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‘Heavy Is the Responsibility for All the Lives That Might Have Been Saved in the Pre-war Years’

British Perceptions of Refugees 1933–1940

Rachel Pistol

Keywords: Austrian immigrants; Eleanor Rathbone; German immigrants; immigration; Jewish refugees; refugee policy; refugees; Second World War

How welcoming Great Britain was to refugees in the 1930s and 1940s depended on many factors, including the age, gender, class and profession of an individual. Members of some of the British professions did all they could to rescue their persecuted brethren from the continent, while others did all they could to bar those who might potentially cause competition in the job market. This article considers how welcoming the professions and general public were to the internees in the years preceding the Second World War, how popular opinion changed after the fall of France and the Low Countries, and how Eleanor Rathbone and some of her peers campaigned to debunk the popular myths surrounding the refugees. Much of the rhetoric from this time period will seem familiar to those reading the newspapers and listening to news reports nowadays, showing how much still needs to be learned from this turbulent time in history.

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