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The Jews of Britain, 1656 to 2000$

Todd Endelman

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780520227194

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520227194.001.0001

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The Great War to the Holocaust (1914–1945)

The Great War to the Holocaust (1914–1945)

(p.183) Chapter 5 The Great War to the Holocaust (1914–1945)
The Jews of Britain, 1656 to 2000

Todd M. Endelman

University of California Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter describes the experience of the Anglo-Jewry from the time of World War I to the Holocaust. Although British Jews escaped the death and destruction that swept over continental Jewish communities, they were not spared their repercussions and consequences. Communal leaders and organizations were forced to confront a host of novel problems. The persistence of anti-Semitism heightened the unease of communal leaders and thus inhibited their defense of Jewish interests. For fear of being accused of championing Jewish over English interests, they were cautious in challenging wartime policies that discriminated against Jews or that ignored their suffering.

Keywords:   Anglo-Jewry, World War I, Holocaust, British Jews, anti-Semitism, communal leaders

The outbreak of World War I ushered in four decades of unparalleled horror in European history. Although British Jews escaped the death and destruction that swept over continental Jewish communities, they were not spared their repercussions and consequences. The collapse of the Russian, German, Austrian, and Turkish empires in the wake of World War I and the rise and fall of Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s forced communal leaders and organizations to confront a host of novel problems. While earlier crises abroad, such as the Damascus blood libel of 1840 and the Russian pogroms of 1881, had also sparked concern, the upheavals of the twentieth century were unprecedented in scope, complexity, and urgency. The challenges they posed taxed and then outstripped Anglo-Jewish resources and forced a rethinking of Anglo-Jewish understandings of emancipation and Jewishness. These upheavals also set in motion a train of unanticipated changes that rearranged the domestic landscape of British Jewry. Anglo-Jewish identities acquired a nationalist dimension. The old notable families disappeared from the communal scene, leaving governance in the hands of new men of East European background. With the exit of the old guard, the tolerant, latitudinarian Orthodoxy that had emerged in the Victorian period yielded to a more strident, sectarian traditionalism.

When Britain went to war in 1914, acculturated, middle-class Jews responded to the call to arms with enthusiasm. In sermons, editorials, and public statements, rabbis and notables beat the drum, identifying the British national cause with Jewish ideals. Their patriotism was genuine, unambiguous, and deeply felt, but it was also true that the war (p.184) offered them a welcome opportunity to disprove the charges of disloyalty, cowardice, and unmanliness that were the stock-in-trade of anti-semites. In August 1914, with hostilities looming, the Jewish Chronicle, which had urged neutrality as late as July, declared: “England has been all she could be to Jews, Jews will be all they can be to England.” Before the introduction of conscription in 1916, most young men (perhaps 90 percent) from native families volunteered. Almost to a man, past and present military-age members of the Jewish houses at the public schools of Clifton and Cheltenham took a commission. This outpouring of patriotism, moreover, was not confined to the privileged strata: close to ten thousand men were on active service before conscription came into force.1

Behind the patriotism of middle-class Jews, however, lurked concern and unease: wartime Germanophobia and renewed xenophobia nourished old hostilities, which, it was feared, would end in antisemitic violence.2 Much of the native community traced its roots to German lands, bore German names, and continued to maintain familial and business links with Germany long after emigration. Because of these links and because of their hatred of the tsarist regime and its antisemitic policies, leading Jews, including the first Lord Rothschild and the journalist Lucien Wolf (1857–1930), had been vocal opponents of entente with Russia and war with Germany, refusing to succumb to jingoistic German-bashing. Once war was declared, of course, their pro-German or neutralist sentiments evaporated, but the damage was done. Jew-baiting journalists like Leo Maxse and W. T. Steed charged that Jews supported German interests, while even less hostile writers conflated Jews and Germans on occasion. Unnaturalized Jews born in enemy countries, including Polish Jews from Austrian-controlled Galicia, were interned, along with other enemy aliens. Fearful of being accused of disloyalty, the Board of Deputies refused to assist them or plead their case, although urged to do so by the B’nai B’rith and the friendly societies, which represented a broader spectrum of communal opinion. Numerous families of German origin legally changed their names to escape identification with the enemy: Ansbachers became Ansleys; Auerbachs, Arbours; Hallensteins, Halsteds; Meyers, Merricks; Rothensteins, Rutherstons; Schlosses, Castles; Waldsteins, Walstons; and so on. When a German submarine sank the Lusitania in May 1915, Hun-bashing reached a new pitch. East Londoners rioted for three days, smashing and robbing German- and Austrian-owned shops, often making no distinction between enemy aliens and other foreigners. In response to the (p.185) anti-German hysteria that followed the sinking, prominent German-born Jews, like the laryngologist Sir Felix Semon (1849–1921) and the financier Sir Ernest Cassel, joined other German-born citizens in writing “loyalty letters” to The Times to affirm their allegiance to Britain.

As the war dragged on, the issue of Jewish military service—were Jews “slackers,” evading their country’s call?—became explosive. While well-established, anglicized families sent their sons to war with enthusiasm, immigrant families did not. In the Jewish East End and its provincial counterparts, few were eager to sacrifice themselves or their children in a war in which, in their view, Jews had no stake, a war, moreover, in support of the hated tsarist regime many of them had fled. During the period of voluntary enlistment, few immigrants joined up. The introduction of conscription (for unmarried men in January 1916 and for all men in April 1916) swept up the British-born sons of immigrants but not men of military age (18 to 41) who were born in the Russian Empire. As friendly aliens, they were exempt from conscription. The twenty-five to thirty thousand men who fell into this category were the only group of able-bodied men escaping military service. Their presence attracted scathing comments, which, old-line communal leaders believed, further fed the fires of antisemitism. In summer 1916, with few friendly aliens having volunteered, Home Secretary Herbert Samuel, himself a member of the communal oligarchy, announced that aliens who did not serve would be deported to Russia. To encourage their enlistment, a special recruiting office was opened at the headquarters of the Rothschild bank in the City of London, less than a mile from Whitechapel, but the results of this and other efforts, like recruiting posters in Yiddish, were disappointing. Samuel’s announcement, moreover, sparked political resistance in the East End. Challenging the claim of the old anglicized elite to speak for the community as a whole, Jewish socialist groups, trade union branches, and friendly societies banded together to form the Foreign Jews Protection Committee. With substantial immigrant support and backing from a handful of well-known gadflies, like Israel Zangwill and the Sephardi haham Moses Gaster (1856–1939), it organized petitions, deputations, and mass meetings to protest repatriation. The government put off action from month to month but, after the Russian Revolution, pushed through legislation that eventually sent a few thousand Jews back to Russia. These moves, however, did little to dampen the popular belief that Jews were shirkers, stealing the jobs of brave British soldiers and growing rich to boot. In June 1917, a crowd of several thousand wrecked houses and looted shops in the Jewish quarter (p.186) in Leeds, while onlookers stood by and made no effort to intervene; in September, two to three thousand Jews and Gentiles, wielding wood logs, iron bars, and flat irons, fought a pitched battle in Bethnal Green.3

There can be little doubt that Jewish status suffered during the war years, chiefly because of the controversy over alien conscription.4 But at the same time, by dealing a fatal blow to the Turkish empire in the Middle East, the war itself advanced the fortunes of Jewish nationalism, linking them (for better or worse) to British foreign policy while propelling the Zionist movement from the periphery to the center of communal politics. Before the war, the Zionist movement in Britain was weak and uninfluential, despite long-standing Anglo-Jewish and Anglo-Christian interest in the Land of Israel. Christian interest was rooted in evangelical, millenarian dreams of Jewish restoration (and conversion) as a precursor to or accompaniment of the Second Coming. Victorians supported conversionist work in the Holy Land and applauded the establishment of a joint British-Prussian bishopric in Jerusalem in 1841. Toward the end of the century some Christians even envisioned the Land of Israel as a refuge for persecuted European Jews.5 This evangelical, conversionist interest in the Land of Israel complemented and drew strength from widening diplomatic entanglement in the Eastern Question (the future of Turkey and its European and Middle Eastern possessions). Control of Egypt in particular became critical to British imperialists because it was the road to India. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Disraeli’s purchase of the single largest block of shares in the Suez Canal Company in 1875, and outright occupation of Egypt in 1882 sparked interest in expanding the British cordon sanitaire around the Suez Canal zone. Throughout the century, batteries of travelers, artists, orientalists, archeologists, missionaries, novelists, and pilgrims visited and wrote about Palestine’s holy sites and ancient inhabitants, reinforcing the notion that the fortunes of Britain and Israel were linked.

To what extent Christian restorationism and British imperialism encouraged Victorian Jewish concern with the Holy Land is a matter of conjecture; at a minimum, they lent it an aura of legitimacy. In any case, well before the rise of modern Jewish nationalism, British Jews took an active interest in the Land of Israel and its small, impoverished Jewish communities, far more interest, certainly, than other Western Jewries. Between 1827 and 1874, Moses Montefiore made seven well-publicized trips to the Holy Land, in large part to promote the productivization of the Old Yishuv (the pre-Zionist, traditional Jewish community), which lived precariously on charitable funds collected in the Diaspora. (p.187) Montefiore’s efforts to reform the Old Yishuv and place it on a firm economic base were not successful, but his trips generated intense public interest, nonetheless.6 Moreover, while he was the best known Victorian Jew to concern himself with the Land of Israel (his fame was due, in part, to his talent for self-promotion), he was not alone.7 The Bohemian-born journalist Abraham Benisch (1814–78), who edited the Jewish Chronicle from 1854 to 1869 and again from 1875 to 1878, ceaselessly promoted the economic productivization of the Old Yishuv and the establishment of agricultural colonies. In 1852, with the help of both Jews and Christians, he formed the short-lived Association for Promoting Jewish Settlements in Palestine. When the pioneer religious nationalist Yehuda Alkalai (1798–1878) visited London for six months in 1852, the Jewish Chronicle reported his activities; in the 1860s, it publicized the work of Moses Hess (1812–75) and Zvi Hirsch Kalischer (1795–1874) and, in 1880–81, the settlement schemes of Laurence Oliphant, a Christian mystic and former MP, who tried to obtain the sultan’s permission to found a Jewish colony east of the Jordan River.

Montefiore and Benisch were not so-called proto-Zionists. Their interest in the Land of Israel was philanthropic and sentimental, nourished by traditional religion rather than political ideology. Two fundamental assumptions of political Zionism were absent in their thinking—one, that emancipation was a failure, and, two, that the creation of a sovereign state was the sole solution to its failure. Nonetheless, long-standing interest in the welfare of the Old Yishuv, especially the wish to make it economically productive, inclined some communal leaders to look favorably on the spread of Hibbat Tsiyyon, the Love of Zion movement that developed in Eastern Europe in the wake of the pogroms of 1881 and was the immediate precursor to the full-blown political Zionism of Theodor Herzl (1869–1904). Beginning in 1883, East European immigrants in London, Leeds, and Manchester founded Hibbat Tsiyyon societies to support the movement’s fledgling agricultural settlements in the Land of Israel.8 Members placed hundreds of collection boxes in immigrant homes, but, on the whole, the societies failed to generate much interest in the idea of national rebirth and collapsed after a few years. Most immigrants, after all, were struggling to make ends meet and had neither the time nor the energy for utopian dreams about rebuilding Zion. The London group, Hevrat Yishuv Erets Yisrael (Society for the Settlement of the Land of Israel), however, recorded one major gain: in 1885, it recruited the banker and communal magnate Samuel Montagu, then campaigning for the Whitechapel seat in Parliament, and (p.188) he agreed to become the society’s treasurer. Whether he joined because he was a strong critic of the halukah, the welfare system on which the Old Yishuv depended, and wanted to promote economic self-reliance, or because he was a shrewd electioneer and believed membership would attract votes, his recruitment marked the start of West End participation in the movement.

