Newly-released files show UK ignored rise of anti-Semitism in Second World War

Newly-released files show UK ignored rise of anti-Semitism in Second World War

National Archive documents show British politicians blamed Jews for the rise of hatred and failed to act to stop it

Air-raid shelter in London, 1940
Air-raid shelter in London, 1940

Anti-Semitic sentiments skyrocketed in the UK during Second World War, but leaders took little action to counter it, according to documents released by Britain’s National Archives.

According to The Times, which obtained the files, British officials blamed the Jews for the problem, which manifested itself in the spread of conspiracy theories, vandalism and the distribution of anti-Semitic literature.

In a letter dated May 1943, Ministry of Information Director-General Cyril Radcliffe described how anti-Semitism had spiked across the country except in Northeastern England and Northern Ireland.

“All the others showed general agreement on the fact that from the beginning of the war there had been a considerable increase in antisemitic[sic] feeling,” he wrote. “They seemed to regard it as quite beyond argument that the increase of antisemitic feeling was caused by serious errors of conduct on the part of Jews.”

Continuing his letter, Radcliffe himself engaged in anti-Semitism, seemingly blaming the Jews for their own plight.

“I reminded them that it was part of the tragedy of the Jewish position that their peculiar qualities that one could well admire in easier times of peace, such as their commercial initiative and drive and their determination to preserve themselves as an independent community in the midst of the nations they lived in, were just the things that told against them in wartime when a nation dislikes the struggle for individual advantages and feels the need for homogeneity above everything else,” he said.

The Times recounted how many British people blamed the Jews for a March 1943 stampede at a bomb shelter that killed more than 170 people. After the incident, Radcliffe wrote that “If specific stories hostile to the Jews could be traced and pinned down as untruths, such as the recent canard of the Jews being responsible for the London shelter disaster, this should be done by countering it with the individuals who were putting it about, not by giving it general publicity.”

Despite the government’s knowledge of the problem, however, no public campaigns were run to counter anti-Semitic sentiment.

In terms of modern anti-Semitism, in July, the Community Security Trust announced that it had recorded 727 hate incidents in the first half of 2018, the second-highest six-month total on record. The report by the CST, for this year’s first six months constitutes an 8-percent drop from the corresponding period last year, CST said in the document published Thursday.

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