Memo Regarding Discussions at the Bermuda Conference

(April 20, 1943)


On April 19, 1943, a conference between British and American officials was convened in Bermuda to discuss the “political refugee problem.” This was the only attempt made during the Holocaust to address the annihilation of European Jewry. As the American Jewish leaders had expected, the conference ended with no firm decisions regarding rescue actions.


CONFIDENTIAL MEMORANDUM FOR THE CHAIRMAN:

Mr. Law of the British Delegation presided over the Conference and began by saying that he thought it would be well to start by attempting to define the problem. He added that there are many exaggerated ideas about what can be done to solve the refugee problem. These comprise the suggestions that the United Nations make a deal with Hitler thereby he would be willing to release the Jews and other refugees in Germany and other occupied countries; we exchange Nazi prisoners and other persons in Allied hands for refugees; and

3. we send in food through the blockade to feed the peoples in Europe.

He added that it seemed to the British Delegation that all of these are fantastic proposals on which we could not embark without jeopardizing the course of the war.

Mr. Law continued to say that there are 15,000 or 20,000 refugees in Spain, about one half of which are Jews and one half non-Jews. There are also children that we are trying to get out of the Blakans, as well as Persian and Greek refugees in Cyprus. He added that there was also the question of the neutral countries - Switzerland, Spain and Sweden - where it is almost impossible for refugees to enter because of Nazi restrictions.

He continued to say that in the view of the British Delegation, it would be profitable to define the problem in these limited terms and forget the solutions proposed above, as they are clearly impossible; he concluded by suggesting that the Conference approach the problem in these limited terms.

There was some discussion about the possibility of Portugal entering the picture as one of the neutral countires to which refugees might be admitted.

Dr. Dodds suggested that the Conference take up the three extreme proposals one by one.

The proposal that the United Nations make a deal with Hitler was opened for discussion.

Mr. Law stated that since the British Delegation firmly believes that the Nazis would agree only to something that would be directly advantageous to them, this proposal was clearly not practicable. In the course of further discussion, Mr. Law explained that England thought the most favorable thing that could happen upon opening negotiations with Hitler would be his outright refusal of any porposal made by the United Nations. He added that if Hitler accepted a proposal to release perhaps millions of unwanted persons, we might find ourselves in a very difficult position. For one thing, Hitler might send a large number of select agents, which he would advise us to take into our own countries. On the other hand, he might say, “All right, take a million or two.” Then, because of the shipping difficulties, we would be made to look exceedingly foolish.

Mr. Bloom then expressed the thought that we should at least negotiate and see what could be done. Dr. Dodds expressed the opinion that we should not attempt to negotiate with enemy countries. At this point, a rather extended argument developed.

10, Downing Street
Whitehall

Foreign Secretary

This requires careful handling. It is quite possible that rich Jews will pay large sums of money to escape being murdered by the Huns. It is tiresome that this money should get into the hands of the E.A., but why on earth we shoud go and argue with the United States about it, I cannot conceive. Who is Hamilton and who is Hoxley? We would be taking great responsibility if we prevented the escape of Jews, even if they should be rich Jews. I know that it is the modern view that all rich people should be put to death wherever found, but is a pity that we should take up this attitude at the present time. After all, they have no doubt paid for their liberation so high that they are poor Jews now and, therefore, have the ordinary rights of human beings.


Source: Yad Vashem