Evian Conference
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Anti-Semitism & Holocaust

The Evian Conference - Hitler's Green Light for Genocide


'Nobody wants them' claimed the German newspaper Völkischer Beobachter after the Evian Conference in July 1938 and Hitler gloated, saying, 'It is a shameful spectacle to see how the whole democratic world is oozing sympathy for the poor tormented Jewish people, but remains hard hearted and obdurate when it comes to helping them…..'1

After the annexation of Austria, and the Evian Conference, Hitler seemed to throw caution to the winds while the world stood by and allowed it to happen.  As Martin Gilbert comments,  "It was a neutral stance, not a hostile one, but this neutral stance was to cost a multitude of lives."2 Murders, killings, torture and forced labour in concentration camps continued after Evian. In October Hitler marched into the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia and four months after the Conference Kristallnacht, or 'Night of the Broken Glass' took place when thousands of Jewish shops and businesses were destroyed and many people arrested and killed.  Although protest was again made in many parts of the world, the appeasement of Hitler and governments' own agendas were paramount over helping the Jews.  Humanitarian considerations were sacrificed to self-interest and after war was declared, the allies' main thought was that of victory and the refugee problem was sidelined.Holocaust   After war against the Nazis was eventually declared Hitler's 'Final Solution' to the Jewish problem resulted in the loss of around six million Jewish lives in the Holocaust.

Hitler's words to Major Hell in 1922 were, "Once the hatred and the battle against the Jews are really stirred up, their resistance will inevitably break down in short order.  They cannot protect themselves and no one will stand forth as their defenders." became ominously true.  The Jews were unable to protect themselves as their leaders in various countries of the world were afraid to speak up too loudly for the fear of stirring up an anti-Semitic backlash. Governments, whither with or without foundation, were also afraid that refugees would be unwelcome at a time of unemployment, as, although the public were sympathetic to their cause, there was a general feeling of alarm in many countries that immigrants would "take local jobs." 

As has been shown there was also an element of anti-Semitism among government ministers and officials at the highest level. Although they did not condone Hitler's deportations, killings and atrocities against Jews, they did not want to offend the Reich government. For example, at Evian the words 'Jew' and 'Germany' were never used.  Von Ribbentrop, now Germany's Foreign Minister, had also threatened to retaliate against German Jewry if anti-German propaganda was made at the conference.3   Presidents and Prime Ministers were constrained by and accountable to Congress or Parliaments and their administrations and unwilling to take a stand against them. Some elements of the media also played a role in stirring up anti-Jewish feeling. 

Although it was known that Jews were being put into concentration camps, it could never have been envisaged in 1938 at the time of the Evian Conference that six million Jewish men, women and children would be horribly murdered, experimented on, tortured and suffer the worst atrocities that human beings could perpetrate in their evil and warped minds.  This however cannot excuse the lack of willingness of fairly prosperous and democratic countries to help these refugees whom they knew were in desperate need. Although not always an easy task, if there had been the will, attempts could have been made by Governments to try to bring public and press opinion onto the side of the refugees and assuring native populations regarding jobs and the erroneous belief that Jews did not assimilate into their country of refuge.  Although Jewish people had their own kosher food, religious laws, customs and festivals, they obeyed the laws of their country of adoption.  They did not demand special treatment or legal exemptions for their religion but tried to live quietly and peacefully in spite of  false accusations made against them, persecution and anti-Semitism.   Much was made of the fact that Jews were an urban people who would not do well working in lands where agriculture was the main industry but Palestinian Jews proved this to be a false assertion as they had transformed desert land into fertile and vast crop growing areas. In fact Lord Winterton congratulated the Palestinian Jewish agriculturalists for their excellent work.4 Like every other group of people, some Jews could work successfully on the land while others were unsuitable for such work.

Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, of Canada, did little, as he did not want to upset the province of Quebec but the anti-Semitic views of Quebec should not have influenced or shaped Government policy for the whole of Canada. The Australians also made the excuse of unemployment and an anti-Semitic backlash in a vast country that could have housed many new immigrants. British colonies could have taken many thousands of refugees and a greater attempt could have been made to negotiate with the Arabs regarding immigration to Palestine declared as a Homeland for the Jewish people in the Balfour Declaration of 1917. As Chaim Weizmann says of Britain, "Elegant parties were given by von Ribbentrop in the German Embassy and British society was falling over itself to attend.  It was a social distinction to receive an invitation and Jewish blood which stained the hands of the hosts was ignored though it cried out to heaven."5 Holocaust

It appears, therefore, that for various reasons, no country was willing to offer sanctuary to large numbers of Jewish refugees. Sympathy abounded in most countries but when it came to helping refugees, each county looked to another to take them. Even although the harassment and killing of German and Austrian Jewry was well known, and caused public outcry, it was still considered an internal affair of the German government.  As Adler-Rudel points out, "The Germans soon realised that no matter how they behaved it did not prevent foreign statesmen from shaking hands or dining with Nazi leaders."6  The threat to jobs was cited as one reason, but unemployment, for example, in America, Britain and Australia was falling and even when immigrants do get jobs in their new country, they may be ones which are not being filled by the native population.  After the annexation of Austria and Adolf Eichmann's violent attempts to clear it of its Jewish population came the threat of expulsion of Polish and Rumanian Jewry.  There was a great fear that a further large number of refugees would continue to flee Germany, and when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, the number would become a torrent.  However, difficulty in finding places for refuge for those forced to emigrate is no excuse for giving up and leaving these refugees to the fate decreed by Nazi Germany.

