NIFI supporter Molly Cooper, from Rostrevor, shares with us her reflections on a Conference which sealed the fate of the Jews of Europe. And the lesson it has for us today.
This week marks the 83rd anniversary of a little-known event – a conference convened by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, at a hotel in Evian-les-Bains, in France, on Lake Geneva.
From July 6th, 1938, 15 weeks after Hitler had annexed Austria, and while thousands of Jews were lining up outside the British, American and other embassies in Vienna seeking visas to escape Hitler´s oppression, delegates from 32 nations were deliberating in Evian. Roosevelt had called the conference for the express purpose of rescuing the Jewish people out of Germany and Austria, because the League of Nations had failed to do so. George Rublee, director of the Intergovernmental Committee, proposed that one half of the nations represented at Evian should take 25,000 Jewish people each. If 16 nations had done so, every single Jewish person would have been rescued out of Germany and Austria.
After two full days arguing about who would chair the conference, The Hon. Myron C. Taylor, the American delegate, was chosen. Having thanked France for hosting the conference, he explained that while they all understood the magnitude of the problem, there was nothing the conference would be able to do. “We, the United States of America, will not take another single Jewish person beyond our present quota”. Nation after nation echoed similar statements. Only three nations did volunteer to take a small number of Jews: the Dominican Republic 500, Holland and Denmark 4,500 – a total of 5,000 Jewish people.
Hitler had spies in Evian, who reported back to him, saying, “You can do anything you want to the Jews, the whole world does not want them.” The Nazis had even forced a famous Jewish surgeon from Vienna to offer German Jews for sale to the nations, at $250 per Jew. If he did not get the money, the first 40,000 Jews would be sent to concentration camps.
The outcome is known to all of us. Hitler considered himself justified in going ahead with the Holocaust. Ships carrying Jewish refugees, that sailed after Evian, for the land of Israel and other destinations were obliged to turn back, and most of these Jews died in extermination camps.
There had been some good will in convening the Evian conference, some awareness of the danger and plight of the Jewish people. However, religious and racial prejudice and cold economic advantage ruled the day.
The world was given a terrible lesson, which we do not appear to have learned yet.
Today, 83 years later, a new Hitler in Iran is determined to wipe Israel off the map. The legitimacy of the nation of Israel, granted to the Jews in 1947, is being consistently denied by Arab states and the wider Muslim world, whose delegates make up a very large block of the U.N. Islamic extremist organisations are being legitimised by the West, and double standards are applied. How is it, for example, that the reunification of Berlin can be deemed essential, while at the same time nations are considering dividing Jerusalem? And now, the great powers cannot agree to oppose the Palestinian desire to unilaterally declare a Palestinian State next September.
What will Britain, what will Ireland, do – or fail to do – this time?
Miss Molly Cooper