1938 The Evian Conference

By 1938 the position of the Jews in Europe was desperate. The Nuremberg racial laws had been enacted in 1935, and concentration camps were in operation. Germany would let the Jews leave, but no country would grant sufficient entry visas, and they remained trapped. At the Conference on Refugees held by the International Red Cross at the resort town of Evian in France, the participants refused to make any substantial increase in their strict immigration quotas.

1939 The London Conference and the White Paper
In January 1939 a conference between the British Government and Jewish and Arab representatives took place in London. The Arabs demanded an immediate end to Jewish immigration and land acquisition.The Jews of Germany sent a message stating that their situation was one of life or death, that it was inconceivable that Britain should sacrifice them.The outcome of the conference was the 1939 White Paper. This provided for strict limitations on Jewish land ownership, that during the next five years no more than 75,000 immigrants would be permitted, and that after that period no further Jewish immigration should be allowed unless the Arabs of Palestine were ‘prepared to acquiesce in it’.The Arabs rejected the White Paper on the ground that it continued to permit Jewish immigration and settlement. When the world war broke out, the Jews of Palestine adopted the slogan: “We shall fight the Germans as if there were no White Paper, and we shall fight the White Paper as if there were no Germans.”

1939-1945 The Nazi Holocaust

Six million Jews were exterminated in Europe in conditions of calculated atrocity unique and unprecedented in world history. The world’s conception of the nature of human civilization will never be the same. The perpetrators of the mass-produced sadism of the Holocaust were, after all, products of one of the most highly cultured and technically advanced societies ever known. For many Jews one lesson was clear: in times of severe crisis in any country, no outsider is safe. In the last resort the survival of any people with a separate identity depends on the existence of national territory and a capacity for self-defence.

During the war “illegal” refugees on unseaworthy chartered boats struggled to escape. Some were intercepted by the British and interned in Mauritius or returned to Europe. In a typical case in1941 the Struma, a small ship of 180 tons, docked at Constantinople for repairs with 769 refugees from Romania on board. The British refused permission to proceed to Palestine, the Turkish government ordered the ship to leave Turkey, and it sank almost immediately with the loss of all passengers.

The Muslim Grand Mufti in Berlin with Hitler, 1941

Record of the conversation between Adolf Hitler and
the Mufti of Jerusalem on November 28, 1941, in the
presence of Reich Foreign Minister Groppa, in Berlin.

Memorandum by an Official of the Foreign Minister’s Secretariat

Füh. 57a. g Rs. BERLIN, November 30, 1941.

Record of the conversation between the Fuhrer and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem on november 28, 1941. In the presence of reich foreign minister and minister Grobba in Berlin.

“The Mufti began by thanking the FÜHRER for the great honour he had bestowed by receiving him. He wished to seize the opportunity to convey to the Fuhrer of the Greater German Reich, admired by the entire Arab world, his thanks for the sympathy which he had always shown for the Arab and especially the Palestinian cause…

In the struggle, the Arabs were striving for the independence and unity of Palestine, Syria, and Iraq. They had the fullest confidence in the Fuhrer and looked to his hand for the balm on their wounds which had been inflicted upon them by the enemies of Germany.

The Mufti then mentioned the letter he had received from Germany, which stated that Germany was holding no Arab territories and understood and recognized the aspirations to independence and freedom of the Arabs, just as she supported the elimination of the Jewish national home…

The Fuhrer then made the following statement to the Mufti, enjoining him to lock it in the uttermost depths of his heart:

1. He (the Fuhrer) would carry on the battle to the total destruction of the Judeo-Communist empire in Europe.

2. At some moment which was impossible to set exactly today but which in any event was not distant, the German armies would in the course of this struggle reach the southern exit from Caucasia.

3. As soon as this had happened, the Fuhrer would on his own give the Arab world the assurance that its hour of liberation had arrived. Germany’s objective would then be solely the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere under the protection of British power. In that hour the Mufti would be the most authoritative spokesman for the Arab world. It would then be his task to set off the Arab operations which he had secretly prepared. When that time had come, Germany could also be indifferent to French reaction to such a declaration.”

