Evian Conference
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Anti-Semitism & Holocaust

The Evian Conference - Hitler's Green Light for Genocide

Chapter 3 - Did The Conference Fail?

It depends upon the point of view of those involved in the conference as to whether it could be regarded as a success or not.  The Americans and British believed it to be a success.  Lord Winterton in his Report to the British Cabinet, said that it had been possible at Evian to 'reach a conclusion which was not only unanimous, but which was more satisfactory, than seemed likely at the outset.'  Most of the delegates had shown 'great goodwill and a disposition to modify their immigration practice so as to admit a greater number of emigrants from Austria and Germany'; an intergovernmental committee was to meet in London to 'continue and develop' the work of the Evian conferees; there were 'already some indications that the German Government may not be indisposed to come to an agreement'.  Regarding British participation Winterton said that a possible Kenya settlement had 'had an excellent effect', and he hoped to issue a similar statement soon about Northern Rhodesia.1

Commenting on Winterton's report. The Home Secretary cautioned the Cabinet that 'while he was anxious to do his best, there was a good deal of feeling growing up in this country – a feeling which was reflected in Parliament – against the admission of Jews to British territory.'  The Home Secretary hoped nevertheless to 'go on quietly considering individual cases on their merits.'2 Evian

The Times stated, "Evian has done its work admirably…. it has devised machinery which, if not blocked by the countries of origin should transfer the haphazard flight of destitute Jews into the orderly exodus of not wholly impoverished emigrants…..The representatives of one country after another….held out the prospect that his Government would relax its immigration laws to the outmost possible extent….200.000 can be settled."3

However, not all of the press took such an optimistic and unrealistically positive view.  The Daily Herald said, "If this is coming to the help of the refugees, then what would the nations do if they meant to desert them?"4

Myron Taylor wrote in his conclusions to his Report of the meting of the IGC at Evian, "As I look over the situation, I am satisfied that we accomplished the purpose for which the Intergovernmental Meeting at Evian – which we consistently regarded as an initial session – was called.  We have obtained approval of machinery which should prove effective, if skilfully used, to alleviate the condition of political refugees….."5

An example of the strange and dangerous thinking of those in power is that a week after the Evian Conference, the Prime Minister of Canada, Mackenzie King, speaking to an American diplomat recalled his meeting with Hitler in Germany in 1937. He described Hitler as being sincere and 'sweet' and having the face of a good man.  He did not agree with Hitler's methods but could understand his motives.  He wrote, "He might come to be thought of as one of the saviours of the world.  He had the chance at Nuremberg but was looking to Force, to Might, and to Violence as means to achieving his ends, which were, I believe, at heart, the well-being of his fellow-man; not all fellow-men, but those of his own race."6 Also, in spite of Frederick Blair stating that he was afraid that Jews were facing near "extinction" in Europe he also stated that to allow more of them into Canada would not solve the problem.7 The Canadian government made it almost impossible for Jews to enter Canada by raising the capital needed by prospective Jewish applicants from $10,000 to $15,000.8

Blatant Anti-Semitism was to play a part in the rejection of Jewish refugees – and although none of them agreed with Hitler's violence against the Jews - it is well documented that Mackenzie King, and Frederick Blair, were anti-Semitic as was British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain who said privately that he understood bigotry against Jews and felt it himself. Sir Horace Rumbold, who after his retirement from the British Foreign Office, helped refugee Jews while still airing his anti-Jewish prejudices.9 Lord Winterton was anti-Zionist and was therefore prejudice against immigration of Jews to Palestine.  Winterton, along with Lord Samuel, made an unofficial attempt at mediation in Palestine by proposing some basic elements of future Government policy to control the rate of immigration limiting the Jews to 40% of the total population while prohibiting land sales to the Jews in some areas and limiting it in others.  A process would be instituted which would gradually lead to self-government.10  However, at a meeting in Paris the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Nuri Said would not agree to the arrangement.11  Lord Winterton was a friend of Said and Chairman of the recently formed 'Unofficial Committee to Defend Arab Interests in the Commons.'12

The only tangible result of the conference was the formation of the Intergovernmental Committee and even it was only prepared to deal with the question of refugees from Germany and Austria, although there was the fear that they would be expelled from Poland and Rumania and also Czechoslovakia if Hitler invaded it.

The Intergovernmental Committee was not well supported.  Twenty-seven of the thirty-two members of the IGC sent a delegate on the first meeting in London of 31 August. Most knew nothing about Evian and were not interested in attending. The American State Department were asked to be patient when they tried to find out what resettlement offers had been made and George Rublee was unsuccessful in trying to create more liberality from the American republics.

