Not the least of the advantages Adolf Hitler has enjoyed in his startling career is that his projects and ambitions are incredible. Always they staggered us by their audacity and often by their wickedness. The more prosaic among us, of whom Neville Chamberlain was typical, never succeeded in believing in them, even after they had gone a long way towards realisation. The rest of us half believe, as a child accepts a lesson learned by rote, but do we really visualise what this man is doing? Who would have believed, even two years ago, that he would challenge four-fifths of mankind to battle? And how many of us succeed even now in realising that he is engaged in exterminating the Jews of Europe, not metaphorically, not more or less, but with a literal, totalitarian completeness, as farmers try to exterminate Californian beetles?
We were slow to believe it ourselves. We passed over the early stories of wholesale massacre in Kiev and Odessa in silence: we feared that something ugly had happened, but this butchery in batches of several thousands seemed incredible. Hitler had subjected the Jews of Germany to every imaginable form of insult, robbery and oppression, but he did not slaughter them and only once, in 1938, staged a genuine pogrom - an exploit of which normal Germans were ashamed. We knew that he was clearing the whole population out of Vienna and that most German towns except Berlin, Hamburg and Frankfurt were now "clean". We did not doubt that in the process they would be robbed, and that hunger, cold, disease and ill-usage would kill off the infants, the aged and the infirm. But we supposed that some kind of slave-colony was being formed from the survivors, somewhere in Eastern Poland. Whether this was ever seriously intended we do not know. If so, in July of last year the plan was changed and Himmler gave the necessary orders for extermination on a continental scale.
If the reader asks for evidence, we respect his scepticism. Among the most mischievous things a nation can do in wartime is to blacken the enemy needlessly. In this way our future relations with an entire people, with whom we must some day live at peace, are compromised and we endanger our respect for human nature itself. Proof is necessary, before we believe that Hitler has actually done what his sadism would have always prompted him to do.
The proof begins with two of his speeches; one in February and the other in November of last year, where he textually threatened "extermination". Then comes the evidence from the varied Allied Governments. Taken as a whole it is irresistible. Everywhere, in Holland, Belgium, Czechoslovakia and France, the process of deporting Jews to Eastern Europe began in July. The plan is systematic and no attempt is made to conceal it. From Holland, 600 Jews are deported daily. From Belgium, 25,000 out of 52,000 had gone by the end of November. The process among the crushed Czechs was quicker. In France, thanks to the resistance of the people, from some generals and bishops down to the peasants, it was slower; but 10,000 had gone by September, chiefly children. What happened in Poland to West European as well as Polish Jews we know from the sober yet vivid official narrative. We do not propose to tell over again that ghastly story of the rapid, systematic cleaning of the ghettos, of the deaths in the packed cattle trucks and the final killing off of the survivors in the scientifically equipped slaughterhouses. Again, everything points to a plan imposed from the High Command of the New Order; what was done in Warsaw was also done about the same time at Vilna, Lublin and a dozen other towns. Write off, if you will, something for the exaggeration caused by horror and anger, yet we cannot in its broad outlines doubt mutually corroborative evidence which comes from so many independent quarters. The massacre began in July: it had wiped out a million Jews by October; it is, presumably, still going on. The pre-war Jewish population of Europe was about six million. It will take some time to kill them all.
What is to be done? The first vocal response of prominent Englishmen, in Parliament and elsewhere, was far from helpful. Too much was said about "retribution" and very little about rescue. The only justification for threats would be their possible deterrent effect. The real authors of this crime - and of so many more that go back to 1933 - know that they are doomed already. If the German people do not deal with Hitler and his lieutenants, the United Nations will; nor could they hope for immunity even if they were now to spare the surviving Jews. It is useless to threaten them.
We should be ashamed to array the arguments for rescue. If in front of our eyes a Jewish child came running to any of us with a Nazi butcher after him, we would fling open the doors of our homes, at any cost and at any risk. Before that test very few of us would fail. Are we simple-minded if we assume that the United Kingdom, which is merely all of us, with our native humane impulses, embodied as a Power, ought to act in the same way? The only difference is that there is much more it can do, besides opening its doors, and even this it has not done.
