Excuses! Excuses!

The Failure to Amend Britain’s Immigration Policy, 1942–1943

in European Judaism

The British government’s wartime immigration policy was to refuse admission to anyone from Nazi-controlled territory unless they could prove that they were useful to the war effort. The Independent MP Eleanor Rathbone led the campaign to persuade the government to amend this policy so as to allow refugees into Britain on humanitarian rather than merely utilitarian grounds. Campaigners also pleaded with the government to do its utmost to rescue Jews and facilitate their entry into Palestine, the colonies and the dominions. This article presents the government’s reasons for refusing to recognize humanitarian factors as a basis for admitting Jews to Britain, and cites campaigners in their efforts to influence government policy. It seeks to question the myth that Britain’s response to the Jewish plight was as wonderful as is presented to the public.