Victor Gollancz’s attempt to stop the Holocaust

In 1943, Victor Gollancz attempted to stop the Holocaust by publishing his pamphlet "Let my people go". He describes the genocide against the Jews and encourages readers to take actions

Victor Gollancz (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
Victor Gollancz
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
Victor Gollancz was an effective and innovative publisher, a good writer and a political activist. He supported many causes. He backed democratic socialism through his Left Book Club as well as the left wing of the British Labour Party. He helped bring attention to poverty among employed and unemployed coal miners and their families by publishing George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier – a book suggested by Gollancz. He tried to end starvation in post-World War II Europe, especially in Germany, through his Save Europe Now Committee, and by writing and publishing In Darkest Germany, with photographs of starving people in the British zone of occupation. Gollancz supported loyalist Spain by, among other things, publishing Arthur Koestler’s Spanish Testament, with an introduction by the Duchess of Atholl.
Although he was involved with many causes, Gollancz did not forget about his own people. During the Second World War, he predicted that six million Jews would be murdered, and he worked very hard to save the Jews of Europe. After the Second World War he supported the establishment of a Jewish state in the Holy Land. One of the ways Gollancz attempted to save European Jewry was writing and publishing the pamphlet titled “Let My People Go.” Published in early 1943, the date of its writing was Christmas, 1942.
Near the beginning of the pamphlet Gollancz writes:
“(1) Of the six million Jews or so who were living at the outbreak of the war in what is at present Nazi-occupied Europe, a high proportion – say between one and two million – have been deliberately murdered by the Nazis and their satellites.
“(2) No discrimination has been made in favor of pregnant women, babies, children, the sick or the very old. On the contrary, discrimination, such as it is, has been in favor of men from whom an adequate last ounce can be got in German war factories.
“(3) The murders have taken the form of random shootings, mass shootings, mass electrocutions, mass poison-gassing, and transportation in conditions which inevitably involve death during the journey. This is over and above slow starvation by the allotment of hopelessly inadequate rations, or no rations at all.”
Gollancz continues:
“This policy, which has been pursued since the outbreak of the war, has been greatly speeded up during the last few months. It is now reaching its climax. Unless something effective is done, within a very few months these six million Jews will all be dead.”
Let My People Go Some practical proposals for dealing with Hitler’s Victor Gollancz MW Books 1943 32 pages; $14.99 (Original British price 3 cents)
Let My People Go Some practical proposals for dealing with Hitler’s Victor Gollancz MW Books 1943 32 pages; $14.99 (Original British price 3 cents)
Gollancz puts the summary toward the beginning of the pamphlet because people do not always read pamphlets completely. On page 9 Gollancz tells the reader activities he or she should engage in, including:
“By writing letters to your M.P. [Member of Parliament] (House of Commons, S.W.I), to the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary (Whitehall, S.W.I), and your local paper, by organizing meetings, passing resolutions – all the usual methods of democracy – urging particularly that our own regulations for the admission of refugees should be relaxed and the boldest possible measures of rescue adopted. In this way you will put to shame any doubts, if doubts there can really be, about your humanity.”
He advised his readers to engage in these activities, and give the pamphlet to another reader. Gollancz believed in the basic decency of the British people, and appealed to their Christian faith in Let My People Go.
Gollancz had an ambivalent relationship with his Judaism. According to Wikipedia, he came from a very religious Jewish family background and engaged in some Jewish religious practices. Yet he considered himself to be a “Christian Socialist.” But he vigorously worked to save his people in Europe – even suffering a breakdown over what was happening to the Jews of Europe and from exhaustion from his activities on their behalf.
Gollancz did not uniformly blame all the German people for the Holocaust. British people who acted to prevent Jews from escaping to Palestine during and before World War II by enforcing the 1939 White Paper also are to blame in Gollancz’s view. There are many other instances. Despite appeals from Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandl to bomb Auschwitz and the railroad lines and bridges leading to it, the United States and British governments refused to do so. In his February 1943 Reader’s Digest article “Remember Us,” Ben Hecht wrote about Germans, Romanians and Hungarians murdering Jews.
