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Churchill Was  Anti-Semitic! Really?

Part III of III

In parts I and II, after the introduction of the Churchill family, I covered his activities as they related to the Jewish people, from 1900 through the mid 1920s.

In 1929, Churchill roundly condemned the violence by Arabs against Jews, in speeches and newspaper articles. But the policy in London tilted towards restricting Jewish immigration. Churchill had to accept the policy, rather than open the gates to a large inflow that might worsen local conditions and make Britain’s task more difficult. Anyhow, Churchill was out of power, with now a Conservative government lead by Neville Chamberlain.

On November 8, 1931 Churchill made this amazing statement in the Sunday Chronicle, in a piece titled “Moses: The Leader of a People.” He said, “Moses was the greatest of the prophets, who spoke in person to the God of Israel, and received from God that remarkable code upon which the religious, moral and social life of this nation was so securely fastened.” Years later Churchill would give Ben Gurion a copy of that article.

After Hitler came to power in 1933, Churchill spoke in the House of Commons of the dangers of German militarization, and condemned discrimination against the Jews. He warned then, with tremendous foresight: “There is a danger of the odious conditions in Germany, being extended by conquest to Poland, and persecution being begun in this new area.” …That was in 1933.

During the remainder of the 1930s, Churchill was the leading voice in Britain against German expansion and rearmament, as well as the policy of appeasement, favored by Chamberlain. Churchill met with Albert Einstein, to support giving refuge in England to German Jewish scientists.

In the beginning of 1939, Britain summoned Arabs and Jews to a roundtable peace conference in London. It failed for multiple reasons, one being that the Arab delegation refused to sit in the same room with the Jews. As a consequence, Britain acted unilaterally, and in May issued a White Paper limiting Jewish immigration severely. Chamberlain said: “If we must offend one side, let us offend the Jews, not the Arabs.” In private Chamberlain expressed to his sister: “No doubt the Jews are not a loveable People, and I don’t care about them myself, but that is not sufficient to explain a pogrom.”

Churchill spoke forcefully against the White Paper in a debate in Parliament saying: “To whom was the pledge of the Balfour declaration made? It was not made to the Jews living in Palestine, but to World Jewry…to that vast, unhappy mass of scattered, persecuted, wandering Jews, whose intense, unchanging, unconquerable desire has been for a National Home.” But the large Conservative majority approved it 268 to 179.

While the East was closed to Jewish immigration, the West was no better. Only four days later, on May 27, the MS St. Louis arrived in Havana with over 900 Jewish refugees, including my father, only to be refused entry. No doubt you know the rest of that story.

Much to the fury of Germany, Churchill continued his criticism, in a series of articles in newspapers and magazines, and helped found the Anti-Nazi League in 1936. And famously, he denounced the Munich Agreement in the fall of 1938, thundering: “The Prime Minister had been given the choice between war and dishonor, and you chose dishonor, and you will have war.”

Despite the fog of war, knowledge of Nazi atrocities reached Churchill and other Allied leaders fairly quickly. While precise details were not always clear, the fate of the Jews became increasingly apparent. What was Churchill’s reaction? It was to decry and condemn what he called “These vile crimes.” In a message, printed in the Jewish Chronicle, he added: “None has suffered more cruelly than the Jews…who have borne the brunt of the Nazi onslaught.”

Churchill believed that the best way to aid the Jews was to destroy Hitler and the Nazi regime first. In this he was absolutely correct. If Hitler had prevailed in his conquest of Russia, where a substantial number of Jews remained, or if Rommel had successfully moved through Egypt into Palestine, many more Jews would have perished. In a little-known footnote to history, recent research has confirmed that an Einsatzgruppe had been formed by the Nazis in Greece, waiting to proceed to Egypt and Palestine, and deal with the 500,000 Jews there, as they had already with the Jews of Poland and Russia.

What could Britain and the Allies have done to bring more Jews to Palestine, particularly after 1943 when the tide of the war turned against Germany?

Churchill’s war-time Cabinet, a coalition of all parties, favored retention of the White Paper limiting immigration. In addition, most senior civil servants involved in the administration of the Mandate were sympathetic to the Arabs; and in this they were joined by most British army officers stationed in Palestine. In 1942 an aide to Anthony Eden noted in his diary: “Anthony is immovable on the subject of Palestine. He loves Arabs and hates Jews.”

Churchill, in the meantime, continued to write and speak sympathetically in support of the Jews, and of Zionist aspirations. He argued with his cabinet colleagues and with civil servants about their tilt towards the Arabs, and their lack of sympathy for Zionism, pointing out: “The Arabs have done nothing for us during this war.”

His efforts helped the Jews in marginal cases, such as the admittance of some 6000 Rumanian refugees through Istanbul in 1944. He chose not to argue for a wholesale opening of immigration into Palestine, since he would not have been able to overrule the prevailing view of the Cabinet. In the final analysis, he was the powerful leader of a democratic coalition government, not an all-powerful dictator.

On July 6, 1944, exactly one month after D-Day, Chaim Weizmann met with Anthony Eden, and requested that the Allies warn the Hungarian Government, who had been cooperating with the Nazis, that their action would face retribution at the end of the war. A series of broadcasts were made to that effect. Weizmann also requested that the rail lines to Auschwitz from Hungary be bombed. On being informed of this request, Churchill encouraged Eden to follow through, saying: “Get anything out of the Air Force you can, and invoke me if necessary.” Ironically, the Hungarian deportation came to an end only two days later. But that was for a totally different reason.

Although voted out of office after the war ended, Churchill had a continuing relationship with Palestine and Zionism, the details of which I will leave for another time. While in his heart he remained a Zionist, his enthusiasm was tempered by the murder of his close friend Lord Moyne, Resident Minister of State for the Middle East, in Cairo in November 1944, by members of the terrorist Stern Gang.

As a consequence, in a statement to Parliament, Churchill said: “If our dreams for Zionism are to end in the smoke of assassin’s pistols, and our labors for its future to produce only a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany, many like myself will have to reconsider the position we have maintained so consistently, and so long in the past. If there is to be any hope of a peaceful and successful future for Zionism, these wicked activities must cease, and those responsible for them must be destroyed, root and branch.”

The new Labor Government, which included Prime Minister Clement Atlee, was anti-Zionist, and some even accuse his Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin of anti-Semitism. After the King David Hotel was demolished in July 1946, British public opinion turned even more to the Arab side. Churchill continued to criticize the Atlee/Bevin policy on Palestine, without being able to help the Jews.

After Israel became independent, the Jewish leaders were gratified that Churchill once more rallied to their side and became a devoted friend of Zionism and the new nation.

I sincerely hope that I have been able to alleviate some of the misconceptions you might have had about Winston Churchill, one of the greatest men of the 20th century, and—during his entire life—a friend of the Jews and of Israel.

This concludes the three-part series on Churchill. At some future time I will write about FDR and the Jews during 1944-45.

By Norbert Strauss

 Norbert Strauss is a Teaneck resident and has been a volunteer at Englewood Hospital for the past 30 years. He was General Traffic Manager and Group VP at Philipp Brothers Inc., retiring in 1985. Prior to Englewood Hospital he was also a volunteer at the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Hospital for over 30 years, serving as treasurer and director. He frequently speaks to groups to relay his family’s escape from Nazi Germany in 1941. He has eight grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.


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