Of course there are difficulties: we do not need Mr Eden to tell us that. They are of two kinds, the real and the imaginary. The real difficulty, and the only difficulty, is to get as many as possible of the surviving Jews, somewhere, somehow, on to free soil, where they will be safe for a year or two. In other words, can we get them into temporary refuges? That problem we will presently consider. But thereafter, what is to be done with them?
So the pre-war conundrum is conjured up of finding somewhere in the wide world an empty country, with a tolerable climate, which will welcome them as settlers. Is it to be Palestine, Alaska, Venezuela, San Domingo or the Mountains of the Moon? Not any of these. Among other good ends that we have in view, we are fighting this war to render Europe safe for all civilised men, be they Christians or Jews. Unless these Jews can, after victory, go back in security to any land of the Continent, we shall have fought the war in vain. Where is the problem? The Dutch, the French, the Czechs will welcome the survivors back. If the Rumanians do not, they must be taught their lesson. As for the Germans, our belief is that Hitler's propaganda has infected only a minority. There is ample evidence from Jews as to the sympathy and help they have received at great risk from Germans. There is, then, no permanent problem of resettlement. The only problem is to keep alive such Jews as we can help to escape until the war is won. Call it one year or two. To organise temporary refuges up and down the world, in camps or orphanages, is a question of only money, shipping facilities and good will.
The really difficult problem is how to get the doomed Jews out of the grip of the Nazis. The best way would be to get them out by consent. This may be impossible, but with all our diplomatic resources, American as well as British, it ought to be tried. Some propose a message directly from the British Government to Berlin. That would almost certainly fail. Why should Hitler oblige us? Our alternative suggestion is for a less direct approach. We would have the British Government beg the neutral Governments (Switzerland, Sweden and Turkey) to speak to Berlin in their own names. They might offer ,with the help of the Red Cross, to collect the surviving Jews first of all on their own soil. We should undertake to bear or share the cost, and to find elsewhere (in, say, Cyprus, Palestine, North Africa, the Isle of Man and Canada) refuges in which some or all could be housed and cared for, until the end of the war. That might succeed, at least in part.
The second possibility is that some few thousand Jews may contrive by luck or bribery or the help of an underground movement to elude the Gestapo. Some have done it; there are four or five thousand in Portugal and Spain. Others could get into Turkey from the occupied Balkan countries. The Turks would receive them, if it were only a question of transit to Palestine. But the doors of the Jewish National Home are locked, and refugees who do reach it without permits or visas are mercilessly turned back. That is "a thing" to use a solemn phrase of Cromwell's, "God will requite".
The last thing we wish to do here is to discuss Zionism or any political issue. But, as everyone knows, the arrangement laid down in the White Paper of May 1939 was that 75,000 Jewish immigrants might enter Palestine in the following five years. Of these, 35,000 have been admitted. It seems that 40,000 have a right to enter in the next fifteen months. We need ask for nothing more. But since no consular machinery survives in Europe by which they can receive permits, these formalities should be waived. We know the objection. Some spies or Fifth Columnists would enter with the genuine refugees. We concede there might be a very few. Well, then, let such unauthorised arrivals be placed in the first instance under observation in camps. The responsible Jewish leaders, who have even more reason to loathe enemy agents than we have, have offered their assistance. It is intolerable that Palestine of all places should be closed, and by our act.
There remains this island of ours. It would be, at the best, very difficult for any fugitive Jew to reach it in wartime. Very few could hope for such good fortune. But if they tried to embark, say from Lisbon, it would only be to run into an impenetrable cactus hedge of prohibitions. Except for allied nationals specially asked for, the door is practically barred. That scandal Mr Morrison has yet to remove.When historians relate this story of extermination, they will find it, from first to last, all but incredible. For Hitler there is the excuse of madness. But this nation is sane.