Britain 'cool' to Jews who fled Nazis

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The Independent Online
A NEW pamphlet, to be distributed in schools, will offer a radical reassessment of Britain's wartime behaviour towards victims of the Holocaust.

The British reaction to the Nazi slaughter of the Jews was "mixed" and influenced by anti-Semitism, according to the report by David Cesarani, professor of 20th-century European Jewish history at the University of Southampton.

But the study also highlights how few other countries and "least of all the USA with its incomparably greater resources" matched Britain's humanitarian record on refugees after Hitler took power in Germany.

Britain and the Holocaust is described by its publishers, the Holocaust Educational Trust, as the first time the responses of the British government and the general public have been brought together.

The 21-page pamphlet wasconceived as an attempt to put the British response in an historical context. The trust decided that its clarity made it ideal for schools.

An overview of the Second World War, including the Holocaust, is part of the national curriculum. But Rosie Harris, educational co-ordinator at the trust, said that some children spent only a single lesson studying one of the most appalling atrocities of the century.

"This book is about not giving pupils a false impression that everything Britain did was glorious," she said.

Professor Cesarani outlines the history of Jews in Britain, attitudes in the years preceding the war, what was known about the Final Solution, the liberation of the camps and the aftermath of the Holocaust. He highlights how, in 1933, Britain had strict immigration controls and many people opposed letting German Jews into the country.

Suspicions of Jews continued during the war, when the government was apprehensive about the level of anti-Semitism in Britain and feared it could turn into anti-war and pro-Fascist sentiment. "It did everything to avoid the impression that Britain was at war on behalf of the Jews," the professor said.

The amount of information reaching Britain about the treatment of Jews in Nazi Europe was "plentiful and accurate. However, there was a vast gap between knowing and believing".

Some officials were prejudiced against the Jews and others thought information about persecution was being manipulated for Zionist purposes. Yet numerous telegrams made clear to the British government what was happening.

The report concludes that the British people comforted themselves post-war with the idea that the 1939-1945 conflict had been a "good war".

For details, contact the Holocaust Educational Trust, BCM Box 7892, London WC1N 3XX