Speech Supporting Immediate Aid to Jewish Refugees

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Speech Supporting Immediate Aid to Jewish Refugees  (1943) 
by William Temple (1881-1944)

The Speech Supporting Immediate Aid to Jewish Refugees was delivered in the House of Lords on March 23, 1943, by William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury. It was made on behalf of a resolution introduced by Temple calling for "immediate measures...for providing help and temporary asylum" to Jews and others "in danger of massacre" in German-cccupied Europe.[1] The resolution was adopted.

My Lords, I beg leave to move the Resolution standing in my name on the Order Paper. We are confronted, as all your Lordships know, with an evil the magnitude and horror of which it is impossible to describe in words. There has, I suppose, never been so great a manifestation of the power of sheer cruelty and of the determination to wreak upon a helpless people what is not vengeance, for there is no offence, but the satisfaction of a mere delight in power such as is to be witnessed on the continent of Europe at the present time. We are wisely advised not to limit our attention in this connexion to the sufferers of any one race, and we must remember that there are citizens of many countries who are subject to just the same kind of monstrous persecution, and even massacre. None the less, there has been a concentration of this fury against the Jews, and it is inevitable that we should give special attention to what is being carried through, and still further plotted against them.

§ We know that Hitler near the beginning of the war declared that this war must lead to the extermination of either the Jewish or the German people, and it should not be the Germans. He is now putting that threat into effect, and no doubt we are to a very large extent at present powerless to stop him. We are told that the only real solution is rapid victory. No doubt it is true that if we could win the war in the course of a few weeks we could still deliver multitudes of those who are now doomed to death. But we dare not look for such a result, and we know that what we can do will be but little in comparison with the need. My whole plea on behalf of those for whom I am speaking is that whether what we do be large or little it should at least be all we can do.

§ I do not think I need try to kindle your Lordships' imaginations afresh with a picture of what is going on, but perhaps it is worth while to recall some of the more recent reports that have reached us. Many of us heard the announcement from the B.B.C. a little while ago in the News that a decree has now been published in the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia which has the effect of sentencing all the Jews there to death by starvation. Their ration cards are to be taken from them, and they are forbidden to buy unrationed food. The Nazis have ordered that all Jews must be cleared out of Moravia by the end of next month, and by the same date there must be none in Berlin. The deportation of Jews from Germany is going on at an increasing rate, and most of them die in concentration camps and ghettos.

§ These reports have just reached the World Jewish Congress regarding Poland: ‘In one district alone 6,000 are being killed daily. Before they die they are stripped of their clothes which are [sent] back to Germany. Not a single Jew is left in the great Ghetto of Warsaw where, before the mass murders began there were 430,000.’ We cannot say that all these have certainly been killed. Some may be employed on forced labour behind the Eastern German front, but most of them are probably, by now, dead. Again: ‘All the Jews now remaining in Bulgaria are living in daily dread of being sent to Poland, a fear which has been accentuated by the pronouncement of a member of the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs that it was eventually intended to outlaw every Jew in the country.’

