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 Posted Thursday, November 28, 2002

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The Independent

London, November 3, 1998


Britain was 'wary' of Nazi refugees

By Louise Jury

A NEW pamphlet, to be distributed in schools, will offer a radical reassessment of Britain's wartime behaviour towards victims of the Holocaust. Ratface CesaraniThe 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 Southampton University.

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.

Not even the UK's Jewish community escapes criticism. Some refugees worked as domestic helps for Jewish families who treated them badly, the professor said. And too few Jewish families offered to foster German-Jewish children despite appeals.

The 21-page pamphlet was conceived as an attempt to put the British response in historical context. But 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 some children spent only a single class 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. The text will be also available on the Internet.

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.

And when Richard Dimbleby broadcast from Bergen-Belsen in April 1945 (Belsen girls: right), he never explicitly referred to Jews. "Allied propaganda used the camps to vindicate the war against Germany and not to explain the Final Solution," says the pamphlet.

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



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