In the late 1880s, the movement revived, attracting about two thousand members at its height, among them a bevy of West End notables, including Montagu; Lord Rothschild; the Conservative MP Benjamin L. Cohen, the engineer Elim d’Avigdor (1841–95); Moses Gaster; Hermann Adler, then rabbi of the Bayswater Synagogue; Simeon Singer; and, most importantly, Col. Albert Edward Goldsmid, who later introduced himself to Herzl with the declaration “I am Daniel Deronda.” Goldsmid stamped the movement’s growing structure with a British military impress, dubbing local chapters “tents”; their leaders, “commanders”; the central office, “headquarters”; and its head, “the chief,” a post he held from 1893. On the whole, its West End members were less ideological, less consumed by dreams of reviving the Jewish nation, than its more numerous immigrant members. The former supported the movement for mixed reasons: it offered an alternative to socialism; it directed immigration to the Land of Israel (rather than to Britain, where it created social problems); it encouraged Jews to settle on and work the land, thereby proving that Jews too were capable of healthy, productive labor; and it reinforced long-standing religious and philanthropic links to the Land. They also supported Hibbat Tsiyyon because it celebrated Jewish national pride without calling into question the status of Jews in Britain. When Herzlian Zionism, which urged the immediate creation of a Jewish state, overtook the movement, West End nationalist enthusiasm ebbed.

Theodor Herzl himself made few converts in Britain. He arrived in London for the first time in November 1895, three months before the publication of Der Judenstaat, to outline his ideas to the Maccabeans, a dining club of writers, artists, and professional men, and to meet privately with lay and religious leaders. His reception on this and a subsequent visit in July 1897 was polite—even enthusiastic, when he spoke to several thousand East Enders on a Sunday evening at the Jewish Working Men’s Club—but unproductive. Few British Jews, whatever their background, were interested or willing to commit themselves. Sales of the English translation of Der Judenstaat, which appeared in 1896, were poor. Even the fourth Zionist Congress, which was held in London (p.189) in 1900, failed to generate enthusiasm. In the understated judgment of the English Zionist Federation’s own historian, “[its] effect on Anglo-Jewry did not come up to expectations and the Congress proved a merely transient incident in the vast Metropolis.”9 Most Jews were either too concerned with their own immediate problems to take an interest or believed that Herzl’s political ideas were utopian and dangerous, fodder for antisemitic allegations about Jewish tribalism and separatism. Most also assumed that Zionism would remain on the periphery of communal life and eventually die of neglect.10

Still, small circles of enthusiasts emerged. The greatest number were immigrant veterans of Hibbat Tsiyyon societies, which, shorn of their West End leaders, merged into the Herzlite English Zionist Federation between 1899 and 1902, when Goldsmid wound up the affairs of the headquarters tent. Less numerous but more influential were middle-class, largely native-born Jews from professional and business backgrounds, residents of North and Northwest London rather than the East End, whose birth and wealth were too humble to qualify them for membership in the communal elite. This group included Herbert Bentwich, a solicitor; Leopold Greenberg (1862–1931), a journalist and publisher; Joseph Cowen (1868–1932), a clothing manufacturer; Jacob de Haas (1872–1937), a journalist; and Israel Zangwill. (The latter left the Herzlite mainstream in 1905, after it rejected the British government’s offer of land in East Africa, to establish the Jewish Territorial Organization [ITO]). Resentful of their exclusion from policy-making positions in Anglo-Jewry, these “new” men found in Zionism a vehicle for opposing the oligarchic rule of the established elite.11 In addition to these activists, the leadership of the movement also included the well-connected but ineffectual Sir Francis Montefiore (1860–1935), Sir Moses’s great-nephew, and the contentious Rumanian-born Moses Gaster, a supporter of all manner of dissident causes.

In the prewar period, English Zionism was numerically and organizationally weak. Riven by personal squabbles and unable to compete with trade unionism, socialism, or traditional religion, it failed to win a substantial following in immigrant neighborhoods. In 1902, seven thousand persons were nominal members of groups affiliated to the English Zionist Federation; by 1917, before the government issued the Balfour Declaration, the number had dropped to four thousand. Nor was English Zionism successful in advancing its avowed policy of infiltrating and conquering established communal institutions. Indeed, in the ongoing struggle of professionals and businessmen to achieve greater influence (p.190) in communal affairs, Zionist leaders played a subordinate rather than commanding role. Zionism did not go unnoticed, of course, drawing the fire of articulate thinkers like the radical theologian Claude Goldsmid Montefiore and the Cambridge rabbinics scholar Israel Abrahams (1858–1924). Like Zionism’s integrationist opponents on the Continent, they argued that Jews constituted a religious community not a political nation, that the history of the Diaspora was not a record of unending travail, and that Zionism cast doubts on the Englishness and patriotism of the community. But the movement was too weak to sow panic or fear among its opponents or cause them to create a distinct organization to counter its influence.12

Soon after Britain went to war, leading figures in both the English Zionist Federation and the World Zionist Organization concluded that there was a good chance that at the end of the conflict the Turkish empire would be dismembered and that Palestine would fall within the British sphere of influence. With this in mind, they began to cultivate the support of government ministers, high-ranking civil servants, and influential politicians. (This was not the first time that Zionist leaders had pursued a British strategy. Herzl’s diplomacy at the turn of the century had focused on London and met with some success when, in April 1903, Foreign Secretary Joseph Chamberlain offered a tract in East Africa for Jewish settlement. Chamberlain’s motives, however, were pragmatic rather than sentimental; he wanted to increase the number of politically harmless, economically productive white settlers in East Africa to strengthen Britain’s imperial hold there.) The key figure in the Zionist campaign was the Russian-born organic chemist Chaim Weizmann (1874–1952), who had arrived in England in 1904 to take a research post at Owens College, Manchester.13 Well known within the Zionist movement prior to his arrival, Weizmann threw himself into its work in Britain. When the war broke out, he was among the two or three most influential Zionists in the country and in February 1917 assumed formal leadership of the English Zionist Federation. However, his standing and ability to negotiate on behalf of the movement derived less from the office than from his position in the World Zionist Organization’s inner circle, his charm and eloquence, and his understanding of and admiration for the English establishment.

In wooing British officialdom, Weizmann and other Zionist spokesmen played several cards at once. They appealed to imperial concerns, arguing that a British-sponsored Jewish homeland would protect the northern flank of Egypt and, thus, the Suez Canal, the lifeline to India. (p.191) When, in 1915, the Foreign Office became worried about the pro-Germanism of Jews in the then-neutral United States, Weizmann and others exploited the crude fantasies of ministers and officials about Jewish power, urging them to declare their interest in Palestine in order to sway American Jews to the Allied cause. (American Jews were believed to wield great influence in Washington.) Later, following the Russian Revolution, when British statesmen became fearful that the new government would sign a separate peace treaty with Germany, they argued similarly that a British commitment to a Jewish homeland would win the hearts of Russia’s Jews, who were thought to be powerful in the radical circles that favored withdrawal from the war. Lastly, they appealed to evangelical, ethical, and humanitarian sentiments. In the end, no one argument carried the day. Each contributed to some extent to the decision of the War Cabinet in November 1917 to commit Britain to “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” to quote the words of the cabinet document (actually, a letter to the second Lord Rothschild [1868–1937]) later known as the Balfour Declaration because Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour signed it.14 At the same time, the Russian-born right-wing Zionist Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880–1940), a great believer in the value of military training and discipline, led a campaign for the creation of a Jewish legion to fight alongside British troops in the liberation of the Holy Land. The War Office eventually consented and in July 1917 created a Jewish battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (known popularly as the Judaeans), which took part in the last phase of the Palestine campaign.15

Zionist diplomacy in the war years did not go unchallenged. Most (but not all) communal notables feared that the creation of a British-sponsored Jewish homeland would impede social integration and throw into doubt the legal status of Britain’s Jews. As long as Zionism in Britain had been a low-key, ineffectual affair, they were content to more or less ignore it. However, the diplomatic strides that Zionism made during the war stimulated moves to counter its growing influence in Whitehall. Using similar methods of persuasion (memoranda, letters to the press, pamphlets, meetings with ministers and civil servants), the integrationist camp strove to influence the same public figures whom the Zionists were courting. The most prominent opponents of Zionism came from well-to-do families that had been settled in Britain for several generations and were accustomed to setting the community’s agenda and representing its interests to the state. They viewed the Zionists as upstarts and usurpers and their program as a threat to their own status. (p.192) Edwin Montagu, secretary of state for India and son of the first Lord Swaythling, emerged as the fiercest opponent of the Balfour Declaration within the cabinet. Although a radical assimilationist who took no interest in Jewish matters, Montagu articulated his opposition to Zionism in “Jewish” terms. In a confidential memorandum to the prime minister in March 1915, he wrote that there was “no Jewish race now as a homogeneous whole” and that “the whole claim of the Jews to equality of treatment with those who profess other religions in the countries in which they find themselves is based on the fact that they are citizens of the countries in which they have been born and lived for generations.”16 But not all of the notables shared his outlook. Indeed, in contrast to other West European Jewish communities, there were an uncommonly large number who sympathized with and took a leading role in the Zionist movement, an indication, perhaps, that there was less pressure on English Jews to deny the ethnic dimension of their collective identity. Among them were Edwin Montagu’s first cousin Herbert Samuel; the geneticist Redcliffe Nathan Salaman (1874–1955); Lord Rothschild and his brother Charles (1877–1923); the French-born James de Rothschild (1878–1957), who had moved to Britain in 1913 and whose father, Edmund (1845–1934), was the most important benefactor of the earliest agricultural settlements in the Land of Israel; and Sir Francis Montefiore, who was a first cousin of the anti-Zionist Claude Goldsmid Montefiore.

The institutional stronghold of the anti-Zionist camp was the Board of Deputies, which historically had articulated Jewish interests to government ministers and officials. Its membership consisted of representatives of congregations in London, the provinces, and the colonies. However, of the 143 deputies in 1917, 110 were residents of London, mostly members of upper-middle-class West End congregations. The majority of these London-based members had been elected by congregations outside the capital to represent them on the board.17 Even more firm in its opposition was the overtly unrepresentative Anglo-Jewish Association, founded in 1871 to promote the welfare of unemancipated Jews in the Middle East, North Africa, and Eastern Europe and headed in the war years by Claude Goldsmid Montefiore. In 1878, the two bodies had established a Conjoint Foreign Committee to lobby the government on matters concerning persecuted Jews abroad. The Conjoint, as it became known, appointed the journalist Lucien Wolf its executive secretary at the start of the war, and he waged a skilled if unsuccessful campaign to counter the advances Weizmann and his associates were (p.193) making. The conflict between the two camps came to a head in May 1917. Aware that it was being outmaneuvered in influencing the government at the highest level, the Conjoint published a manifesto in The Times on 24 May attacking Zionism for claiming that Jews everywhere constituted “one homeless nationality” and for “stamping the Jews as strangers in their native lands,” thus “undermining their hard won position as citizens and nationals of those lands.” Publication of the statement elicited outrage. The chief rabbi, Joseph Hertz, who had succeeded Hermann Adler in 1913, denounced it as unrepresentative, while the Board of Deputies voted by 56 to 51 on 17 June to condemn the statement and its publication and to withdraw from the Conjoint, thus effectively dissolving it. In the wake of the vote, the president of the board, David Lindo Alexander (1842–1922), a signatory to The Times letter, resigned. Often viewed as an endorsement of Zionism, the vote at the Board of Deputies was, in truth, much more the start of a revolution in communal governance than a signal that Zionism had captured the hearts and minds of Anglo-Jewry. Although Herzl had urged his supporters to oust those who controlled communal bodies (a strategy known as “the conquest of the community”), the victory at the Board of Deputies was due even more to shifts in the social character of British Jewry than to the spread of Zionism. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there existed no alternative to the rule of the great banking and brokerage families (Rothschilds, Montefiores, Cohens, Mocattas, etc.). The middle ranks of the community were sparse. Professional men, merchants, and manufacturers deferred to the rule of the established oligarchy, at least in London. (In provincial cities like Manchester, which lacked a finance-based Jewish haute bourgeoisie, deference was weaker, and from the mid-Victorian period local, self-made leaders had challenged the authority of the London elite and its religious head, Chief Rabbi Nathan Adler.)18 By the end of the century, however, the professional and mercantile upper-middle class was larger. Resentful of their exclusion from communal power and, at the same time, inspired by middle-class gains in the national political arena, business and professional men began to challenge the monopoly of the old families. Some were East Europeans who had made their way into the middle class within one generation, while others came from Central European families that had migrated to Britain earlier in the century. Confident, energetic self-made men, they believed that British Jews had gone too far in subordinating their collective distinctiveness to the pursuit of social equality. They wanted a more representative, assertive communal (p.194) leadership, one less concerned with keeping a low public profile, which would confront antisemitism vigorously and openly, demand government protection of Jewish interests, and mobilize “the Jewish vote” in parliamentary and local elections.19

