This essay originally appears in 1989 with publication of finding aid to the microfilm edition of Jewish People from Holocaust to Nationhood, Series 1: Archives of the Central British Fund for World Jewish Relief, 1933, 1960. This essay is reproduced with the permission of World Jewish Relief.
The Central British Fund for World Jewish Relief (CBF), known variously in the 1930s as the Central British Fund for German Jewry in 1933, as the Council for German Jewry in 1936 and the Central Council for Jewish Refugees in 1939, was founded in the early months of 1933 by a group of Anglo-Jewish communal leaders who represented the breadth of the liturgical spectrum and who held widely diverse political loyalties. Among them were Anthony G. and Lionel de Rothschild, bankers to the CBF, Sir Edward S. Baron, Sir R. W. Cohen, Sir Osmond E. d’Avigdor Goldsmid, Lord Erleigh, K.C., (on the death of his father, Lord Reading, in 1936, Lord Erleigh succeeded to the title), Neville J. Laski, K.C., Lord Simon Marks, Leonard G. Montefiore, Sir Isadore Salmon, Otto M. Schiff and Philip S. Waley. They were moved to organise the CBF in response to the threatened position of Jews in Germany following President von Hindenburg’s appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933.
Early Discriminatory Legislation in Nazi Germany
Hitler’s National Socialist [Nazi] Party had been elected to the Reichstag on a political platform of anti-Semitism. Despoliation and persecution were its mandate, annihilation its ultimate goal. To these ends, legislation was enacted to deprive Jews and other non-Aryans (persons one of whose parents or grandparents was Jewish) of employment, citizenship, and property. A statutory basis for the cumulative body of discriminatory legislation, ordinances, and decrees of the next few years, the Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums, was enacted on 7 April 1933. This law for the “Reconstruction of the Civil Service” provided that Jews and non-Aryans, with few exceptions related to pre-1914 civil service and frontline army experience in the First World War, be summarily dismissed from employment or involuntarily retired.
The statute was soon extended, and before the end of 1935 German law provided for the dismissal of Jewish and non-Aryan university professors, school teachers, scientists, employees of national and municipal departments, members of the judiciary, doctors, dentists, lawyers, public health and welfare officers and employees in commercial enterprises. The Jewish press was banned. Jews and non-Aryans were not permitted to bring lawsuits in courts of law. Many fled to neighbouring countries hopeful that the political situation would soon change. Some sought refuge in the United Kingdom; others a temporary haven there until they were able to immigrate to a third country.
Otto Schiff and the First Asylum Seekers
CBF records indicate that the earliest refugees who sought aid from Anglo-Jewish sources arrived in London in March 1933. Those without relatives or friends able to provide housing for them were cared for at the Jews Temporary Shelter in the East End of London, an institution established early in the century to assist Jews fleeing persecution in Russia. Otto Schiff, long known to the Home Office for his work with World War I refugees from Europe, was its president. Schiff enlisted some friends with whom he organised the Jewish Refugees Committee (JRC), which for several months operated from the shelter where a ready-made social service support network was at hand. Schiff continued in his leadership position in the JRC and membership of the CBF Executive until 1949.
The 1930s were years of economic depression and high unemployment in the United Kingdom. In 1933 the number of refugees reaching England was not yet large, but possibly to avoid stirring anti-Semitism at home and to forestall action that might result in their numbers being contained by government regulation, Schiff, representing the CBF, led a deputation that included Neville Laski, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Lionel L. Cohen, K.C., Chairman of the Board’s Law and Parliamentary Committee, and Leonard G. Montefiore, President of the Anglo-Jewish Association, to the Home Office to assure the government that no refugee admitted to Britain would be permitted to become a public charge. This pledge was honoured up to the end of 1939 when as a result of the war, substantial financial contributions from public appeals could no longer be secured.
