Seventy years ago this week, on December 17 1942, Sir Anthony Eden stood in Parliament and read a declaration in the name of the "United Nations" (which did not yet exist), denouncing the “bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination” of Jews in German-occupied Europe.
To mark the anniversary, the Wiener Library (the premier Holocaust-era archive in Europe), the Guardian and London University's School of Oriental and African Studies, have put together an exhibition, now on show at King's Place, the annexe to the Guardian’s offices. On Monday, a panel discussion, chaired by BBC presenter Robin Lustig, looked at the origins and lasting impact of the declaration.
SOAS academic Dr Dan Plesch said the statement said "clearly and unequivocally that the Germans said they are going to kill the Jews, they are killing the Jews, and they’re doing it in Poland.”
He explained why he felt that the declaration, despite its unflinching account of the “appalling horror and brutality” of the extermination of Jews, was not more widely known after the war. Besides post-war residual antisemitism, he said that, given that the USSR and the US were particularly instrumental in putting the statement together, publicising its existence did not fit with popular anti-Communist and anti-American discourses in post-war Britain. He also thought that the lack of attention the statement had received was part of a broader suppression of bringing war crimes to justice carried out by many countries, which continued to this day.
Professor Jean Seaton, official historian of the BBC, spoke of the anxiety of the British government to ensure that the public felt the war was about the actions of Germany, which led to reports of the Holocaust being “backfooted. There was dramatic evidence that the more the BBC talked about Jews, the more the public thought the war was [solely] about Jews,” she said.