In the decade before World War I, these circles established forums and organizations to promote their views, while, at the same time, working to gain a foothold in core communal bodies, especially the Board of Deputies. In 1910, over the opposition of well-entrenched leaders like Claude Goldsmid Montefiore, these “new” men established a lodge of B’nai B’rith, an international fraternal organization. Led by the solicitor Herbert Bentwich, an ardent Zionist, B’nai B’rith championed Jewish interests that the Board of Deputies defended with little enthusiasm or firmness. The lodge provided legal aid to aliens who were refused admission by immigration officers at ports of entry, and Bentwich himself intervened at the Home Office on behalf of difficult cases. It lobbied MPs to safeguard Jewish interests in regard to the Slaughter of Animals Bill, the National Insurance Bill, and the Sunday Closing of Shops Bill, and protested the Russian government’s reluctance to issue travel documents to British Jews. Viewing these initiatives as irresponsible, unwarranted interference, the Board of Deputies refused to cooperate with B’nai B’rith on most matters.20 In large provincial cities, local leaders who felt that the Board of Deputies was too distant and passive created representative councils, largely as organs of communal defense.

Meanwhile, at the Board of Deputies, representatives of provincial synagogues and disaffected Londoners began agitating for reforms that would make it more democratic and responsive. Here the leading dissident was the statistician Simon Rosenbaum (1877–1950), a founding member of B’nai B’rith and its president in 1915, who moved to censure the board’s president in 1911. In 1906, the Jewish Chronicle was purchased by Leopold Greenberg, owner of a successful advertising agency and one of the founders of the English Zionist Federation, and under him it became an advocate of dissident concerns of all kinds, not just Jewish nationalism.21 It demanded the reform of the Board of Deputies, urged Jews to exploit their vote to gain political leverage, and criticized the halfhearted opposition of communal notables to the operation of the Aliens Act. On the cultural front, Joseph Hochman (1883–1943), minister of the New West End Synagogue, and Norman Bentwich (1883–1971), a barrister and Herbert’s eldest son, launched a serious journal, The Jewish Review, in 1909 to take the place of The Jewish Quarterly Review, which transferred to the United States in 1908. It reflected the (p.195) Zionism of its founders but embraced other concerns as well. For example, it repudiated Montefiore’s interfaith dialogue with Christian thinkers, urging Jews to give priority instead to their own Jewish education.

The vote at the Board of Deputies on 17 June 1917 was the outcome of years of accumulated resentment and dissatisfaction. It marked neither the end of the notables’ rule nor the triumph of Zionism. The old families did not disappear from communal management until after World War II, while Zionists remained a minority within the community until the 1940s. Indeed, in the wake of their setbacks, the anti-Zionists rallied and counterattacked. One week after the government issued the Balfour Declaration Lionel de Rothschild (1882–1942), the educationalist Sir Philip Magnus (1842–1933), and the second Lord Swaythling (1869–1927) formed the League of British Jews to oppose the idea that Jews constituted a political nation. Lucien Wolf and Claude Goldsmid Montefiore provided the League with ideas, while Sir Philip’s son Laurie (1872–1933), a journalist and man of letters, edited its newspaper, the Jewish Guardian, which appeared from 1919 to 1931. At the Board of Deputies, the election of new officers following Alexander’s resignation revealed how limited were the goals of the majority of those who voted to condemn the Conjoint letter. Sir Stuart Samuel, a brother of Herbert Samuel and a non-Zionist, was elected president and Sir Philip Magnus was elected to one of the two vice presidencies. The other was filled by Lord Rothschild, who was a Zionist but whose election was due more to being a Rothschild than a Zionist. Cooperation with the Anglo-Jewish Association resumed, and the Conjoint was reconstituted as the Joint Foreign Committee, with Lucien Wolf as its executive secretary.

What the vote marked was the start of a transformation in communal governance that lasted several decades, concluding only in the 1950s. The shift was a drawn-out, bitter struggle punctuated by public skirmishes and conflicts. In the interwar period and during World War II, newcomers and outsiders repeatedly challenged the old elite and its policies on various fronts, including the battle against domestic antisemitism, the rescue of Jews from Nazism, the mandate for Palestine, and the protection of Jewish observance. The level of conflict between the contending parties was unprecedented in Anglo-Jewish history—in large part because the stakes were higher than they had ever been before. To some, with antisemitism threatening at home and abroad, the very existence of the Jews hung in the balance. To understand the communal (p.196) strife of these decades, however, it is first necessary to look at the changes that were taking place in the lives of the East European immigrants and their children, since these changes underwrote their challenge to the rule of the notables.

In the first half of the twentieth century, the immigrants and, even more, their children began to move up the economic ladder. On the whole, their progress was less dramatic than that of their counterparts in the United States, with its more dynamic economy, but, by British standards, it was remarkable. It began in a modest way before World War I. Workers in immigrant trades became masters; market men became shopkeepers; their English-born children became clerks, typists, shop assistants, and travelers. During this period, Michael Marks made the transition from peddler to market trader in the markets of northern towns, and then, in Manchester, to shopkeeper and eventually founder and partner in Marks & Spencer, a nationwide chain of retail stores. Those who remained in sweated trades also experienced a modest improvement in their standard of living. Following the stagnation of real wages in the 1880s and 1890s, there was a small upturn in the standard of living of ordinary workers. One sign of this improvement was the movement of successful immigrants to more attractive residential areas before World War I—in the case of London, largely to districts contiguous to the East End (Hackney, Dalston, Stoke Newington, Clapton, Stamford Hill, and West Ham). It is remarkable that 22 percent of immigrant grooms who married in City and East End synagogues in the period 1910–14 were living in areas of secondary settlement.22 During World War I, the pace of economic mobility quickened. Military contracts benefited the immigrant trades, accelerating the exodus from the old neighborhoods. The fictional Lakarins in Charles Landstone’s novel Blue Tiger Yard (1927), manufacturers of “khaki tunics, army boots, service caps, [and] swagger canes,” rise “on the crest of the khaki boom” and move to Highbury New Park in 1917.23

In the interwar period, the number of Jews who rose into the lower-middle and middle class increased substantially. To be sure, in areas of first settlement, the old trades (clothing, footwear, furniture) remained central to the Jewish economy, employing the great majority of male and female workers. Even in adjacent, less congested areas, like Hackney in London, Cheetham in Manchester, and Chapeltown in Leeds, these trades continued to employ thousands of Jews. However, the young avoided them when possible, for while wages and hours were better in the interwar period than before, conditions in the workshops were still (p.197) squalid: cramped, dark, damp, poorly ventilated. Young men and women increasingly turned to white-collar work, finding employment as travelers, shop assistants, and secretaries, and, especially in the 1930s, to taxi-driving, hairdressing, entertainment, accountancy, and estate agency. Thus, while 70 percent of male and female teenagers joining Jewish friendly societies in East London in 1913 worked in the clothing and furniture industries, in 1930 the number was down to 50 percent. Equally significant: 30 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls were now office workers, shop assistants, and commercial travelers.24

As more and more Jews entered the lower-middle and middle class, the old immigrant neighborhoods lost their central place in Anglo-Jewish life. While before World War I the East End held at least two-thirds of London’s Jews, by the 1930s it contained barely one-third. With immigration from Poland and Russia at an end, there were no newcomers to replace those who moved away, so the East End and its counterparts increasingly housed disproportionate numbers of the old, the poor, and the working class. Concurrently, the number of families with school-age children in areas of first settlement shrank. Thus, by the early 1930s, seven of the eleven elementary schools in Jewish streets in the East End were no longer used as schools, while enrollment at the Jews’ Free School was half of what it had been at the turn of the century. Those who were able to leave the East End moved to districts in North London, as before the war, as well as to leafier, more up-market suburbs in Northwest London—Hampstead, Golders Green, Finchley, and Hendon. Already by 1930, the northwest suburbs housed about 10 percent of London’s Jews. (In the interwar period, the United Synagogue admitted sixteen synagogues from these districts.) In the new neighborhoods in London, Manchester, and Leeds, lower-middle- and middle-class families outnumbered working-class families. In the boroughs of Stoke Newington and Hackney, for example, there were almost twice as many middle-class as working-class Jews in the late-1920s (middle class status then being defined as an annual household income of at least £250).25 Symbolic of the improved fortunes of East European families was the growing popularity of annual holidays at the seaside or in the country. In 1930, for example, over one hundred kosher hotels advertised regularly in the Jewish press, ranging from luxury resorts in Bournemouth to simple boarding houses in Blackpool. Even the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea boasted two kosher boarding houses.26

Before World War II, the contribution of formal education to the rise of East European Jews was modest. State-sponsored primary education (p.198) was universal, but secondary education was for an elite, those who excelled at test-taking and whose parents were able to dispense with their potential earnings while they continued their schooling. Most children left school at age fourteen. In Manchester, for example, only 24 percent of all Jewish children received a grammar school education as late as 1950. Still, Jews were well represented at secondary schools in or near Jewish districts; for example, 50 percent of the students at Clapton County School were Jewish, 40 percent at Hackney Downs Secondary School (The Grocers), 60 percent at the Central Foundation School.27 But this was unusual. Most Jews did not receive a secondary education in the interwar period. Given this, it should be no surprise that the number of East European Jews who attended university—and then entered the liberal professions and other high-status occupations—was small. Outside London, there were fewer than one thousand full-time Jewish university students in the late 1930s, and of these about one-quarter were from abroad, that is, from the United States, other English-speaking countries, the Yishuv, and Germany. About two-thirds of Jewish students were reading medicine. (Law was much less popular, in part because few solicitors were willing to take Jews as articled clerks.) With the exception of Jewish students at Oxford and Cambridge, who came disproportionately from well-established families, few read arts or science subjects. Yet however small their absolute numbers, Jewish students were still “overrepresented” at the universities, even in the 1930s. Less than 1 percent of the population as a whole, Jews constituted 2 percent of the students at Oxford and Cambridge, almost 4 percent at Manchester, and over 7 percent at Leeds.28

As Jews moved into the middle class, abandoning the districts and trades of their parents or their own youth, they encountered new levels of ill-will and unpleasantness. In part, this was a matter of timing. Their embourgeoisement coincided with a period of industrial depression, long-term unemployment, labor unrest, and bad housing conditions, when the national mood was dark and anxious. Moreover, it took place at a time when news-making events abroad—the Bolshevik revolution, riots and armed revolt in Palestine, the rise of the Nazis—heightened the “Jew consciousness” of ordinary Britons. But it was not just a matter of bad timing. Residential and economic mobility brought Jews into contact with Gentiles more frequently than before. Earlier in the century social relations between immigrants and English men and women were limited, since the former tended to work and socialize among themselves. Now, for the first time, large numbers of Jews were moving into middle-class social space (clubs, schools, shops, restaurants, resorts, cinemas, (p.199) theaters), disturbing their once homogeneous ethnic character. Jewish women shopping in Golders Green struck gentile observers as exotics, “decked as for some barbaric royal levee,” courting attention “with their bold, brilliant eyes”: “Bracelets swing from their wrists, chains of big, coloured beads loop their necks, earrings dangle from their ears, diamonds glitter on their pink-enamelled fingers.”29 The reaction to this “invasion” was similar to that which occurred in the United States in the interwar period: occupational and social discrimination, defamation, whispering and sniggering. This is not to claim that the “rise” of the Jews “caused” antisemitism. After all, antisemitism hardly needs flesh-and-blood Jews to flourish. Rather, it is to explain the direction and forms that it took in this period.

