Eleanor writing on the refugee issue in 1939

Extract from The New Statesman and Nation, 15 April 1939, 568-9

‘…The refugee question has been raised several times recently in Parliament. The Minister replying may be the Prime Minister, or the Home Secretary or Lord Winterton as Chairman of the Evian  Committee. But the purport and the words of the replies vary little. There are always to begin with an acknowledgement of the terrible nature of the problem and expressions of sympathy with the victims. Then comes a tribute to the work of the voluntary organisations. Then some account of the small leisurely steps taken by the Government. Next, a recital of the obstacles – fear of anti-semitism, or the jealousy of the unemployed, or of encouraging other nations to offload their Jews on to us…..No sane person advocates unrestricted and unregulated emigration which might bring in hundreds of unmanageable hordes, perhaps including many spies. What is needed is reasonably generous admission of those known to be in serious danger, for safe-keeping under supervision….

The responsibility (for refugee policy) rests primarily on the Cabinet as a whole, secondly upon the ministers, and thirdly upon ourselves, if we do not as individual citizens exert every means we possess of influencing Government to change its policy. A Cabinet is a collective entity, and such an entity has proverbially neither a body to be kicked nor a soul to be damned. Yet sometimes as I gaze across the House at the serried row of rather uninspiring personalities upon the Treasury Bench, I am tempted to wish that they had indeed a collective soul, which could be condemned to spend eternity in seeing and feeling the torments which their policy has caused others to continue enduring, whilst their soul reposed blissfully in some insipid Paradise, listening to music played upon antiquated instruments.’ 
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One response to “Eleanor writing on the refugee issue in 1939

  1. Pingback: Eleanor writing on the refugee issue in 1939 | Remembering Eleanor Rathbone

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