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Book Notes: Island Refuge: Britain and Refugees from the Third Reich, 1933-1939, A. J. Sherman

Henry J. Cohn

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Book Notes GERMAN REFUGEES Island Refuge: Britain and Refugees from the Third Reich, 1933-1939, by A. J. Sherman, Elek, 1973, ?3.80. The British Government in the years between Hitler's accession to power and the outbreak of war was really most unfortunate in having to deal with the problem of German refugees at the same time as economic recession and mass unemployment at home and the menace of the dictators abroad demanded its full attention. While not seeking entirely to exculpate the makers of British policy, Dr. Sherman gives a balanced picture of their motives and of the various pressures which led them to restrict the number of immigrants. The problems of Palestine dictated, in British eyes, a throttling down of the number of permitted immigrants there just in those years when successively harsher German laws augmented the number of refugees. The fears which British Ministers, Parliament, and the press expressed were not without foundation: a generous policy of financing refugees with public money, anyway needed for welfare at home, might well encourage more persecution, especially also in Poland and Rumania, and possibly Russia. However, the feeling remains that Britain and other countries as represented at the Evian Conference of 1938 might have put the case more strongly for the refugees to be allowed to export the bulk of their capital from Germany, capital which the large numbers of the business and professional classes within their ranks re? quired in order to make a fresh start. The Foreign Office refused to support the re? presentations of the High Commission in Berlin on this issue; Dr. Sherman would have done well to relate this aspect of policy to the eco? nomic appeasement towards Germany which has recently been shown to have been central in British policy, especially from 1937. Evidence of callousness towards the plight of the refugees on the part of Ministers is not lacking, but was far less than that expressed by the press or such professional bodies as the British Medical Association, which, at a time when doctors of world-wide repute were 'streaming out of Vienna', told the Home Secretary that 'British medicine had nothing to gain from new blood, and much to lose from foreign dilution'. Eventually the Government veered towards a slightly more open policy, under the impact of the Crystal Night pogrom, American representations, and a more favour? able English public opinion now that persecu? tion in Europe was mounting and the home economic crisis had receded somewhat. After all, as Sir Robert Waley Cohen said, 'if some? thing was not done rapidly, all the potential refugees would be dead.' The tragedy was that by 1939 the bureaucratic chaos and backlog of work were so great that the Government's more open-handed policy towards the now much larger numbers of unfortunates could not be fully implemented in time. Even so, Great Britain took a considerably greater proportion of refugees relative to her population size than the United States and most other countries. The story which Dr. Sherman tells so well, including as it does the valiant efforts of many voluntary bodies, compares not unfavourably with that of British policy towards refugees at earlier and later dates in the twentieth century, Henry J. Cohn University of Warwick</page></plain_text>