Anti-Jewish discrimination in the interwar period was not systematic, poisoning all Jewish contact with the larger society, but it was common enough that few Jews avoided it altogether.30 Masonic lodges and golf, tennis, and motor clubs introduced membership bans. Restaurants and hotels advertised that they did not cater to Jews. Garages refused to rent cars to them because insurance companies would not issue short-terms policies to Jews and other “high-risk” groups. Admission to public schools and the most desirable colleges became more difficult. St. Paul’s, for example, which had welcomed Jewish boys in the late-Victorian and Edwardian years, imposed an undeclared quota, as did University College, London. Those who were admitted to these and similar institutions often found themselves the objects of hostile comments, snide remarks, and, more rarely, physical attacks. Between 1918 and 1928, the London County Council refused to award university scholarships to children who were not British citizens or who had not been born, or had fathers who were not born, in Britain or the Dominions. Occupational discrimination became a problem for men and women seeking employment outside traditional Jewish trades. Newspaper advertisements for secretaries, clerks, and shop assistants specified that Jews would not be hired. Jewish teachers in particular experienced trouble in finding positions. Some changed their names, hoping thereby to get an interview at least. One East End–born teacher recalled a school inspector, who thought well of her as a teacher, strongly advising her to change her name because “it might be a great hindrance to you.” In medicine, Jews routinely faced obstacles in obtaining hospital positions and promotions. The atmosphere at the London Hospital, in the heart of the Jewish East End, was markedly hostile to Jewish medical students. One instructor went so far as to allot the back seats in his lecture room to Jews.31

Two other resurgent forms of antisemitism heightened the impact of (p.200) these discriminatory practices. One was the denigration of Jews in low and high culture; the other was ideological, right-wing antisemitism, the variety associated with fantasies and fears about Jewish plots to dominate the world.32 In the 1920s and 1930s both popular and serious writers—T. S. Eliot, Graham Greene, Wyndham Lewis, H. G. Wells, John Buchan, Rudyard Kipling, Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Dornford Yates—populated their work with mythic, offensive Jews. One observer remarked in 1935 that “it is unusual to find a reference to a Jewish character in English fiction which is not in the Shylock tradition” and that “it is the rarest thing to find a Hebraic character presented in a normal light.” Journalists, travel writers, and social commentators as well represented Jews in unflattering terms, describing them as clannish, oversexed, materialistic, averse to physical labor, alien, and corrupt. One account of East London, in describing the spread of Jews into streets beyond those in which they had been concentrated earlier, spoke of “their predatory noses and features which the word ‘alien’ describes with such peculiar felicity.” Echoing a common anti-immigrant trope from the prewar years, it remarked: “One seems to be in a hostile tribal encampment, and it makes one afraid, not of them personally, but of the obvious tenacity, the leech-like grip, of a people who, one feels in one’s English bones, flourish best on the decay of their hosts, like malignant bacilli in the blood.” A card game of the 1930s, “Sexton Blake,” based on a popular radio program of the same name, included cards picturing “Solly Silver, fence” and “Jake Smith, fence’s agent,” both drawn as swarthy, hook-nosed Jews.33

The common thread running through these ways of thinking about Jews was the notion of Jewish “difference.” While the notion was hardly novel, its impact in the interwar period on how Jews thought and felt about themselves was more intense than before. The immigrant generation had lived more or less within its own social and cultural universe. Its social aspirations were limited. What Gentiles thought about Jews was irrelevant to what they thought about themselves. In any case, much of gentile opinion was simply inaccessible to them. This was far less true, however, for the next generation, young, English-educated men and women who came of age and entered the workplace from the 1920s to the 1940s. These upwardly mobile second-generation Jews were unable to escape gentile constructions of “the Jew”—and the more eager they were to succeed outside Jewish circles, the more baleful the impact of these ideas was on their own sense of self-worth and their attitudes to their Jewishness. Living and working outside immigrant (p.201) neighborhoods, they repeatedly encountered corrosive reminders of gentile constructions of their difference.

Betty Miller (1910–65) brilliantly captured the emotional power of this “civilized” intolerance in her novel Farewell Leicester Square (written in 1935 but published only in 1941). The protagonist, Alec Berman, a successful film director who would like to think of himself as an Englishman, is married to a non-Jewish woman who cannot understand why he, as a Jew, lives in a perpetual state of unease and insecurity. Despite his good fortune, he is haunted by a sense that everything he has is built upon sand and can disappear in the blink of an eye. He tells his gentile wife that she cannot understand the emotional state—“a very special type of low-grade fear that’s always there, behind every situation”—that even trivial incidents can induce in him, one of the “lucky” ones. “You don’t know the sixth sense that tells you the man behind the counter, the boy who sells you a newspaper at the corner, has sized you up; the fact that such a momentary relationship is qualified.” Endowed by Miller with self-understanding, Alec grasps how living in what he calls a “spiritual” concentration camp has left him with a “constant sense of inferiority.” As he tells his wife, “You’ve never had the experience of hearing your own race casually vilified; and allowing the remark to pass…smiling even.…Degraded, again and again, not by the insult, but by your own reaction to it.” For Jews like the fictional Berman, Jewishness was a stigma, which, in the words of the Gorbals-born, Oxford-educated memoirist Ralph Glasser, “burdened every step of our lives.” Glasser and his friends never considered forsaking their Jewishness formally through baptism (they were socialists with no need for religion), but they hoped “at least to bury it beneath some protective colouring, so that we might go our private ways like everybody else.”34

In sum, interwar intolerance was, in general, neither brutish nor shrill. Indeed, there was probably less social, occupational, and educational discrimination than in the United States. Few Britons were obsessed with Jews, viewing them as evil incarnate and the cause of national decline, just as few Britons were attracted to extremist political movements. Even for those who caricatured or excluded them, Jews were usually a side issue, not an obsession. Those who embraced what Saul Friedla¨nder calls “redemptive” antisemitism, a worldview that attributes the degeneration of the nation to Jewish penetration and links its redemption to the destruction of the Jewish peril,35 were very few indeed. While antisemitism (in all its forms) was more common and touched more Jews in this period than before, it was not so overwhelming that (p.202) it caused thousands of Jews to seek relief in conversion or other forms of radical assimilation, as happened in Central Europe.

Still, brutish, shrill, ideological antisemitism was not altogether absent. In the years between the Bolshevik Revolution and the start of World War II, right-wing, conspiratorial antisemitism gained a hearing, if not broad popular support. In the aftermath of the upheaval that followed World War I, otherwise reasonable persons were prepared to consider the possibility that “the Jews” were a subversive force conspiring to dominate the world. In 1920, both The MorningPost and The Times published and discussed the notorious tsarist forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Gentile friends and acquaintances of Jews asked them in all seriousness whether there was indeed a shadowy Jewish force behind the dramatic collapse of the Russian, German, and Austrian empires.36 A handful of reactionary antisemites—Arnold Leese, Henry Hamilton Beamish, Archibald Maule Ramsay, Nesta Webster—began to agitate against Jewish influence at this time and continued to stir up hostility to Jews throughout the interwar period. But few attended their meetings, and even fewer joined their organizations, which remained on the fringe of conservative politics. Once the Bolshevik scare and xenophobia of the immediate post–World War I years receded, few Britons were attracted to obsessional, “hidden hand” antisemitism. This version of the “Jewish Question” lacked broad popular appeal and propaganda value, even when manipulated by a gifted agitator like Sir Oswald Mosley.

In the mid-1930s, Mosley tried to introduce the “Jewish Question” into British political life.37 When he founded the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in October 1932, he made no mention of Jews at all, but within six months his followers were assaulting Jews and distributing anti-Jewish handbills. Then, in a speech at the Albert Hall on the evening of 28 October 1934, Mosley launched a full-scale attack on Jews and their influence, inspired, it seems, by Hitler’s recent successes and convinced, mistakenly, that Jew-baiting would attract votes. His accusations, on this and other occasions, were not original. He charged that Jews were a foreign, antisocial menace, exploiting British society and exerting disproportionate, deleterious influence. When denounced for turning to gutter politics, he claimed that he did so in self-defense, that the BUF was only responding in kind to Jewish attacks on the BUF. Both as an ideological movement and an electoral party, the BUF was an abysmal failure. At its peak, in the mid-1930s, it had around sixteen thousand members; at its suppression in May 1940, it had eight to ten thousand (p.203) members. It never won a seat in Parliament or on a local council, even in East London, where its support was greatest and where it concentrated its efforts.

These failures have led some historians to minimize the importance of the BUF in Anglo-Jewish history and to conclude that at most it was a minor irritant.38 While it is true that the impact of the BUF on British politics was small, this is a different issue from the question of how its activities influenced British Jews. The BUF’s anti-Jewish campaign was not limited to conventional political tactics, such as distributing handbills or staging rallies. Like the fascist parties of Germany and Italy, which it consciously emulated, it used terror and violence to promote its ends. Uniformed members of the BUF (Blackshirts) marched through East London districts, singing Nazi songs and chanting anti-Jewish slogans. They daubed hate messages on walls and windows and staged outdoor street-corner rallies. They smashed windows in Jewish houses and shops, assaulted Jews out walking alone at night, often sending them to hospital, overturned the stalls of Jewish market traders, picketed Jewish shops, shouting antisemitic slogans and intimidating potential customers, and, on at least one occasion, threw flaming torches into Jewish shops. They desecrated synagogues with slogans and even with the severed heads of pigs. In October 1936, one week after an antifascist front of a hundred thousand Jews and Gentiles blocked a BUF procession through the East End (“the Battle of Cable Street”), the BUF retaliated with a small-scale pogrom in Mile End Road. A gang of 150 young Mosleyites smashed the windows of and looted twenty-nine Jewish shops in the Mile End Road and sixteen Jewish shops in Green Road. They set an automobile on fire and threw a man and a girl through a plate-glass window while the crowd shouted “Down with the Yids.” In Manchester, they invaded Cheetham, the Jewish quarter, in uniform, making insulting remarks and attacking Jewish youth, often four or five times a week. In Oxford, they ragged Jewish students and pasted anti-semitic labels on their doors.39 Violence—and the threat of violence—sowed fear, panic, and terror throughout the community, not just among those who were its immediate targets. Moreover, because it occurred at the same time that Jews were reading about Nazi violence in Germany and viewing newsreel footage of Nazi rallies, book burnings, and marches, it had a more powerful impact than it might have had otherwise.40 It was little comfort to Jews to know, assuming they could have known at the time, that the BUF was “doomed” to fail.

