Book Review: Governments in Exile and the Jews During World War II


by Jan Lanicek & James Jordan, editors

London: Vallentine Mitchell / Portland, Or.: International Specialized Book Services, 2013. Pp. viii, 270. Notes, abstracts. $84.00. ISBN: 0853038759

Governments-in-Exile and the Failure to Confront the Holocaust

Deeply embedded in the European consciousness is the notion that Jews, as a people uniquely hateful to God, should not be permitted to own land, possess weapons, or enjoy the civil rights afforded to “normal” Christian subjects. The Enlightenment and the French Revolution began to undermine such medieval ideas, but anti-Semitism revived in the 19th century along with the rise of nationalism and crackpot eugenics based on racism.

Some European societies became obsessed with the “Jewish Question” of “What are we supposed to do with these people who are so good at surviving and so resistant to assimilation?” For relatively liberal societies the answer was “tolerate them and they will gradually become like us;” for more conservative societies the answer vacillated between “encourage them to go somewhere else” and “confine them in ghettoes.” Between Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933 and the Wansee Conference (20 January 1942) the Nazis gradually formulated their Final Solution: “Kill them all.”

As the last surviving eyewitnesses to the Holocaust pass from the scene, a new generation of young European historians has emerged to study and interpret the massive documentary record. This book is a collection of essays by scholars from the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Britain, the Czech Republic, Poland, Israel, and Germany.

Conventional narratives of this tragic period have been largely concerned with assigning blame to local authorities and populations for collaborating with the Nazis, or with celebrating the handful of “rescuers” who risked their lives to help their Jewish neighbors. These essays strive for a more objective approach, seeking to understand what constraints were faced by governments-in-exile, and the limits of their knowledge.

Depending on how you count “nations”, more than a dozen nations were occupied by the Third Reich. Another half dozen other countries, allied to Germany, collaborated to varying degrees in the Final Solution, with the heroic exceptions of Finland and Bulgaria, which refused to hand over their Jews for extermination. Many of the occupied nations established Governments-in-Exile, usually in London, though the Greek exiles were based in Egypt, as Alexandria had a substantial historic Greek community.

As guests dependent on a host nation, cut off from their homelands and often unsure of their legal authority, the governments-in-exile were uniformly timid in their response to the rising tide of reports that their Jewish citizens were being rounded up, deported, and killed.

With a total population of about 35 million, Poland had 3.2 million Jews, by far the largest Jewish community in 1939 Europe. As Antony Polonsky notes, “without a widespread consensus that it was desirable to be rid of most Jews, the Nazi extermination program would have been far less successful.”

Many of the Jews living in Belgium when it was occupied in 1940 were refugees from other places. Since these people were not citizens, the Belgian government-in-exile felt no special responsibility toward them, but did make special efforts to ensure that Jews who ran the economically important diamond trade in Antwerp would return after the war.

France, as usual, was a complicated special case. General de Gaulle never once mentioned the plight of French Jews in any of his wartime broadcasts. Many right-wing Resistance personalities were reluctant to say anything, or take any action regarding the Jews because they did not want to reinforce the Nazi propaganda claim that “the Allies were fighting the war in order to save the Jews.”

The emerging historical consensus seems to be, as William Rubenstein wrote in The Myth of Rescue (1999), that “no Jew who perished during the Nazi Holocaust could have been saved by any action which the Allies could have taken at that time.”

Frankly, this was a depressing book to read. But better sad truths than happy lies.


Our Reviewer: Mike Markowitz is a D.C. based defense analyst, who writes for several defense related journals and Defense Media Network, including, The Year in Special Operations.  He is the co-designer, with John Gresham, of  Supermarina 1  and Supermarina 2 , both from Clash of Arms.  A collector and lecturer on ancient coins, he is active in the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington, DC, he is a frequent contributor to CoinWorld.  His previous reviews for StrategyPage include To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940 The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire The Age of the Dromon: The Byzantine Navy, ca. 500-1204 Military Saints in Byzantium and Rus, 900-1200Heroes and Romans in Twelfth-Century ByzantiumThe Power Game in Byzantium, Siege Warfare and Military Organization in the Successor States (400-800 AD), D-Day Encyclopedia, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army's Way of War, Loyal Sons: Jews in the German Army in the Great War , and Holocaust versus Wehrmacht: How Hitler's "Final Solution" Undermined the German War Effort


Reviewer: Mike Markowitz   

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