Close to a century later, should not Britain apologize for its share in the Shoah?

Why? You may ask.

To answer that question, a brief lesson in history is called for.

Let us rewind back to April 25, 1920. On that day, an agreement was adopted by the Supreme Council of Five during the San Remo Conference. The Mandate for Palestine which was based on this Resolution, incorporated the November 2, 1917 Balfour Declaration and the Covenant of the League of Nations’ Article 22. It charged Britain with establishing a “national Home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. The San Remo Covenant recognized the “Historical connection of the Jewish People with Palestine and…the grounds for reconstituting their national home” there.

The following are two article of the agreement, ones that pertain and are relevant to answering the titular question:

“Article 2: The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self-governing institutions, and also safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion.”

“Article 6: The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.

Clearly and plainly, the San Remo Covenant entrusted the Mandatory, the British Mandatory, with the task of establishing a Jewish Homeland in Eretz Yisrael AKA “Palestine.”

Unfortunately, quite the opposite occurred. Between 1922 and 1939, the British government, in an effort to appease the Arab population, issued “The White Papers,” aimed at curbing Jewish immigration to Eretz Yisrael. As it turned out, these papers became the death warrants to many European Jews who sought to escape Europe during those years.

Moreover, not only were Jews kept out of Eretz Yisrael, Arab settlements which, under the Mandate, should have stopped by 1922, actually grew. Arab population more than tripled during those years. That was the result of Arab immigration into Eretz Yisrael, mostly from Egypt and Syria.

Furthermore, not only did the British not adhere to their duties as outlined in the San Remo Accord, but in their ongoing pursuit of anti-Jewish policy, they ignored the laws of the British Parliament. They disregarded a law authored by then new MP Winston Churchill and passed by Parliament. The law suggested to administer the Mandate, in accordance with the San Remo agreement, and split Eretz Yisrael along the Jordan River in order to create a Jewish homeland on the West Bank and an Arab state on the East bank of it. The law further recommended to organize a population exchange, moving Arabs to the Arab State and opening all of Jewish Land west of it to Jewish settlement.  They were, likewise, in violation of that law as well.

European Jews were therefore caught between a rock and a hard place, between Hitler’s wish to remove them from Europe and the British violation of the articles of the Mandate by preventing them from entering Eretz Yisrael.

Which brings us to the question that we raised in the title of this article. Hitler never made his hatred to Jews a secret. In the early years of his rise to power, he had no plans to systematically eradicate European Jewry. His wish was to make Europe “Judenrein” (Jew clean). According to the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance Online, “While Hitler made several references to killing Jews, both in his early writings (Mein Kampf) and in various speeches during the 1930s, it is fairly certain that the Nazis had no operative plan for the systematic annihilation of the Jews before 1941.” Though thousands of Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis and their collaborators and as a result of measures introduced against them by the Third Reich leadership in its early days, ”the decision on the systematic murder of the Jews was apparently made in the late winter or the early spring of 1941 in conjunction with the decision to invade the Soviet Union.”

Furthermore, it was only at the Wannsee Conference in early 1942 that the Nazis laid out their plan for what has come to be known as “The Final Solution,” calling for the rounding up of European Jews, from German occupied areas, and sending them to extermination camps to be killed.

In other words, in the initial years of his rise to power, Hitler merely wanted the Jews out, out of Germany, out of Europe. And out of Europe were the Jews trying to get. For a persecuted Jew in those days, what could be a better destination than Eretz Yisrael? For a Jewish political refugee where would there be a better asylum to head to than Eretz Yisrael especially in light of the San Remo Covenant which recognized their rights to that land?

Just when there was still a chance, a window of opportunity to save millions of European Jews, just when there was one slight sliver of Hope in the greying skies over the world of European Jewry, the British and their White Papers policy extinguished it. Their barring entry to millions of Jewish political refugees was one of the final nails in the coffin of European Jewry.

Will they ever acknowledge their part in the Shoah? We are not holding our breath.

This article was written jointly with Roger Froikin

About the Author
Bat-Zion Susskind-Sacks is an English teacher and a pro Israel advocate. She lives in Israel and has recently published her first novel, "On A Wing From The Holy Land."