Concern about domestic antisemitism and, after 1933, events in Germany (p.204) informed the conduct of communal politics until after World War II. Zionists and anti-Zionists, Reform and Orthodox, Communists, Labourites, Liberals, and Conservatives, rich and poor alike, were swept up in debates about how Jews should react and, more generally, how they should conduct themselves. Even Jewish notables, who were descendants of families settled in Britain for a century or more and who enjoyed close ties to the English Establishment, were unable to escape antisemitism’s reach, despite the fact that they were rarely its immediate victims. Although their wealth and influence shielded them from physical harm, antisemitism still exacted a heavy toll. In their case, however, the toll was emotional, rather than physical or material, a blow to their self-esteem and self-image. Because they wanted to think of themselves as English to the core, simple knowledge that there were Englishmen who repudiated their claims, insisting instead that they were different in kind, was sufficient to be unsettling. It made them anxious about the future and caused them to wonder how secure their position was. Their anxiety, along with the fears of Jews who experienced discrimination, intimidation, and violence at firsthand, made communal politics in the interwar period and during World War II fractious and ferocious, perhaps more so than at any earlier time.

The divisions in communal life in the 1920s and 1930s were less clear-cut and the issues more complex than before World War I. With East European immigration at a near standstill and residential dispersion under way, the aliens issue lost its urgency. Time, exposure to English schools and mass culture, and increasing prosperity were at work, making the immigrants and their children less foreign in their speech, dress, habits, and tastes, although outsiders often failed to recognize the extent of this transformation and continued to think of the old Jewish districts as exotic enclaves. The Times, for example, in a series on “Alien London” in 1924, characterized the East End as “a strange and alien city” and “an Eastern stronghold,” much like “a Jewish lane” in Odessa or in a Galician “ghetto,” alive with “all the expressive gestures of the bazaars of the Near East” and home to “the backward” and “the less adaptable” element among the East European Jewish population.”41 Because of this perception, the communal establishment was unable to leave the East End and similar districts to their own devices. Reinforcing their concern was the growing social homogeneity of these districts, which, with the exodus of successful Jews to better neighborhoods, became more lower class in makeup than before. The traditional immigrant trades (small scale manufacture of garments, footwear, and furniture), which were (p.205) plagued by high unemployment in the late 1920s and early 1930s and hard hit by the Great Depression, continued to provide the main source of jobs for those who had not moved to the inner and outer suburbs. For them, career choices and expectations of what the future would bring were limited. As the East End novelist Willy Goldman (b. 1910) remarked (with some hyperbole), the garment trade was “the unescapable destiny of an East End Jew.” It was “all fixed at the cradle.” The one detail about a son’s future that remained to be decided was whether he should enter “ladies” work or “gents.”42 While it would be incorrect to say that a cloud of hopelessness had settled over the East End, there is little question that life there was drab and harsh. Hard-pressed market traders and out-of-work sweatshop workers, battered by class warfare and generational conflict, populate the 1930s East End “proletarian” novels of Goldman and Simon Blumenfeld (b. 1907). The New Survey of London Life and Labour concluded that the Jewish working class community of East London was “on the whole a poor community, its proportion of poverty being slightly greater than that of the surrounding non-Jewish population (13.7 per cent as compared with 12.1 per cent).”43 The poverty of the old immigrant districts, along with the estrangement of the second generation from the ways of their parents, created a fertile breeding ground for behavior, both social and political, that attracted unwanted attention and distressed communal leaders. The children of the immigrants were drawn to the popular culture of the non-Jewish population more than the Old World culture of their parents. Most showed little interest in religious worship or observance and blatantly disregarded the Sabbath. The Judaism of the immigrant synagogue, with its foreign-born, Yiddish-speaking functionaries, could not compete with the amusements of urban life. When the young went to synagogue, it was often to please their parents and avoid an open break. They preferred to spend their leisure time at the billiard hall, the cinema, the theater, the dance hall, the football stadium, the racetrack, and the boxing arena. Promenading in public, dressed to the hilt in up-to-the-minute fashion, was more popular than worshipping or studying, judging by the crowds that filled the main thoroughfares of immigrant districts on Friday nights and Saturdays.44 Even more than before the war, British-born working-class Jews were enthusiasts for prizefighting, renewing a connection between Jews and the ring that had flourished in the late-Georgian period. They distinguished themselves as trainers, promoters, managers, and boxers, supplanting the Irish as the dominant ethnic group in the ring. A few were found in less savory niches in the (p.206) world of working-class culture, as bookmakers, receivers of stolen goods, keepers of illicit gaming clubs (spielers), pimps, and enforcers. They were especially conspicuous in the racetrack gangs that thrived in the 1920s and 1930s, selling protection to bookmakers and helping them collect gambling debts, which were not enforceable at law.45 The Tory Earl of Crawford thought that Jewish “control” of popular sports was far advanced: “prizefighting, dogracing, ordinary horse betting, and the disgraceful pools—in all these directions the Jew betting man is supreme.” It is no coincidence that the head of the racetrack gang in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock (1938), the corrupt, vicious Colleoni, is a Jew. Indeed, the inspiration for the racetrack violence in the novel, in which razor-wielding Jews attack the Catholic antihero Pinkie, was a similar, widely reported incident at Lewes races in June 1936, although, significantly, at Lewes, the roles were reversed: the victims were a Jewish bookmaker and his Jewish clerk, while the attackers were rival gentile gangsters.46

The “irreligion” of second-generation working-class Jews and their fondness for low-life amusements alarmed lay and religious leaders. They believed that the association of Jews with illicit or vulgar activities offered grist to the antisemitic mill, providing Jew-baiters with evidence of Jewish deviance and depravity. They feared as well that the revolt of the young against parental control and religious discipline boded ill for the future of the community. In becoming English, it seemed, the second generation had thrown out the baby with the bath water. Communal leaders voiced concern about the radical turn that anglicization had taken and searched for means to “re-judaise” the East End young and stem their drift to hedonism and materialism. Rabbi Meir Jung (1858–1921), chief minister of the Federation of Synagogues, for example, created a network of Sinai Associations, the first in Whitechapel, which combined social and literary activities with Jewish study. But the chief instrument for middle-class influence was the youth club.47 First established in the prewar period to promote immigrant anglicization, the clubs thrived in the 1920s and 1930s, attracting thousands of members. They fielded athletic teams; offered drama, music, and art classes; hosted concerts, lectures, debates, and dances; sponsored weekend rambles and summer camps; and operated savings banks and employment bureaus to help their members “get on.” Some, like the Jewish Lads’ Brigade, stressed public school and military values: obedience, manliness, self-discipline, physical fitness, patriotism. Others, like Lily Montagu’s West Central Jewish Club in Soho and Basil Henriques’s Oxford and St. (p.207) George’s Jewish Lads’ Club in the East End, incorporated religious worship and talks. All emphasized character-building, the molding of their members according to the values and traditions of respectable, native, middle-class Anglo-Jewry. In an era before the professionalization of social work, men and women from upper-middle-class backgrounds, like Montagu and Henriques, not only raised funds for the clubs but led their activities and managed their affairs on a day-to-day basis, often living in the district or even on club premises.

The same conditions that detached working-class youth from the religious culture of their parents also drew them to radical, collectivist politics. Before the war, few Jews in these districts took an active interest in politics of any kind. Most were unnaturalized aliens, with an unsure grasp of English, preoccupied, overwhelmed even, with keeping themselves and their families fed and housed. Their British-born, British-educated children, on the other hand, were alive to currents and crises beyond their immediate surroundings. Less willing to tolerate the world as it was, many of them embraced radical politics, especially in the 1930s and 1940s. At the center of left-wing activism in the old immigrant districts was the Workers’ Circle (Arbeiter Ring), which functioned as both a friendly society and a cultural, social, and political club. Established by Russian-born Bundists in Stepney in 1909, membership was not limited to those who supported the Bundist program (a mix of Marxism and Jewish cultural nationalism) but included all who identified with the left—trade unionists, Labourites, Communists, anarchists, and Labor Zionists. In the interwar period, there were twenty branches, in both London and the provinces, two of which at least were Communist-controlled. Total membership of the Workers’ Circle, which stood at thirteen hundred in 1922, peaked at about three thousand in 1939 and then declined after the war, as the Jewish working class shrank. Circle House in Alie Street, the London headquarters of the movement, opened in 1924 and hosted lectures, concerts, dances, debates, and classes. Workers gathered to read newspapers, play cards or chess, drink tea, and argue. There, in its modest canteen and its provincial counterparts, they found “consolation, a spiritual refuge from the struggle with the day-to-day world, a place to recharge their dreams,” as Ralph Glasser recalled.48

In the mid-1930s, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) became a force in Jewish working class districts.49 Before this, it had been a negligible presence, attracting only a hard core of ideologically committed veteran activists with links to pre-1918 East European politics. (p.208) Membership in its Stepney branch, most of whose members were Jewish, leaped from 115 in 1934 to 500 in 1939. (The branch’s Young Communist League counted an additional 250 members.) It attracted young men and women who wanted to build a better world but were disillusioned with the increasingly moderate Labour Party, a partner in the coalition National Government from 1931 to 1940, and its Irish-controlled Stepney branch, which was unsympathetic to Jewish concerns. It was also attractive because it was more than a political organization. It offered a meaningful, all-enveloping way of life. “To be a Communist,” the East End–born Marxist historian Raphael Samuel (1934–96) recalled, “was to have a complete social identity, one which transcended the limits of class, gender and nationality.” Jewish Communists lived “in a little private world of their own,” within “intense neighbourhood networks and little workplace conventicles.”50 They gathered at the same cafes and attended the same lectures; they listened to readings and debates together and went on holiday and weekend rambles with each other. For some, Communism functioned like a religion, offering answers to ultimate questions, replacing a faith lost or never possessed, providing strength and solace.

Although few Jews became members of the CPGB, its influence in working-class Jewish districts from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s was far ranging. It mobilized local residents to fight the British Union of Fascists, led rent strikes, organized anti-Nazi demonstrations, agitated to improve conditions in air raid shelters during World War II, and otherwise championed the immediate interests of Jewish workers and traders. One reason it succeeded in winning broad support, including, at times, the support of Jewish businessmen, was that it cooperated with non-Communist groups (trade unions, friendly societies, the Workers’ Circle) in popular front–style organizations. The Stepney Tenants’ Defence League, for example, which Jewish Communists controlled from its founding in 1937, counted 7,500 members in June 1939, while the Jewish People’s Council against Fascism and Anti-Semitism (see below), much of whose leadership was Communist, drew support from all segments of the East End Jewish population, including the synagogues. An even more important reason was that the Communists filled a political vacuum. The Labour Party was indifferent to Jewish fears about Blackshirt violence and the persecution of Jews abroad, while the institutions of middle-class Anglo-Jewry—the Board of Deputies, in particular—failed to hold the confidence of East End Jews. Not only did the Board pursue a low profile, nonconfrontational approach in regard to the BUF, (p.209) but it also failed to defend the economic interests of Jews (shopkeepers, street traders, and hairdressers) hit by new Sunday trading laws in the 1930s. The willingness of Communists to oppose the BUF from the start, to confront the Blackshirts head on, in the streets and in meeting halls, won them a mass following in working-class Jewish districts. When Jewish voters in the Spitalfields East ward elected the Communist activist Phil Piratin (1907–95) to the Stepney Borough Council in 1937 and, then, in the Mile End division elected him to Parliament in 1945, they were not so much voting for the CPGB’s collectivist program as for its antifascist activism.

Piratin’s victory in 1945 was the high-water mark of Anglo-Jewish support for Communism. The alliance, it turned out, was both short-term and limited to working-class districts—with a few well-born West End exceptions, of course, like Jack Gaster (b. 1907), son of Haham Gaster, and Ivor Montagu (1904–1984), third son of the second Lord Swaythling. The defeat of Nazism and the breakup of Jewish working-class districts as result of enemy bombing, war-time evacuation, and postwar economic success undermined the foundations of the alliance. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Jewish Communism melted away. The handful who remained loyal members were mainly intellectuals, and most of them left the CPGB in 1956, following Nikita Khrushchev’s revelations about Stalinism and the Soviet invasion of Hungary.

