In the aftermath of VE Day the allied forces faced the huge humanitarian task of housing, feeding and clothing displaced persons who had been left deprived and aimless. The number of such DPs wandering within the boundaries of pre-war Germany was estimated as at least 3,000,000 and included 85,000 Jewish survivors - less than one half of the core community which had been there at the outbreak of WW2.
Yet, despite the revelations by newsreels of the immense suffering of the inmates liberated from the concentration camps of the Third Reich, precious little sympathy was shown or aid given and their initial jubilation soon gave way to hopelessness and a desire to move anywhere without the European abyss.
The official Harrison report released by the White House in September 1945 recorded : “ As matters now stand, we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them, except that we do not exterminate them.” And indeed the Jews continued to live in unsanitary conditions behind barbed wire fences and “guarded” by the German police who had been re-armed with the latest American carbines.
But more telling was the well publicised statement of General Sir Frederick Morgan, the head of the U.N. Relief and Rehabilitation operations in Germany who stated that the talk of pogroms in Poland was exaggerated and that the large number of Jewish “infiltrees” flocking into Berlin “did not look like persecuted people ; they are well dressed, well fed, rosy-cheeked and wealthy.” He predicted that “within one year there would be a hard core of at least 300,000 Jews in Germany thus sowing the seeds of World War III”. In response to protests from the World Jewish Congress and others, Morgan was suspended and recalled to UNRRA headquarters in Washington where an investigation conducted by Herbert Lehman found that he “was not anti-Semitic nor did he have racial or political bias” .
Morgan appears to have been influenced in his assessment by reports that several hundred thousand Jews of east European origin (who had fled to the Soviet Union in 1941 with remnants of the retreating Red Army) were seeking to return home and reclaim possession of their properties . They had served the Soviets well ; 124,800 having received decorations ranging from the Order of Lenin to the highest status of Heroes of the Soviet Union for services in the war effort both as factory managers and as combatants. Now they were to become the administrators of the reoccupied countries. In what was left of war torn Poland they were badly received and it was reported that more than two hundred were exterminated by elements of the para military wing of the nationalist ENKAN party while other Jews who had been “liberated” from the ordeals of the death camps died of malnutrition.
It was the same ENKAN movement which controlled the Polish Government in exile and its Free Army based in Scotland . Despite its renowned antisemitism, adult Jews who had arrived in Britain by devious routes were drafted , as nationals of Poland, to these bases Early in 1944 more than three hundred rebelled against the insults and repression and requested that they be assimilated to the British army. A few were granted admission mainly to Intelligence duties but almost all were handed stiff prison sentences . It was only by the intervention of Tom Driberg M.P. that the authorities were persuaded to use their labour as Bevin Boys in the coal mines and for other non-combatant duties.
Antisemitism in Britain was in a somewhat different key to that of the judenhasse which was endemic across continental Europe. It was confined to mainly city areas and based on suspicions that Jews were the spivs and drones of the black markets and had been involved in extortionate moneylending to widows and victims of war. In the naval ports of Portsmouth and Chatham there were scandals concerning the alleged activities of licensed victuallers who had bribed senior naval officers to accept supplies of sub-standard food and equipment. One well-known Queen´s Counsel was convicted of conspiracy for “the unlawful supply of goods contrary to wartime regulations”
In 1944 the recognised Jewish communities in Britain numbered about 400,000 souls. Of these some 60,000 were seen as an elitist and very wealthy group of mainly Sephardic heritage who for three centuries had wielded an influence well beyond their numbers in the financial and commercial sectors. They had assimilated well in Society and names such as Sassoon, Montefiore, d´ Avigdor Goldschmid and, of course, Rothschild were respected by successive conservative governments. Following the termination by the Board of Deputies of its agreement with the Anglo-Jewish Association concerning a communal policy towards “foreign affairs”, it was this group which formed the Jewish Fellowship. They were to pursue a policy of opposition to the creation of a Jewish political state anywhere while encouraging an increased immigration into Palestine thus opposing directly the declared Zionist intentions of the Board.
In these uncertain circumstances it is astounding that no less than 10% of the 603 candidates fielded by the Labour party in the General election of 05 July 1945 were professed Jews. Brandishing the socialist manifesto “Let us Face the Future” and declaring their intention to serve constituents with a programme of secular, social reform they achieved a representation of twenty-seven seats and provided three ministers (George Strauss, Lewis Silkin and Emanuel Shinwell) for the government led by the astute Clement Attlee. Two Jews were also elected as M.Ps ; one an independent Conservative and Harry Pollitt as a Communist. None of the Jewish Fellowship candidates was successful .
During the election campaign, worried Tory propagandists launched rumours that the Labour Party was philosemitic and suggested that the pro-Zionism espoused by most of the candidates was due to their being the progeny of the “recent arrivals” : 200,000 from Eastern Europe during the thirty years of pogroms which had preceded WW1 and 70,000 from Western Europe during the 1930s. These people had settled in the working class districts of London and major provincial centres . Commencing initially as artisans, they gradually improved their lot as entrepreneurs and owners of small factories. Their natural allegiance was to the left but voters were darkly reminded that the Russian Politburo had been founded by the Jews Lenin, Trotsky and Zinoviev and suggested that red socialism was communism in disguise and that the forecast of General Morgan should be taken very seriously.
Emigration of Jews to British mandated Palestine was limited to 1,500 monthly which caused a seething of discontent. The Americans , anxious to prevent an influx to the U.S., put pressure on Britain to immediately accept 100,000 DPs to be followed by further large numbers until all who wished to leave Europe had been accommodated. The British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, rejected this for two reasons : (1) that such a sudden surge would upset the entire political balance of the Middle East and (2) that this would be a fulfilment of the Nazi plan for a “Jew Free Europe” . Instead he proposed that aid should be vastly increased to enable resettlement in former homes and that ex-army holding camps should be established on the island of Crete pending a gradual increase in the monthly quota. Reactions from the Board of Deputies, Anglo-Jewish Association and the Fellowship were mixed but, after much debate, a consensus was reached to support this policy as a temporary measure until such time as reparations from the Axis and aid from the USA could improve matters.
But such good intentions were brought to an end with the murder and mutilation in July 1947 of two British army sergeants by Zionist terrorists of the Irgun gang which resulted in riots for five days across Britain with the widespread destruction of Jewish property and assaults of its populace. Swiftly, Britain resigned its mandate and ten months later , on 14 May 1948, the State of Israel was created.
N.B. This a revised version of an essay written in 2020 for publication in an international journal. It has been submitted now to The Portugal News because of the comparable present situation in Europe where “displaced persons” are represented by refugees from conflict and by economic migrants.