Britain and France were very unhelpful and Rublee could understand their point of view as they felt the resettlement plans would not work and if the IGC were successful in its negotiations with Berlin more refugees would have to be accommodated.  Rublee commented in a telegram to Hull "I have no indication that the Germans are reluctant to talk.  It is apparent to me, however, that the British are reluctant to have me talk with the Germans."13

Not everyone believed the situation was hopeless and could not be resolved. Theodore Achilles, 3rd Secretary at the US Embassy in London wrote a memorandum on the refugee problem.  An extract of what he said is as follows:

"It is estimated that the Committees task involves the emigration from Germany of roughly 500,000 persons…..The United States is taking from 27,000 to 30,000 per year, quota and non-quota, a far greater number than any other country and more than a quarter of the contemplated annual emigration.  That figure represents only one fifteenth of 1% of our population.  Should the other governments represented on the Committee be willing to take annually the same minute fraction of their populations 100,000 per year could easily be moved…… Evian

The problem is vast but it is not insoluble. Almost any country can profit from the absorption of the skills and brains of a reasonable number of these people, especially if they bring in a certain amount of new capital.  Whatever anyone may think individually about Jews, the suffering these people are going through cannot but move the humanitarian instincts of even the most hard-hearted.  It is, however, basically a practical rather than a humanitarian problem…..The problem has been forced on the countries of refuge and settlement and, whether they like it or not, it is there and can only be solved by each government accepting a reasonable share of responsibility."14

The Nazis themselves were not in a mood to negotiate and a cool reception was given to tentative approaches by the State Department. Myron Taylor made a proposal for settlement in a speech on 3 October to the Foreign Policy Association.  He estimated that German Jewish property in Germany was worth between two and six billion dollars. "Even the lower figure," he calculated, "would be more than enough to re-establish the half-million persons elsewhere, were it possible to use it."15

Roosevelt asked Neville Chamberlain to intercede with Hitler asking him for flexibility regarding the refugee question but Chamberlain refused, telling American Ambassador, Joseph Kennedy, that such matters are best handled through formal diplomatic channels.16

Negotiations with Germany regarding orderly emigration and the transfer of part of the emigrants' property made little progress.  A rehabilitation society was established, headed by Paul van Zeeland, ex-prime minister of Belgium, but no agreement could be reached with the German Authorities.  The Intergovernmental Committee succeeded in reaching an international agreement on travel permits for refugees not possessing passports.

The IGC failed through lack of interest and co-operation, and a lack of funds and authority to help refugees.  The onset of World War Two made its task virtually impossible.  According to Tommie Sjoberg, examination of the IGC's records  show that the British and US governments 'manipulated the IGC largely for their own ends, especially to defect humanitarian pressure away from themselves.17

The conference was a big disappointment for Jewish leaders who had hoped that refuge would be found for their people among the thirty-two countries who attended it.  The perception of the US and Britain was different, hailing it as a success.  The press in various countries differed in its analysis, sometimes due to its political persuasion or its religious and racial views.  Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974, was among the uninvited delegation of Jews from Palestine, said in her Memoirs "sitting there in that magnificent hall and listening to the delegates of thirty-two countries rise, each in turn, to explain how much they would have liked to take in substantial numbers of refugees and how unfortunate it was that they were not able to do so, was a terrible experience, I don't think that anyone who didn't live through it can understand what I felt at Evian – a mixture of sorrow, rage, frustration and horror."18

Finance was needed to help the refugees and it was an impossible task for Jewish and other private organisations to fund the many thousands of penniless refugees. It was expected that Governments should provide financial help but this was not forthcoming except in small measure. It was decided that Britain should not take the initiative regarding the funding of refugees at the conference and if the issue was raised the delegation should seek instructions.19 This was in spite of R.A. Butler, parliamentary under secretary at the Foreign Office, telling an interdepartmental meeting just before the conference that, without government funds, 'the whole scheme would fall through.'20

After Kristallnacht Britain again invited the Dominion Governments to accept refugees.  Canada refused claiming that Jews did not settle well on the land.  Only 5,000 refugees were allowed into Canada between 1933 and 1945.  In spite of Australia's High Commissioner, S.M. Bruce recommending that 30,000 refugees be accepted a quota of 15,000 over three years was agreed but only 10,000 arrived.

