3 June 1940
On 3 June 1940, Winston Churchill wrote a minute to the Cabinet Secretary asking anxiously: ‘Has anything been done about shipping 20,000 internees to Newfoundland or St. Helena ?’ Churchill added, ‘I should like to get them on the high seas as soon as possible.’1 Within weeks of the start of the Second World War in September 1939, the British government had decided on large scale internment and deportations of ‘enemy nationals,’ even though the majority of them were Jewish refugees who were passionately opposed to Nazism and Hitler. The draconian measures hampered Britain’s desperate wartime need for skilled labour, with even the ultra patriotic Daily Express noting that ‘It is worse than folly. It is sabotage against the war effort. It is a damnable crime against the good name of England.’2 The hard hearted approach to the very victims of Nazi persecution which Britain proclaimed to be fighting also exacerbated the crippling shortage of shipping space needed to transport vital food and supplies for Britain’s war economy. One Jewish refugee remembers his bemusement on being allowed to return to Britain in the summer of 1941, after a 5,300 miles return journey to Canada, on coming across a Ministry of Information hoarding which asked ‘Is Your Journey Really Necessary ?’3
- Bernard Wasserstein, Britain and the Jews of Europe, 1939-1945, Oxford University Press, 1988 p. 96.
- The Daily Express quoted in Ibid p. 101.
- Bernard Wasserstein, op. cit., pp. 97-98.
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