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European refugees and fascism, 1933-1945

Internment camp

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 identified here contain different views of the refugees and, in some cases, relate to the wider issue of anti-Semitism.

= This symbol after a link means that it links to catalogue descriptions of the documents (including the reference numbers which will help you to order up the original documents at the MRC).

= This symbol after a link means that it links to digitised copies of the documents.


Collections held at the Modern Records Centre include a large amount of material about refugees during the 1930s and 1940s - ranging from administrative documents about the reception and maintenance of refugees to opinion pieces on the pros and cons of immigration. Examples of some of these sources are given below, you may be able to find more material by searching our online catalogue for keywords such as 'refugee*'Link opens in a new window and 'alien*'Link opens in a new window (the asterisk at the end of the search terms mean that the search will pick up, for example, both 'refugee' and 'refugees')

Selected sources:

Sources on refugees in the Trades Union Congress archives, 1933-1945

The TUC archives contain a large amount of information on refugees from mainland Europe between 1933-1945. The main sequence on refugeesLink opens in a new window includes files on the Co-ordinating Committee for Refugees, 1938-1940, Central Committee for Refugees, 1940-1949, Refugees Co-ordinating Committee, 1938-1940, and internment of "aliens" between 1940-1943. These files include administrative material produced by these organisations, including minutes, reports and memoranda, as well as documents written by the TUC itself. The collection also includes files relating to refugees from specific countries (including Germany, 1933-1938Link opens in a new window, Czechoslovakia, 1938-1940Link opens in a new window, Poland, 1939-1944Link opens in a new window and Spain, 1938-1943Link opens in a new window), Jewish refugees (in files on the "Jewish problem"Link opens in a new window), and material relating to the employment of refugees as domestic servants (in a series relating to the National Union of Domestic ServantsLink opens in a new window).

'What will happen on July 20th?'Link opens in a new window, 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.

'Sir Oswald Mosley and the Jews: anti-semitism in England'Link opens in a new window, 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 comments on the use of anti-immigrant rhetoric at times of economic hardship.

"Aliens"Link opens in a new window, 1935-1947

Statistical data about immigration is included in government returns relating to the Aliens Order and naturalisation of "aliens" (this can include information about the countries of origin of the immigrants). Returns for several dates between 1935 and 1947 are included in the archives of the Transport and General Workers' Union.

'Refugees: is immigration an evil?'Link opens in a new window, 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".

'Doctors angry over competition of foreigners'Link opens in a new window, July 1938

Press cuttings from The Star and the Daily Herald reporting 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).

Refugee doctors at Leamington SpaLink opens in a new window, 1939

Article from 'Medical World', the journal of the Medical Practitioners' Union. It calls for a boycott of the Spa after the Pump Room Committee chose to hire two refugee doctors. The article complains about the competition to local British-born practitioners and counters the suggestion that the refugees would have been in danger in Nazi Germany, arguing that if they were "unacceptable to the authorities of their own country" they would have been "in concentration camps already". This document has been made available as a pdf, please contact us if you are unable to access this format.

Between 1938-1945 'Medical World' published various editorials and articles attacking "alien" doctors and immigration (our online catalogueLink opens in a new window includes information about the articles in each volume). Several articles in 1945 prompted debate through the journal's correspondence pages - an editorial of 29 June 1945 which contained an appeal to 'Send home the alien doctors' (including a complaint about British medical students going to help in liberated German concentration camps) and an editorial of 13 July 1945, written in response to news about conditions found in the liberated concentration camps and the consequences of the Holocaust.

'How refugees help Lancashire: new industries with secret new processes'Link opens in a new window, 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.

'Anti-fascist refugees interned'Link opens in a new window, 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.

Almanac, Hutchinson Internment Camp, Douglas, Isle of ManLink opens in a new window, 1941

Almanac produced by inmates of Hutchinson Internment Camp, Douglas, Isle of Man (including Jewish and other anti-fascist refugees). The almanac includes drawings and stories about camp life and the thoughts of inmates on their internment, as well as more general articles and illustrations.

Arandora Star victimsLink opens in a new window, [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.

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'.

'The refugees and industry'Link opens in a new window, July 1941

Illustrated pamphlet published by the Christian Council for Refugees from Germany and Central Europe. It promotes some of the economic benefits of taking in political refugees by focusing on industrial enterprises founded by recent arrivals fleeing "Nazi racial and political persecution".

'The refugees: Some facts and figures'Link opens in a new window, Apr 1945

Leaflet published by Woburn Press, London. It focuses on refugees from Nazi occupied Europe (particularly Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria), and includes information on their identity and number, contribution to the war effort and economic life, and the quantity who are likely to remain after the war.

'Fight race hatred in Hampstead!'Link opens in a new window, 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).