26 December 1940
Today in 1940, a memo drafted by Richard Latham, an official in the refugee section at the Foreign Office, suggested that Britain should revive an earlier proposal to create a ‘second Jewish National Home’ in the interior of British Guiana,’ as a refuge for Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. It would, he reasoned, help ‘salve the conscience of H.M.G. in relation to European Jewry.’1 The earlier plan, which had been discussed by the Cabinet in early 1939, called for the resettlement to be ‘financed from private sources’ and envisaged ‘the settlement of refugees over the whole of the interior of Guiana, excluding the coastal belt, which must be reserved for the needs of existing inhabitants.’2
Jewish refugees who managed to make it alive to Britain would have to be shipped across the u-boat infested Atlantic ocean and attempt to make a living alongside the impoverished indigenous population of the remote interior where livelihoods, according to the Birmingham Gazette, depended on ‘hunting and fishing’ and where ‘huge tracts… are entirely unoccupied, unexploited and to a large extent unexplored’3 An editorial in the Yorkshire Post observed that ‘much of (the land) is swamp and forest, not immediately suitable even for cultivation, while many, if not most, of the new settlers would be townsmen.’4 The plan was also strongly opposed by the Colonial Office, not on humanitarian grounds, but because Britain was ‘under no special obligation to assist the settlement of Jewish refugees within the United Kingdom or the Colonial Empire,’ and it warned that any attempt to resettle Jewish refugees in Guiana would provoke local opposition. After this intervention any ideas in Whitehall for providing a refuge to any large number of Jewish refugees were quickly abandoned.5
- Bernard Wasserstein, Britain and the Jews of Europe: 1939 – 1945, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 1988, p. 46.
- ‘British Guiana Jews’ New Home’, The Sunderland Daily Echo, 12 May 1939, p. 3 and ‘Jews for Guiana: Plan Discussed by Cabinet,’ The Gloucestershire Echo, 10 May 1939, p. 1.
- ‘A New Home for Refugee Jews ?’ The Birmingham Gazette, 10 December 1938, p. 6.
- ‘British Guiana Difficulties,’ The Yorkshire Post, 18 November 1939, p. 10.
- Bernard Wassertstein, op. cit., p. 46.
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