A 1939 leaflet gave displaced Jews unflinching advice. It contained lessons for todayby Mary Dejevsky / January 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
The smallest thing is often more instructive than the grandest gesture. The United Nations held a summit on refugees this autumn, but it left the world’s 65m-plus displaced people with little prospect of swifter resettlement. In contrast, a little booklet, now more than 70 years old, could offer-—if not an actual blueprint—some serious pointers, for smoothing the reception of today’s refugees.
Published in 1939 and entitled While you are in England (pictured right), it was put out by the philanthropic German-Jewish Aid Committee in conjunction with the Jewish Board of Deputies and addressed to the thousands of German Jews then fleeing to Britain. Its modest promise was “helpful information and guidance for every refugee,” and it provided exactly that. The booklet came to my notice as a facsimile, having been reproduced by London’s estimable Wiener Library as it publicised its National Holocaust Archive. Shame to say, it languished on my desk for weeks before something made me pick it up and read all of its 24 briskly instructive pages.
The utility of the information, the clarity of the slightly dated language—English and German—and the simplicity of the presentation make this a thoroughly practical document: the sort of primer I’d want to keep to hand, if ever—heaven forbid—I had to seek safety in a foreign land. With precise addresses and directions, and warnings about not taking English reserve the wrong way, everything is relevant.
But something else shines out from this little booklet. All the advice it dispenses comes not from the British government, but from other Jews already living a…