Arieh J. Kochavi. Post-Holocaust Politics: Britain, the United States, and Jewish Refugees, 1945-1948. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. 377 pp. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8078-2620-1.
Reviewed by Peter Bergmann (Department of History, University of Connecticut)
Published on H-German (March, 2004)
The Displaced Person has long been lost in the No Man's Land between World War II and the onset of the Cold War. Initially viewed as a medical and police problem, the liberated continued to be penned up within their camps, complete with watchtowers and armed guards. In Fall 1945 American policy turned humanitarian, opening the camps to new persecutees and refugees from the east. While sympathetic in theory to resettlement to Palestine and elsewhere, the new regime served primarily to stabilize and humanize camp life. By Spring 1947, American policy came to view the DP as a troublesome political problem that needed to be liquidated as soon as possible. Within a few years, the DPs were gone, assimilating in new places--except for a residue of welfare cases. With their departure, a combination of German amnesia and the proclivity of Holocaust testimonials to pass over their DP experiences cast this episode into the shadows. The value of Kochavi's study lies less in the novelty of its claims as in detailing the far-flung ramifications of the Jewish refugee issue in the chaotic postwar years. The tone is one of equanimity, resting on much research, primarily in the British archives. The perspective is Israeli. The author, professor of History at the University of Haifa, is out to "explain why Britain proved unable to prevent the Jewish DP problem from becoming the most effective political weapon for the Zionists in their struggle against the British in Palestine" (p. x). Once posed in this way, the contest becomes asymmetrical. A small group of British policy makers are flummoxed by largely unnamed "Zionists" who operate in the underground, as lobbyists of American pressure groups, and as organizers of a massive flight of refugees.
An acute analysis of the troubled Labour Government's first year-and-a-half in office is at the core of the monograph. Committed to dismantling the British Empire, Prime Minister Clement Atlee and Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin were at the same time desperate to safeguard Britain's position in the Middle East. While sympathetic to Jewish claims during the war, Bevin, in particular, became exasperated that "Jews, with all their sufferings, want to get too much at the head of the queue" (p. 106). The British insisted nationality, not religion or ethnicity, dictate the status of Displaced Persons, that "everyone must go home" (that is, to their pre-war homes), and that emigration to Palestine be kept to a trickle. Each proved to be a non-starter. The Truman Administration was unwilling to force the repatriation of Jewish, Polish and Baltic DPs and disinclined to clamp down on illegal immigration to Palestine. The Soviet-backed regimes of Eastern Europe were eager to facilitate the movement westward of Jews who had fled into the Soviet interior or who had somehow survived, while Italy and France made their ports available for the illegal Mediterranean crossing.
Kochavi's conception of the "politics" in "Post-Holocaust politics" is largely international politics. He is most agile in guiding the reader from Britain to the United States, and from there to the Soviet bloc and Western Europe. At times, the narrative begins to take on the Kiplingesque air of "the great game" transposed from the Indian subcontinent to the Middle East. This time the imperialists lost heart, and not because their counter-measures proved unsuccessful. Over 70% of the illegal immigrants who set sail for Palestine were diverted to Cyprus (p. 283). It was the diplomatic and public relations war that the British lost. By the end of 1946, the Labour leaders despaired of finding a solution to Palestine that would be acceptable to the Arab countries and the Americans. They threw in the towel, ceding the question to the UN and evacuating Palestine. With its detailed examination of the British, the U.S., and the movement of Jewish DPs, it is too much to ask that this book also cover the Palestinian response and conditions. Yet all roads in this book lead to Palestine. While the positions of the Arab governments are detailed, the situation in Palestine remains sketchy.
The author is less sure-footed in traversing internal politics. He takes at face value Atlee's and Bevin's jaundiced analyses of the congressional elections of 1946 as accurate appraisals of ethnic politics in the United States. In ignoring the Germans, he cannot appreciate that American interest in rehabilitating West Germans as Cold War allies necessitated a swift and successful resettlement of the Jewish DPs. Lacking any foreign policy apparatus, the German role falls outside the focus of Kochavi's mode of analysis. The Jewish refugee is also viewed from the outside as someone in transit or stuck in traffic. The disorientation of the surviving remnant of Eastern European Jewry, at once the greatest loser of the war and yet as the liberated part and parcel of the victory, is recognized rather than addressed. Given the book's broad international sweep, this is certainly understandable, but it is at the cost of rendering the choices before the Jewish refugee indistinct. The options before a decimated Polish Jewry after its six-year torment were different from those of Budapest Jews who would seek to revive their hundred-thousand-plus community. Here, perhaps, a little more probing of the chastened, "post-Holocaust" mood might have been helpful. The discrediting of the anti-Semitic Right in Spring 1945 became a key in fashioning a new landscape for "Post-Holocaust" politics--even if the term Holocaust was not yet in use.
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Peter Bergmann. Review of Kochavi, Arieh J., Post-Holocaust Politics: Britain, the United States, and Jewish Refugees, 1945-1948.
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Copyright © 2004 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.