Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_Jews in the Secon

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

Source 5

Note prepared by the Foreign Office regarding the Government's plans to assist the Jewish people written in 1943.


➜ CHAR 20/93A/69-71

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

Simplified Transcript

In the statement given by the Deputy Prime Minister in response to questions from MPs he said we are trying our best to find a way of solving the problems faced by Jews and non-Jews under enemy control. However, even if we could rescue all of these people it would mean bringing them through war zones, where our priority is fighting and winning. These problems are very real and not just excuses…

Original Transcript

In the statement made by the Deputy Prime Minister in the House of Commons on the 19 January in reply to a Question put to him by Members for Consett and Birkenhead, he made it clear the we are at present giving our urgent consideration to the whole vast problem of rescue and relief for both Jews and non-Jews under the enemy yoke. We fully realise the urgency of the situation, but must emphasise the great difficulties we are encountering and shall continue to encounter. Even were we to obtain permission to with-draw all Jews (leaving aside for the moment non-Jewish refugees) transport alone presents a problem which will be difficult of solution. The lines of escape pass almost entirely through war areas where our requirements are predominantly military, and which must therefore in the interests of our final victory receive precedence.

These difficulties are very real, and cannot unfortunately be dismissed as “fetters of red-tape”; but we shall do what we can.

What is this source?

Note prepared by the Foreign Office (1943) regarding the Government's plans to assist the Jewish people. It was produced in response to questions by MPs about what the government intended to do to help Jews.

Background to this source

Historians now know from sources like this one that there was wide knowledge of the plight of Europe’s Jews during the war and that there was some pressure on the British government to respond to events as they were unfolding.

In this document, the British government explained that difficulties such as transport were causing problems but that there had been some successes in the transfer of Jewish refugees from Turkey, Hungary and Romania. Plans were being made to transfer 4,500 Jewish refugees from Bulgaria to Palestine (although transport problems were making this a slow process) and action was being taken to gain Allied co-operation on other measures.

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. Is the British government thinking about rescuing the Jews (and non-Jews) under enemy control?
  2. What problems are in the way of completing any rescue plans?
  3. What is the main priority being referenced?

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?
The British government have helped to save many Jews.

Difficulties in transport are the main reason why refugees are not being helped as much as the Government would like.

The British government is aware of the differing situations being faced by Jews and Non-Jews.

The statement is designed to prevent further questions from coming on the issue.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • Think about the reason this document was created - as a response by the government to a question in Parliament.
  • The statement refers to assisting the escape of refugees rather than plans to prevent atrocities through specific action.
  • Consider the language and tone of the statement. Can you tell whether government officials felt that more could and should have been done? Or perhaps they felt that demands for Britain to do more were unfair/unrealistic during the war?
  • In 1943 Britain and the allies had still not set foot back into mainland Europe having been forced out in 1941. This consideration was very much to the front of the mind of the government.

 Source 6

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