Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

League’s Refugee Office Put to Sharp Analysis by Chronicle

October 29, 1934
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The question of the desirability of continuing the post of League High Commissioner for Jewish Refugees is discussed in an editorial in the London Jewish Chronicle of yesterday.

Since all funds raised in England in behalf of the German Jews have been allocated, and the situation in Germany still shows no signs of improvement, the Chronicle states it is time for a serious consideration of the work of the High Commissioner’s office.


In a penetrating study of the entire situation, the Chronicle concludes that the High Commissioner’s office has been of value to the refugee Jews but that it has barely scraped the surface of what should have been done by the League of Nations.

“What we have somehow or other to aim at,” the Chronicle holds, “is not the scrapping of the High Commissioner’s office, but the endowing of it with greater power and opportunities, and that can only come about if the League identifies itself directly and actively in its labors.

“It is the League of Nations which is failing us in this crucial matter,” charges the Chronicle, saying the League is failing just as in “the crucial problem of the Minorities.”


“It has accorded no pecuniary assistance,” the editorial continues, save for the paltry 25,000 francs loan which has since been repaid. Further, the least that can be asked of it is that it should bestir itself in the urgent task of resettlement. The finding of permanent homes for the afflicted Jews and Jewesses, and the granting of opportunities to them to hold up their heads as self-supporting men and women, are the urgent needs. No one knows what fresh calamity may descend on Jewish communities outside Germany. Half-measures would not help in such dire emergencies. We have the moral right to ask that the League should be prepared for such contingencies so that panic measures may be avoided.”

After stating that the appointment of the High Commissioner last October by the League was accepted by Jews “with a sigh of relief” in that it showed “that the Society of Nations had not disclaimed interest in the German Tragedy,” the Chronicle traces the history of the Commissioner’s office which it was hoped “offered the possibility of some practical advantages for some of our coreligionists.”


“But from the outset,” the editorial states, “the High Commissioner’s office was robbed of its full potential value by the refusal, owing to German opposition, to make it a definite organ of the League, in the strict sense of those words. The League was, by that unfortunate restriction, relieved of any feeling of direct responsibility for the work of the High Commissioner and for its success. Mr. James McDonald, who accepted the position, has nevertheless addressed himself to his task with earnestness and energy. He has confined his functions, in the main, to two purposes—the conduct of negotiations with governments relating to the immigration and settlement of refugees, and the coordination of the work of the private relief and emigration organizations.


“What have been the practical results? According to the statement which Mr. McDonald himself made to the press at Geneva last month, some 25,000 refugees had been settled, at that date, most of them in Palestine; the others were said to be scattered overseas, or to have secured permanent places in the countries to which they first fled. Further, adequate travel papers, issued by nearly all of the governments of the countries bordering on Germany, were made available for the refugees, and these ‘titles d’identitie et de voyage’ are now accepted for visas by countries of possible immigration, on the same basis as national passports.

“These latter activities must, no doubt, have proved of substantial assistance to the unhappy German Jews desiring to pass from one country to another, though the attitude of Germany itself appears to have been obstructive rather than uniformly helpful. In the task of coordinating the work of the private organizations that are active in this matter, and so preventing overlapping, and promoting efficiency, the High Commissioner’s office has also, no doubt, been of material advantage.


“But, look at it in relation to the tremendous problem it was to help to solve, can it be said that its limited opportunities have given us all that the necessities imperiously called for? It would be difficult to maintain that they have. Lord Cecil, the chairman of the governing body, spoke, last May, of ‘the very serious situation in which they found themselves with regard to the German refugees,’ whose number he put at something between fifty and sixty thousand.

Even if all the 25,000 refugees have found permanent homes and are earning their own living in one occupation or another, there must remain a big balance who are without a secure foothold, and whose numbers may at any moment be seriously increased by some fresh turn of the Nazi screw. The reluctance to afford rights of permanent settlement and the still greater reluctance to allow the German Jews the opportunity to earn their daily bread, remain a grave and baffling problem.


“The question is therefore raised whether it is worth while continuing the High Commissioner’s office at all—an office which, judging from published statements, cannot cost less than £10,000 a year to maintain, and may cost materially more.

“The matter is a serious one, but it is not one to be faced in a spirit of impatience and unthinking panic. Travelling facilities for immigrants have still to be guarded. Co-ordination of private relief organizations has still to be fostered, unless we are to suppose that those bodies will presently cease to function. Above all, we have to maintain with all our might an office which does perform the invaluable service of linking the nations collectively with the Jewish problem, and symbolizing the working of the world-conscience in relation to Jewish suffering.”

The editorial concludes with the statement that the so-called Jewish question is “far more a question for the Christian peoples.” That assertion is more than ever true in these days of bitterness; and it imposes on the nations a duty which they cannot, in honor, shirk. We Jews, too, will try to do our duty, come the call however often. We have done it in the past, through all the years of our tragic history. But the cries of justice, and considerations of self-interest are not for us alone.

Recommended from JTA