Eastern Europe 1939-1945: Camps

Why didn’t Britain bomb the death camps?

Extracts from a letter written by a representative of the Jewish community in Jerusalem to the British High Commissioner in Jerusalem, November 1942

Catalogue ref: FO 371/36648

Extracts from letter to British High Commissioner in Jerusalem, 1942;
FO 371/36648

Extracts from letter to British High Commissioner in Jerusalem, 1942;
FO 371/36648

Extracts from letter to British High Commissioner in Jerusalem, 1942;
FO 371/36648

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What is this source?

A Jewish leader living in Jerusalem in 1942 wrote this letter. He was writing to the British High Commissioner in Jerusalem.

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In 1942 the British ruled Jerusalem and most of the rest of the Middle East. They took over the running of the area at the end of the First World War in 1918. At this time there was no Jewish state of Israel. Jews and Arabs both lived under British rule.


What’s the background to this source?

In 1942 Hitler’s armies had carved out a huge empire in Eastern Europe. During their invasions German forces had taken a large number of European Jews prisoner. At first they were forced into ghettoes, used in slave labour or simply shot.

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From 1942 so many Jews were under Nazi control that the Nazi leaders came up with plans for a ‘Final Solution’. This involved building camps that were used to execute millions of Jews and other groups the Nazis regarded as inferior.


It’s worth knowing that...

Many Jews tried to escape the Nazis, and many non-Jews helped them. As a result there was a constant stream of information coming back to Allied commanders and Jewish communities about what was happening in Eastern Europe.

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The rest of this particular letter requested that the British government should take three actions:

  • Increase supplies of food and medical aid
  • Allow Jewish refugees to settle in British territories
  • Set up a council to represent Jews since there was no Jewish state to represent them

How does this source help us to understand Allied policy toward the camps?

  1. What does the writer mean by 'vast European prison'?
  2. Do you get the impression that this source is exaggerated or unreliable in any way?
  3. According to this letter, what is happening in Eastern Europe to Jews?
  4. If events like this took place today, how would they be reported in the media?
  5. Can you use this source to support any part of your presentation?

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