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.
Lesley Urbach graduated from University College London with a BA (Hons) in Modern History in 1978 and worked as a careers adviser for over thirty years. She returned to university in 2012 and graduated with an MRes with Distinction from the University of Southampton (Parkes Institute) in December 2015. Her dissertation topic was ‘Herbert Morrison’s Changing Attitude to the Plight of the Jews, 1930–1945’. She is co-founder with Dr Susan Cohen of the Remembering Eleanor Rathbone group.