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Book Notes: Holocaust and Rescue: Impotent or Indifferent? Anglo-Jewry, 1938-45, Pamela Shatzkes

Israel Finestein

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Holocaust and Rescue: Impotent or Indifferent? Anglo-Jewry 1938-45, Pamela Shatzkes (Palgrave, Basingstoke, 2002) 322 pp. In her researches in a difficult and especially emotive fireld of study, Dr Shatzkes had the benefit of a significantly wider access to records than her predecessors. The result of her long and thorough exploration is an impor? tant book on those dark years. Its impact is enhanced by her patient care to achieve balanced assessments of the principal participants and organiza? tions involved in efforts of rescue and relief. Her self-imposed task was to tell the grim tale without passing moral judgements on the community or its leaders. While she commends where on the evidence she properly can, she does not hesitate to set down what she perceives as failings, through contemporary omission or commission, where, on the evidence, she must. The community, she finds, 'tackled the escalating problems of refugees [in the 1930s] with compassion, commonsense and administrative expertise born of a long tradition of communal charity' (p. 5). 'Rescue deals', she observes, 'on any large scale were in principle antithetical to the govern? ment's concern to avoid an influx of Jewish refugees into Britain or 213</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes Palestine' (p. 163). In the estimate of some in high places the Balfour Declaration was a mistake from the start. Governmental attitudes were sharpened by special wartime anxiety over Arab hostility to Jewish immi? gration and by fear of the arousal or accentuation of anti-Semitism at home following the admission of more than limited numbers of Continental Jews into Britain. With regard to the communal leadership, the author's graphic and painful conclusion is that while they must be acquitted of 'the tragedy of European Jewry', most of their wartime efforts 'proved abortive, whether they were the product of polite negotiation, guile or "activism". [They] pressed the givernment unremittingly to save Jewish lives. . . . The only lack of will was on the part of a government... at a time of national emer? gency'(pp. 216, 239). Dr Shatzkes comments on the 'lack', as she sees it, of'flexibility' on the part of Professor Brodetsky, President of the Board of Deputies. At a time of unprecedented agony and supreme crisis for the Jewish people, and bear? ing in mind the provisions and promises of the Palestine Mandate as well as the well-known closed-door policies of the Powers, Brodetsky repeatedly broached in Whitehall the issue of a wider measure of refugee entry into Palestine. She posits the dextrous negotiating manoeuvres of, in particular, Rabbi Dr Solomon Schonfeld, directed with some success to possibly lesser but no less vital openings elsewhere for the saving of Jewish lives, to illus? trate the contrast with Brodetsky's substance and style of operation. Having regard to the pressures and the constraints of the time, it is by no means self-evident in which direction(s) or along which tack(s) Brodetsky and his colleagues might reasonably in the circumstances have been expected to exercise 'flexibibility'. The author suggests that Brodetsky's candidature for the Presidency at the end of 1939 was dictated by 'pique' because of opposition by Neville Laski (who had retired from that office before the end of his term) and Sir Anthony Rothschild to the idea of Brodetsky becoming President. In fact Brodetsky had become a member of the Board earlier that year with a view to preventing its leadership being such as would speak other than with a Zionist voice at a critical time, as had happened in 1916-17. Brodetsky was elected to office in 1940. On the point at issue, remarks attributed to him in his sad and somewhat bitter posthumous memoirs, edited by his son, are not sufficiently cogent evidence to justify the learned author's suggestion. No doubt Brodetsky was indeed affronted when he was told that Rothschild had said he ought not to stand as he was a 'foreigner'. Such a report might well have been believed by Brodetsky and reinforced his intention to seek the office. On the author's main themes the debate is likely to continue among 214</page><page sequence="3">Book Notes historians. All of them, including those who may differ from her, will be grateful for her major contribution. Her bibliography and statement of sources are a telling pointer to her assiduous industry which at one and the same time has deepened and elevated the debate. Israel Finestein</page></plain_text>