A concierge at the Royal Hotel said forty years later that he remembered: Evian

"Very important people were here and all the delegates had a nice time.  They took pleasure cruises on the lake.  They gambled at night at the casino.  They took mineral baths and massages…some of them took the excursions to Chamonix to go summer skiing.  Some went riding, some played golf.  Meetings.  Yes, some attended the meetings.  But, of course it is difficult to sit indoors hearing speeches when all the pleasures that Evian offers are waiting right outside."21

Much discussion at Evian centred around German Government policy instead of concentrating on what governments could do to receive refugees. Michael R. Marrus sums up by saying, "Most delegates probably agreed with the mean spirited Canadian deputy minister of immigration, Frederick Blair, who wanted Evian to hold the line on refugees so as to force the Nazis to solve their Jewish question internally."22

Although the refugee situation was steadily worsening it was becoming obvious that no room was to be made in British colonies for refugees in spite of the vast territory involved.  The Colonial Office, in its official reply to the Foreign Office concerning an inquiry from the IGC, explained that the total number of settlers in the proposed Kenya scheme would not exceed 150, and that there appeared to be little prospect for refugee settlement elsewhere in the colonial Empire. Sherman says, "Lord Winterton intervened personally with the Colonial Secretary in an attempt to secure a more favourable reply – Myron Taylor had consistently been pressing for a full statement of the colonies' potential contribution – but none was forthcoming, beyond a reiteration of the assurance that the refugee question was engaging the Colonial Secretary's 'constant attention' and that 'certain projects' aside from the Kenya scheme were not being examined. The Dominions, with the exception of Australia, were also non-committal,"23

As Louise London points out the countries of the world withstood pressure to go out of their way to alleviate Jewish anguish and the UK choose 'caution and pragmatism, subordinating humanitarianism to Britain's national interest.' Britain did not feel it was in its own interests to solve the refugee problem so did not try to do so.24

Go to Chapter 4 - Reaction To The Conference
©2001 Annette Shaw
Introduction     Chapter 1     Chapter 2    Chapter 3    Chapter 4    Conclusion
Anti-Semitism & Holocaust      Christian Action for Israel

1               See statement prepared at F.O. for Lord Winterton's report, July, 19, 1938, FO371/22531, W 9747/104/98, cited  Sherman, Island Refuge, p120.

2               See Cabinet Conclusions 33, July, 20, 1938, CAB 23/94, cited ibid, p121.

3               The Times, 16 July 1938, p13.

4               Daily Herald, 26 August 1938, cited  Sharf, British Press, p171.

5               Report by Myron C. Taylor on the I.G.C. on Refugees at Evian, 20 July 1938. Doc. 18/19, cited Mendelsohn, Holocaust, pp259-60.

6               King Diary, 15 September 1938, cited Abella & Troper, None Is Too Many, pp 36-7.

7               Blair to Judd, October 1938, cited  Ibid, p35.

8               Abella & Troper, None Is Too Many, p35.

9               London, Whitehall and the Jews, pp32-33.

10             Proposal 75528/58 CO 733/315; Samuel Papers House of Lords. cited Michael J. Cohen, Palestine: Retreat from the Mandate, The Making of British Policy 1936-45, (London,  Paul Elek, 1978), p27.

11             Meeting 8 September 1936. CO733/315, 75528/315, cited Cohen, Palestine, p27.

12             Cohen, Palestine, p197, Note 101.

13             Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol.11, pp796-798.

14             Encyclopaedia Judaica, p990 – Refugee Problem, November 1938, Washington, DC, U.S. (Jerusalem, 1970), National Archives & Records Service 840-48, Refugees/900-1/2.

15             Department of State Press releases, XX, Nr.47(October 1938)245-255, cited Feingold, Politics of Rescue, p39.

16             Public Papers of FDR, V11, 173  October 5, 1938, cited Ibid, p40.

17             Tommie Sjoberg, The Powers and the Persecuted: The Refugee Problem & ICR (Lund 1991) cited London, Whitehall and the Jews,  p5

18             Quoted by permission of Stephen D. Smith, Director, Beth Shalom, (Letter 15/3/2000), Perspective, Vol. 1, Issue 1, July 1998, "Nobody Wants Them", p21.

19             Makins to Inch, 2 July 1938, FO minute 'Final Memo of instructions for the United Kingdom Delegation to the meeting of an Inter-governmental Conference at Evian on  July 6, 1938 to discuss the question of emigration from Germany and Austria; 5 July 1938 PRO FO 371/2529, W8851/8885/8886/104/98, f. 31.cited  London, Whitehall and the Jews, p89.

20             'Record of Interdepartmental Meeting on June 30, 1938', PRO FO 371/22538, W8713/104/98, f. 281. cited ibid, p90.

21             Rene Richier as quoted in Peggy Mann 'When the World Passed by on the Other Side', Manchester Guardian Weekly, 7 May 1938

22      Michael Marrus, The Unwanted, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1985),  p172.

23       Sherman, Island Refuge, pp135-6

24       London, Whitehall  and the Jews, p1.

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