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 Sir Geoffrey Mander Sir Geoffrey Mander , Wolverhampton East

Surely the ham. Member for East Willesden (Mr. Hammersley), although he is not entitled to any congratulations, thoroughly deserves them for the speech which he has just made. I think we must have a feeling of universal disgust at the horrible brutality of what is going on in this exodus from Germany at the present time. It is nothing but a reversion to paganism and a repudiation of all those ideals for which Christianity and all other religions too, for that matter, stand. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), in his interesting speech, gave a number of individual examples of cases of persecution. I should like to state one case that came under my observation of a rather different kind.

A month ago, just afterthe crisis, I was in Prague, and I went to the frontier one evening in order to see the situation there. I found in the schools and in a waiting room at the station large numbers of refugees, lying down on their straw, overcrowded, and in a great state of terror and excitement. I inquired from them why they had come. It was surprising to find that these people, who were German by race, had fled from the Reich. It was at first sight an extraordinary situation, but the explanation was that between the retirement of the Czech troops and the arrival of the German troops there was, unfortunately, a gap. All reports show that when the German army arrived in the Sudeten areas they behaved with consideration and kindness to all these unfortunate people, and even distributed the cigarettes that they had for themselves. They do represent a body of persons in Germany who have certain standards of conduct. But during that gap, during those 24 hours or whatever it was, you had the real terror of Hitlerism at work. There was no one to keep order, and they were let loose, these troops of young Henleiners, who had been trained in Germany in terroristic methods, and they went all round the Sudeten areas, beating, shooting, killing, setting fire to their fellow citizens and the property of their fellow citizens. That shows the contrast between the better element in Germany and the more horrible element fiat unfortunately has control of the Government of the country at the present time.

Between the years 1933 and 1938 there have come out of Germany something like 150,000 refugees, mostly Jews, but, as has been said, there are potentially well over 500,000, again mostly Jews, in Germany who are capable of being sent out. In addition to those, there are a great many Catholics and Protestants who may be driven out, because it is clear that this terror is not being confined to one race or religion, but is going to be applied also to those who adhere to the Christian faith. We have to consider the reflex of all this on the nations to the East, because, if you take together such countries as Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Greece, there are something like 5,000,000 Jews living there, and in some of those countries, particularly in Poland, the Jewish question is becoming very serious indeed, and we may have very large numbers of these persons on our hands as well.

I understand that the Inter-Governmental Committee as it is called, before the recent crisis in Germany, estimated that there would be something like 500,000 Jews to be disposed of, and they planned that there should be the emigration of 100,000 a year for each of the five years. I am sure they now realise that these numbers will, unfortunately, have to be considerably added to. The question is where they can go. I understand that since the Evian Conference there has been some rigidity among certain non-European countries, particularly South America, where they have rather got the impression that there may be an attempt on the part of European countries to unload upon them a large number of persons who are unwanted here. It is essential, therefore, that in any action that is taken in Europe it should be made clear to these other countries that we are prepared to play our part to the full, and that there is no foundation for the suggestion that they are being asked to make all the sacrifices. It is most important that Great Britain should firmly and strongly take the lead and make it a major part of British policy to see that action is taken. If we were willing to undertake to find places in the Empire for, say, one-quarter of the numbers, and the United States another quarter, it might well be that South America and other countries would be prepared to absorb the other half.