§ I have myself lately received this information through the Board of Deputies of British Jews: ‘A message has been received from a Jewish member of the National Council of Poland who writes: 'Yesterday I received via Istanbul news from responsible sources about the situation of the Jews in Poland. The news relates to the beginning of February. The informants say—the information comes straight from Poland—that during January a new slaughter of Jews in Warsaw took place. The Jews defended themselves actively; over fifty Germans were killed. After this heroic defence a new slaughter of Jews followed. Over 5,000 were immediately deported. The complete extermination of the ghettos in Poland is going on. In accordance with this information only about one-quarter million Jews remain in Poland.'’ And this comes from Stockholm: ‘The Rumanian Government has agreed with the Germans to send 20,000 Jews from Bucharest and 40,000 Jews from other towns to Poland in the spring.’ There is a report—this is probably not quite so reliable—from Zurich as follows: ‘Four concentration camps have been set up in Bulgaria for 'unreliable Jews,' according to an announcement in the Bulgarian Parliament by the Minister of the Interior, quoted by the German radio. The 'worst Jews,' the Minister added, 'will probably be sent to ghettos in Poland.’ This cable has just been received by the World Jewish Congress in this country: ‘During the 26th February and 2nd March, 15,000 Jews of Berlin were detained and in day-time sent away in lorries to camps. S.S. officers, who are the initiators of this detention, have determined to make Berlin free of Jews by the 15th March. Rabbi Bach, the President of the Reichsverband Deutscher Juden, has been deported to Terezin. In January deportations from Holland reached the number of 17,000. The extermination action is reaching its peak.’ I am sure there can be no need for me to continue the description of the horror. I believe that part of our difficulty in arousing ourselves and our fellow-countrymen to the degree of indignation that it would seem to merit is the fact that the imagination recoils before it. It is impossible to hold such things at all before the mind. But we are all agreed in this House on the main purpose of this Motion, to offer our utmost support to the Government in all they can do; but with all sympathy for members of His Majesty's Government, I am sure they will forgive some of us who wonder whether quite everything possible has really already been done. We remember the solemn statement of the United Nations made public on December 17, and it is inevitable that we should contrast the solemnity of the words then used, and the reception accorded to them, with the very meagre action that has actually followed. Of course, the difficulties are extremely great. We ought, in any words of criticism that we utter, to have the utmost sympathy for the Government in their task of administration, but we wish to offer our support not merely to show that it may be relied upon—for the Government I am sure know that—but also as a spur to greater rapidity to action if it may be possible. It is the delays in the whole matter while these horrors go on daily that make some of us wonder whether it may not be possible to speed things up a little.

§ One must admit that some of the arguments hitherto advanced as justifying the comparative inaction seem quite disproportionate to the scale of the evil confronting us. They are real in themselves, but they are the kind of thing that many of us feel should really be brushed aside if only we have before our minds the situation with which we are trying to deal. If I may allude to an event which took place before the German occupation of Vichy France, some of us went to see the Home Secretary with reference to the deliverance from France of those Jews destined for deportation to Germany. Obviously the urgency of the problem then was rather less acute than it has become since, and it did seem to many of us at that time it was hardly possible that anyone who had before his mind the facts with which we were dealing, would have thought it appropriate to give as reasons for no further action the kind of facts that were then set before us. We were given, for example, a very full statement of the great part that has been taken by this country and other countries of the British Empire in the relief of refugees and the reception of them into our country. That, of course, would be relevant if the people in the other lands were suffering great discomfort or great privation, but when what you are confronted with is wholesale massacre, it seemed to most of us not only irrelevant, but grotesquely irrelevant.

§ We come to the question: Is there anything that can in fact be done? We were much encouraged by the promise that was given by His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies on February 3 with regard to the admission of Jews, both children and adults, to Palestine. Your Lordships will remember that he said that Bulgaria has agreed to let go, and Palestine to admit, 4,000 Jewish children and 500 accompanying adults, also that up to 500 children from Hungary and Rumania would be admitted and that the 270 previously arranged for were already on their way. Further admissions to Palestine would take place later up to the permitted maximum of 29,000 available out of the four years immigration quota for Palestine. That was on February 3. On February 24 he was obliged to say that no movement of these persons had yet taken place. That was three weeks later. Once again we know there are great difficulties about shipping and the like, and we quite recognize that some delay is inevitable; but three weeks struck some of us as a long time in which nothing at all should take place, and we are most anxious to hear to-day whether anything has taken place since then.

§ So, first, I would put the plea that action should be taken as promptly as possible to carry out the promise given by the Colonial Secretary. Secondly, I would urge that we should revise the scheme of visas for entry into this country. Surely we might at least agree to admit to this country all those who are able to get here—they would not be very many—who have husbands, wives or sons already here, and especially those who have sons actually serving in our Forces. The probability of their being dangerous or unreliable is so slight that we may surely neglect it. But there have been cases where precisely that kind of applicant has been refused. I have instances here of some of these, as it seems to us, unduly hard cases. A Jewish couple, who escaped into Spain and were interned, have four sons in our Armed Forces, able and anxious to maintain them. Visas were refused them. The case was strongly pressed by the refugee organization concerned. There are several similar cases with one or more sons or brothers in the British Forces. The sons were recently told that they might shortly be sent overseas, and they longed to know that their parents were safe from a possible German invasion of Spain. Again a high official in the French Fighting Forces applied for visas for a Jewish family who had escaped from France into Portugal. Visas were granted for the two sons to join the French Forces but refused for their parents, though the French officials strongly pressed for them.

