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Section: Resistance, Responses and Collaboration

Responses

This pamphlet, entitled ‘Stop Them Now – German Mass Murder of Jews in Poland’ was published by Szmul Zygielbojm, a Polish Jewish politician and refugee, in September 1942. The pamphlet contains reports of the Nazi atrocities from the Polish underground movements and eyewitness reports from Polish citizens. Zygielbojm hoped that the pamphlet would raise awareness of the atrocities and therefore inspire action to help save the Polish Jews.
Szmul Zygielbojm’s introduction to the pamphlet. In 1943, Zygielbojm learned that the Uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, where his wife and son were imprisoned, had been suppressed and as a result they had been murdered by the Nazis. On 11 May 1943 he took his own life, writing in his suicide note that whilst the Nazis were responsible for the mass murder of the Jews, all humans were indirectly responsible for the lack of action to save them.

This section will give an overview of the variety of responses to the Nazis’ persecution – from individuals, groups and countries.

Emigration, 1933-1941

Between 1933 and 1941, many Jews decided to emigrate from the Third Reich in response to the increasing Nazi persecution. By September 1939, approximately 282,000 Jews had emigrated from Germany and approximately 117,000 had emigrated from Austria (which was incorporated into Germany in 1938).

Several thousand Jews emigrated immediately after the Nazi rise to power. These were people who felt that they were at particular risk to Nazi persecution due to their previous outspoken criticisms of the party – such as Alfred Wiener and his family – or people who could not see a future for themselves under Nazi rule. By the autumn of 1933, the panic that had surrounded the Nazis’ appointment to power had somewhat abated, and Jewish emigration slowed. Jews felt that, once the initial terror had passed, they might be able to continue living in Germany.

The rate of emigration increased rapidly in September 1935 following the announcement of the Nuremberg Laws, which removed German Jews citizenship and made them stateless in their own country. This caused many Jews to feel that there was no longer a viable future for them in Germany, and, in turn, meant that they set about making preparations to leave. However, whilst many now desired to leave Germany, emigration had become more and more difficult as countries worldwide pursued restrictive immigration policies, limiting the number of immigrants that they accepted.

For example, the United States of America had a quota allowing the entry of 25,957 German immigrants per year in the pre-war period (increased to 27,370 when Germany and Austria’s quotas were merged in 1938). However, due to the considerable additional requirements, such as citizenship papers, immigrant and transit visas, just 2372 German Jews were actually admitted in 1933. Unused quota slots were not carried forward into the following year. The first year that the quota was completely filled in America was 1939.

In an attempt to make themselves more attractive to prospective countries, many Jews professionally retrained in desirable careers – in 1936 and 1937 over 10,000 individuals undertook such training.  Despite this, emigration remained difficult.

In 1938, the situation for Jews became significantly worse. In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria, and the oppressive policies which had previously been limited to German Jews were now extended to Austrian Jews as well, approximately 180,000 people. In November 1938, a massive series of coordinated antisemitic attacks on synagogues, Jewish homes and property, and people  took place across the Greater German Reich. This became known as Kristallnacht. Following the pogrom the Nazis intensified their policy of ‘Aryanisation’ and issued new economic regulations, which further prohibited Jews from conducting business.

Combined, these three measures greatly increased the amount of people attempting to leave Nazi Germany. The Evian Conference of July 1938, organised by President Roosevelt, had attempted to discuss the Jewish refugee problem, but no country was prepared to extend their quotas for immigration or contribute to a practical solution for Jewish refugees.  In addition to this, the Nazis had increased the so-called Flight Tax, which taxed people emigrating from the country, making emigration even more expensive and therefore not an option for people of the working class.

Despite these extensive barriers to emigration, by September 1939, approximately 282,000 Jews had emigrated from Germany and approximately 117,000 had emigrated from Austria. This left approximately 202,000 Jews in Germany and 57,000 in Austria. In Austria especially, as in later occupied countries, there was extremely limited time to emigrate, with just a year and a half between the German invasion and the outbreak of the Second World War.

The start of the Second World War stopped emigration to most Western countries. Whilst some destinations remained open – such as Shanghai which accepted approximately 17,000 refugees – emigration became almost impossible for all but the very lucky few. In October 1941, emigration was forbidden by the Nazi government, as the policy of ghettoisation and deportation to concentration camps was instigated. At this stage, 163,000 Jews remained in Germany.

The creation of The Wiener Holocaust Library

The Wiener Holocaust Library, then called the Jewish Central Information Office (JCIO) was founded by Dr. Alfred Wiener in Amsterdam in 1933 as a response to the rise of the Nazis. The JCIO collected and shared information about the Third Reich and the Nazis’ persecution of Jews.