Austria’s Annexation and Kristallnacht
A massive and panicked exodus followed Germany’s annexation of Austria in March 1938, a movement fueled further later that year by the nationally organised pogrom of 9-10 November, known as Kristallnacht. When areas of Czechoslovakia were absorbed into the German Reich in March 1939, ‘Bloomsbury House’, the appellation by which the Jewish Refugees Committee now operating from that address in London was known, was deluged as it tried to cope with as many as one thousand hapless visitors a day. This influx of refugees from almost all the countries of Europe was halted only after war was declared.
Political Pressures within Jewish Communities
The CBF’s administrative records hold an almost unbroken series of minutes of its Executive meetings dating from 16 May 1933.
The Executive Committee met on a regular basis. During emergency situations it was convened weekly or even daily, and minutes make evident the fact that its members were in constant contact with each other and with third persons upon whose expertise they could call. The records paint a picture of ongoing policy making, of fund allocations to the JRC for assistance to refugees in transit or those hoping to rebuild their lives in the United Kingdom, of grants to community agencies in Europe and of ongoing allocations to Zionist organisations for agricultural training, the purchase of tools and equipment, assistance for immigration to Palestine and the construction of housing there. Also revealed is the CBF’s handling of political and religious pressure groups within Anglo-Jewry and representatives of European Jewish communities, as well as the relationship with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC), a philanthropic organisation created in 1914 for the relief of Jews in Russia and in Palestine. In post- World War II years, the AJDC would become the world’s major Jewish philanthropic organisation, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the relief and rehabilitation of Jews in need. However, the record reveals that in the years from 1933 to 1939 the CBF was the world’s major Jewish fundraising agency for assistance to Jews in Germany and the one to which refugees and communities caring for them turned.
Within days of its inception in May 1933, the Allocations Committee of the CBF set aside funds for the Jewish Refugees Committee to aid refugees reaching the United Kingdom and allocated monies to German Jewish communal agencies for the vocational training of young people and the retraining of adults, for immigration assistance, and for the provision of housing for immigrants to Palestine in accordance with its emerging policy: priority funding for emigration. In addition, funds were made available to the non-sectarian academic Assistance Council, whose appeal for funds was headed by Sir William Beveridge. The CBF’s Academic Committee, forerunner of the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning, held its first meeting 4 May 1933. That Committee’s minute book lists a number of distinguished academics, Jews and non-Jews alike, who served as members in helping to place their refugee peers in British institutions of higher learning.
Palestine: Major Hope for Resettlement
Evident from minutes of the CBF’s Executive Committee is a very early appreciation of the political situation affecting Jews in Germany and a realisation that resettlement in Palestine was German Jewry’s only hope of large-scale immigration. An undated memorandum relating to the organisation of the first fundraising appeal in 1933 addresses the special position of the Zionists and makes clear how Anglo-Jewry’s leaders were able to set aside personal political biases and respond in a meaningful way to help Jews in Germany immigrate to Palestine. Nonetheless, the strong Zionist influence of Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow and of Simon Marks on the Executive Committee is especially evident and was doubtlessly a major factor in the rescue and resettlement in Palestine of numbers far greater than might otherwise have been achieved.
The minutes of the 1930s suggest that this kind of synergy was sorely lacking among Jewish organisations in the United States. Distance from Europe appears to have dulled American Jewry’s early recognition of the tragedy besetting German Jewry.
International Jewish Conference: The Gravest Problem
A conference for the relief of German Jewry attended by representatives of Jewish communities throughout the world was held in London from 29 October to 1 November 1933. The entire proceedings have been preserved among the CBF’s records. A statement of CBF’s activities for the year are succinctly outlined in Document No. 2 of the conference. It is one of several submitted by a variety of organisations in the United Kingdom and overseas. Reports, resolutions and recommendations issued by the Conference emphasised the determination of participants to cooperate ‘to meet the gravest problem which has faced (Jews] for centuries’.