The disagreement between the Board and the East End about responding to the BUF belonged to a larger debate about Jewish politics in the interwar period. Old-line communal leaders were confused and frightened by growing hostility to Jews. They believed in a distinctive British tradition of toleration and fair play, attributing to it their fortunate exemption from the persecution that was the lot of Jews elsewhere. When confronted with evidence to the contrary, they fell back on two explanations. One, they attributed the rise in Jew baiting to the importation and manipulation of foreign, un-English doctrines. The barrister Neville Laski (1890–1969), president of the Board of Deputies from 1933 to 1939, traced the spread of racial antisemitism to Mosley and his followers, whom he accused of introducing “a new and strange element” (Nazism) into English public life. Its influence had created a “Jewish Question.” Two, they also attributed antisemitism to undisciplined, vulgar, and illicit Jewish behavior. (That the two explanations were at odds with each other did not trouble those who invoked them.) This interpretation, in vogue since at least the late-nineteenth century, assumed that there was a link between what Jews did and what Jew (p.210) baiters said about them, that Jews themselves contributed to antisemitism by misbehaving, that is, by overdressing, engaging in sharp practices, propagating unpatriotic doctrines, and breaking the law. The president of the Council of Manchester and Salford Jews, Samuel Finburgh (1867–1935), a cotton manufacturer and former Conservative MP, for example, told the council in 1934 that the cause of antisemitism, in both Germany and England, was “the one pernicious fault” of the Jews—“ostentation.” Basil Henriques wrote in his club newsletter during the war that Jews who “do a lot of low-down things” were “very largely the cause of anti-Semitism.” At times faith in the link between Jewish behavior and antisemitism had ludicrous consequences. In 1936, for example, the Jewish Lads’ Brigade withdrew temporarily from the Prince of Wales Boxing Shield competition, which it had won repeatedly since its inception in the early 1920s, because it did not wish to provoke gentile envy. A similar motive led the Jewish Chronicle in 1937 to consider, in all seriousness, whether the community should voluntarily restrict the entry of young Jews into medicine, law, and accountancy.51

Before the appearance of the BUF, domestic antisemitism did not alarm the Board of Deputies. Its defense policy, to the extent it had one, was to rely on the press committee it had established in 1920 to respond to anti-Jewish slurs in newspapers and periodicals. By the mid-1930s, however, it was clear that more energetic steps were needed, but there was disagreement about what they should be. The Board’s leaders, who were more anxious about antisemitism than their public rhetoric suggested, were opposed to direct confrontation and urged Jews to keep away from BUF meetings. They did not want to provoke further violence and feared that a Jewish response would backfire. It would give the BUF the publicity it was seeking and would cast the fight against fascism as a Jewish rather than a British issue, further separating the Jewish community from the rest of the country. In Laski’s words, “If Jews wish to fight Fascism in this country, they must fight it as citizens and not as Jews.”52 In summer 1936, however, with BUF terror mounting, the Board decided to establish a defense committee with a mandate to take new measures.

The defense committee instituted two new programs. It launched a large-scale public relations campaign to counter anti-Jewish accusations and highlight Jewish contributions to British life. In the naive belief that ignorance about Jews and Judaism fostered antisemitism, it produced and distributed books, pamphlets, and leaflets, supplied the press and the BBC with information on the community, wrote letters to the editor, (p.211) using the names of Jewish and non-Jewish backers, and dispatched volunteer speakers to open-air meetings. Armed with notes that the committee supplied, the speakers were prepared to answer questions about “The Jews and Bolshevism,” “The Kol Nidrei Prayer,” and “Chain Stores” or hold forth on “The Jew as Sportsman,” “Jewish Pioneers of Empire,” and “The Jewish Contribution to English Literature.” The committee claimed, in 1943, that this kind of work kept antisemitism “within bounds,” without substantiating its claim, which was, in the nature of things, unverifiable.53 The second, more novel initiative was the establishment of “vigilance” committees in London and the provinces, which, along with tracking local outbreaks of antisemitism, monitored Jewish misdeeds, particularly in business. The assumption, again, was that the activities of unscrupulous Jews fed the fires of Jew-hatred. The committees investigated charges about price-cutting, conditions of employment, fraudulent bankruptcies, commercial swindles, and, during World War II, black marketeering, and, when they were found to have merit, tried to pressure the offenders to alter their conduct. In 1940, these committees merged into a body independent from but linked to the Board, the Trades Advisory Council, which, at the start of the twenty-first century, remains active, aiming to eliminate friction between Jews and non-Jews in economic life.

To Jewish nationalists and left-wing activists, as well as those who bore the brunt of Blackshirt attacks, the response of the communal establishment was pusillanimous.54 In summer 1936, at a time when the Board was beginning to overcome its reluctance to act, a coalition of Jewish groups who wanted a vigorous response—trade unions, East End synagogues, the Workers’ Circle, friendly societies, Zionist organizations, ex-servicemen’s groups—created the Jewish People’s Council against Fascism and Anti-Semitism (JPC). With local Communists taking the lead, it organized mass meetings, distributed leaflets, visited mayors, lobbied the Home Secretary to ban uniformed marches and racial incitement, and cooperated with other, mostly left-wing, antifascist organizations. Above all, it confronted Blackshirt gangs in the streets—until the government banned the BUF and jailed its leaders in 1940. On 4 October 1936, when the BUF tried to march through the East End, the JPC and its allies mobilized one hundred thousand people to stop them. (The Board of Deputies called for restraint and urged Jews to stay at home.) The antifascist crowd forced the police to divert the march from its planned route, and, in trying to remove barriers erected by the crowd to block the BUF, the police clashed with antifascist (p.212) demonstrators, a confrontation known as “The Battle of Cable Street.” In response to the escalation of violence, the government pushed through the Public Order Act, which, in effect, outlawed uniformed processions. However, the law did not ban BUF meetings or stop BUF gangs from harassing Jews.

The JPC’s militant independence and left-wing complexion infuriated the Board’s old-line leaders. They denounced its tactics and its view of the problem, which it framed—in explicitly political terms—as opposition to fascism rather than antisemitism alone. Laski and other communal notables believed that British Jews had no collective political interests of their own. They put their faith in Britain’s liberal tradition, trusted in the state’s goodwill, and relied on its representatives to protect their persons and property. In addition, they were outraged by the JPC’s independence, which challenged their own long-standing claim to speak for British Jewry. Despite the Zionist assault on their authority earlier in the century, they still saw themselves as the legitimate representatives of the community, believing that they alone had the right to treat with the government in regard to Jewish matters. Their arrogance, alienation from the fears and concerns of second-generation Jews, and failure to act boldly cost them the confidence of their “followers” and further eroded their influence.

The response of the communal establishment to the rise of Nazism also aroused criticism and for similar reasons.55 In March 1933, following Hitler’s first anti-Jewish measures, the call arose in Jewish communities in Britain and America to organize a boycott of German goods and services. In Britain, boycott committees were formed and protests were staged, including a thirty-thousand-person march from the East End to Hyde Park on 20 July 1933. These activities enjoyed the support of all sections of the community, except for the old elite. In September, with the Board of Deputies and the even less representative Anglo-Jewish Association unwilling to back the boycott or public protests, a broad coalition of groups established a coordinating committee, the Jewish Representative Council for the Boycott of German Goods and Services (JRC), headed by Morris Davis (1894–1985), president of the Federation of Synagogues, Labour politician, and Zionist. The Board’s leaders withheld their support for two reasons: first, they were uncomfortable with popular, collective Jewish politics and, second, the boycott would embarrass the government, whose policy was to appease Germany, and thus suggest that Jewish interests were different from those of other citizens. (Britain and its empire were Germany’s biggest trading partner (p.213) in the 1930s.) Over 350 Jewish organizations, with a total membership of 170,000, belonged to the JRC. The vitality of the boycott campaign fluctuated in the six years before the war and, even when most active, was of course unable to weaken the Nazi regime. It was important, however, for what it did for its backers; it allowed them to voice their outrage and overcome their sense of helplessness, thus restoring to them a measure of self-respect. In general, until late 1938, the Board’s leaders opposed Jewish protest meetings against Nazi persecution, not wishing to take a public stand in opposition to the Chamberlain government’s hopes for rapprochement with Germany. Their low-profile strategy, needless to say, provoked anger and dismay in broad segments of the community. Even Neville Laski’s father Nathan (1863–1941), the leader of the Manchester community, took his son to task for the Board’s lack of action.

The tide of refugees fleeing Nazi persecution also challenged the communal elite’s understanding of Jewishness and the place of Jews in the British state. Jews began leaving Germany soon after Hitler became chancellor in January 1933. As their situation deteriorated, especially after Kristallnacht (9–10 November 1938), when even the most die-hard assimilationists realized that there was no future for Jews in Germany, they became ever more desperate to emigrate. It was their misfortune—and that of the Jews of Austria and Czechoslovakia after the German annexations of March 1938 and March 1939 respectively—that in the 1930s the liberal states of the West were unwilling to open their doors to Jewish immigrants as widely as they had before World War I. In both the United States and Great Britain, high unemployment, xenophobia, indifference to Jewish suffering, and overt antisemitism created an atmosphere that was hostile to large-scale Jewish immigration. To compound the problem, British officials also refused to open Palestine’s doors, fearing that a mass influx of Jews would antagonize Arab nationalists throughout the Middle East, driving them into the German and Italian camps, and outrage Muslims in India, as well, where British rule was also threatened.56

The communal notables were ambivalent about Britain becoming a sanctuary for German-Jewish refugees. To some extent, they shared the view of government ministers and officials that a dramatic increase in the size of the community would create more antisemitism and thus saddle Britain (and themselves) with a German-style “Jewish Question.” (In the 1930s, of course, neither they nor their counterparts elsewhere were able to foresee the horrors the future would bring.) Moreover, (p.214) even to the extent that they felt that the official perception was incorrect, they lacked the confidence to challenge it and mobilize political support for a more humanitarian approach. They were frightened by the rise of domestic antisemitism, unaccustomed to popular politics and the mobilization of public opinion, and reluctant to fight for Jewish interests if doing so could be labeled as disloyal. As in the fight against the BUF, they believed that Jews must put the interests of the nation, as officialdom defined them, before their own “parochial” concerns. Yet, however timid or unimaginative they were in dealing with Westminster and Whitehall, Laski and his associates were not insensitive to the plight of Jews under Nazi rule. They felt bound to them by ties of peoplehood, fate, and history. Indifference or inaction would have been unthinkable. When disaster struck Germany’s Jews in the 1930s, they responded with unflagging energy but in a manner that was, at the same time, consistent with their understanding of correct, effective political behavior.