Let My People Go by Gollancz gives historical insight into why the Holocaust was allowed to happen, and to British reactions to the ongoing extermination, and to what very well could have been done to stop the mass slaughter of Jews and save other victims of Hitler, including Poles, Gypsies, Serbians and Catholic nuns and priests in concentration camps. It gives insights into Britain’s policy of stopping Jewish refugees from reaching their homeland during the Holocaust. Attempts to bring Britain to a more humane policy, both before and during the Second World War, and from many people both inside and outside of Britain, were perused by Lord Josiah Wedgwood, Weissmandl, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Lang, Peter Bergson, Blanche (Baffy) Dugdale and, of course, Gollancz, among others. Britain took in above 80,000 Jewish refugees before World War II.
Let My People Go was written on Christmas Day 1942. Gollancz discusses some of the rationale for not taking rescue action. For people who said that the best way to save the Jews is to win the war, Gollancz says that most of the victims will be dead by the time the war is won. British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden had confirmed the extent of the Holocaust at that time. Gollancz believed in the sincerity of Anthony Eden’s threat that the criminals carrying out the Holocaust would be punished, but that would not help the victims, who would be dead. Gollancz gave a country by country breakdown of much of what was happening. Let it not be said that what was happening was not known.
Many people in Great Britain, including members of Parliament, were concerned for the Jews of Europe during World War II. There was a rescue proposal by over 270 members of the British Parliament. This would have involved saving half a million Jews. The negotiations fell through. But it illustrates British concern. Many members of Parliament, especially Labour, opposed the British government’s White Paper policy. Britain admitted about 80,000 Jewish refugees before World War II, including children from the Kindertransports. The British Independent Labour Party (ILP) (much smaller than the British Labour Party) believed in a binational Jewish-Arab workers’ state in Palestine, as did its affiliated far-left Hashomer Hatza’ir Zionist settlement movement. Incidentally Martin Buber and Henrietta Szold also favored a binational state.
The Independent Labour Party (ILP) also wanted Palestine opened to unrestricted Jewish immigration and believed that endangered Jews in Europe should also be able to find refuge in Britain and the Dominions. George Orwell said there was much room for Jewish refugees in the Dominions, which included Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Churchill called the deportation and murder of Hungarian Jews toward the end of the Second World War the worst crime in history. Much of the above was good, but it was not enough to save most of the Jews of Europe.
As Gollancz indicated in Let My People Go, drastic measures were needed. One example would have been to bomb Auschwitz and the railroad lines leading to it. At the Eichmann trial it was brought out that Britain denied this request citing technical reasons, which were never specified. Unrestricted Jews immigration to Palestine could have saved millions before the Germans ended Jewish emigration from Germany and German-controlled lands on October 31, 1941, according to Peter Bergson, as stated in the documentary “Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die.” Opening Palestine to Jewish immigration was especially important to Gollancz, so much so that he italicized the part of the pamphlet that discusses this. There were many other ideas, both his own and those of others, that he advocated. Gollancz called for ending immigration restrictions for Jews by Britain, the Dominions, and other Allied nations.
The Polish Republic Government-in-Exile published a booklet about the mass murder of Jews in Poland, which Gollancz printed, in his pamphlet, almost in its entirety.
Let My People Go by Victor Gollancz was clear and convincing, and full of many facts and ideas. Gollancz’s appeal merits being read today by a wide audience. MW Books of Ireland is doing a great service by republishing and selling this rare historical document. It is worthwhile to buy this reprint of Gollancz’s plea to the British Government and people to save the Jews of Europe. Kenyon College’s Digital Kenyon program of old and rare documents is to be commended for putting Gollancz’s great pamphlet online.
The number of Jews murdered by the start of 1943 was higher than 2,000,000. The United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, estimates the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in the Holocaust to be more than 6,000,000.
Gollancz had an exceptionally high moral sense, which he acted on. He has helped to make our world a better one. More people like Gollancz are needed.