The CBF maintained close contact with communities in Europe whenever possible. Several members of the Executive and others nominated to do so visited Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, and Holland and returned to London with firsthand knowledge of conditions and needs. In pre-war years, their concern was that monies be raised locally in Europe to cover the cost of relief and organisational administration so that funds allocated from Britain could be used in their entirety for training, retraining and emigration. The Executive did not wish the CBF to serve Europe as a relief agency, but rather as one offering constructive alternatives for those forced to flee their homes.
CBF Seeks Help from the Dominions
Norman Bentwich and Sir Wyndham Deedes were appointed Honorary Directors of the CBF. Wyndham Deedes was a non-Jew active on behalf of non-Aryan Christians. Both men had seen service in the government of Palestine under Sir Herbert Samuel. At the request of the Executive they travelled to the Dominions of Australia and South Africa to apprise Jewish communities there of the deteriorating situation in Europe and to urge greater fundraising efforts on their behalf. These communities were also asked to approach their governments with a view to securing entry permits for refugees. But Dominion governments were not disposed to respond positively to such requests. Landing permits for Australia continued to be issued only on an individual basis to persons sponsored by relatives or friends. South Africa was even less cooperative. A meeting on immigration held in London on 13 January 1938 to discuss worldwide possibilities makes poignantly clear the paucity of opportunity for Jewish refugees.
On his visit to the United States in 1936, Sir Herbert Samuel met U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and requested that consuls in Germany be instructed to speed visa issuance to eligible applicants. From available evidence it may be assumed that no such change was effected. Other countries responded no differently as evident from the individual country files and from minutes of the Executive. Over the years a number of immigration schemes were proposed, but because of their cost, location, or the advent of war, they proved abortive.
The file for Austria, for example, holds two detailed reports submitted by Norman Bentwich on conditions in Vienna following his visit there in 1938 and again in August 1939 shortly before war was declared. On the second occasion, Bentwich met with Hauptmann Adolf Eichmann, and his report carries their discussions regarding future emigration. Also in the Austria file are applications from older persons seeking emigration assistance. They are rated on a points system: those with children overseas, with funds available, with employable skills or other assets were given a greater number of preferential points, a grim reminder of desperate choices that were made.
The Nuremberg Laws, September 1935
In September 1935 Germany enacted the ‘Nuremberg Laws’, which deprived Jews of all civil rights. The need to speed immigration to countries of safety was now paramount. The CBF’s Executive concluded that although the board of the AJDC in New York was kept fully advised on events in Europe and its representatives were invited to attend Executive and Allocations Committee meetings whenever they were in London, a delegation should proceed to the United States to heighten awareness on the part of the AJDC and anyone else who would listen, of the gravity of the situation in Germany and seek cooperation from the AJDC for a coordinated rescue effort.
To this end, Sir Herbert Samuel, Simon Marks, and Lord Bearsted travelled to the United States in January 1936. On his return to London, Sir Herbert reported to the Executive that they had visited Chicago, Illinois; St Louis, Missouri; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Washington, DC; and New York. They had made thirty speeches, five of which were broadcast by radio. As noted earlier, This was when Samuel met Roosevelt, as well as Frances Perkins, the U.S. Secretary of Labor; James G. McDonald, then High Commissioner for Refugees; and representatives of nonJewish agencies, all of whom, Samuel reported, had shown concern for the position of Jews in Germany.
Council for German Jewry
As a result of this visit to the United States, the AJDC agreed to join forces with the CBF in forming a new organisation, the Council for German Jewry (CGJ). Its members were the CBF, AJDC and the American United Palestine Appeal (UPA). It was hoped that the CGJ, which was to meet in London, would serve to coordinate activities between the tripartite agencies and provide evidence worldwide of the solidarity of effort among major Jewish philanthropic organisations on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States at this time fundraising was conducted separately by the AJDC and the United Palestine Appeal, whereas in the United Kingdom this political division affecting fundraising had been resolved when the CBF was first organised in 1933. At that time, the Zionist organisations agreed to raise funds with the CBF, an arrangement maintained until early in the war. Chaim Weizmann was appointed a member of CBF’s Executive. Lavy Bakstansky, appointed a joint secretary to the CBF with Meyer Stephany, was nominated by the Zionists.
