Copyright, 1934, Jewish Telegraphic Agency
During the last few months French public pinion has undergone an important and characteristic evolution regarding its associations with the Third Reich and regarding the Jewish problem. Only half a year ago, far-reaching illusions about “direct understanding” with Hitler Germany were the vogue in influential French circles. These were based upon the assurances of peaceful feelings and aspirations of the National Socialist government.
As long as these illusions were held, pacifistic and radical circles involuntarily regarded all utterances in favor of the interest and rights of the persecuted and oppressed German Jews, as simply psychological political barriers to a Franco-German understanding. Strong dissatisfaction made itself felt regarding the fact that German Jewish refugees in France itself and in the whole world constituted, as it may be styled, living proof of the futility of all plans for an understanding with a government which failed to recognize even the slightest requirement of a modern sense of justice.
Direct or indirect statements in favor of French intervention on behalf of the German Jews met with even less sympathy. Even in the most philo-Semitic political and social circles, such “pretensions” were looked upon as “unpatriotic.” They were regarded as likely to hurt French interests. French interests demanded an understanding with Germany; and the Jews and their protectors by such means couldâ€”God forbidâ€” sow dissension between the French Republic and the German government.
A CHANGE OF ATTITUDE
This curious attitude has undergone a change in recent months. Nothing is left of the old illusion of a direct French-German understanding. No responsible politician or journalist dares any longer to touch upon this subject. The atmosphere has been cleared. The question of the bitter fate of the half million German Jews is no longer regarded and treated in leading French circles as a kind of unwelcome “disturbance” of French policy. Those who bring the Jewish problem to the fore are no longer accused of attempting to draw France into a war with Hitler Germany, in the interests of “egotistic Jewish interests.” French policy once more is “able to admit” the protection of right and interests of the Jewish minority of the Third Reich is a matter of concern.
To this a second extremely important factor has been added which has affected public opinion â€”the fate of the Saar district. France is deeply interested in the outcome of the plebiscite next January which will decide whether this district, in which France has extensive and very important interests, will go back to Germany, will retain the status quo or will be incorporated in the French economic territory. The last of the three possibilities is to be excluded, as almost the whole population of the Saar district (823,444 inhabitants) is German. But the second possibility also â€”maintainance of the status quoâ€”was until recently, regarded as almost impossible, by even the most optimistic of French politicians.
The predominant majority of the Germans in the Saar district were convinced and enthusiastic followers of Hitler. The French government had already resigned itself to the inevitability that the Saar district was lost to France.
THE CATHOLIC DRIVE
During the last few months, the political and psychological situation has undergone important changes. The open campaign of the Third Reich against the Catholic Church has embittered the Saarland Catholics who constitute a great part of the population.
The bloody and ugly events of June 30 have exercised a strong unfavorable influence upon those parts of the population which are closely involved with the Nazis. Today, the result of the plebiscite cannot be predicted as positively as was the case a few months ago. There is a strong possibility that a majority will vote in favor of maintainence of the status quo, that is against union with Germany at this time. This would mean a great victory for France, and French political leaders are making great efforts to win this fight, which theyâ€”only a few months agoâ€”had given up as lost.
In this complicated and strenuous fight, in which French politicians seek means to create difficulties for the German adversary, they have touched upon the question of the fate of the Jews in the Saar district after the plebiscite. In themselves, the Saar Jews are only a negligible quantity. With 4,638 souls they form only one-half per cent (0.65 per cent) of the total population. But the question of their fate, in the event the Saarland is delivered into Hitler’s hands by the plebiscite, is of extraordinary fundamental and political importance.
If the Saar district is to become part of the Third Reich the judicial situation of the 4,500 Jews would unavoidably be the same as that of all Jewish German citizens since the Hitler revolt. It is not difficult to understand the grotesque tragedy of these facts. With regard to the German Jews, it is contended that their misfortune isâ€”so to speakâ€”an automatic oneâ€”as German citizens they have to suffer from the laws promulgated by the power, to which they belong. But the case is quite different so far as the Jews in the Saar district are concerned. Until January 13, 1935, they are and will remain citizens with full rights, and will enjoy the same rights that all other members of the population in this district possess. But if the plebiscite gives the Saar district to Germany, the Jews will lose all these rights and will become second-class citizens. And this will happen as the result of a plebiscite held under the auspices and according to the instructions of the League of Nations; and, therefore, virtually with its consent. Thus the League of Nations alone may act to deprive a group of Jewish citizens of their rights.
THE FRENCH MEMORANDUM
The bitter paradox of this state of things stares one in the face. The French government well understands that this question is likely to play a certain positive role in the great political drama which is being enacted around the Saar problem. On August 31, France submitted a most important memorandum to the League of Nations. It stated categorically and solemnly that in the event the plebiscite should show a majority in favor of incorporation of the district into French territory, “all inhabitants would possess equal rights. They would enjoy the full protection of their life and freedom and would possess without regard to difference of language, race and creed, the same civil and political rights as all French citizens.”
This has, of course, no practical importance. No one entertains the belief that the plebiscite will result in the uniting of the Saar district with France. And no one doubts that, in the possibility that this should happen, free and democratic France certainly would protect the equality of all its citizens, old and new.
The importance of the French declaration lies in a quite different field. This is the first time that France recognizes, as far as this country itself is concerned, the principle of international guarantees of the rights of national and religious minorities. (This is the more important at present in view of the Polish declaration renouncing the minorities treaties. Secondly, the memorandum constitutes a direct invitation to Germany, to give on her side such guarantees in the event the Saar district should pass into her hands. The French memorandum states expressly:
“The French government desires that a similar provision shall, at any rate be embodied in the resolutions to be adopted by the council of the League of Nations.” This means in actuality that the League of Nations, before the plebiscite takes place, will have to demand from Germany a guarantee, according the Jews of the Saarâ€” in case the district should be united with the Reichâ€”full civil and political rights.
A CLEVER MOVE
It is not difficult to see the importance of this clever move of the French government. It places Germany in an extraordinarily precarious and delicate position. It is difficult to decline such an invitation, but, on the other hand, it is not possible to follow it and at the same time to remain true to the racial ideology professed by the Third Reich. France pins great hopes upon the results which her declaration will produce.
And the Jews too. In the present case, the Jewish and French interests are parallel. What constitutes for France a successful tactical move in the complicated political campaign, is for the Jews the effort they have made to consolidate the gains as a result of French initiative.
The situation of the Jewish minority in the Saarland is rapidly developing in extent to the proportions of an alarming international problem in which the interests of the French Republic and of the Jews are, on the whole, identical.
Copyright, 1934, Jewish Telegraphic Agency