Alfred Wiener was a German Jew from Berlin. Having fought in the First World War, Wiener returned to Germany in 1919. He was horrified by the surge of right-wing antisemitism which blamed Jews for Germany’s defeat in the war. As a result of this, Wiener began working for the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith (CV), an organisation working to combat antisemitism.  From 1925, Wiener perceived the Nazis to be the greatest threat to Jews. Under his influence, an archive was started at the CV to collect information about the Nazis. This archive was then used as the basis of campaigns to undermine the Nazis’ activities.

After the Nazis were appointed into power in 1933, Wiener fled Germany with his wife and three daughters. He settled in Amsterdam in The Netherlands. His first archive, which remained in Berlin, is believed to have been destroyed. Later that year, Wiener founded the Jewish Central Information Office (JCIO). The JCIO continued the work Wiener had begun in Berlin, collecting and sharing information about the Nazis and the persecution of the Jews in Germany and Europe.

Following the November Pogrom of 1938, also known as Kristallnacht, Wiener prepared to bring his collection to the UK. It arrived the following summer and opened around the time the Nazis invaded Poland.

Throughout the War, the JCIO served the British Government as it fought the Nazi regime. Increasingly the collection was referred to as ‘Dr Wiener’s Library’ and eventually this led to its renaming.

Post-war, the Library assisted the prosecutors at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, amassed early survivor testimony and helped to shape the emerging academic study of the Holocaust.

Today, the collection is among the largest and most respected in the world and continues to grow. The Library relocated to new premises in Russell Square in 2011, and now also offers an educational programme, exhibitions, and regular talks and events. In 2016, the Library took over the management of this website, The Holocaust Explained.

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Margarethe, Ruth, Eva and Mirjam Wiener

Alfred Wiener managed to escape with the JCIO’s collections to London in 1939. His wife and three daughters were unable to get visas in time and therefore remained in Amsterdam. On 10 May 1940, the Nazis invaded and occupied the Netherlands. The remaining Wieners were trapped and soon became subject to the Nazi persecution.

On 20 June 1943, Margarethe Wiener and the three girls were detained and sent to Westerbork transit camp. Conditions inside Westerbork were extremely poor, with insufficient food and unsanitary conditions. As they were classed as adults, Margarete and Ruth were also subject to forced labour.

In January 1944, after seven months in Westerbork, the family were deported to Bergen-Belsen. Conditions in this camp were considerably more harsh, and Margarethe’s health quickly deteriorated.

In January 1945, a rare opportunity to be part of a prisoner scheme between the Nazis and the United States of America appeared. The Wieners were chosen for this exchange as they were in possession of fake Paraguayan papers that Alfred Wiener had managed to send them before they were deported to Westerbork. That month, the family were transported to Switzerland and exchanged. At this point, Margarethe Wiener was seriously ill from the appalling conditions of their imprisonment in the camps.

On 25 January 1945, she was taken into a Swiss hospital and died just a few hours later. Only Ruth was permitted to attend her burial, where she said her final goodbyes to her mother alone.

Shortly after Margarethe’s death, Ruth, Eva and Mirjam boarded a Red Cross ship, the M.S Gripsholm, for New York, where they were reunited with their father, who they hadn’t seen since 1939.

Margarethe, Ruth, Eva and Mirjam Wiener

Margarethe Wiener on her wedding day in 1921.

The Kindertransport

The Kindertransport was the rescue of around 10,000 mainly Jewish child refugees from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The scheme was entirely financed by private charitable organisations.

After the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938, several prominent British Jews arranged a meeting with the British Prime Minster Neville Chamberlain where they asked for permission for a programme allowing the entry of Jewish child refugees from Nazism. The programme would be financed mainly by Jewish community organisations in Britain. The programme was debate in Parliament on 21 November 1938, where it was agreed that an unlimited number of child refugees were to be allowed temporary refuge in Britain, as long their care was privately financed and they would not become a financial burden on the British state.

Very shortly afterwards, representatives from the relief agencies such as Central British Fund for German Jewish Relief, the Children’s Inter-Aid Committee and The Society of Friends arrived in Germany and Austria to arrange the transports. They were helped by Jewish organisations inside the Third Reich, such as the Reich Representation of Jews in Germany, and the Jewish Community Organisation in Vienna.

As 60,000 children were at risk in Germany and Austria alone, there was an extremely high demand for a place on the transports as parents desperately sought to ensure their children’s safety. To acquire a space, children needed a guarantor in Britain to sponsor them for £50. Vulnerable children were given priority, for example if they were orphans or homeless. However, children with disabilities or sickness were usually excluded from the scheme. Parents were not allowed to travel with their children on the transports. For many Kindertransportees, it was the last time they saw their parents and sometimes siblings.