§ Again, a Counsellor in the Polish Government applied three months ago for a visa for a Polish Jew in a concentration camp in Spain, and, though the case apparently comes strictly within the regulations for visas, received a discouraging reply. The man is of military age and a qualified doctor of medicine who had previously applied to join the Forces in France. His aged parents and sister in this country were able to guarantee maintenance. Consideration of this was promised, but it is now many weeks since the promise was made and there is still no reply.

§ One more of the cases from enemy-occupied territory: A Czech Jewess, in hiding in Hungary, has her husband, son and daughter all in England; also a nephew and a friend in an influential position in Switzerland. The daughter in England was told by her Swiss friends that the Swiss authorities would give entry if a United Kingdom visa was obtained and notified to the British Consul at Zurich. The whereabouts of the woman in Hungary were known to these friends who believed they could make contact with her if visas for another country were secured. The British visa was refused late in 1942. I have other instances here, but it would perhaps be wearying your Lordships to go on describing them. I do not know what are the grounds given for the refusal in most of these cases, except that they do not fall for the most part within certain categories which have been drawn up to regulate the administration of German refugees. But these categories are not like the categories in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason a necessity of human thought, and it is quite possible to revise them; it would seem to many of us that in face of the evil now confronting us it is most urgently necessary that they should be revised.

§ But it is very doubtful whether more than a trifle could be done, except the avoidance of causing fearful pain to persons already in very bitter distress, so long as the administration from this country is limited to the handling of individuals. And so we want to suggest the granting of blocks of visas to the Consuls in Spain and Portugal and perhaps in Turkey to be used at their discretion. We know of course that the German Government will not give exit permits. What matters is that we should open our doors irrespective of the question whether the German door is open or shut, so that all who can may come. If nothing results then at least we shall not be to blame. We can trust the discretion of our own agents in these neutral countries to allow only those who could safely be permitted to pass through to our own shores to do so, and it is of the greatest importance to give relief to those neutral countries because there is at present a steady stream, or perhaps more accurately a steady trickle of refugees from France both into Spain and into Switzerland. The numbers that those countries, already suffering a good deal in shortage of food and with their standard of life so far below our own, will be able to receive are of course limited. If we can open the door at the other side and bring away from Spain and Portgual and (if the transport is available but probably it would not be) from Switzerland and also from Turkey those who are able to make their escape there, we shall render it far more probable that the channels through which that trickle percolates will not be blocked.

§ If I understand the matter rightly, the main roads and the railways are closed, but the paths of the hills in the Pyrenees are not; therefore this trickle goes steadily on, the Spanish authorities no doubt knowing of it but not thinking it sufficiently serious, or perhaps not having the desire to check it. Anyhow there it is. We can hardly expect it will last much longer unless we are willing that the door should be open at the other end and that some at least of those who go into the neutral countries and pass through them should come on to our own country, or to the territories of the British Empire or of the Allied Nations so far as they will agree. Then, once more, it is urged, that we should offer help to European neutrals, to encourage them to admit new refugees, in the form of guarantees from the United Nations, to relieve them of a stipulated proportion of refugees after victory, or, if possible, sooner; that we should offer gifts of or facilities for obtaining food, clothing, petrol, navicerts and the like for these neutral countries, and also that we should offer direct financial aid. I should like to ask if information can be given whether any of these States have indicated a willingness to receive more refugees if such help is available. These are some of the practical ways by which we urge that steps should really be taken at least to relieve this situation. It is fully understood that shipping difficulties are very great, but would it be possible perhaps to charter a few ships from neutral countries to act as ferry boats between ports of evacuation and ports of refuge? And could not ships that cross the Atlantic this way with troops, food, munitions and so forth, take back refugees to some ports on the American side within the British Empire or, if the United States would agree, also to their own ports?