Those who spoke up for the Jews such as James Macdonald, Sir Neill Malcolm and Sir John Hope Simpson, who was very critical of restrictive policies towards refugees, were considered disloyal and a nuisance. They might cause trouble and problems for Governments and were therefore unsuitable for jobs that would enable them to speak out for refugees. Other individuals such as Eleanor Rathbone, a British MP, also tried to help the Jews, befriending many and helping them to immigrate to Britain. British diplomat Sir George Ogilvie-Forbes, wrote from Berlin that the treatment of Jews and political opponents in concentration camps made the "Germans unfit for decent international society."7 A senior colleague in the Foreign Office in London agreed.  "The Germans", he minuted, "are out to eliminate the Jews at any cost to the latter and nothing we can do or say will stop them."8 In this air of futility very little was done to relax immigration laws.  The Germans made things extremely difficult by refusing to allow Jews to take their money and possessions with them when they were expelled and most countries did not want to give refuge to penniless immigrants.

While it is true that it is sometimes hard to assimilate people of a different faith and culture it is also true that it was 'Christians' who marginalized the Jewish people from before medieval times.  They killed and expelled many who entered their land and those who were allowed to settle in many cases were forced into ghettos and separated from the rest of the population.

Jewish leaders themselves had to stand by as their people were excluded from one country after another and their voluntary organisations did not have the funds to sponsor all the penniless refugees fleeing from the Nazis. As Chaim Weizmann said to Anthony Eden, "The fire from the synagogues may easily spread from there to Westminster Abbey and the other great English cathedrals.  If a government is allowed to destroy a whole community which has committed no crime save that of being a minority and having its own religion, if such a government, at the heart of Europe, is not even rebuked, it means the beginning of anarchy and the destruction of the basis of civilization.  The powers which stand looking on without taking any measures to prevent the crime will one day be visited by severe punishment."9

Some wits who attended the Conference pointed out that Evian spelled backwards is NAIVE but for the Jewish people it was an extremely costly naivety.

Holocaust Children
©2001 Annette Shaw
Introduction     Chapter 1     Chapter 2    Chapter 3    Chapter 4    Conclusion
Anti-Semitism & Holocaust      Christian Action for Israel

1               Perspective, Beth Shalom, p21.

2               Martin Gilbert, The Holocaust, The Jewish Tragedy, (London,  Collins, 1986), p65.

3               Naomi Shepherd, Wilfrid Israel: German Jewry's Secret Ambassador,  London, 1984  p133-34, cited Breitman & Kraut, , p60.

4               Adler-Rudel,  Leo Baeck Institute Year Book, pX1X.

5               Weizmann, p498. Trial and  Error. Note – Von Ribbentrop was German Ambassador to Britain from 1936 to 1938.  In February 1938 he became Germany's Foreign Minister.

6               Adler-Rudel, Leo Baeck Institute Year Book, p235.

7               Letter of 25 October 1938 from Sir G. Ogilvie Forbes to Oliver Harvey, cited Martin Gilbert,  Holocaust, p55.

8               FO papers, 371/22536.

9               C. Weizmann, Trial & Error, p498.


Primary Sources

Government Publications

Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. II Britain, the Commonwealth, Europe, near East and Africa U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 1955.)


Adler-Rudel, S, The Evian Conference and the Refugee Problem in Leo Baeck Institute Year Book XIII (London, Horovitz publishing Co., Ltd.,' 1968.)

Shirer, William L, Berlin Diary, 1934-1941, (London, Hamish Hamilton, 1941.)

Weizmann Chaim, Trial & Error, (London, Hamish Hamilton, 1949.)

John Mendelsohn ed., The Holocaust, Vol. 5, (London, Garland Publishing Inc. New York, 1982.)


The Times


Jerusalem Post



Secondary Sources


Abella Irving, & Troper, Harold, None Is Too Many, (Toronto, Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1982).

Blakeney, Australia and the Jewish Refugees 1933-1948, (Australia, Croom Helm, 1985).

Breitman Richard & Kraut, Alan, M, American Refugee Policy and European Jewry, 1933-1945, (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1987.)

Cohen, Michael J. Palestine: Retreat from the Mandate, The Making of British Policy 1936-1945, (London, Paul Elek, 1978.)

Feingold, Henry, The Politics of Rescue, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 1970.)

Gilbert, Martin, The Holocaust The Jewish Tragedy, Collins, London, 1986.)

Johnson, Paul, A History of the Jews, (London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987.)

London, Louise, Whitehall and the Jews, (Oxford, Cambridge University Press, 2000.)

Marrus, Michael R. The Unwanted, (New York, Oxford University Press, 1985.)

Andrew Sharf, The British Press and the Jews Under Nazi Rule, (London, Oxford University Press, 1964.)

Sherman, A.J. Island Refuge, Britain and the Refugees from the Third Reich, 1933-1939, (London, Elek Books Limited, 1973.)


Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Vol. II, New York, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York. 1990.)

Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. V1, (Jerusalem, 1970)


Stephen Smith, 'Nobody Wants Them', Perspective, 1:1 (1998.)
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