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Refugees and anti-fascism, 1930s-1940s

During the 1930s, increasing numbers of people came to Britain to escape persecution by the fascist regimes in mainland Europe, particularly from Germany and Austria. The documents shown here contain different views of the refugees and, in some cases, relate to the wider issue of anti-Semitism.

What will happen on July 20th?'What will happen on July 20th?', 1933

This leaflet advertised a public demonstration against Hitler and National Socialist rule in Germany by Jewish residents of London. The organisers of the demonstration, the United Jewish Protest Committee, call for all Jewish businesses to be closed, all Jewish workers to cease work, and for a mass protest march of London Jews to Hyde Park.

[Included in a file on 'Jews and the Second World War', from the archives of Aaron Rapoport Rollin; document reference: MSS.240R/3/68/4]

Sir Oswald Mosley and the JewsSir Oswald Mosley and the Jews : anti-semitism in England, 1935

In 1935 the Jewish Labour Council produced this leaflet as a response to the anti-Semitism of the British Union of Fascists and their leader Sir Oswald Mosley. It includes comment on the economic conditions for the majority of working class Jews in Britain and argues that by blaming the "foreigner" or "outsider", "this blind racial prejudice serves a special purpose for the ruling class, who use it as a means of diverting the wrath and discontent of the workers from itself against some convenient helpless minority".

[Included in a file on 'Jewish Labour Council, 1935-1961', from the archives of Aaron Rapoport Rollin; document reference: MSS.240R/3/60/1]

'They did NOT pass: 300,000 workers say NO to Mosley' - an illustrated pamphlet on the Battle of Cable Street (which prevented a march by the British Union of Fascists through London's East End), published by the Independent Labour Party in 1936, is also available online.

Refugees: is immigration an evil?'Refugees: is immigration an evil?', 1938

Circular from the National Council for Civil Liberties. It argues for a more liberal policy towards Jewish refugees seeking asylum in the UK and the British Empire. As well as humanitarian reasons, the NCCL puts forward economic arguments relating to employment, and counters racial ideas that there is such a thing as "British blood". It concludes with the appeal that "the matter is urgent for every week sees the death of thousands by suicide or by murder. Civilisation is undermined by the fact of this wholesale murder and of our own acceptance of it."

[Included in a file on 'Refugees, 1934-1938', from the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/910.41/31]

Doctors angry over competition of foreigners'Doctors angry over competition of foreigners', July 1938

These press cuttings from The Star and the Daily Herald report on the threat of the General Secretary of the Medical Practitioners' Union to call his members out on strike in protest at the entry of foreign doctors into Britain. Austrian refugees are particularly mentioned - Austria had been annexed into Nazi Germany on 12 March 1938. The Daily Herald, a newspaper co-owned by the Trades Union Congress, included an editorial which criticised the campaign, arguing that "In the last five years only 187 foreign doctors have been added to Britain's sixty thousand. No one who knows this can take seriously the present campaign against professional people coming to England from Austria. They present no serious menace. Britain is still proud to welcome the victims of persecution."

[Included in a file on 'Foreign doctors (medical refugees), 1938-1939', from the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292C/840/3]

How refugees help Lancashire'How refugees help Lancashire: new industries with secret new processes', 1939

This pamphlet reproduces an article written by a "special correspondent" of the Manchester Evening Chronicle. The author argues that "Lancashire is being repaid a thousandfold for its generosity to refugees from Nazi persecution", as German refugees were establishing new factories, and developing manfacturing processes previously unknown in Britain, in areas which had suffered high levels of unemployment during the 1930s.

[Included in the Maitland Sara Hallinan collection; document reference: MSS.15X/2/296/1]

Anti-fascist refugees interned'Anti-fascist refugees interned', 1940

In the early years of the Second World War, many Germans, Austrians, Italians and other foreign nationals living in Britain were interned in holding camps as 'enemy aliens' who, the authorities argued, posed a potential risk to national security. As well as supporters of the fascist regimes, the internees also included active opponents of Hitler and Mussolini, and refugees who had fled from persecution because of their religion or political beliefs. This leaflet, issued by the London Council for Anti-Fascist Aid, calls for the anti-fascists to be released.

[Included in a file on 'Aliens and Internment, 1940-1941', from the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/910.49/1]

Arandora Star victimsArandora Star victims, [1941?]

This typescript report was written by Louis Eleazar Gutmann-Pelangen, a Jewish anti-fascist who had left Germany in 1933 after the National Socialists gained power. He describes the eleven months that he had spent interned as an 'enemy alien' in Seaton camp (a former Warners holiday camp in Devon), mixed in with both anti-fascists and active Nazi supporters, and his experiences before the 'Aliens Tribunal' whilst he was attempting to arrange his freedom (sample questions from the Tribunal chairman: "Did not the Jews advocate the access of Hitler to power?" and "If social democrat papers were forbidden you could write for Hitler")

In June 1940 many of Gutmann-Pelangen's fellow prisoners were loaded on the former cruise ship 'Arandora Star', bound for internment camps in Canada. The ship was sunk by a German U-boat on 2 July with massive loss of life. Gutmann-Pelangen's report includes personal information about some of the anti-fascists (particularly Jews) who had sailed on the 'Arandora Star'.

[Included in a file on 'Aliens and Internment, 1940-1941', from the archives of the Trades Union Congress; document reference: MSS.292/910.49/1]

Fight race hatred in Hampstead!'Fight race hatred in Hampstead!', 1945

At the end of the Second World War, members of the Women's League of Empire circulated a petition amongst residents in the London suburb of Hampstead, calling for foreign refugees to be evicted from their homes to make room for returning British people. This leaflet by the Hampstead Branch of the Revolutionary Communist Party (a Trotskyist group) attacks the ideas behind the petition (signed by 3,000 people), arguing that scapegoating foreigners is not a solution to the housing crisis but a way of "diverting the people's anger".

[From the archives of Jimmy Deane; document reference: MSS.325/43/N45(34)]

An example of some earlier anti-foreigner tensions can be seen in issue no.2 of 'The Swiss Cottager', a 1940 bulletin issued to people taking shelter from the Blitz in Swiss Cottage Underground Station. It includes an appeal (in English and French) that "whoever you are, irrespective of your origins or antecedents, you should have a fair share, an equal share, of whatever amenities can be made available", and warns against those who have been attempting to "instil dissatisfaction where none existed".