A major thrust of the Council for German Jewry was the training and orderly emigration from Germany over a three-year period of 80,000 to 100,000 young adults and children, a majority of whom would go to Palestine. Provision was to be made for training suitable emigrants within Germany and in Holland, France, and Belgium. Resettlement overseas and loans and relief, where necessary, would be accomplished through the machinery of existing agencies. Much discussion ensued on whether Jews still in Germany or those already outside its borders should be the first recipients of available certificates for Palestine. A sense of urgency in regard to emigration remained paramount throughout these exchanges.
American Support for CBF Emigration Plan Disappointing
It was envisaged that to achieve the CGJ’s goals $5,000,000 would be subscribed in Europe and $10,000,000 in the United States and other countries around the world. Representatives of the AJDC attended meetings of the Executive of the CGJ in London, but despite hopes of its British members for financial cooperation from the AJDC, none was forthcoming. In the end the CBF was to prove the major contributor to programmes undertaken. Dr. Stephen Wise and Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, representatives of the American United Palestine Appeal, attended several meetings of the CGJ’s Executive. Great disappointment was recorded following their report to the Executive of monies which might be expected from the UPA. The emigration goal set for young persons in Germany could not be achieved at this level of support. Minutes of the Executive suggest that political rather than humanitarian considerations were paramount among American Jewish lay leaders. Only after the ‘Anschluss’ of Austria in 1938, did the AJDC agree to work more closely with the CBF for the benefit of Austrian Jews.
Throughout 1936 members of the CGJ travelled abroad to encourage fundraising efforts in support of its programme of rescue. They also visited agricultural training sites in Germany, France, Holland, and Belgium, to which funds were allocated through communal agencies. Wyndham Deedes and Peter Scott, the latter a member of the Society of Friends, an agency that worked closely with the CBF in its rescue efforts, were asked by the Council to accompany Norman Bentwich on his visit to Germany, where they would review agricultural training programmes and report to London on their progress. Peter Scott was an expert in the field of agriculture. The report on training would emphasise the gravity of the situation confronting Jews in Germany and the need to hasten emigration.
Activities of the Jewish Refugees Committee
Until early in 1936 the JRC’s several committees responsible for meeting the varying needs of the refugees were able to function in a relatively orderly manner. Friends and relatives in the United Kingdom were approached by or made contact with the Emigration Committee in regard to provision of guarantees of support for individuals or families seeking entry into the United Kingdom that the Committee helped to secure. On arrival, refugees received assistance in obtaining third country visas and outbound shipping; the Welfare Committee found placement for students in British institutions of higher learning and apprenticeships were obtained for young men in skilled trades and for agricultural pursuits. The Resettlement Committee, which operated throughout the period under review, provided a large number of loans to businessmen after their ventures had received Home Office approval, and the Professional Committee secured employment for professional men and women. The Domestic Bureau meanwhile secured job placements for women, some of whom were accompanied by a child, and occasionally for married couples. The Bureau’s records testify that several thousand refugees were able to secure entry visas to the United Kingdom in the immediate pre-war period as a result of its efforts.
At a meeting of the Executive of the CGJ in 1936, Otto Schiff noted that in earlier years refugees generally had sufficient funds with which to support themselves, but that since passage of the Nuremberg laws in September 1935, those entering the United Kingdom were often in need of financial assistance. At the same meeting Schiff reported that the Home Office had ruled that German children would no longer be admitted for educational purposes unless a Home Office-approved family in the United Kingdom guaranteed that they would not become a public charge. In this regard Wyndham Deedes was already at work to organise a committee that would assist such children. The CGJ made a substantial grant to this agency, the Inter-Aid Committee for Children from Germany, which helped all children regardless of religious affiliation.
