- Post-Holocaust Politics: Britain, the United States and Jewish Refugees
The apathy of British and American governments to the plight of European Jewry during the Second World War has been fully documented. Sadly, a similar indifference to the [End Page 146] welfare of the survivors persisted after the war, yet there has been little scholarly interest in the post-war period. Only a few studies have addressed American and British attitudes to Jewish Displaced Persons (DPs); most notably, Leonard Dinnerstein’s America and the Survivors of the Holocaust (1981) and Yehuda Bauer’s Out of the Ashes: The Impact of American Jews on Post-Holocaust European Jewry (1989). Thus Kochavi’s book is a welcome contribution to this under-researched field. Drawing on extensive primary source material, he presents a comprehensive and lucid analysis of British policy towards the huge problem of Jewish DPs after 1945, focusing on the diplomatic and operational campaign to subvert Jewish immigration to Palestine. He attempts to explain Britain’s failure to prevent the Jewish DP problem from becoming the most effective political weapon in the Zionist struggle against the British in Palestine and shows how American policy towards Jewish DPs played a crucial role in Britain’s failure to separate the Palestine question from the Jewish DP problem.
The Middle East was vital to British interests both economically and strategically because of its huge oil reserves and because it helped to secure the land route to India, forming a buffer against the expansionist ambitions of the Soviet Union. Good Anglo-Arab relations were considered essential to safeguarding these interests and were of greater importance than Zionist demands to increase the immigration quota or to halt the deportations to Cyprus. Hence, separating the Palestine question from the Jewish DP problem became a mainstay of British policy from 1945 up until almost 1948. The Jewish DP problem was to be solved as part of the overall refugee problem, which included the repatriation of Jews to their country of origin or resettlement overseas. Moreover, Britain placed obstacles before Zionist leaders and organizations who wanted to help Jewish survivors in the British occupation zone. They refused, for example, to distinguish between Jewish and other DPs and withheld recognition from a united representative body of all Jewish DPs and German Jews.
The formal decision to deport illegal immigrants to Cyprus was taken in August 1946, under pressure from the military and government authorities in Palestine. British officials believed consistently and almost obsessively that all attempts to reach Palestine illegally were not a spontaneous manifestation on the part of Jews who saw Palestine as their only hope but a highly organized movement financed by Zionist sources and led by “unscrupulous people” who were disobeying the laws of many countries and exploiting the distress of Jewish refugees to further their own political aims in Palestine. So obsessed was Whitehall that it dismissed reports of the Jewish plight in Poland, most notably the pogrom in Kielce in 1946, and other antisemitic attacks and discrimination, as nothing more than Zionist atrocity propaganda to encourage illegal immigration to Palestine by frightening Holocaust survivors into leaving their countries.
Kochavi skillfully integrates his analysis of Britain’s policy and conduct with a comprehensive account of her strained relations with both the Americans and Soviets over the DP question. He shows how Britain was trapped in a struggle to placate both [End Page 147] the Arab states, which wanted a halt to immigration, and America, whose policy was supportive of immigration to Palestine. Further complicating the picture was the behavior of Italy and France, who for various reasons were sympathetic to the illegal sailings from their countries.
Britain’s attempt to keep the Palestine issue separate from the DP problem was constantly undermined by American policy towards the Jewish DPs, which significantly threatened the British campaign against the illegal immigration, especially at a time when Britain was negotiating for American economic assistance and was confronted by the expansionist ambitions of the Soviet Union. The...