Until the outbreak of the war, the cornerstone of communal refugee policy was an unusual agreement reached in April 1933 between the government and four leading Jewish figures—Laski; Otto M. Schiff (1875–1952), a German-born merchant banker, president of the Jews’ Temporary Shelter, and founder of the Jewish Refugees Committee; Leonard G. Montefiore (1889–1961), Claude Goldsmid Montefiore’s only child and president of the Anglo-Jewish Association; and Lionel L. Cohen (1888–1973), a barrister and chairman of the Board of Deputies’ Law, Parliamentary, and General Purposes Committee. The government agreed to relax the legal requirement, dating back to 1919 and 1920, that immigrants needed to demonstrate their ability to support themselves in Britain. In return, the four men pledged that the Jewish community would not allow any refugee to become a charge on public funds. They assumed, and assured the government in good faith, that the total number of refugees would be small and that those who came would eventually re-emigrate to countries that were better suited, in their view, to receive immigrants. It was also understood that the Jewish community would control the influx, limiting the number who came and selecting those who would be the least troublesome and the most likely to re-emigrate. To this end, Schiff met regularly with officials at the Home Office to discuss individual cases and to help determine which categories of immigrants were to be admitted. Meanwhile, a host of organizations, some newly created, took charge of the refugees on their arrival, providing them with housing and food, helping them to obtain work, allowing them to continue their education, and the like. The most important (p.215) were the Jews’ Temporary Shelter, which had been founded in 1884 to assist East European immigrants and now took care of the immediate needs of the German refugees on their arrival; the Jewish Refugees Committee, which handled the admission of refugees and their maintenance, training, education, and re-emigration (when possible); and the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany, which was established in November 1938 to transport and care for unaccompanied children under age sixteen. These and other aid organizations were funded primarily by the Central British Fund for Jewish Relief and Rehabilitation, which was established in April 1933 and supported by both Zionists and non-Zionists. Before the outbreak of the war, British Jews contributed over £3 million to refugee relief work.57

The number of refugees admitted before November 1938 was modest—about eleven thousand—and, while a challenge to the community’s organizational and fiscal resources, did not overwhelm them. However, after Kristallnacht and the Nazi takeover of Austria and Czechoslovakia, the situation became more desperate. In July 1938, the Home Office adopted a more liberal attitude in the matter of admissions, cutting red tape and accelerating the migration process. This resulted in the arrival of another forty-four thousand refugees between November 1938 and the start of the war in September 1939. This shift, however, met with resistance from Schiff and other refugee workers, who wished to tighten admissions, since their organizations, not the government, were responsible for the settlement and maintenance of the new arrivals. Overwhelmed by paperwork and decision making about admissions and alarmed at the cost of caring for tens of thousands of new dependents, few of whom had realistic chances of re-emigrating, they continued to advocate a policy of selective admissions. The government, however, overrode their resistance. By the start of the war, Britain had admitted more refugees, relative to the size of its population, than the United States, whose absorptive capacity was far greater.

British Jews gave the German-speaking newcomers a mixed welcome.58 Some threw themselves into refugee work, helping the refugees find employment, easing their way into the life of the community, taking in children who arrived on the Kindertransporte. But there were those, as well, who remained indifferent and did not respond to appeals for funds and, more importantly, for homes for unaccompanied children, one-third of whom, as a result, were placed in Christian homes.59 (This undoubtedly contributed to the high rate of radical assimilation among German Jews in Britain after the war.) Communal bodies and leaders (p.216) were often insensitive to the feelings and needs of the newcomers. Even while working to admit and settle refugees, they feared that their presence would exacerbate antisemitism and thus admonished them to behave—to maintain a low profile and avoid calling attention to themselves. The Board of Deputies prepared a booklet, While You Are in England (1939), which all refugees received on arrival, containing a list of “do’s” and “don’t’s” that reflected this fear. It advised the refugees to avoid speaking German and reading German newspapers in public, talking loudly, dressing conspicuously, taking part in politics, and, above all, commenting on how much better things were done in Germany. Social contact between refugees and English Jews was limited. What little contact there was—largely at the institutional level—left the new arrivals feeling humiliated, patronized, even resented. British Jews tended to view them as arrogant, “too assimilated” (“more German than Jewish” was a common observation), and deserving of their fate for having shed their Jewishness.

The rise of Nazism also contributed to shifting the balance between Zionism and anti-Zionism in communal politics.60 By confirming the Zionist claim that emancipation (at least in Central Europe) was a failure, events in Germany broadened its appeal and strengthened its hand in communal politics. The issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and then, in 1920, the announcement of Britain’s mandate for Palestine and the appointment of Herbert Samuel as high commissioner had captured the imagination of large numbers of British Jews. From 1917 to 1921, membership in various Zionist groups in Britain rose from about four thousand to thirty thousand; the number of societies affiliated to the English Zionist Federation rose from 61 to 234. From 1916 to 1918, the amounts contributed to various funds jumped from just over £500 to just under £120,000.61 But this initial euphoria did not last, and in the 1920s interest in Zionism waned. Whereas in 1918–19, about twenty thousand persons purchased the shekel (that is, paid two shillings to belong to the World Zionist Federation and vote in its elections), in 1928–29, little more than nine thousand made this minimal commitment.62 In the old immigrant neighborhoods, interest in Zionism remained alive among those who had been born abroad and remained attached to religious tradition. For them, the idea that Jews were a discrete nation whose fate was tied to the Land of Israel was neither outlandish nor threatening. Their children, on the other hand, were more inclined to seek salvation elsewhere, and, to the extent they embraced political activism, leaned leftward—to trade unionism, communism, the (p.217) Workers’ Circle, and the Labour Party. Zionist officials voiced concern throughout the interwar period that Communism in particular attracted the best and the brightest among young Jewish workers.63

In the new suburbs, however, among middle-class Jews, Zionism struck deeper roots. In London, the strongest Zionist societies were in Cricklewood and Brondesbury in the northwest and Notting Hill in the west rather than in the East End. This does not mean that suburban Jews who attended Zionist meetings intended to pack their bags and set sail for the East, like the eponymous hero of George Eliot’s proto-Zionist novel Daniel Deronda. Like other western Zionists, few accepted—and acted on—the classic Zionist doctrine that antisemitism was ineradicable, making Diaspora Jewish life everywhere untenable. Before 1948, no more than a few thousand British Zionists made aliyyah (settled in Israel). Rather, Zionism appealed to acculturated, middle-class, suburban Jews of East European background because it gave them a way to express their sense of Jewishness in secular, ethnic terms. It allowed them, in David Cesarani’s formulation, to renegotiate their Jewish identity to fit the new social circumstances in which they found themselves, providing them with an ethnic rather than an exclusively observance-based identity. Moreover, at a time when Jew baiting at home and persecution abroad were on the rise, it allowed them to assert their identity in activist rather than apologetic terms. It became a vehicle for the expression of collective pride and solidarity, a way of shoring up a much battered self-esteem, thus permitting them to remain in Britain without succumbing to feelings of despair or helplessness.64

After declining in the 1920s, the number of Jews who paid the shekel rose—to almost eighteen thousand in 1932–33 and more than twenty-three thousand in 1938–39.65 More critically, during the interwar years, Zionist activists intensified their efforts to “conquer” communal institutions, efforts that met with considerable success. Increasingly, communal bodies took on a Zionist coloration. Beginning in 1921, the Zionist faction on the council of the United Synagogue (US) battled with Sir Robert Waley Cohen (1877–1952), vice president of the US, over the issue of support for Keren Ha-Yesod, one of the two principal fund-raising arms of the Zionist movement. In 1926, at the urging of representatives of suburban synagogues (Hampstead, Hammersmith, Golders Green, etc.), where Zionism flourished, the US voted to collect funds for Keren Ha-Yesod, although Waley Cohen was able to delay the start of the fund-raising for two years by legal maneuvers. From the 1920s, other important bodies—the Federation of Synagogues, the Association (p.218) of Jewish Friendly Societies, and B’nai B’rith—elected Zionists as presidents or identified unofficially with the Zionist movement. Even before the war, in 1913, Joseph Hertz, a Zionist since the 1890s, replaced Hermann Adler, a vocal anti-Zionist, as chief rabbi.66

At the Board of Deputies, Zionist deputies encountered intense resistance, for the stakes were higher there than in other forums, given the Board’s role in articulating Jewish opinion to the government.67 To recapitulate what I wrote above: the Zionist victory at the Board on 17 June 1917, when it condemned the anti-Zionism of the old elite, was the beginning, not the end, of the struggle for control. The presidents of the Board in the interwar period—Sir Stuart Samuel, H. S. Q. Henriques (1866–1925), Osmond Elim d’Avigdor-Goldsmid (1877–1940), and Neville Laski—were not Zionists; Laski, indeed, was fiercely anti-Zionist. But the membership of the Board was changing, as Zionists won election as representatives of friendly societies and of suburban, East End, and provincial synagogues, while the views of other deputies shifted or moderated in response to escalating anti-Jewish activity. In the late 1930s, when the British government in effect repudiated the Balfour Declaration, the Zionists, who were a clear majority on the Board’s Palestine Committee, clashed time and again with Laski and his vice presidents, Robert Waley Cohen and Lionel Cohen. Repeatedly, the officers frustrated the Board’s directives to protest the repudiation of the Balfour Declaration. Moreover, Laski, Waley Cohen, and others contacted Whitehall officials to make known their own views, without authorization from the Board and behind its back. This, along with Laski’s guarded response to Nazism and the BUF, drove an enormous wedge between the old guard and the Board’s rank and file. In January 1938, when the Board voted to support the creation of a Jewish Dominion within the British Empire, there were only seven negative votes. Afterward, Lionel Cohen resigned as vice president. In the election to replace him, Dr. Israel Feldman (1888–1981), the pro-Zionist chair of the Palestine Committee, defeated Otto Schiff, an ally of Laski. When Laski resigned in 1939—for personal as much as political reasons—his replacement was the Russian-born, East End–bred Selig Brodetsky (1888–1954), a professor of applied mathematics at Leeds and president of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain. The final stage in the conquest of the Board came in July 1943, following the Biltmore Declaration of May 1942, which called for the immediate establishment of a “Jewish Commonwealth” in Palestine after the war. In a campaign organized by Lavy Bakstansky (1904–71), general secretary of the English Zionist Federation, (p.219) who represented a small synagogue on the Board, Zionist majorities were elected to all the Board’s committees and the Board ended its partnership with the non-Zionist Anglo-Jewish Association on the Conjoint Foreign Committee.

Because Britain held the mandate for Palestine until 1948, London was the hub of World Zionist Organization diplomacy. British Jews were well represented in its headquarters in Great Russell Street and among those who promoted its cause in public forums. The barrister Leonard Stein (1887–1973) and the historian Lewis Namier (1888–1960), who otherwise had no links to Anglo-Jewry, served in turn as political secretary to the Jewish Agency, which represented Zionist interests in mandatory Palestine. British Jews were also prominent in the Palestine administration and in the Zionist civil service in Palestine. Norman Bentwich was attorney general from 1920 to 1931; Albert Hyamson (1875–1974), director of immigration and controller of labor from 1921 to 1938; Cyril Henriques (1880–1976), engineer to the Palestine Zionist Executive from 1925 to 1928; and Colonel Frederick Kisch (1888–1943), chair of its political department from 1922 to 1931. Herbert Samuel’s son Edwin (1898–1978) served in half a dozen posts in the Palestine administration between 1920 and 1948. This dimension of the Anglo-Jewish experience, however, belongs more correctly to the history of Zionism, as does the diplomatic work of East European–born Zionist officials, like Chaim Weizmann, Nahum Sokolow (1861–1936), and Moshe Shertok (1894–1965), who lived in London between the wars but neither saw themselves nor were viewed as British Jews.68

Britain’s assumption of the mandate was not irrelevant, however, to the fate of Zionism within the Anglo-Jewish community. The overlap between British and Zionist interests worked to mute opposition to Jewish nationalism in integrationist circles by deflating the charge that Zionism undermined Jewish loyalty to Britain. After all, how could Jewish support for a government-sponsored project be unpatriotic? Because of this convergence of interests, the anti-Zionist camp in Britain was weaker and less shrill than in other Western states. The League of British Jews, for example, was moribund by the mid-1920s. The mandate, moreover, allowed Jews who opposed the creation of an independent Jewish state to participate in the revival of Palestinian Jewish life through economic investment and philanthropic aid. Waley Cohen established the Palestine Corporation, which developed a host of industrial, agricultural, and financial enterprises, including the King David Hotel, Nesher Cement, the Union Bank, the Palestine Salt Company, and the Ihud (p.220) Insurance Agencies. Rufus Isaacs, first Marquess of Reading, became chairman of the board of directors of the Palestine Electric Corporation. In fact, the old elite, with some notable exceptions, was more non-Zionist than anti-Zionist. Unwilling to endorse political Zionism and its ultimate aim of creating a Jewish state, they were eager nonetheless to support what they called “practical” Zionism—the creation of a Jewish center in a British-controlled Palestine that would offer refuge to Jews from less tolerant lands.69

Issues of religious authority also divided Anglo-Jewry during this period, at times overlapping with and reinforcing political divisions within the community.70 Nontraditional forms of Judaism (Reform and Liberal Judaism) expanded their following, largely at the expense of mainstream Orthodoxy. New Reform congregations were established in Golders Green (1933), Glasgow (1933), Edgware (1935), and Leeds (1944), and new Liberal synagogues in North London (1921), South London (1927), West Central London (1928), Liverpool (1928), Belsize Square (1939), and Ealing (1943). In addition, Basil Henriques opened a synagogue in 1919 in his St. George’s Settlement in the East End, backed by both the Reform and Liberal movements. Altogether, then, there were fifteen nontraditional synagogues by the end of World War II. The expansion of non-Orthodox Jewish movements reflected the increasing anglicization and embourgeoisement of East European Jews, as well as declining levels of observance and piety in both the old and new communities. They attracted prosperous Jews, from both the old and the new communities, who wanted to retain ties to Judaism but were dissatisfied with the all-Hebrew, multi-hour, sex-segregated services of the United Synagogue (most of whose congregants were not themselves fully observant in any case). The arrival of refugees from Germany, where Reform had triumphed in the nineteenth century, also contributed to the expansion of non-Orthodox Judaism, both in London and the provinces. Of critical importance for this trend, which became even more marked after the war, was the arrival of German Reform rabbis, who transformed the Reform and Liberal movements overnight, providing them for the first time with experienced, well-trained rabbinical leadership.