Aid Continues Despite Financial Crisis
Calls upon the funds of the CGJ and services of its constituent agencies by unprecedented numbers of refugees reached a breaking point in the spring of 1939. The Executive reported that its funds were exhausted. No alternative remained to the Executive but to authorise substantial bank overdrafts so that the work of rescue could continue. The CGJ’s position was so desperate that for the first time since its inception, approaches to the government for possible loans to the JRC were considered.
The Executive thus agreed that in view of the financial crisis and the dire situation of Jews in Europe a delegation should call upon Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Lord Bearsted, who led the deputation, asked that the Government request that facilities be made available in countries of the British Empire for immigration of refugees from Germany and Austria. In response, Chamberlain observed that his government was already investigating immigration possibilities outside of the United Kingdom. Bearsted then stressed the tremendous financial burden the refugees reaching the United Kingdom were placing on the limited resources of the Anglo-Jewish community and suggested that if emigration on a larger scale were to ensue, government funding for voluntary agencies activities would be needed. In reply, Chamberlain stated that these matters would be placed before the conference at Evian. Bearsted requested also that the Prime Minister authorise unaccompanied children be granted less restrictive entry to the United Kingdom.
Chamberlain noted that this last request was a matter for the Home Secretary, but he would support any programme that the Home Office department approved. Thus, another deputation, one led by Lord Samuel of the CGJ’s Executive, together with representatives of the Inter-Aid Committee, the Society of Friends, and JRC called on the Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare. Following their presentation Hoare agreed to lift earlier Home Office restrictions on accommodation for children and allow entry to all of those for whom maintenance was guaranteed, either by individuals or by voluntary agencies.
Birth of the Refugee Children’s Movement
A major easing of the documentation of children was assured when Hoare ruled that unaccompanied children no longer had to secure national passports in Europe or entry visas from British consuls; they would be granted entry on the basis of identity cards, which the Inter-Aid Committee was authorised to issue. This was a major breakthrough. Children who might otherwise not have been rescued were saved by this ruling. The Inter-Aid Committee and JRC then agreed to coordinating their efforts in the interest of children and together established the Refugee Children’s Movement (RCM). Despite its precarious financial position, the CGJ agreed to sponsor the movement to Britain of a first contingent of 5,000 children with others to follow.
The RCM’s goals were widely publicised and offers of hospitality for children poured in from concerned persons throughout the United Kingdom. Members of the Society of Friends helped Jewish communal organisations select children in Berlin and in Vienna. As a result of all these efforts 9,354 children, almost a thousand of whom were Christian non-Aryans, found refuge in Britain, the last of them being allowed to land a few days after war was declared. Records of the RCM divulge a myriad of problems with which the agency was called upon to cope, some of which multiplied when children were evacuated from London and other strategic areas when war was declared. Concern for the religious education of children and realities of proselytization efforts among non-Jewish hosts was also a continuing theme and source of concern in the RCM records.
The Plight of Austrian Jewry
In March 1938 when Germany annexed Austria, funds of the Israelitischen Kultusgemeinde Wien (literally Jewish Community in Vienna), where a majority of Austrian Jews lived, were impounded and its buildings occupied. CGJ Executive minutes and other materials provide detailed reports on the incarceration, spoliation, and resulting desperate situation of Jews in Vienna. Not only were Austrian Jews now in dire straits, others fleeing Czechoslovakia or expelled from Burgenland (an eastern state in Austria that bordered the western edge of Hungary) swelled their numbers. The Reichsvertretung der Deutsche Juden (the Reich Representation of German Jews) in Berlin sent individuals to Vienna to render assistance. It is evident that Jews in Berlin still had some freedom of movement whereas action against those in Austria was immediate and vicious.
