Shapolsky Publishers, 136 W. 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011 1989 • 261 pages • $19.95 cloth
One morning last December, Hong Kong police entered a camp for Vietnamese exiles and herded 51 of them onto a chartered flight to Hanoi. The nations of the world protested this treatment, but none has offered to take in the exiles, and so the British government pledges to continue the deportation program in order to “deter” more people from leaving Vietnam.
The story is nothing new. Haft a century ago, as Jews clamored to escape Nazi persecution and Hitler threw open the gates for their exodus, the West lamented the fate of the Jews—and shut its doors tighter.
It is well known that the Nazis corralled Jews into concentration camps, where unspeakable suffering awaited them. But the “civilized” world’s role in keeping them there has been overlooked. History is written by the winners, but a history that consists of haft-truths enables us to avoid repeating only half the mistakes of the past. Here then is a most unusual work: a book by one of the winners exposing the whole, ugly truth.
Peri, himself a Jewish refugee and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Intelligence Service during World War Ii, examines the immigration policies of dozens of nations, tracing their history up to and during the war. While previous studies have focused on the policies of this or that country, Perl’s is the first to put the facts on each all in one volume and to show how together they precipitated the Holocaust.
Be ready for some shocks. Contrary to popular belief, the National Socialists did not—at least initially—intend to exterminate the Jews: They would have been perfectly happy to see them all emigrate from Germany. However, “Except for the very last years of the Nazi regime,” notes Perl, “the question was not at all how to get out, but rather where to go.”
As late as April 1944, SS leader Heinrich Himmler offered to empty the concentration camps in exchange for increasingly scarce basic goods. He proposed to barter one million Jews for two million bars of soap, 800 tons of coffee, 200 tons of tea, and 10,000 trucks which, he pledged, would not be used against the Western Allies.
The Allies rejected the offer out of hand. British authorities arrested the Jewish agent who served as go- between. “Save one million Jews?” fussily demanded the United Kingdom’s colonial secretary. “What shall we do with them? Where shall we put them?”
Canadian authorities admitted an average of 385 Jews per year from 1933 to 1945. “None is too many,” quipped one official. Lest we think that they simply didn’t want the burden of refugees, even Jews with capital to invest were rejected. As one businessman complained, “Canada should have sent trade missionaries to beg such people to come and not to wait for them to seek and beg us.”
Certainly many nations simultaneously displayed a practical indifference, even hostility, tothe worst victims of National Socialism. At the Evian Conference on refugees in 1938, diplomats took tums at bemoaning the Jews’ predicament, but only the Dominican Republic offered to let more immigrate. However, did all this amount to a “conspiracy,” as Peri charges?
We don’t need conspiracy theory to explain what happened. Domestic political dynamics suffice to explain the Western nations’ prewar and wartime immigration policies. For instance, Americans’ opposition during that period to immigration generally, and to Jews specifically, has been amply documented. In an Opinion Research survey in March 1938, 75 percent of Americans interviewed opposed admitting “a larger number of Jewish exiles from Germany.” Given the overwhelming public sentiment against immigration, it isn’t surprising that most politicians were reluctant to liberalize admission quotas, or that the efforts of those who tried went nowhere.
Despite poor editing and proofreading, The Holocaust Conspiracy is an important volume. It shows in the starkest terms what can happen when nations curtail the freedom to migrate. The answer to Perl’s anxious question, “Could it happen again?” is that it is happening now. The lesson has yet to be learned. It barely has been heard.
Jorge Amador is a free-lance columnist and editor of The Pragmatist, a current-affairs bimonthly (Box 387, Forest Grove, PA 18922-0387).