Source: Germany. Auswärtiges Amt. Title: Documents on German foreign policy, 1918-1945, from the archives of the German Foreign Ministry. Akten zur deutschen auswärtigen Politik. English Publisher: Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1949.

1945-1947 The Post-War Immigration Crisis and the Jewish Revolt
After the war, some 230,000 Jewish refugees and concentration camp survivors were held as Displaced Persons in camps in Europe. No country would allow unrestricted immigration and the surviving Jews demanded the right to migrate to Palestine.

Meanwhile Britain was anxious to protect its Middle East interests. Under Ernest Bevin, Foreign Secretary in the Labour Government, the White Paper policy of severe restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine was continued. “Illegal immigration” by desperate survivors increased in scale, and those who were unsuccessful in avoiding the British Navy were put into camps in Cyprus.

In 1946 a joint Anglo-American Committee was formed to investigate the emergency situation in Europe. The committee concluded that no country other than Palestine was ready or willing to help find homes for Jews wishing to leave Europe, but Palestine alone could not solve their emigration needs.


It therefore recommended that 100,000 certificates for immigration to Palestine be issued immediately and that the US and British governments try to find new places for the Displaced Persons, in addition to Palestine. Future immigration to Palestine should be regulated by the Mandatory administration, and the land transfer regulations of 1940, which strictly limited the sale of land to Jews, should be annulled.

The Jewish Agency accepted the committee’s recommendations; the Arabs rejected them, and US President Harry Truman regarded them favourably. British Prime Minister Clement Atlee eventually made any provision of 100,000 immigration certificates contingent on the acceptance by the Jewish Agency of the “Morrison Report” which proposed the division of Palestine into three sections, British, Arab and Jewish, with the Jewish section comprising 17% of the territory, and with strict limitations on future Jewish immigration.


Thousands of British troops were shipped to Palestine to meet the growing Jewish resistance. Various groups opposed the British. The Haganah (“Defence”) – the underground military force of the Jewish Agency, had been formed for the purpose of defending the Jewish population against Arab attacks.2 The Irgun Z’vai Le’umi (“National Military Organisation”) was the military force of the nationalist “Revisionist” party3, and the smallest and most extreme was Lehi, described by the British as the “Stern Gang” after its leader.
After the effective British rejection of the proposals of the Anglo-American committee, the military groups agreed on a united Jewish resistance movement. In June 1946 strategic road and rail bridges were blown up by the Haganah, and the British responded with curfews and searches and some three thousand arrests.The discovery of arms was punished with flogging and the Irgun responded by flogging British soldiers.

The Haganah decided to concentrate on “illegal” immigration, in order to avoid escalating the conflict, while the Irgun continued to strike British installations.Matters came to a head with the bombing by the Irgun of the British Army Headquarters at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, resulting in British, Arab and Jewish casualties. The Irgun claimed that the building had not been evacuated despite clear telephone warnings before the event. The Jewish population was deeply shocked and the Haganah ended its co-operation with the Irgun.Leaders of the Irgun and Lehi were arrested. Some were imprisoned, some deported and some hanged. In retaliation five British sergeants were kidnapped by the Irgun and hanged. The fundamental differences in policy between the Jewish Agency, which hoped to negotiate a compromise solution with the British, and the Irgun, which urged full-scale warfare, culminated in the Haganah actually sinking the Altalena, a ship bringing arms to the Irgun.

Britain decides to end the Mandate
In January 1947, Britain decided to return the issue to the United Nations. On May 15, 1947, the UN resolved to establish UNSCOP, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, which eventually recommended partition.

See also Golda Meir for futher detail

[1] The Australian representative, Colonel T. White, expressed his government’s view in these words:
“As we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one.”
In the event, Australia did agree to the entry of 9,000 refugees over a period of three years, which at the time was regarded as a substantial number.

[2] “Defence”; the underground military organization of the Jewish Agency, which after independence became the regular army of the State of Israel.

[3]” Irgun Z’vai Le’umi”- “National Military Organisation”, the military arm of the Revisionist party, now part of the Likud.