AJDC representatives in Vienna were authorised by the CGJ to spend monies on their behalf and between the two agencies they fed thousands of the destitute at soup kitchens. Drs. Loewenthal and Alois Rothenberg of the Kultusgemeinde came to London to report to the Executive on the situation in Vienna and to request additional financial aid, especially for young persons in agricultural training centres preparing to depart to Palestine. The Executive agreed also to send a representative to Vienna for a three-month period to assist the community and Captain B.M. Woolf, secretary of the West London Synagogue, was given leave of absence to take this assignment.
Evian-Les-Bains, July 1938
The United States had distanced itself from Europe and showed no signs of easing its own restrictive immigration laws. Nonetheless, President Roosevelt convened a conference on emigration and refugees for July 1938 at Evian-les-Bains, France. Although it was clear at the outset that no government was to be asked to change its immigration laws or to finance the movement of refugees, the conference was viewed with hope, and Norman Bentwich was asked to attend at Evian as CGJ observer.
Much time at Executive meetings was spent in discussion on how to present the plight of German and Austrian Jews at the conference. It was agreed that the CGJ and the AJDC would submit a joint statement on their concerns to the Secretary General of the Intergovernmental Committee on Emigration and Refugees, at the American Embassy in London. The statement supplements several memoranda presented to the conference at Evian. It outlined the work of the two agencies on behalf of German and more recently Austrian Jews and reminded the Secretary General of the desperate situation of Jews in those countries. In the aftermath of the conference it was obvious that hope in its deliberations had been misplaced. None of the participating countries agreed to modify their stance on immigration and alleviate the plight of refugees.
S.S. St. Louis, June 1939
In June 1939, Otto Schiff, Paul Baerwald, and Harold Lindner, the latter two representatives of the AJDC on the Council for German Jewry, called at the Home Office to seek permission for three hundred passengers aboard the S.S. St. Louis to land in the United Kingdom. They were part of a complement of 907 passengers destined for Cuba whose landing permits had been revoked by that country’s government after the ship set sail from Hamburg, Germany, in May. No country in the Americas was prepared to offer sanctuary to those aboard, even though substantial financial guarantees for their support had been assured by philanthropic agencies. The alternative was for them to be returned to Germany.
While en route to Europe, Belgium, Holland, and France together agreed to take two thirds of the passengers. At the Home Office, Baerwald and Lindner added the assurance of the AJDC to Schiff’s on behalf of the CGJ that those admitted to the United Kingdom would not be allowed to become a public charge. Despite government misgivings related to security, permission was granted for the passengers to disembark in the United Kingdom. A number were able to secure visas and leave for the United States before war was declared.
Refugees and Transmigrants after Kristallnacht
The growing numbers of refugees arriving at the JRC’s offices following Kristallnacht in November 1938 again created a dilemma for the CGJ and its constituent agencies. The guarantee given to the Home Office in 1933 that no refugees would become a public charge was backfiring. Refugee numbers were now very much greater and their economic condition more dire than could possibly have been anticipated six years earlier. Those reaching the United Kingdom as transmigrants without means had to be supported when war was declared and shipping to countries overseas was curtailed.
The men among them were housed in a disused army camp at Richborough, Kent, rented by the CGJ, which was then home to several thousand teenage and adult men while they awaited shipping to overseas countries. Earlier in the year a number of men released from the concentration camp at Dachau had been accommodated there. In the early days of the war many at Richborough, and others in the community, were interned on the Isle of Man as enemy aliens; some were deported to Australia and Canada. Most were later released and many served in the British armed forces, while others served on the land, in industry, medicine and science. As shipping became available, even during the war years, a number were able to join relatives and friends overseas. From 1933 to 1939 some 20,000 were able to emigrate from the United Kingdom.
