Orders of the Day — Racial, Religious and Political Minorities.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 21st November 1938.

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Photo of Mr Samuel Hammersley Mr Samuel Hammersley , Willesden East

I cannot claim that tolerance which the House invariably gives to a maiden speech, but I can ask for some indulgence in view of the fact that this is the first occasion on which it has been possible for me to address the present House of Commons. It seems to me that there are three moods in which this refugee problem may be considered. We may, like the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), who has given us a speech full of incidents of the brutal and inhuman treatment which the Germans are meting out to the Jews, consider that every feeling of decency has been violated and in that mood we are apt to look upon these events in an atmosphere of indignation and resentment. Then there is the mood of intense sympathy in which one is inclined to dramatise the record of human torture to be found in the tragic history of the persecution of the Jews throughout the centuries, and in the emotions aroused by that mood, we may forget the need for practical and effective action. There is a third mood which it is difficult for us to adopt, but which, I think, we ought to adopt. That is the mood in which we refuse to have our senses stimulated by sentiment, or our judgment darkened by indignation, and in which we look upon this problem of 500,000 refugees in Germany as just another practical problem which British statesmanship is called upon to consider and to solve.

It is because I think this last mood is the mood which will be most helpful to the settling of the problem that I propose to keep to it, in my brief examination of the position. We find that 500,000 men and women of Jewish race, but not all of Jewish religion, are looking round the world for a home and appeal to the British Government for help. Is there something in that problem which defies solution? Is its magnitude so vast, are its difficulties so complex, that we must recoil abashed from it and come to the conclusion that it is beyond human attainment to solve it? I do not take that view. Like the hon. Member for Derby I think that when we view this subject through the perspective of history, we see that a task of similar, or even greater magnitude, has been shown to be well within the capacity of a nation much poorer in possessions and wealth than ours. I refer to Greece. Looking at it in that light and recalling the fact that over 1,000,000 penniless, starving, homeless Greeks found refuge in that poor country, we must come to the conclusion, in confronting this problem, that the resources of civilisation are by no means exhausted. Many hon. Members are probably familiar with the masterly history of Europe which was written by a former Member of this House, Mr. H. A. L. Fisher. Referring to the defeat of the Greeks in Asia Minor in 1922 when the victorious Turks entered Smyrna, fired the city and massacred all of Greek blood whom they could find, Mr. Fisher writes: Mere than 1,000,000 Christians fleeing that terrible wrath were rescued from Asia Minor in Allied ships, and by a great feat of benevolent organisation distributed through Greece and its Islands. Later, referring to those refugees he says: Greece became by reason of its industrious Asiatic immigrants richer, stronger, more populous than before. A task which when undertaken, under the wise guidance of Nansen, in reference to 1,000,000 friendless Christians, proved to be successful, should not, in relation to 500,000 assisted Jews, prove insuperable. I hope I have made my first point, namely, that the objective of settling these Jews in other countries is well within the capacity of the world to achieve. I turn to my second point: Is Parliament, is the British Empire, in a position materially to help the achievement of this objective? Undoubtedly it is. Responsible as the British Empire is for a quarter of the surface of the globe, it is absurd to suggest that we cannot give great help. I am aware that this House cannot speak for the whole Empire, but it can speak for a substantial part of it, and it is from the Government that money can be obtained and should be forthcoming.

The most obvious way in which immediate help can come is from Palestine. There should be the immediate increase of the available immigration into Palestine. That will afford the assistance which is most necessary and most urgent. Palestine could, according to those who are qualified to express an opinion, take some 50,000 additional immigrants. I do not wish to dwell at length on this question of Palestine, because the House will be debating it on Thursday, and I turn to some other parts of the Empire where the immediate prospects are not perhaps so favourable, but where, in my opinion, a great deal can be done. We have read of what the Italian Government are doing in connection with settlers in Libya. British Somaliland, Kenya, Tanganyika and, in a smaller way, British Guiana will greatly benefit from the immigration of intelligent, industrious individuals whom Germany, having first dispossessed, is now driving out.

I know there are colonists who may say, that if we increase considerably the number of immigrants to those parts of the British Empire we shall intensify the problem of unemployment there and, alternatively, it may be argued that the present economic development of those parts of the world admits of only a very small additional amount of immigration. I reject those arguments for two reasons. First, we can learn from what has happened in Palestine. I well remember being in this House when the present Opposition formed the Government of the country and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. Sidney Webb—now Lord Passfield—told us that an increase of the immigration of Jews into Palestine by some 3,000, would upset the economic balance of that country. What has happened since? Over 200,000 Jews have gone into Palestine and the economic balance of the country has not collapsed. The proof of that lies in the fact that, great as the immigration of Jews into Palestine has been, the growth of the Arab population in Palestine has been greater. Therefore, it appears to me that a great deal of exaggeration may take place when one tries to assess what is the economic absorptive capacity of a country. These views are borne out by the last report which we have had, the Woodhead report, where, on page 31, it says: So far as concerns the non-agricultural settlement, it would seem that economic conditions in Palestine are by now so closely bound up with Jewish immigration, both actual and prospective, that the Arabs in Palestine would be faced with the prospect of greater economic hardship if Jewish immigration should be completely closed down, than they would be even if it should be allowed to continue. The argument that I am rejecting is that these various parts of the Empire have reached the limit of their absorptive capacity. Surely there is an urgent necessity for a greater development of our Colonial Empire. I am not trying to suggest that all these stricken Jews in Germany should be dumped in our Colonial Empire—that would not be right or possible—but I do say that if the Government base their views on what can be done on the conservative estimates of Colonial Governors—General, swayed by councils of settlers, then the estimate that the Government will give will be a long way from the real absorptive capacity of the British Empire, and a unique opportunity of relieving a heartrending human tragedy and restoring to Britain some of its waning prestige will have been lost.

There is another practical and important aspect which should not be overlooked. We are not dealing with a completely friendless people. They may be destitute, but they have friends, and the financial assistance which organised Jewry can give is great. It would be impossible to suggest that these refugees should be dumped on various parts of the Empire without previous preparation and without capital, but the capital which is at the disposal of Jewry is great, and Jewry should be called upon to provide a great deal of capital. What it cannot provide, the great British people will endeavour to assist in providing. In my view, it is much better to lend to the Jews to build up our Empire than to lend to the new Czech Government in order to help to destroy it. Inevitably, when one thinks of these problems, one's mind turns to the United States of America, with its large Jewish population. What opportunities for cooperation lie here. Is it a dream to think that this German refugee problem and the American debt problem might find a simultaneous settlement? Certainly in working out the financial aspect of some of these schemes, that is an aspect of the matter which should not be overlooked.

To sum up, in my opinion, on severely practical grounds, the German refugee problem is a solvable problem, which the British Empire can materially assist to solve. It is more. It is a challenge to the inherent humanity of our race, it is a challenge which Britain, the champion of the oppressed, cannot ignore.