Saturday 30 January 2016

The Kindertransport Argument - hmmmmm

I've been having a slow burn on this one...Over the last few days we've been hearing a good deal of self-congratulatory stuff about 'Kindertransport'. As it's being used as an example of how good 'we' once were, by way of pleading with today's government to take in more refugees/migrants/children etc etc, I've been reluctant to make a big deal out of the self-congratulation surrounding Kindertransport. Finally I can't resist.

1. The whole matter of how the UK behaved towards people wanting to migrate out of Nazi Germany has to be seen in the light of two key things: a) there were strong legal restrictions on migrants coming to Britain. b) the British government was not anti-Nazi, not anti-Hitler, not anti-Third Reich Germany. The official position might be described as 'guarded', whilst knowing full well that Germany was rearming. Then in 1937, there seems to be general agreement that the British government gave Hitler the green light to invade Czechoslovakia. This was done in the usual British way of saying that 'we' wouldn't do anything to oppose them. It should be remembered that Nazi Germany had already suspended the constitution, it was a police state and dictatorship, political parties and press were banned, the leadership of trade unions, socialist and communist parties were in prison - well Dachau concentration camp mostly - and Jews had severe restrictions on what they were allowed to do.

2. The decision to take in 10,000 children from Nazi Germany was not something that 'our government' decided to do. It came about because a joint delegation from Quakers and a Jewish organisation went to the government and put in a request. The government then agreed to it. Of course when or if Jews say, ' was only the children. The parents weren't allowed to come' - that's thought to be churlish and ungrateful. But if you think it through, the parents were at this point a heavily discriminated against minority and once Kristallnacht had happened, they were more than 'discriminated against' - they were persecuted and under threat - not threat of genocide at this point, but severe persecution including dispossession and murders.

3. So, yes, it's fine for us to say, 'Look, in 1938, 'we' took in 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi Germany', but let's not somehow imagine that this was because this came from government, or that it was madly generous, or that it was part of an impulse that 'opposed Nazism'.