Foreign office official – Jewish refugees drowning is an ‘opportune disaster’

Jews rounded up as forced labour in Warsaw – March 1940.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum via Wikimedia.

17 December 1940

On 12 December 1940, the Uruguayan registered freighter Salvador struck reefs off the Turkish coast, drowning 230 Jewish refugees, including over seventy children. Five days later, T.M. Snow, the head of the Foreign Office Refugee Section, who was anxious to halt the flow of persecuted refugees from Nazi occupied Europe, commented in a memo that ‘there could have been no more opportune disaster from the point of view of stopping this traffic.’

He and other officials saw this as a convenient pretext for putting more pressure on those countries that were still neutral to prevent Jewish refugees, without valid visas, embarking on ships to British administered Palestine.  Sir Alexnader Cadogan, the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, immediately summoned the Bulgarian ambassador in London, and made clear his governments deep displeasure with the Bulgaria’s ‘connivance in the ship’s departure.’  The news of the sinking was also deliberately highlighted in overseas broadcasts by the BBC to the Balkans region in a vain attempt to deter other desperate refugees.1


  1. Bernard Wasserstein, Britain and the Jews of Europe: 1939-45, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1988 pp. 76-77, ‘230 Jews Drowned,’ the Belfast Newsletter, 16 December 1940 p. 4 and ‘Jewish Refugee Ship Wrecked,’ The Birmingham Mail, 13 December 1940, p. 6.

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