Embroiled in a war with the Axis powers since September 1939, in 1942 Britain’s Foreign Secretary made a statement in Parliament condemning "Hitler's oft repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe".
For Anglo-Jewry it was a welcome statement at a time when reports of the extent of the Nazi genocide were beginning to emerge in the British media. Six months earlier in June 1942 the Daily Telegraph had written of the murder of 700,000 Polish Jews through methods including gas chambers.
In his address to the House of Commons, which was followed by a minute of commemorative silence, Eden also quoted a declaration from several govermnments including the USA, USSR and the Netherlands, which condemned the Nazis’ “bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination ".
Eden told the House that the Jews had been stripped of their civil rights, of the sick or injured being left to die and of entire communities being systematically deported and never heard from again. He described the “conditions of appalling horror and brutality" and added the British government’s "solemn resolution to ensure that those responsible for these crimes shall not escape retribution".
Eden, who as prime minster oversaw the disastrous joint British-Israeli Suez mission, suggested in 1944 that the purpose of his speech had been to encourage calls for the Government to do more for the victims of the Nazis, thereby shoring up support for the Allied cause.
Following his speech the Labour MP James De Rothschild thanked Mr Eden on behalf of the British Jewish community and those Jews who had escaped from the Nazis.
What the JC said:[It was] received by the entire Yishuv with feelings of deep emotion and profound gratitude…as an expression of noble sympathy which reached its climax in the memorable scene when the House of Commons rose in silence to pay tribute to the memory of the victims. At the same time, the newspapers renewed the plea to the British and the Allied Governments not to rest satisfied with expressing sympathy, but to take immediate practical steps to stay the murderers’ hand and save the remnants of the Jewish people by approaching the neutral countries for refuge for those who might still be saved.
See more from the JC archives here