Post-Holocaust Politics: Britain, the United States & Jewish Refugees, 1945-1948

Post-Holocaust Politics: Britain, the United States & Jewish Refugees, 1945-1948

Post-Holocaust Politics: Britain, the United States & Jewish Refugees, 1945-1948

Post-Holocaust Politics: Britain, the United States & Jewish Refugees, 1945-1948


Between 1945 and 1948, more than a quarter of a million Jews fled countries in Eastern Europe and the Balkans and began filling hastily erected displaced persons camps in Germany and Austria. As one of the victorious Allies, Britain had to help find a solution for the vast majority of these refugees who refused repatriation. Drawing on extensive research in British, American, and Israeli archives, Arieh Kochavi presents a comprehensive analysis of British policy toward Jewish displaced persons and reveals the crucial role the United States played in undermining that policy.

Kochavi argues that political concerns--not human considerations--determined British policy regarding the refugees. Anxious to secure its interests in the Middle East, Britain feared its relations with Arab nations would suffer if it appeared to be too lax in thwarting Zionist efforts to bring Jewish Holocaust survivors to Palestine. In the United States, however, the American Jewish community was able to influence presidential policy,by making its vote hinge on a solution to the displaced persons problem. Setting his analysis against the backdrop of the escalating Cold War, Kochavi reveals how, ironically, the Kremlin as well as the White House came to support the Zionists' goals, albeit for entirely different reasons.


Between 1945 and 1948 more than a quarter of a million Jews fled from countries in Eastern Europe and the Balkans to the West, where they were given temporary shelter in the Displaced Persons (DP) camps hastily erected by the Allies in Germany and Austria. Sailing clandestinely from both sides of the Iron Curtain, the Zionists tried to bring as many Jewish refugees as they could to the shores of Palestine. These efforts helped establish the State of Israel, not so much because of the numbers involved as because of the dramatic way in which they publicized the plight of the Jewish refugees and enabled the Jewish community in the United States to influence White House policy by linking its vote to a solution to the DP problem.

Britain was not only one of the four powers that occupied Germany and Austria after the war, it also held the Mandate in Palestine. Hence the question of what to do with the vast majority of Jewish DPs who refused repatriation became paramount for London. The Middle East was pivotal to Britain both economically—because of its huge oil resources—and strategically—because it helped to secure the land route to India and also formed a buffer against the expansionist ambitions of the Soviet Union. As the cooperation of the Arab countries was essential to safeguarding these interests, Britain quickly moved to frustrate Zionist attempts to transfer Jews from Europe to Palestine. Insistence on strictly separating the Palestine question from the DP problem became a mainstay of British policy.

With the end of World War II, relations between Arabs and Jews in Mandatory Palestine deteriorated rapidly. As Whitehall saw it, Jewish immigration was a crucial problem for the Arab countries and the indigenous Arabs in Palestine. Because Britain's interests in the Arab world carried more weight than helping the Zionists build their homeland, the government decided not to allow Jewish influx into the country to increase. Thus after having significantly contributed to defeating the Axis powers and thereby helping save the lives of many Jews, Britain became the main barrier for Jewish refugees wanting to reach the haven the Zionists were setting up in Palestine. This policy also resulted in increased resistance against Britain on the part of the Zionists, both the moderate majority of the Yishuv (Hebrew: settlement; the prestate Jewish community in Palestine) and the more militant factions. A memo submitted to Foreign Min-

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