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Letter of Selig Brodetsky and Leonard Stein to the British Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

Brodetsky, Selig and Stein, Leonard letter to British State of Foreign Affairs 1943
Courtesy of The Board of Deputies of British Jews, London

Many Jews trying to escape Nazi persecution during the 1930s and 1940s wanted to go to Palestine. The United Kingdom was the mandatory colonial power in Palestine at the time, and British authorities enforced limitations on Jewish immigration in an effort to reduce tensions that had been growing between the region's Arab and Jewish populations.1 As the featured document shows, British Jews pushed their government to allow more Jewish refugees into Palestine.

The umbrella organization that represented the interests of British Jews to the government was called the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Since 1940, the organization was led by Selig Brodetsky, a university professor and committed Zionist. Some have blamed Brodetsky’s leadership for the board not doing more on behalf of European Jews during the war. But his academic thinking was no match for the bureaucratic foot-dragging and international politics of government circles, and he was in no real position to change British policies.

By early 1943, British Jews were urging the government to save as many European Jews from mass murder as possible. The featured document was created following an audience with Foreign Office officials in late December 1942. This letter to the Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs suggests ways for the UK to help European Jews who could still be saved. The authors wrote on behalf of the Joint Foreign Committee, which had been established by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Anglo-Jewish Association.2

For more about the history of the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine, see Hillel Cohen, Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: 1929 (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2015); and Matthew Hughes, Britain's Pacification of Palestine: The British Army, the Colonial State, and the Arab Revolt, 1936-1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019). 

For a history of British policy towards European Jews during the war, see Louise London, Whitehall and the Jews 1933-1948: British Immigration Policy, Jewish Refugees, and the Holocaust (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000). 

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25th February, 1943

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs,
Foreign Office
House of Commons



1. We beg to refer to the Deputation of British Jews received by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on December 23rd, and the communications which have since passed between the Joint Foreign Committee and His Majesty's Government about the suggested steps for saving Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe from extermination, and particularly about the lines of possible action that the Foreign Secretary indicated to the Deputation. The Committee recognise the difficulties of the position, but feel compelled to point out that, while the systematic murder and starvation of Jews continues in Europe, little has yet been done to save those who can be saved. They appreciate that the larger measures proposed require consultation with members of the Governments of the other United Nations. In this letter, however, we are dealing particularly with the practical measures which seem immediately possible and can be executed or initiated by His Majesty's Government, and in some cases have been adopted by the Government in the statement to the Deputation or subsequently in Parliament.

2. Palestine:

We are grateful for the statement made in the House of Commons on February 3rd, 1943 by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, that the 29,000 Palestine immigration certificates still available for the immigration period ending March 31st, 1944 will be used to admit to Palestine Jewish children, with a proportion of adults. We would ask that this measure should be implemented as quickly as possible, and that every assistance should be given in transport and transit arrangements. We are naturally anxious that as many children as possible should be saved, but in view of the growing danger, and the continuous mass executions, adults in a position to leave or escape should not be precluded from obtaining immigration certificates now because of the possibility of getting children out later. We would urge, therefore, that the decision should be interpreted in the most liberal manner possible, and these certificates utilised for the purpose of saving lives. Speed is obviously vital, and the procedure by which visas are allocated should be simplified so that a recipient of an immigration certificate may leave with the least delay.

We would also urge that in this great calamity the restrictions on immigration into Palestine, imposed in May 1939, should not be allowed to stand in the way of rescuing Jews from death, and that, over and above the 29,000 certificates, some means should be found of allowing Jewish refugees to enter Palestine either for permanent or temporary asylum.

It was suggested by the Foreign Secretary to the Deputation that in the Balkan region it would be easier to make travelling arrangements because of its proximity to Turkey. We hope that every effort will be made to expedite and enlarge the transports through Turkey and that, at the same time, the possibilities of using sea transport will also be considered.

3. Spain and Portugal:

The Foreign Secretary told the Deputation that refugees were entering Spain at the rate of 50 a day, and we understand that that rate is maintained. He mentioned also that the importance of keeping up the flow was realised, and that a number of Jews who had escaped to neutral countries might be helped to go to Palestine by way of South Africa, and others to America. The Spanish authorities cannot be expected to keep the frontiers open unless some clear indication is given that Great Britain and the U.S.A. will admit regularly to their territories as many as possible of those who have found asylum. Hitherto 500 certificates for Palestine have been granted out of those already allocated to the Jewish Agency. We would ask that further certificates should be made available for this purpose, and that active assistance should be given to find transport. We hope that it will also be possible for Great Britain—either alone or with the Allied Nations—to establish a transit camp in some place to which transport from Spain and Portugal would be relatively easy; and in this way the outflow could balance the inflow to Spain and Portugal. We would further request His Majesty's Government to enable a substantial number of refugees to be brought into this country, and, if necessary, to be detained in encampments, till the measures required for public security were completed. To this end it would be necessary for the Government to authorise the issue of visas by the British Consulates in Spain and Portugal, and to help to make ships available for transport. The tonnage required would be relatively small. At the same time, the movement from Spain and Portugal to South Africa and Palestine could be expedited, and, combined with the movement to England, would be effective to keep down the residue in Spain and Portugal and thus make practicable the further inflow of refugees. 

4. The British Dominions and Colonies:

We should be glad to know what practical measures have been proposed by His Majesty's Government in their discussions with the Governments of the British Dominions. We have been informed that shelter is available for a substantial number in Jamaica, and would ask whether that island or other of the West Indies, or other colonies such as Cyprus or Kenya, might offer a temporary asylum.

5. Switzerland and Sweden:

With regard to the admission of refugees to Switzerland, the Foreign Secretary stated to the Deputation that he was prepared to recommend to the Government that an assurance be given to the Swiss Government of some relaxation of the blockade to allow food to enter for the sustenance of the refugees.

Those who may be able to reach Sweden from Nazi-occupied territory will be fewer, but it is hoped that similar assurances may be given to the Swedish Government, and that those who can make their way by any form of transport to the United Kingdom would receive British visas.

6. Italy:

It is hoped that something can be done to rescue the Jewish refugees in Italy who are believed to be under immediate threat of deportation to the death camps of Poland. From reports received there is reason to believe that Italy would allow Jews to leave. Italy might be approached through neutral diplomatic channels, particularly the Vatican, with a proposal that these refugees should be removed to the United Kingdom and countries under British control—e.g. Palestine and Cyprus.

7. Importance of British Action:

We believe that public opinion here would welcome bold steps on the part of His Majesty's Government. We are convinced that the importance to the United Nations and neutral States of immediate action by Great Britain cannot be over-estimated, and earnestly request, therefore, that the Government should go forward resolutely with the measures mentioned.

8. Communication of Progress:

Finally, we would urge that the abundant goodwill expressed by the Government should be translated into some practical action on the lines that we have indicated, and that we may be kept informed of the progress of those measures.

We need hardly repeat that the Jewish population here, in Palestine, America, and in all free countries, is anxious to do its utmost to co-operate in any measures of succour, and is waiting expectantly to know what specific things can be done.


Yours faithfully,

S. Brodetsky
Leonard Stein


Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of The Board of Deputies of British Jews, London
RG Number RG-59.023M
Date Created
February 25, 1943
Author / Creator
Selig Brodetsky
Leonard Stein
London, United Kingdom
Reference Location
Palestine (historical)
Document Type Letter
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