Financial Guarantees and Appeals
Throughout the latter months of 1939, the Executive held discussions and meetings with government officials on the future financial support for refugees. Funds of the CGJ were depleted and a massive loan had been secured in August, on the guarantee of Nathan Mayer Rothschild and Marcus Samuel (of Samuel & Co.), against expected income from government tax refunds and covenants. This infusion of cash helped only for a few months. In Executive meetings fear was expressed that if the JRC allowed refugees to become a charge on local rates, such action would stir anti-Semitism. Members of the Executive of the Central Council for Jewish Refugees (CCJR), the name by which the CGJ came to be known after war was declared, were under great strain. It took much persuasion, including threats that the JRC would cease operating, to convince the government that the refugees were not solely a Jewish problem and that the Anglo-Jewish community alone could no longer shoulder responsibility for their welfare. The Christian Council for Refugees from Germany and Central Europe added its voice in support of the CCJR in meetings with government officials. Tangible evidence of this is seen in a substantial short-term loan to the CCJR to help it continue to finance the JRC during the period of negotiation.
A transcript of minutes of a meeting of Anglo-Jewry called in February 1940 by the Central Council for Jewish Refugees to launch an emergency appeal for financial support reveals some of the anxiety felt in the immediate pre-war period and the need to find means of support for refugees when war was declared. Anthony de Rothschild expressed appreciation to the Christian Council for the loan, which had enabled CCJR’s work to continue until, with their support, the government had agreed to share the financial burden.
Rome Office Financial Support
Closure of the CCJR’s operations was averted at the last moment when the government agreed to a series of grants-in-aid shared in part by the Christian Council. At a later date the Home Office undertook the total cost of support for those refugees whose jobs had been lost as a result of the war. A major part of the administrative costs of the voluntary agencies was also underwritten by the government. A Central Committee for Refugees was appointed by the Home Office to distribute and supervise expenditure of the months provided in accordance with government guidelines. Its members were representatives of the several Jewish and Christian refugee agencies. Sir Herbert Emerson, High Commissioner for Refugees, was appointed chairman. A Central Office for Refugees, co-chaired by Anthony de Rothschild and the Reverend Henry Carter, head of the Christian Council, served as the principal channel of communication between government departments and refugee organisations throughout the country. It also provided contact between them and served as a bureau of general information on refugee matters. The Committee’s Executive included representatives of the Central Council for Jewish Refugees, the Christian Council, and the Refugee Children’s Movement. A substantial body of material pertaining to these agencies, including minutes, correspondence and financial activity, is preserved in the CBF archives, providing a view of voluntary agency administration of government funds.
The provision of partial funding by the government of the CCJR in 1940 relieved tensions, enabling the Executive to continue its policy making role. Almost £3,000,000 in cash had been raised by the CBF and its successor organisations since 1933 and former Prime Minister Earl Stanley Baldwin’s national appeal in 1938 had provided a further £250,000, most of which financed the rescue and care of children. When war was finally declared, it was estimated that 65,000 refugees, many thousands of whom were awaiting shipping to third countries, had found asylum in the United Kingdom.
The Young, The Old and the Frail
All during the war the CCJR, the JRC and the RCM continued to carry responsibility for the well-being of refugees. Some who were aged or mentally ill were placed in sheltered housing for their lifetime. Representation by the JRC to the government was ongoing on behalf of internees, deportees, persons seeking employment and others. Contact was maintained with young adults trained in agriculture who joined various branches of the armed forces and with others who took up nursing and essential war work while awaiting immigration to Palestine.
Jewish Committee for Relief Abroad, 1943
Although the CBF had been created in response to the plight of German Jews, it was with prescience and an unflinching sense of responsibility that the Executive of the CCJR agreed to finance the activities of a new organisation, the Jewish Committee for Relief Abroad (JCRA), established in 1943.