Where would they go? The question of Palestine has been mentioned, but whatever we do to Palestine it must be recognised that it can deal with only a portion of the problem. We cannot solve the problem by sending all these Jews to Palestine. At the same time, it is absolutely our duty to see that order is restored and maintained at the earliest possible moment, that the mandate entrusted to us is carried out to the full, that emigration in accordance with the economic absorptive capacity is restored, and that we do not spend too much time consulting with other countries who really have no right to be consulted except as members of the League of Nations. I venture to hope that in considering the possibilities of Palestine, the great area of the Negeb will not be overlooked, because it is established that without creating the sort of difficulties among the Arabs which there are in other parts of Palestine, there are large areas which might be placed at the disposal of the Jews for settlement in that part where a good deal of study has been given to the problem during the last year or so. The main problem is with regard to some part of the British Empire, either in the Dominions or in the Colonies. It really will not do for us to tell other nations, possessing the enormous Empire that we do, that we are very sorry but we cannot find any room in the British Empire. I am sure that that will not be the attitude taken by this country. The Prime Minister has made certain indications of territories where emigration might take place. I must say that I am particularly attracted by the idea of Tanganyika. It is a first-class suggestion for reasons which, I think, are obvious to us all, and there is no need to dilate upon them.

Let me turn to the question of finance, because it is no good pretending that this problem can be dealt with by private finance. It is far beyond that. Many of the organisations that are dealing with refugees at the present time are finding the greatest difficulty in carrying on. In dealing with these hundreds of thousands of persons no one would argue that the problem can be dealt with otherwise than through the Government. I understand that the chairman of the Inter-Governmental Committee has been unsuccessful so far in obtaining any response from the German Government in the negotiations for obtaining from Germany some portion of the property of the refugees when they come out. It is an intolerable thing that Germany should be in a position to throw out large numbers of her citizens and rob them of the whole of their property, and then expect the rest of the world to finance them and to look after them. Exasperated as we may be by a feeling of that kind, we must put humanity before money. If it does happen, we have to do the best we can for these unfortunate people.

I would like to make one or two suggestions rather on the lines of those made by the hon. Member for Derby as to the steps that might be taken, although I do not say that all of them are practicable. I venture to think that certain pressure might be applied to Germany. I do not want to use the word "sanctions," because that is not popular in these days, but certain pressure might be applied. There is pressure, first, of a diplomatic kind. The United States Government have withdrawn their Ambassador, temporarily at any rate. If all the principal nations were together to withdraw their diplomatic representatives as a demonstration against this kind of thing, I should think that it might possibly make some impression. Then there is the financial pressure that might be applied, such as refusal of financial support, although I do not suppose that Germany is getting very much at the present time. Then there is economic pressure, for which there is an analogy in connection with a country not far from here. I should have thought that there was a case for imposing a pretty high tariff upon German goods exported to this and other countries, the proceeds to be used for looking after the refugees who are being expelled.

I agree with the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Derby that consideration should be given—I have put it to the Home Secretary before in the form of a question—to the possibility of sending back to Germany a considerable number of Nazi Germans who, I am sure, could be identified and isolated if it were necessary. They should be sent back to the Reich, where they would be so much happier than being engaged on propaganda and agitation here and taking the place of refugees who could otherwise come to this country and be very much happier here. I hope that that is a problem that will not be overlooked. We ought not to rule out altogether the possibility of making a register of the property of all Germans in this country with a view to seeing whether, if Germany is going to rob the Jews of all their property in Germany and send them out, we should not appropriate some of their possessions here and use them for the help of the refugees. There are obvious difficulties, but I do not think that that is a matter that should be ruled out.

If we cannot do any of these things, we must go in for an international loan guaranteed by the central banks of issue for this purpose. I do not see any alternative to that. I hope that something will be done, on the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Derby, by making use of the machinery of the League of Nations. I know that our Government are not enamoured of certain functions of the League, but they maintain, I believe, that they would like to use to the full its humanitarian side, and here is an opportunity, through that magnificent sounding board the Council and the Assembly of the League, of focussing and expressing the public opinion of the world in a way that would be entirely appropriate and effective and in accordance with the views that persons of all parties have as to the possibilities of the League of Nations.

With regard to immediate steps—and some steps of an immediate nature will have to be taken—I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to say something about the camps which, as one reads, are being set up in Belgium, and perhaps in Holland, and tell us whether there is any idea of establishing temporary camps in this country in order to receive these refugees.