Just two weeks after the programme was approved by Parliament, the first group of 200 children from a Jewish orphanage in Berlin arrived in the UK. Once they had arrived, children were placed in children’s homes and temporary camps, pending a wait for a foster family, although this was not guaranteed. Once placed with a foster family, many children settled down and led happy lives under the circumstances. However, some Kinder found it extremely difficult and traumatic to settle in a new country, without their friends, family, or even a familiar language to fall back on.

After the start of the Second World War in September 1939, transports from Germany and Austria were stopped. The last Kindertransport departed from The Netherlands on 14 May 1940, shortly before the country’s surrender to German forces. Throughout its existence, the scheme saved 10,000 children.

After the war, many of the Kinder discovered that their parents had not survived the Holocaust. Most became British citizens or emigrated to countries such as Israel, Canada or the United States.

Relief organisations

Relief organisations played an important role in helping victims of Nazi persecution.

At the turn of the twentieth century, there were approximately 140 charitable organisations who focused on helping refugees to immigrate and emigrate. After the Nazis rose to power in 1933, more organisations attempting to help victims of the Nazis persecution appeared across the world, such as: Jewish Colonialization Association (JCA), Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society of New York (HIAS), German-Jewish Aid Committee.

The isolationist stance of countries made the work of relief organisations particularly pressing. As various countries stopped allowing the entry of Jews from Nazi Germany, relief agencies focused on trying to help Jews work around this so that they could still escape. They offered support with emigration, gave legal advice, sent food packages, initiated training programmes and language courses, and for those who were successful in escaping, helped refugees settle into their new countries and lives.

Jewish organisations led the way in offering this relief. However, other non-Jewish organisations also offered help. One example of this was the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), who campaigned to address public antisemitism and anti-refugee feeling in America – hoping to change the tide of public opinion and exert pressure on the government to take in more refugees. The Red Cross was also instrumental in assisting refugees and others prior to and throughout the war: whether through food packages, or helping families to communicate through telegrams, which they sent through neutral countries.

As well as helping Jews and others escape persecution in the 1930s, relief organisations also aided refugees throughout and following the Second World War. Wartime conditions often made deploying help difficult and dangerous, but relief operations continued to operate where they could. In Shanghai, where approximately 17,000 Jewish refugees sought refuge during the war, the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and others ran a vital relief operation offering the refugee community leadership, food, money and supplies – resulting in the survival of almost all of the refugees in Shanghai.

Following the end of the Second World War, relief organisations played a key role in helping the newly established United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNNRA) and then, from 1947, the International Refugee Organisation (IRO) care for the millions of displaced persons (DPs) and concentration camp survivors.

The Jewish Relief Unit (JRU) was one of these organisations. The JRU focused on providing welfare and rehabilitation services for survivors in the DP camps across Germany, such as medical, educational, and cultural services, family tracing and the acquisition of identity documents, which many survivors no longer possessed. These services helped survivors to rebuild their lives or start afresh.

International response

The international response to the Nazis’ persecution and genocide of Jews was minimal. No country responded decisively to the Nazis’ policies of persecution.

Response to pre-war persecution

Between 1933 and 1939, many countries, such as Britain, regarded the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews as a matter of internal German politics. Whilst overall, at a governmental level, there was little active condemnation of the Nazis’ antisemitic policies, there were widespread protests amongst the Jewish communities and to specific events or laws, such as the boycott of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

In 1938, the international community responded to the growing Jewish refugee problem caused by the Nazis’ antisemitic policies at the Evian Conference. The conference was set up by the US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with the aim of discussing and finding solutions to the German Jewish refugee crisis. Few practical solutions and no real action emerged from the conference. The Evian Conference made it clear to the Nazis that although other countries did not approve of their antisemitic policies, they were not willing to actively help the persecuted Jews or punish the Nazis.

Just four months later, in November 1938, the Nazis instigated a series of violent antisemitic pogroms known as Kristallnacht. These unprecedented attacks shocked the world, and were widely condemned in the international press, but there were no international sanctions placed on Germany for the event. The Jewish community in Britain, with the help of other charitable organisations such as the Quakers, responded to Kristallnacht by organising the Kindertransport, which ensured the safe emigration of 10,000 unaccompanied children.

Response to wartime genocide

As more Jews came under Nazi control during the war, persecution escalated and eventually became genocidal. Allied governments’ were aware of the Nazi atrocities against Jews shortly after they began. Reports of persecution and murder also appeared in the Allied press, although the information in these reports was often fragmentary. Many found the crimes described to be incomprehensible, and as such attributed them to wartime propaganda.

