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Could Britain have done more to help the Jews in the Second World War?

source 1

A paper to the War Cabinet from Churchill April 1943 on the issue of the treatment of Jews


➜ CHAR 23/11 (images 38 and 41)

We've highlighted the parts of the document which appear in the transcription below.

Simplified Transcript

I would like MPs to read a speech I made in 1939, which has been reprinted by a major Jewish organisation in America in light of the refugee problem of Jews leaving Europe and heading for Palestine [now Israel].

Whilst I am not able to change policies at the moment I want you to know that I still support the Balfour declaration, which I helped to write and I don’t want Jewish immigration to Palestine to stop.

The pledge made to the Jews for a national home is not intended for those who live there already, but those who live outside Palestine. Jews have suffered a great deal for centuries, but have always wanted to return to the land of their ancestors.

Our pledge was to help the Jewish people all over the world, but now we seem to be going back on our promise. Is this really what we are willing to do?

Original Transcript


Printed for the War Cabinet. April 1943


Copy No. 55

W.P. (43) 178.

April 28, 1943.




I am sorry to inflict upon my colleagues the enclosed reprint of the speech I made in the House [of Commons] in May 1939, which has recently been reprinted in an advertisement by the Zionist Organization of America in connection with the refugee problem.

While I could not advise the Cabinet to make any new declaration at the present time, I must make it clear that I personally remain an unchanging supporter of the Balfour Declaration modified as it was by the Colonial Office White Paper which I drafted in 1922, and I cannot in any circumstance contemplate an absolute cessation of immigration into Palestine at the discretion of the Arab majority.


This pledge of a home of refuge, of an asylum, was not made to the Jews of Palestine, but to the Jews outside Palestine, to that vast, unhappy mass of scattered, persecuted wandering Jews whose intense, unchanging, unconquerable desire has been for a National Home—to quote the words to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister subscribed in the Memorial which he and others sent to us:--

‘the Jewish people who have through centuries of dispersion and persecution patiently awaited the hour of its restoration to its ancestral home.’

These are the words. They were the people outside, not the people in. It is not with the Jews in Palestine that we have now or at any future time to deal, but with world Jewry, with Jews all over the world. That is the pledge which was given, and that is the pledge that we are now asked to break, for how can this pledge be kept, I want to know, if in five years time the National Home is to be barred and no more Jews are allowed in without the permission of the Arabs?

What is this source?

A paper by Churchill to the War Cabinet about Palestine (now Israel) 28 April 1943 including an extract from a speech originally given in May 1939.

Background to this source

According to the Balfour declaration of 1922 (which Churchill had played a part in creating) Britain was committed to ensuring Jews would be able to return to their ‘ancestral home’ in Palestine. However amendments had been made to this pledge by a White Paper published in 1939 weakening this undertaking. The effect of these changes would mean that further Jewish Immigration to Palestine would be subject to the agreement of an Arab majority in Palestine. Churchill believed that the Balfour Declaration should be honoured and re-emphasised his consistency and commitment in this paper to the War Cabinet.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating whether Britain could have done more to help the Jews. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. What is Churchill’s position on Jewish immigration to Palestine?
  2. What does Churchill mean by the term ‘world Jewry’?
  3. How are Jews described by Churchill in his speech?

Deeper level

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
There is widespread support for Jewish immigration to Palestine within Parliament.

Churchill has sympathy with the Jewish people.

Churchill believes the Jewish people are being betrayed.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • Britain had made a clear decision in 1922, through the Balfour Declaration, to support Jewish immigration to Palestine. You may conclude that this source suggests that the commitment made is under threat or that it is being reinforced. Decide carefully how you interpret it.
  • Although the speech was made before the Second World War it clearly has new meaning in the context of the Second World War because the situation has changed dramatically. Why do you think Churchill chose to repeat the text of his earlier speech? Was he ‘sorry to inflict’ his speech on his War Cabinet colleagues?

 Source 2

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