British Diplomats and the Jews in Poland, Romania and Hungary during the Communist Takeovers

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With the end of the Second World War, the largest remaining Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, with the exception of those in the Soviet Union, were in Romania, Poland, and Hungary. There was considerable similarity between the situation of the Jews in the three states - the result, among other things, of the similar circumstances in which these then found themselves. Between the world wars Communist activity had been forbidden by law in each of the three; now, after the war, considerable numbers of Red Army soldiers occupied all three countries. It was, of course, the Red Army that put the minority local Communists in control, although the pace of the takeover differed in each country.(1) In all three countries, however, the campaign for power had a decided influence on the condition of the Jews. The British, who feared that an inundation of illegal immigrants into Palestine would affect their standing in the Middle East in general and in Palestine in particular, paid close attention to the situation of the Jews in Romania, Poland, and Hungary, which were considered the principal reservoirs for such a migration. This article will follow the situation of the Jews in the three countries from 1945-1947, as reflected in the reports of British diplomats there. An attempt will be made to indicate points of similarity and difference in the Jewish condition among the three cases.

The largest Jewish concentration was located in Romania: some 430,000 Jews. With the entry of the Red Army into Romania in August 1944, British fears of illegal immigrants sailing from Romanian ports were once again aroused. Romania had constituted the central base for illegal sailing to Palestine during the first three years of the war. Early in 1945, British diplomats in Bucharest reported that more than 100,000 Jews had registered for emigration to Palestine; furthermore, the Romanian Red Cross was encouraging the Jews to move to Palestine by any and all possible means.(2)

A wide-ranging report on the condition of Romanian Jews and their aspirations to migrate was sent at the beginning of August 1945 by John H. Le Rougtel, the British Political Representative in the country. He classified the Jews into two groups. The first included some 250,000 persons who had lived in Romania throughout the war and had been subjected to persecution by the Romanian Fascists and the Nazis. The second group consisted of two sub-groups: (1) Romanian Jews who had been forcibly deported from the country and who survived the war and returned, and (2) non-local Jews who had entered Romania after their liberation from concentration camps in Poland, Hungary, Austria, and Slovakia. Their number was estimated at 150,000. The condition of the first group, according to Le Rougtel, was generally "not very badly off." The condition of the poor among them, as he described it, was no worse off than that of the rest of the population; and "the richer Jews control the Stock Exchange and have already largely regained their manipulation of industry and trade." Although many Romanian Jews had lost their property, their ability to rehabilitate themselves seemed to Le Rougtel greater than that of the rest of the Romanian population. The British official argued that the Jews in the first category were able to be absorbed in Romania. At the same time, he emphasized, they greatly desired to emigrate to Palestine. This aspiration was motivated by the fear that the Russians, who were beginning to show signs of anti-Semitism, would permit the Romanians to "discriminate against" the Jews once again. In a similar vein, he judged that the prosperity of the Jewish community depended on foreign trade, the future of which was not assured.

In contrast to this group, the situation of the Jews in the second category in Le Rougtel's evaluation was more gloomy. The only way of rehabilitating them, he offered, was to transfer these camp survivors to places where they could regain their self-respect. …