§ There is one point I would raise more tentatively, but it has been responsibly put forward and I think it ought to be seriously considered, though I cannot urge it with the same confidence. It is that through some neutral Power an offer should directly be made to the German Government to receive Jews in territories of the British Empire and, so far as they agree, of the other Allied Nations on a scheme of so many each month. Very likely it would be refused, and then Hitler's guilt would stand out all the more evidently. If the offer were accepted there would of course be difficulties enough, but it would be the business of the Germans to overcome these so far as concerns the conveyance of the refugees to the ports, and efforts could be made to secure help from Sweden and other neutral countries for shipping from the ports. It would not relieve the German Government of any feeding problem, for Hitler is scarcely feeding the Jews now. It would do next to nothing in the way of benefiting him. Some of us have wondered how far the possibility has been considered of receiving any considerable number, particularly of children, in Eire and whether the Government of Eire have been consulted about this. I wish to repeat that I do not urge this proposal of a direct offer to the German Government with at all the same confidence I had in putting forward the other propositions. I can see general grounds on which it might be undesirable, and these must be very carefully watched, but I do think that it deserves very careful consideration and should not be turned down merely on the ground that we will have nothing to do with these barbarians.

§ It is said that there is danger of an Anti-Semitic feeling in this country. No doubt that feeling exists in some degree, and no doubt it could very easily be fanned into flame, but I am quite sure it exists at present only in comparatively small patches. It is very vocal when it exists at all, and therefore it receives a degree of attention beyond what it deserves. But if the Government were to decide that it was wise and practicable to put in action any of the proposals that I have laid before your Lordships, it would be very easy for the Government, by skilful use of the wireless, to win the sympathy and confidence of the people for their proposals, especially if a large number of those who were brought out were children and were being delivered from almost certain death. Then there is the question whether it would too seriously affect the feeding of our own people. I can only say that we are being at this time so wonderfully fed that we could well go without a little of our present convenience in that matter, and I believe the people would be most ready to do it if they knew it was required to free these people not from discomfort, not from any of the ordinary forms of persecution, but from massacre and the threat of it hanging over them during the few more weeks they might live.

§ The whole matter is so big and other claims are so urgent that we want further to make the proposition that there shall be appointed someone of high standing for whom this should be a primary responsibility. If we speak with impatience of what has been done or has not been done it is not, as I have tried already to show, from any lack of sympathy with the Government in the immense complexity of the tasks that they are carrying through, but just because of that complexity it seems to us more than can reasonably be asked of human beings that they should alongside of other responsibilities also undertake this on our behalf. For this reason I suggest appointing someone who should have real authority in the matter and should feel responsibility for this matter alone. So it is urged that there should be appointed someone of high standing, either within the Government or, if not that, from the Civil Service, to make it his first concern, and if the United Nations are ready to act together they should appoint a High Commissioner or else instruct the High Commissioner for Refugees, already active under the League of Nations, who has at present only limited authority in relation to the Jews for whom we are seeking relief at present.

§ My chief protest is against procrastination of any kind. It was three months ago that the solemn declaration of the United Nations was made and now we are confronted with a proposal for an exploratory Conference at Ottawa. That sounds as if it involves much more delay. It took five weeks from December 17 for our Government to approach the United States, and then six weeks for the Government of the United States to reply, and when they did reply they suggested a meeting of representatives of the Government for preliminary exploration. The Jews are being slaughtered at the rate of tens of thousands a day on many days, but there is a proposal for a preliminary exploration to be made with a view to referring the whole matter after that to the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees. My Lords, let us at least urge that when that Conference meets it should meet not only for exploration but for decision. We know that what we can do is small compared with the magnitude of the problem, but we cannot rest so long as there is any sense among us that we are not doing all that might be done. We have discussed the matter on the footing that we are not responsible for this great evil, that the burden lies on others, but it is always true that the obligations of decent men are decided for them by contingencies which they did not themselves create and very largely by the action of wicked men. The priest and the Levite in the parable were not in the least responsible for the traveller's wounds as he lay there by the roadside and no doubt they had many other pressing things to attend to, but they stand as the picture of those who are condemned for neglecting the opportunity of showing mercy. We at this moment have upon us a tremendous responsibility. We stand at the bar of history, of humanity and of God. I beg leave to move.

§ Moved to resolve, That, in view of the massacres and starvation of Jews and others in enemy and enemy-occupied countries, this House desires to assure His Majesty's Government of its fullest support for immediate measures, on the Largest [sic] and most generous scale compatible with the requirements of military operations and security, for providing help and temporary asylum to persons in danger of massacre who are able to leave enemy and enemy-occupied countries. [1]

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