British Policy towards Refugees in Yad Vashem Studies, Volume XIII

Martin Gilbert


British Government Policy towards Jewish Refugees November 1937 - September 1939

Following Kristallnacht in November 1938, the British government realized that Jews in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland were in great danger. However, bowing to Arab pressure, H. M. Government was not prepared to accept Jewish refugees into Britain or to permit immigration to Palestine. Weizmann’s repeated appeals to Lord Halifax bore no fruit. On the contrary, Halifax wanted Weizmann to give up the Jewish “right” to enter Palestine. In February 1939 the British government gave orders to its navy and army to prevent the smuggling of Jews into Palestine both by sea and land. It also pressured European countries to disallow “illegal” emigration to Palestine from their borders. British forces intercepted refugee ships bound for Palestine and forced them to return to their port of origin, notwithstanding the horrible conditions on board and terrible fate awaiting them. Concomitant British proposals to find a home for the Jews in countries other than Palestine failed. An increasing number of countries, worldwide, barred entry of Jewish refugees. Even the outbreak of war endangering the three million Jews of Poland did not soften British policy towards Jewish refugees including the saving of Polish children.

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