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Between 1933 and 1940, Manchester received between seven and eight thousand refugees from Fascist Europe. They included Jewish academics expelled from universities in Germany, Austria, Spain and Italy. Around two hundred were children from the Basque country of Spain evacuated to Britain on a temporary basis in 1937 as the fighting of the Spanish Civil War neared their home towns. Most were refugees fleeing Nazi persecution in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. As much as 95% of the refugees from Nazism were Jews threatened by the increasingly violent anti-Semitism of the Nazi regime. The rest were Communists, Social Democrats, Pacifists, Liberals, Confessional Christians and Sudeten Germans. There have been several valuable studies of the response of the British government to the refugee crisis. This study seeks to assess the responses in one city—Manchester—which had long cultivated an image of itself as a ‘liberal city’. Using documentary and oral sources, including interviews with Manchester refugees, it explores the work of those sectors of local society that took part in the work of rescue: Jewish communal organisations, the Society of Friends, the Rotarians, the University of Manchester, secondary schools in and around Manchester, pacifist bodies, the Roman Catholic Church and industrialists from the Manchester region. The book considers the reasons for their choices to help to assesses their degree of success and the forces which limited their effectiveness.
This chapter notes the need to restore a sense of balance to Manchester's role in refugee history: to assess the degree to which the people and institutions of a supposedly liberal British city like Manchester actually reached beyond everyday concerns to help the victims of European Fascism find a haven of safety. It throws questions around the view of Manchester as a ‘liberal city’. It asks what it was about those who did reach out which caused them to do so; which differentiated them from an indifferent majority. In Holocaust history, the Manchester population might have been designated ‘bystanders’ to the unfolding tragedy wished by the Nazis upon those judged to have been unworthy of membership of the Third Reich.
Refugee academics and industrialists, trainees supported by Isidore Apfelbaum's ‘private’ operation, German domestic servants placed by the Ladies Lodge of B'nai Brith, the two or three foreign students accepted by the Yeshiva, the two German ‘refugee’ rabbis and the handful of pacifists and Jewish ‘Friends of Friend’ supported by the Quakers represented the only known refugees from Nazism to have arrived in Manchester before November 1938. In spite of an escalating ‘war against the Jews’, many had delayed their departure in the belief that the Hitler regime would be as short-lived as its predecessors or, at any rate, that his anti-Semitism had been no more than a device for the achievement of power.
J'accuse gave a special place to Jewish academics, highlighting their contributions to German science and culture and depicting their harassment and dismissal as the most evident indication of Germany's return to barbarism. They were noted too as one of several ways in which Britain might benefit from German obscurantism. In assessing the response of the University of Manchester to refugee scholars, it is difficult to avoid the benefit of hindsight. From that perspective, the offer of thirty-three temporary academic posts between 1933 and 1939 seems less than generous. Manchester stood fourth to Oxford, Cambridge and the LSE, although a rather distant fourth in the case of Oxbridge, in the league of British universities which received displaced scholars. Still, there can be no doubting the gains made by Manchester's programmes of rescue for the academic and business communities of Britain, Europe, the United States and Israel.
In September 1967, Dr Heinz Kroch, the German-Jewish refugee from Berlin who thirty years earlier had founded the Lankro Chemical Company in Eccles, was presented by the Mayor of Eccles with a casket and scroll to honour his admission to the Roll of Freemen of the Borough. The whole episode may perhaps be seen as a continuance of those ritual exchanges, engineered on both sides, which, from the mid-nineteenth century, sought to define the relationship between Manchester Jewry and the civic authorities of the locality. In 1967 Eccles, a time and a place troubled by newer waves of immigration, the corporation and the refugee were effectively laying claim to a heritage of reciprocity. For its humanity, the town had been rewarded by the contributions of the stranger; by his contributions, the stranger had confirmed his right to be British; a Jewish German had become an Eccles cake.
In earlier years, the problem for the Quakers was that of reconciling their objective of international harmony with the rescue of Jews from Germany, one of the chief national fields of their welfare services and missionary endeavour. In their eyes, too, the rise of Nazism, and the economic crisis and sense of national humiliation which had helped bring it about, were largely a consequence of Britain's treatment of Germany at the Versailles conference. Germany's reaction to this treatment, even if part of that reaction was an unacceptable anti-Semitism, was a natural consequence. The Manchester Quakers sought to retain a friendly relationship with Germany, including an annual exchange of students, until the outbreak of war. While the London Quakers were prepared from 1933 to lend organised support to refugees seeking a way out, their Manchester co-religionists were reluctant to follow suit.
In applying immigration law, the British government made the occasional concession and its agents at the ports of entry their occasional mistake. The British public had apparently become persuaded by 1937 that the regulations contained in the Alien Acts represented a valid and minimal defence of the ‘national interest’. The temporary and conditional admission of the Basque children suggests the very limited impact which even as potentially explosive a mix of international events, popular sentiment and voluntary action, such as that which came to exist in the spring of 1937, might exert on public as well as governmental perceptions of the national interest. It seems clear from the imagery and language surrounding discussions of the Basque children that notions of Britain's humanitarian tradition floated freely within the whole of Britain's political spectrum.
The decisive factor which drew provincial communities into the more systematic rescue of refugees was the escalating number of those seeking entry to Britain following the Anschluss (March 1938), the German occupation of the Sudetenland (October 1938), the Kristallnacht pogrom (9 November 1938), the British government's decision to facilitate the entry of unaccompanied children on the Kindertransport (21 November 1938) and the German annexation of Bohemia and Moravia (March 1939). As the sources of emigration multiplied and the Jews of Germany became finally convinced of the permanence of the Nazi regime and the centrality of its anti-Semitic intentions, Britain received around 70,000 refugees, of whom a little over one-tenth reached Manchester. As the number of refugees swelled, the London agencies of support, Quaker and Jewish, in danger of being overwhelmed by the case work and financial commitment involved, applied increasing pressure on provincial centres to share the load.
In the face of an increasing number of refugees reaching Manchester, the Quaker ISC could not justify any more than the Jewish community, what was at best a haphazard response to their needs. On 20 October 1938, the ISC declared itself ‘seriously concerned with the need to help the increasing number of refugees in this country’. The sense of a ‘refugee crisis’ had been developing since the Anschluss in March 1938. The most likely explanation, as it had been earlier in the case of the Jewish response, was pressure exerted from London. In the European capitals from which Kindertransports set out, Quakers helped families find places for their children, took part in organisational work, saw off children whose parents were barred from platforms, accompanied transports to Harwich, and arranged for the children to be met and befriended in London and Manchester.
In taking responsibility for refugees from Czechoslovakia, the Quakers were brought into contact with political refugees, Communists and Social Democrats, brought to Britain by the Czech Refugee Trust Fund. Some of them were experienced members of the German KPD who, following the emergence of the Nazi regime, had taken refuge in Prague. Some had been sent on what turned out to be unproductive missions to Germany for just this purpose. Arriving in Britain in 1938, their political skills enabled them to re-group and to work for the rescue of their comrades still trapped in Czechoslovakia. One such group of KPD members, helped by the Quakers, found its way to Manchester, where it sought to provide their comrades with a means of escape. In doing so, they concealed their Communist identities in the hope of enlisting the support of the Quakers and of influential Manchester liberals.