On 10 December 1942, the Polish government-in-exile, which was based in London throughout the war, published a pamphlet on the developing genocide entitled The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland. The pamphlet contained reports and statistics about the mass murder of Jews in Poland, including notes on deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto, mass shootings and extermination camps. Some were shocked at the information, others found it difficult to believe.

The Polish government-in-exile’s report, along with other newspapers and accounts, prompted the United States and Great Britain to call a conference to discuss the issue. The conference was held between 19-29 April 1943 in Bermuda, but no effective plan was agreed. Whilst the conference was, ultimately, a failure, it did acquiesce anger from Jewish communities that nothing was being done to help the Jews of Europe.

Throughout the next two years, the Allies maintained that the most effective way to help the Jews was by winning the war, and, following this, they would punish the Nazis as war criminals. This approach did little to help the millions who were killed between 1943-1945.

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Dutch Strike 1941

In February 1941, there was a general strike across Holland as Dutch people stood up in protest against a series of Nazi pogroms and arrests of Dutch Jews in Amsterdam.

The strike was organised by the banned Communist Party and started on 25 February 1941. It lasted for two days by which time approximately 300,000 people joined the strike.

On 27 February, the Nazis brutally supressed the strike. Nine people were killed during the strike itself and the Nazis arrested a further eighteen people, who were later executed.

Whilst the strike was ultimately suppressed, it was a rare and therefore important large-scale action in defence of the Jews.

British response

Response to pre-war persecution

The British response to the pre-war Nazi persecution of the Jews was varied.

On one side, following the Great Depression of the early 1930’s, there was a spike in support for fascism, and in turn antisemitism, in Britain. In 1932, this support culminated in the founding of a new political party, the British Union of Fascists (BUF) by Oswald Mosley. The BUF quickly grew to a membership of 40,000. Their policies were pro-Nazi and antisemitic. However, by 1936, the party’s popularity was declining. At a rally in east London on 4 October 1936, the BUF were stopped in their tracks by counter-protesters consisting of communists, socialists and others. This became known as the Battle of Cable Street. Whilst the BUF did not become a mass political party, their existence demonstrates the popularity of, and sympathy for, fascism across Europe at the time.

Meanwhile, at a government level, there was little official protest to the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews from Britain. Until 1939, the British government followed a policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany’s aggressive foreign policy in an attempt to avoid another world war. This policy did little to help the Jews’ plight, and encouraged Hitler to make more demands, such as those made over the Sudetenland in 1938.

In the meantime, refugees from Nazi Germany continued to arrive in Britain as they sought to escape persecution. This influx worried the British government, and led to the adoption of an increasingly strict and restrictive official policy towards Jewish refugees.

Until 1938, border control officials determined whether political refugees or those escaping ethnic persecution could enter Britain. Refugees had to meet various criteria or be privately sponsored or self-supporting. Eligibility was not based upon the refugee’s experience of persecution, and the British Government provided no funding for refugees. It was easier to obtain entry to Britain if one was wealthy or had what was deemed a ‘useful’ profession. Following Anchluss and the large upsurge in the numbers of refugees, a visa system was introduced to regulate those who wished to enter.

Despite this official restrictive policy, many refugees still managed to enter Britain after 1938, through domestic service visas, the Kitchener Camp scheme, or the Kindertransport. By 1939, approximately 80,000 refugees had successfully entered Britain of the approximately 500,000-600,000 refugees who attempted to.

Response to the Holocaust

Following the start of the Second World War, most official channels of emigration from Nazi controlled Europe were closed. Britain also blocked moves to allow more Jewish immigration to Palestine during and after the war, and would not assure neutral countries that it would take Jewish refugees. Many refugees became stranded and continued to be subject to the ever-increasing persecution.

From late 1941-1942 onwards, information about the mass murders of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe seeped out and reached Allied governments. Following the growing body of intelligence on the subject, the British and US governments issued a joint declaration on behalf of the Allies on 17th December 1942, in which they described the Nazi persecution of the Jews in Europe. The British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden MP, read the declaration in the House of Commons and in the following days it was widely reported in the press.

In March 1943, the persecution of European Jewry was raised again after a proposal from Washington that the British and US governments should describe possible means of helping the persecuted. The Allies convened a conference in Bermuda but failed to propose any meaningful solutions.

The British government undoubtedly recognised the implications of the unfolding destruction of the European Jews. However, in the midst of fighting an ongoing war, the government continued to follow the strategy that considered winning the war the only and ‘most effective’ way to save Jewish lives.

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Individual Responses

Individual Responses

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