Jewish Community History
[source : The Association of Jewish Refugees http://www.ajr.org.uk/pastjournal33.htm
Between 1939 and 1945 a total of 225,000 German and Austrian
Jews perished in the Holocaust, including 90 per cent of the parents of
those who came to England under the Kindertransport scheme. We all think
that we know why our families died in the Shoah. We thought that all
countries had closed their borders to Jewish refugees in 1938/39.
There was one country to which no Jew was ever refused a visa - the
British protectorate of Northern Rhodesia (later Zambia). But the
existence of this haven of refuge was kept a closely guarded secret by
the very people who had been charged by the British Colonial Secretary
to facilitate mass immigration of Central European Jews to Northern
Rhodesia from mid-1938 to the outbreak of the Second World War: the
Colonial Secretary, Malcolm MacDonald, was the instigator of the scheme.
The British Government, including the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax,
was in favour and tried its very best to facilitate its implementation.
MacDonald was friendly with the Anglo-Jewish leadership and persuaded
Lionel de Rothschild, Lord Bearstead and others to form a Planning
Committee. However, this body, for reasons of its own, refused to take
the urgent steps necessary to implement the scheme.
In 1989 the
Zambian Jewish Community commissioned Frank Shapiro to research and
write the history of the Jews of Northern Rhodesia. Among the papers he
examined were references to the immigration of European Jews in the
1930s. Shapiro's historical quest led him to the Public Record Office in
London (now the National Archives at Kew) and to hitherto classified
government files, sealed for over 50 years.
This mosaic of
evidence confirms that a substantial number of Jewish refugees could
have been saved and allowed to settle in Northern Rhodesia. Mr Shapiro
presented his findings in 2002 in his book Haven in Africa (published by
Gefen in Israel and New York), in which he described all the settlement
schemes which were examined and rejected.
closely guarded secret'
Experts considered for mass settlement 13 schemes, some of
which were eminently suitable, with huge, fertile areas of arable land
and plenty of water resources, and almost empty of any population, white
or black. The Anglo-Jewish leadership even sent out a Commission to
Africa to examine the possibilities. But the Planning Committee
procrastinated and did precisely nothing. Only 250 individual Jews
managed to reach Northern Rhodesia. Everyone was admitted, some even
without a visa, and all the time the availability of visas for Northern
Rhodesia was kept a closely guarded secret. Not one letter, not one
telegram was sent to German and Austrian Jewish escape committees. If
the facts had become known, thousands would have besieged the British
embassies for visas to Northern Rhodesia, especially after Kristallnacht,
when people were desperate to go anywhere to escape the Nazis.
So why did the
Jewish Planning Committee keep the Northern Rhodesian.scheme a secret?
Frank Shapiro explains it this way: 'While they were more than conscious
of their obligations to their European coreligionists, they were also
determined to protect their own positions in British society. For the
Anglo-Jewish leadership during the Nazi crisis the overriding priority
was to defend their status as loyal British subjects and, at the same
time, retain their stature in the Jewish Community and not feel
threatened by any antisemitic claim of dual loyalty.'
I lived in
England for 55 years and know from personal experience that this typical
Anglo-Jewish leadership view, while prevalent, was also wrong. I always
found that British people had a sense of fairness and admired those who
were unafraid and stood up for Jewish rights.
remains that the Planning Committee kept the matter a total secret and
even managed to convince the British Government to retain the file in
secret archives. Even after the war was over, the people concerned did
not reveal what they knew.
has to be asked: why? Because the Anglo-Jewish leadership was ashamed of
its disgraceful conduct and naturally did not want it to become known
that they had failed to save the endangered German and Austrian Jews,
including my mother and father, who perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Theirs was one of the most disgraceful incidents of failure to save
fellow Jews, for which they deserve to be condemned.
Now in my 81st
year, living with my memories of these terrible days, I will never
forget and never forgive.
expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Association
of Jewish Refugees nor of the ZJC website - Ed. ]
[Editor's Note : In the
manuscript entitled "Rhodesian Jewry and its Story" by Eric
Rosenthal posted on this website reference is made to the issue raised
in this article - click