Its purpose was to recruit suitably qualified persons who would volunteer their services to travel overseas and care for concentration camp and other Jewish survivors when they were liberated by Allied armies. The JCRA joined major voluntary agencies in the United Kingdom under the umbrella of the Council of British Societies for Relief Abroad (COBSRA).
Almost two hundred volunteers including doctors, nurses and social workers served in Europe. During the war some of them in Egypt, destined to enter southern Europe, helped care for several thousand Yugoslav women and children evacuated from the Dalmatian coast. Others entered liberated towns and concentration camps on the heel of Allied armies with whom they worked for the benefit of survivors. Reports and correspondence in the records of the JCRA provide in graphic detail descriptions of conditions in Europe at the time of liberation and the service rendered by volunteers to survivors and nascent Jewish communities in the years from 1944 until the JCRA’s closure in 1952.
In 1944 with knowledge that there were Jews in hiding in occupied Europe and in the hope that they and others would survive incarceration in concentration camps, the Central Council for Jewish Refugees underwent a name change to the Central British Fund for Relief and Rehabilitation. Anglo-Jewry was now committed to aid all Jews who survived the Holocaust in Europe. That same year, with government approval, monies were made available to the High Commissioner for Refugees for transmittal to Jews in occupied Europe.
Liberation, Rescue and Rebuilding
As countries in Europe were liberated, the CBF gave encouragement and financial support to emerging communal leaders in their efforts to re-establish Jewish institutions. In an effort to learn of problems facing Jewish communities in Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Holland, Poland, and Switzerland, a meeting of representatives from these countries was held in London in August 1945. All those present noted that antiSemitism remained a key issue. They all expressed concern for the future of Jewish children who had survived the war in the care of non-Jews and who were now in danger of being lost to the Jewish community altogether. They asked that assistance be provided to enable survivors to join relatives overseas. While help in this regard was forthcoming, the reuniting of families took many years. Countries that had not welcomed refugees during the war years still had not changed their stance in the aftermath of war.
The CBF made funds available for treatment in sanatoria of survivors who had contracted tuberculosis. Together with the Society of Friends, permission was obtained to bring to the United Kingdom as many as one thousand children who had survived incarceration in concentration camps. 732 children became wards of the CBF. Some eventually joined relatives overseas, while others were adopted. Minutes and correspondence of the Committee for the Care of Children from the Camps provide information over a number of years on the diverse activities on behalf of these children.
Other survivors aided by the JRC included a thousand ‘distressed persons’, individuals with close relatives in the United Kingdom for whom in November 1945 the government granted the right of entry on special ‘Q’ visas. In addition, a small number of Jews living in displaced persons camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy were also resettled in Great Britain.
The Kultusgemeinde in Vienna was again a centre of activity and a recipient of financial and personnel aid following the Hungarian uprising in 1956. Two thousand of the Jews who fled to Vienna were granted visas for the United Kingdom, where the JRC assisted them in completing plans to join relatives overseas. Stateless Jews living in Egypt were given asylum in the United Kingdom when the CBF guaranteed that they would not become a public charge.
As early as 1939, comments in Executive Committee minutes relate to restitution to those spoliated when they were forced to flee Germany. During the latter part of the war restitution of property and compensation to refugees took on greater significance.
It is fitting that the records hold minutes and correspondence of the Jewish Trust Corporation, which was created in 1948 by the CBF, AJDC and Jewish Agency for Palestine to cover identifiable heir-less property of victims of the Nazis and of former Jewish communities. Monies received from the sale of such properties was used to provide housing and sheltered accommodations, synagogues and schools for former refugees and their progeny. The task of recovering property was undertaken by teams of lawyers, many of them German Jews, working within restitution laws enacted in Germany. The laws ensured that an attempt was made to uphold principles of morality and those for which the war had been fought.
Gottleib, Amy Zahl: “Central British Fund for World Jewish Relief: An Introduction to and Overview of Its First Ten Years”, Refugees, Relief, Resettlement: Gale, a Cengage Company (2021)