Desperate telegram from Poland’s Jews to British PM Neville Chamberlain prior to outbreak of WWII found after 80 years
A 1939 document from Polish Jewish organisations to British prime minister Neville Chamberlain asking for the right to relocate to Palestine just a few months before the outbreak of WWII has been uncovered after lying forgotten for over 80 years.
The document which never received an official answer, although its dispatch was noted by the press among it the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Warsaw Office, was discovered in British files by author Steven E. Zipperstein.
Writing in the Times of Israel, Zipperstein says that on March 17th, 1939 the Jewish community in Poland, represented by the United Zionist Organization of Poland and Agudas Israel of Poland directed a plea to the British government, which at that time governed Palestine.
Alarmed by the growing anti-Semitism, German military actions in Czechoslovakia and the failed London Conference (1939) regarding the future of Palestine, they were looking for a possibility to escape from Europe and come back to their ancestral lands.
The text of the original telegram read: “In the darkest and most tragic hours of history and life of Jewry three and a half million Jews in Poland appeal to His Majesty’s Government the authority which has undertaken responsibility to create a seat in Palestine for the Jewish people to consider both the confidence which the Jewish people have placed in England and the most sacred hopes of Jewry and not to apply a policy in Palestine which throws the Jewish masses into an abyss of despair.”
The telegram was met with no response or even recorded discussion regarding its content within the government.
Zipperstein said: “The missive was discovered after 82 years in a British Colonial Office file; there is no evidence that Chamberlain or anyone in his office discussed it or, indeed, ever even saw it.”
What followed sealed the fate of the Polish Jews’ desperate plea. On May 17th, 1939 the British Government published its White Paper - a document formulating the policy towards Palestine after three years of Arab Revolts in the region.
Although the paper called for the creation of independent Palestine, it was initially rejected by both the Arab and Jewish sides.
For Arabs represented by the Arab Higher Committee, constituting the majority living in what is now Israel, the idea of joint administration and increase of Jewish migration was highly problematic, although in the end they agreed to the proposition.
The document regulated Jewish immigration to the newly formed state, imposing a maximum limit of 75,000 people for the five year period between 1939-1944 to avoid upsetting Palestinian Arabs.
European Jews whose position in Europe was precarious strongly protested against the limits. After the events of Kristallnacht on November 9-10, 1938, a pogrom in Germany during which over 90 Jews were killed, it was clear that Hitler’s intention towards them were extremely dangerous.
In the end, Chamberlain’s appeasement policy proved a failure, as did the White Paper’s immigration policy.
The appeal of the Polish Jewish organizations remained unheard and 3.5 million Jews living in Poland were subjected to the horrors of Holocaust.
Steven E. Zipperstein is author of the forthcoming book, “Law and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Trials of Palestine.”