Date of Publication
Dr. Angela Thompsell, Associate Professor, History
Europe in the 1930s and early 1940s saw a large shift in population as different groups of people attempted to leave their homes to escape persecution. The dictators in Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union persecuted against people based on their religion, ability and sexual orientation. The German government, for example, encouraged the Jewish population of the country to emigrate in the early 1930s in an attempt to “purify” their country. Catholics and other political opponents of Hitler also left Germany to avoid persecution or punishment. Many of these refugees traveled to Britain, initially, to escape the harsh, Nazi rule. The British government attempted to provide alternate final destinations for the people escaping mainland-Europe, but many refugees had to make a life for themselves in Britain either temporarily or permanently.
The forced migration from persecution in Austria, Germany, and later other regions in continental Europe and the role of the British government is a topic of debate for historians. On one side, some historians argue that the British government provided enough assistance to the refugees from Central and Eastern Europe. On the other side, historians argue that the government could have done more to make the transition easier.
Using memos, government meeting minutes, official documents, memoirs, and personal accounts, this paper will analyze the response of the British government to the influx of refugees from Central and Eastern Europe between 1930 and 1945, focusing on Jewish refugees. How did immigration policy progress with the rising tensions in Europe? How did events like the Anschluss and Kristallnacht influence British refugee policy? Overall, the immigration policies imposed by the British government were restrictive, but aimed to protect British subjects during a time of war. In the 1930’s, the Cabinet primarily focused on recovering from the global economic crisis which had left thousands unemployed or underemployed. Between 1939 and 1945, the War Cabinet shifted their focus to a global war effort to defeat the Axis Powers. Parliament and the Cabinet responded to the call to accept refugees from continental Europe, but repeatedly placed more value on British lives than the lives of those escaping persecution and violence.
Lovell, Kelly, "Justice for the Jewish Refugee: The Development of British Refugee Policy, 1930-1945" (2018). Senior Honors Theses. 230.