first published
by Oxford University Press, 1979).
Manchester: Manchester University Press (1989).
Leamington Spa (1984).
Edited by Werner Mosse, Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck),
Louise London, 'British Immigration Control Procedures and Jewish
Refugees, 1933-1939' in Ibid., pp.485-517.
London: Macmillan (1984).
London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (1998).
Oxford: Blackwell (1994).
London: Routledge (1997).
Louise Anne London, 'British Immigration Control Procedures and
Jewish Refugees, 1933-1942' Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University
of London (1992). Her previously published articles include the
one already cited from Second Chance (see footnote 15 above); 'British
Government Policy and Jewish Refugees 1933-45', Patterns of Prejudice
vol.23, no.4 (1989) pp26-43, 'Jewish Refugees, Anglo-Jewry and British
Government Policy, 1930-1940' in David Cesarani, The Making of
Modern Anglo-Jewry, Oxford: Basil Blackwell (1990) pp163-190,
'British Reactions to the Jewish Flight from Europe' in Peter Catterall
and Catherine Morris (eds.), Britain and the Threat to Stability
in Europe 1918-45, Leicester: Leicester University Press (1993)
pp.57-73; 'Refugee Agencies and Their Work, 1933-39', The Journal
of Holocaust Education vol.4, no.1 (Summer, 1995) pp.3-17; 'Whitehall
and the Refugees: The 1930s and the 1990s', Patterns of Prejudice
vol.34 no.3 (2000) pp.17-26.
See, for example, Martin Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies,
London: Mandarin (1991); Tony Kushner, The Holocaust and the Liberal
Imagination, idem. , 'The British and the Shoah', Patterns of Prejudice
vol.23, no.3 (Autumn 1989) pp.3-16, idem., 'The Impact of the Holocaust
on British Society and Culture', Contemporary Record vol.5 no.2
(Autumn 1991) pp.349-375; David Cesarani, Britain and the Holocaust,
London: Holocaust Educational Trust (1998), idem, Justice Delayed
London: Heinemann (1992).
This is especially true now as both of these academics are based
at the University of Southampton, where there is a long tradition
of studying Anglo-Jewish history. The University also has the Parkes
Library, a growing archive collection on Anglo-Jewry and regular
seminars are held on Jewish history.
The only real examination has been carried out by Tony Kushner in
his article, 'Holocaust Survivors in Britain: An Overview and Research
Agenda', The Journal of Holocaust Education, vol.4, no.2, (Winter
1995) pp.147-66, and in his book with Katherine Knox, Refugees
in an Age of Genocide, London: Frank Cass (1999), though it
is also mentioned as a side issue in David Cesarani, Justice
For the EVW scheme see Diana Kay and Robert Miles, Refugees or
Migrant Workers?, London: Routledge (1992); J.A. Tannahill,
European Volunteer Workers in Britain Manchester,
Manchester University Press (1958) and David Cesarani, Justice
This is very much the argument advanced by Kay and Miles, Ibid.
Roger Kershaw and Mark Pearsall, Immigrants and Aliens. A Guide
to Sources on UK Immigration and Citizenship, Kew: Public Record
Office (2000) p.19.
Cited in Michael Marrus, The Unwanted: European Refugees in the
Twentieth Century, New York; Oxford: Oxford University
Press (1985) p.185.