March Object of the Month Blog

This month’s object of the month is a booklet entitled ‘While you are in England, Helpful Information and Guidance for Every Refugee.’  The booklet was issued to a German Jewish refugee from the 1930s/40s upon their arrival to England.  The booklet was issued by the German Jewish Aid Committee in conjunction with the Jewish Board of Deputies “to give useful information and friendly guidance to all Refugees.”

The little booklet is 24 pages long and includes pages written in English and German.  The booklet includes information such as: useful organisations, instructions on how to register with the local police, ‘the tolerance and sympathy of Britain and British Commonwealth’ and ‘work which is allowed and work which is not allowed.’  The booklet gives an interesting insight into how German Jewish refugees were treated around the time of the Second World War. The booklet contains lots of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ for the German Jewish Refugee: “1. Spend your spare time immediately in learning the English language and its correct pronunciation. 2. Refrain from speaking German in the streets and in public conveyances and in public places such as restaurants.  Talk halting English rather than fluent German – and do not talk in a loud voice.  Do not read German newspapers in public. 3. Do not criticise any Government regulations, nor the way things are done over here.  Do not speak of “how much better this or that is done in Germany.”  It may be true in some matters, but it weighs as nothing against the sympathy and freedom and liberty of England which are now given to you.  Never forget that point. 4. Do not join any Political organisation, or take part in any political activities. 5. Do not make yourself conspicuous by speaking loudly, nor by your manner or dress.  The Englishman greatly dislikes ostentation loudness of dress or manner, or unconventionality of dress or manner.  The Englishman attaches very great importance to modesty, understatement in speech rather than overstatement, and quietness of dress and manner.  He values good manners far more than he values evidence of wealth…” Another interesting quote from the booklet: “Please do not expect… young people to be trained as doctors, dentists, lawyers, professors, etc.  There are already far too many professional men amongst refugees for the needs of today.”

German Jewish Refugees

Many people think that Jewish refugees escaping Nazi rule were welcomed with open arms during the 1930s and 40s but that is not quite true.  Many countries were extremely reluctant/ unable to help, due to lack of finances, xenophobia and anti-Semitism among the general public and governments.  German, Austrian and Czechoslovakian Jewish refugees suffered the most and suffered much hostility, because of their nationalities. The level of emigration of Jews from Nazi Germany was affected by the degree of pressure placed on the Jewish community in Germany and the willingness of other countries to admit Jewish immigrants.  Anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jews was a central part of Nazi ideology.  In their 25 point Party Program, published in 1920, Nazi party members declared their intention to segregate Jews from “Aryan” society and to do away with the political, legal, and civil rights of all Jews.

Nazi leaders began to make good on their pledge to persecute German Jews soon after their assumption of power.  During the first six years of Hitler’s dictatorship, from 1933 until the outbreak of war in 1939, Jews felt the effects of more than 400 decrees and regulations that restricted all aspects of their public and private lives.  In the face of increasing legal repression and physical violence, many Jews fled Germany. In January 1933 there were some 523,000 Jews in Germany, representing less than 1% of the country’s total population.  The Jewish population was predominantly urban and approximately one third of German Jews lived in Berlin.  The initial response to the Nazi takeover was a substantial wave of emigration (37,000 to 38,000), much of it to neighbouring European countries (France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands and Denmark).  Most of these refugees were sadly caught by the Nazis after their conquest of Western Europe in May 1940. During the next two years there was a decline in the number of emigrants, probably partly due to the strict enforcement of the American immigration restrictions as well as the increasing reluctance of European and British Commonwealth countries to accept additional Jewish refugees.

In September 1935 at the annual party rally in Nuremburg, the Nazi leaders announced new laws which excluded German Jews from Reich citizenship and prohibited them from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of “German or German related blood”.  Despite this deprivation of Civil rights, Jewish emigration remained more or less constant. 1938 was the real turning point:  The German annexation of Austria in March, the increase in personal assaults on Jews during the spring and summer, the nationwide Kristallnacht (“Night of the Broken Glass”) in November and the subsequent seizures of Jewish – owned property all caused a flood of visa applications and a dramatic increase in emigration.  Although, finding a destination proved difficult, about 36,000 Jews left Germany and Austria in 1938 and 77,000 in 1939. The sudden flood of emigrants created a major refugee crisis.  President Franklin D Roosevelt convened a conference in Evian, France, in July 1938.  Despite the participation of delegates from 32 countries, including the United States, Great Britain, France, Canada, and Austria, only Dominican Republic agreed to accept additional refugees.

The reality for German Jewish refugees was that they were persecuted at home and unwanted abroad.

Despite the increasingly dire warnings coming from Germany, at the Evian Conference of 1938, Britain refused to allow further Jewish refugees into the country.  The notable exception allowed by Parliament was the Kindertransport, an effort on the eve of war to transport Jewish children (their parents were not given visas) from Germany to Britain.  Around 10,000 children were saved by the Kindertransport, out of a plan to rescue five times that number.  Although like all the other refugees to Britain, they were admitted only because the Jewish community guaranteed that it would bear all the expenses of accommodation and maintenance, with no burden placed on government money.

Interestingly, Bradford was one of the areas in Britain that accepted Jewish children into the country from Nazi controlled Germany.  Money was raised for the purpose and in March 1939 nineteen Jewish boys arrived and were cared for initially at the Bradford Jewish Refugee Hostel in Manningham. By September 1939, approximately 282,000 Jews had left Germany and 117,000 from annexed Austria.  Of these, some 95,000 emigrated to United States, 60,000 to Palestine, 40,000 to Great Britain, and about 75,000 to Central and South America, with the largest numbers entering Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Bolivia.  More than 18,000 Jews from the German Reich were also able to find refuge in Shanghai in Japanese – occupied China.  At the end of 1939, about 202,000 Jews remained in Germany and 57,000 in annexed Austria, many of them elderly.  By October 1941, when Jewish emigration was officially forbidden, the number of Jews in Germany had declined to 163,000.  The vast majority of these Jews still in Germany were murdered in Nazi camps and ghettos during the Holocaust.

The Museum

This month’s object of the month is not currently on display in the museum gallery, however if you would like to come and see the object, one of our staff will be more than happy to get it out for you, if requested.  We also have many other objects in our collection and on display at the museum relating to WWII and refugees from different times and places in history.  Including a cabinet with object relating to a man named John Willmott who was a conscientious objector in the First World War and during the Second World War took a huge role in organising refuge in Britain for children from occupied countries.   If you would like to visit the museum, we are open every Wednesday and Thursday 10:00 till 16:00.

Written By Sarah Bartey

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