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British Jews Blocked Immigration of Others During War, Book Claims London Jewish Chronicle

February 14, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Out of their own prejudices and fears of anti-Semitism, Anglo-Jewish leaders blocked the entry into Britain of certain Jews fleeing Nazi persecution during the 1930s, according to an essay on British refugee policy just published here.

While they persuaded the Home Office to admit many more Jews than it had originally intended, they also lobbied to be allowed to choose who would be let in, Louise London writes in “The Making of Modern Anglo-Jewry,” a collection of historical essays.

Dr. David Cesarani, director of studies at the Wiener Library in London and editor of the book, noted that several of the essays broke taboos by exposing darker sides of the Anglo-Jewish experience, rather than the “apologetic” history written in the past by authors who worried about what non-Jews would think.

The book contains essays exposing instances of exploitation of Jews by other Jews, and prejudice “even to the point of not helping some types of Jews in Eastern Europe because they’re not the right kind of Jews needed in this country.”

London’s essay, amplifying work done by Jewish historians A.J. Sherman and Bernard Wasserstein, states that “fears of anti-Semitism, of demands on their charity and their own prejudices led Anglo-Jewish leaders to seek controls on the quality and quantity of Jews entering Britain.”

In 1933, she reports, Anglo-Jewry’s representative body, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, chaired by German-born stockbroker Otto Schiff, convinced the Home Office to let in German Jews on the basis of a communal guarantee that they would not become public charges.

Jews trickled into Britain until the mass exodus that followed the Nazi takeover of Austria on March 12, 1938.

The Home Office was determined to impose controls over their entry, and the Board of Deputies endorsed this, London writes.

It would be “very difficult to get rid of a refugee” once in Britain, Schiff told Home Office officials.

Visa restrictions were considered “especially necessary in the case of Austrians who were largely of the shopkeeper and small-trader class, and would therefore prove much more difficult to emigrate than the average German,” Schiff said, according to Home Office minutes.

But London’s essay stresses that Schiff’s work also rescued thousands of Jews from the Nazis.

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