Jews’ Protection in Danger
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Jews’ Protection in Danger

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Lord Robert Cecil once, in the course of a public speech, said that the World War had really brought only two results which stand out like pleasant isles from the sea of misfortune and misery stirred up by the war: the League of Nations and the Palestine mandate. Robert Cecil forgot an important and gratifying consequence of the war: the laws created through the various peace treaties and intended to protect national minorities in individual countries. But it appears that just as the League of Nations has so far been able to fulfill only very slightly the hopes placed in it, so the guarantees for the constitutional establishment of national minorities in the various countries do not suffice to guarantee either the actual equalization of these minorities or a treatment worthy of human beings by the majority nations, which support the individual states.

CITES THREE EXAMPLES

In many countries (Lithuania Latvia and Rumania will serve as examples), reforms intended to further the interests of the masses of the people were executed in such a manner that the Jews did not benefit by them in the least (as for example in the case of the agrarian reforms): in most of the countries in which the minority protection laws are still in force the national minorities, and the Jews in particular, are either not admitted to or are pushed out of public offices and other services of the state. This also applies to economic activities.

All this goes on as specific violation of valid laws, and there does not exist for the injured national minorities the possibility of bringing a complaint before the League of Nations. The procedure in questions of minority rights is, indeed, very complicated, and from a practical point of view it is not easy to procure redress against the violations of national minorities in individual countries. Nevertheless there are flagrant and especially notable warpings of the rights of national minorities, warpings which so arouse public opinion all over the world that the League of Nations cannot but give up its usually dilatory attitude and set energetically about taking the part of the national minority groups which have been so greatly injured. A case of this sort, even though it differed somewhat because of the presence of a special convention between Germany and Poland, was the question of the Jews in Upper Silesia.

Everyone remembers that in the handling of the so-called Bernheim petition public opinion of the world reacted particularly strongly against the anti-Semitic occurrences in Germany and that under the pressure of this world public opinion the Council of the League of Nations handled this problem as urgent and actually achieved a certain amount of success.

HITLER AND SILESIA

Did not Hitler Germany, intransigent in the Jewish question, see itself forced at least formally to restore the rights of the religious Jewish minority in Upper Silesia and to annul the special laws which grew out of the creation of the “Aryan” paragraphs for the Jews of Upper Silesia?

The contemporary status of minority legislation is anything but satisfactory, but at least this legislation is, in individual countries which were obligated by the peace treaties to protect minority rights, still in force. For this reason dictatorships of single countries, although they would gladly put an end to their combined minority legislation, feel themselves forced to issue reassuring declarations which often unfortunately are nothing but mockery.

By way of administration everything which must be admitted in legislation or which may not be set outside validity is then gotten out of the way. Austria and Lithuania are recent examples in this respect. This still obtaining state of affairs nevertheless runs the danger of experiencing a formal change. And indeed, the jeopardizing of the minority legislation rests in a step taken by the Polish government, which, as is known, has made a proposal to the League of Nations according to which the guarantees for the protection of national minorities from now on will be binding for all states which are members of the League of Nations.

LEAGUE DECLARES ATTITUDE

The League of Nations has indeed, declared (one recalls the last resolution, dated October, 1933,) in a resolution solemnly adopted by all the fifty-five member states, with Germany’s vote withheld, that it expects all its members to grant in their territories at least that measure of rights of all minorities in religious, ethnic and racial aspects, as was prescribed for single states.

But the League shied away from proposing any express convention of this sort to its members, because it knew very well that there is considerable difference between solemn speeches and actual responsibilities, even in the League of Nations.

If one keeps this state of affairs in mind one can easily imagine that the Polish proposal has only slight chances of finding acceptance in the League of Nations.

Poland wishes to be released, as a great power, which it considers itself to be, from its obligations to enforce minority legislation in its country. That is not to say that Poland intends to change the treatment it has heretofore accorded its minorities in any abrupt substantial fashion. Perhaps, because of its political maturity and its special political insight as a great power, it will on the whole leave everything much as it is now practiced in the Polish state. But all that, at least in the eyes of Poland, would be a voluntary contribution and not one which is binding through contracts linking it to other powers.

It is, indeed, to be assumed that individual powers, especially France, in rejecting the Polish proposal will expressly demand that valid obligations of the individual states with respect to minority legislation be not upset. For each concession in this respect and each slackening of these obligations would be a sort of revision of the valid articles of the peace treaties which were signed. And for France there is nothing more menacing than revision of the peace treaties. Despite this, however, the system of minority legislation all over the world is strongly backed by all these negotiations. Poland’s example can easily become contagious. And when the individual states in which legislation for minorities was a solemnly assumed obligation will become convinced that only a single state can permit itself, without fear of sanctions and reprisals, to declare this legislation as no more than strict duty, all barriers against every sort of violation of rights in this field throughout the world will be raised.

THREAT TO SYSTEM

For this reason the Polish proposal for the generalization of minority defense for all member states of the League of Nations constitutes a grave threat to the whole system of minority legislation. This danger is also heightened by the condition that the minority congress, which for many years has stood on the watch to protect these minority rights, is now greatly shaken and one may, indeed, even question that it exists. The reasons for this are primarily in the German national minorities in the various countries, which in ever greater mass have coordinated themselves with the National Socialists reigning in Germany and obey Germany’s command.

This attitude is, however, incompatible with the further presence of Jewish members at the minority congress. If now German and Jewish minorities declare themselves uninterested in the minority congress, then the whole insitution loses all its worth and significance. Thus, too, the watchman of the minority movement will not be in the project and the fate of this important acquisition of the peace treaties after the war, namely the appointment of protection for the national minorities, has arrived at a difficult crisis.

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