A highly critical new study of Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime leader, finds him guilty of failing to give direct help to the Jews of Europe in their hours of greatest need.
Contrary to the usual sympathetic Jewish view of Churchill, it also questions the depth of his support for the Jewish cause in Palestine and suggests a strong trace of opportunism in his support for Zionism early in his career.
These are among the key conclusions of Prof. Michael Cohen, a British-born historian who teaches at Bar Ilan University in Israel, and is a familiar figure at several American universities.
His conclusions seem to diverge from those in the monumental portrait painted by Churchill’s official historian, Dr. Martin Gilbert, who, like Cohen, is a British-born Jew. Gilbert’s multivolume biography is still not complete, but he has already dealt with most of the periods covered by Cohen.
BOOK VIRTUALLY IGNORED BY THE PRESS
Although Cohen’s book has been in the hands of British newspaper reviewers for several months, they have so far given it virtually no attention. In view of the high acclaim received by his earlier books on the emergence of the modern Middle East, there is a suspicion that this silence is a measure of the impact of his radical reassessment of his subject.
In a chapter entitled “Churchill and the Holocaust,” Cohen explores to what extent Churchill was guilty of turning a blind eye to the wartime information about the progress of Hitler’s destruction of European Jewry.
Other historians have agreed to single Churchill out as the one man who did understand the enormity of the crimes against the Jews. But Cohen’s verdict is that however much Churchill may have been moved by the wartime plight of the Jews, “He was not willing …. to deal with the problem personally on any regular basis.”
Of Churchill’s Zionism, Cohen writes that it was not religious or evangelical in origin, as claimed for other gentile Zionists, but was based on two “good British” motives.
First, he believed the Zionist movement commanded powerful political and economic influence especially in the U.S. Secondly, having originally opposed Britain taking the mandate for Palestine, he later welcomed the influx of Zionist capital and technology into the country mainly as a way of minimizing the cost to the British taxpayer.
Cohen stresses these underlying attitudes to explain why after the 1944 assassination of his close friend, Lord Moyne, by Jewish terrorists, Churchill’s sponsorship of the Zionist cause “jolted to an abrupt halt.”
It also explained Churchill’s “stony silence” on the Palestine drama between the end of the war and the establishment of Israel. When he did speak up, writes Cohen, it was only to chastise the government for not getting out of Palestine sooner.
“Thus, during the two periods of the Jews’ greatest need — during the Holocaust, and the struggle to secure diplomatic recognition for the State of Israel — they found Churchill wanting,” he concludes.
“Churchill and the Jews,” by Michael Cohen, is published in Britain by Frank Cass, and in the United States through Biblio-Distribution Center in Totowa, New Jersey.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.