Fissures within Orthodox Judaism that emerged in the period of mass migration also expanded during the interwar years. East European Jews who moved to middle- and upper-middle-class suburbs tended to join synagogues belonging to the United Synagogue (if in London) or accepting the authority of the chief rabbi (if in the provinces). The less (p.221) upwardly mobile continued to belong to smaller, less anglicized congregations. These included London congregations that were affiliated with the Federation of Synagogues or that joined the separatist Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (which the Hungarian-born Rabbi Victor Schonfeld [1880–1930], head of the Adat Yisrael community in North London, established in 1926), as well as provincial synagogues that did not recognize the chief rabbi and held the communal establishment at arm’s length. The best known case of the latter was the separatist East European community in Gateshead, near Newcastle, which in the late 1920s established its own yeshivah—over the objections of Chief Rabbi Hertz, who tried, but failed, to block the immigration of the Polish rabbi whom the community invited to head the new institution. Hertz and the officers of the United Synagogue, most of whom were not observant, clashed repeatedly with these communities. Their rabbis objected to Hertz’s quasi-official status (especially his legal authority to decide which congregations were allowed to appoint a marriage secretary), his live-and-let-live attitude toward Liberal and Reform congregations, and his desire to monopolize the supervision of shehitah and kashrut.

Intertwined with these religious concerns were social and economic resentments. The chief rabbi and the United Synagogue represented the wealthiest, most acculturated wing of that section of Anglo-Jewry identifying itself as Orthodox, while those in the separatist camp were immigrants or the children of immigrants, with little social or economic standing. At the Federation of Synagogues, which Samuel Montagu had created in 1887 to promote immigrant acculturation, these resentments erupted in a rank-and-file revolt against the West End leadership of the Federation. In 1925, the Federation’s Board of Delegates forced the resignation of its president, Louis Montagu, the second Lord Swaythling, who had “inherited” the office from his father, and its executive secretary, who was loyal to him. Montagu was a nonobservant, anti-Zionist, moneyed West End notable; the man who engineered his removal and succeeded him in 1928 was the East End Zionist and Labour politician Morrie Davis.71 Davis’s victory was part of the larger transformation in communal leadership that took place in the interwar years. In the triumphalist words of the Federation’s historian, his rise “bore witness to the self-confidence and assertiveness of the immigrants and their children,” putting the old communal establishment on notice “that its unfettered discretion to order the affairs of British Jewry was at an end.”72

The outbreak of war in September 1939 ushered in six years of havoc (p.222) and loss, accelerating changes in Anglo-Jewish life that were already under way.73 To start, there was the toll taken by German bombing, which began in September 1940 and did not end until March 1945, when the last V-2 rocket hit London. The East End, with its docks, warehouses, railroad termini and sidings, was a prime target. Waves of German bombers rained destruction on homes, workshops, businesses, synagogues, schools, clubs, and communal offices, taking lives, spreading fear, disrupting the provision of communal services. On 11 May 1941, German bombs started a fire that consumed the Great Synagogue in Duke’s Place, the eighteenth-century “cathedral” synagogue of the Ashkenazi community. Thousands of children and parents from London and other cities were evacuated to safe areas in the countryside. Most of those who left the old immigrant districts during the war did not rebuild their lives there afterward. The Jewish population of the borough of Stepney fell from about sixty thousand in 1940 to not more than thirty thousand in 1945. The war also took another kind of toll. For six years, it shattered the routines of Anglo-Jewish life and, in particular, made the observance of Judaism, both domestic ritual and public worship and the regime of religious education that sustains it, haphazard. The social and cultural horizons of the sixty-two thousand men and women in the armed forces, most of whom did not have extensive social ties with non-Jews beforehand, broadened. Dispersed in units around the world and thus isolated as Jews, with little contact with the few Jewish chaplains in the armed forces, they were very much on their own. Most encountered prejudice, due as much to ignorance as malice, often from soldiers who had never before known Jews.74 For some, the encounter with antisemitism reinforced their sense of Jewishness; for others, it suggested that it was a liability, an uncomfortable burden to be set aside. Although the long-term impact of military service on Jewish identity must remain a matter of speculation, it is hard to believe that the experience was irrelevant, leaving no permanent imprint at all.75

Civilian evacuees in country towns and villages also found themselves in unfamiliar surroundings. While safe from enemy fire, they, like Jews in the military, faced hostility and incomprehension. Country folk viewed them at best as exotics and outsiders and at worst as loud, overdressed, black marketeers, who aggravated housing, gasoline, and food shortages. For Christians who saw them through the lens of traditional religious doctrine, they were blasphemers and deicides. When the evacuees were also German refugees, the antisemitism took on an extra edge, for they were enemy aliens as well as urban Jews. However, the enmity toward them and other evacuees was mainly verbal and rarely descended into violence. Evacuees also had to cope with the limited availability of kosher food and facilities for worship and religious instruction. Some of them—the young in particular—did not find their absence a hardship and, indeed, welcomed the chance to become more “English” (that is, less observant). In any case, Jewish practice suffered, at home as well as among the troops, as did Jewish education. In the long-term, the uprooting and dispersion of thousands of Jews during the war contributed to the decline of religious practice and in all likelihood to the dilution of Jewish commitments that characterized the second half of the century. For Jewish refugees from Nazism, the war meant further humiliation and suffering.76 At its start, the government established a system of local tribunals to assign enemy aliens, most of whom were German and Austrian Jews, to one of three categories (A, doubtful loyalty; B, uncertain loyalty; C, unquestionable loyalty) and interned those in category A immediately (about five hundred of the sixty-two thousand persons interviewed). The tribunals were usually sympathetic to the refugees, almost all of whom were placed in category C. However, in early 1940, the right-wing press began to clamor for mass internment, branding the refugees a threat to British security—a nest of spies and saboteurs, a potential fifth column. When the so-called phony war gave way to the Blitzkrieg, and Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France fell to the Germans, the mood of the country darkened, and liberal opposition to wholesale alien internment evaporated. In May and June, yielding to war hysteria and pressure from military and intelligence units, the government ordered the internment of all those in categories B and C, except for women in category C. By mid-summer, thirty thousand enemy aliens, the majority of whom were Jewish refugees from Nazism, were being held in makeshift detention camps throughout the country, the largest of which was on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. Furthermore, fearing (believe it or not) that the internees would come to the aid of German troops in the case of an invasion, the government started deporting them, mainly to Australia and Canada. When news about British and Canadian soldiers robbing and mistreating the deportees and a German submarine sinking the Canada-bound Arandora Star reached Britain, public opinion turned against both deportation and mass internment. Under pressure in Parliament, the government retreated and in late summer began releasing Jewish and other category B and C internees. By August 1941, only two internment camps remained, holding about thirteen hundred refugees.


The Great War to the Holocaust (1914–1945)

The Great Synagogue, Duke’s Place, London. Destroyed by German bombs, 11 May 1941. From a private collection.

(p.224) The anti-refugee hysteria that led to internment in the first place was linked to the continued vitality of domestic antisemitism during the war years. While the banning of the BUF and the detainment of its leaders in May and June 1940 curtailed its public activities, other forms of antisemitism did not diminish. The hardships of the war years—especially the rationing, the blitz, and the absence of loved ones—created a climate that worked against the moderation of old fears and hatreds. Ugly rumors and charges surfaced in the press, survey research, and government reports: East End Jews were panicking in the air raid shelters; Jewish traders were making fortunes on the black market; Jewish homemakers were evading rationing; Jewish evacuees were corrupting the countryside; Jewish men were shirking national service; Jewish women were awash in chocolates, hot-house flowers, silk stockings, diamonds, and (p.225) fur coats. Above all, as before the war, the chief complaint was that Jews were not English. They were alien, exclusive, clannish, and unassimilable. Indeed, they themselves were to blame for creating antisemitism by maintaining their distinctiveness and refusing integration into English society. Why, one letter writer angrily asked the publisher and left-wing publicist Victor Gollancz (1893–1967) in June 1945, do “the Jews stress their religion so much, instead of trying to become assimilated in the countries where they live?” After all, “one does not find Scots all over the globe referring to themselves as Presbyterians, or the Welsh as Wesleyans, and expecting material favours because of it.”77

The persistence of antisemitism heightened the unease of communal leaders and thus inhibited their defense of Jewish interests.78 Fearing they would be accused of championing “Jewish” over “English” interests, they were cautious in challenging wartime policies that discriminated against Jews or that ignored their suffering. They feared that assertive, public demonstrations would not only achieve little but would, indeed, aggravate antisemitism—fears that led Lewis Namier to dub them “The Order of Trembling Israelites.”79 For example, when the government interned Jewish refugees in 1940, neither the Board of Deputies nor the refugee aid organizations protested. Four years later, when the issue of antisemitism in Polish army units on British soil came to a head, the Board of Deputies refused to participate in a public protest campaign because it did not want to embarrass the government, preferring instead to negotiate behind the scenes with the War Office. In regard to the great life-or-death issue of the time—convincing the government to rescue Jews facing death at German hands, whether byopening Palestine or Britain to those able to flee the continent or by taking even more dramatic steps—most communal leaders were also cautious. They were aware that an unprecedented tragedy was unfolding but were crippled by their caution and preoccupation with challenges at home. The Board of Deputies was distracted as well by the acrimonious debate between Zionists and anti-Zionists that dominated its meetings during the war years. It also resented the efforts of outsiders, like the anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox leader Solomon Schonfeld (1912–84), rabbi of the Adat Yisrael community in North London (and son of its founder), who tried on their own to mobilize support in Parliament for rescue work. For all these reasons, there were no mass demonstrations or other public measures to influence the government to take active steps to rescue Jews.

This is not to say, however, that the fate of European Jewry would (p.226) have been different if Anglo-Jewry had been more assertive. It is doubtful whether the cabinet would have responded favorably to Jewish demands to rescue Jews (especially since most rescue schemes included the admission of refugees to Palestine) and that, if it had, it would have been able to save significant numbers of Jewish lives once the Germans occupied most of Europe. (Both Great Britain and the United States could have saved several hundred thousand Jewish lives, at a minimum, if they had opened their doors more widely to refugees before the winter of 1941–42.) Acknowledging that the fate of the Jews was in the hands of the Germans and not the Allies is a different matter, however, than understanding the concerns that determined the behavior of Jewish leaders in wartime Britain. What is clear is that the antisemitic climate of the period and the fears it engendered shaped Anglo-Jewish responses to the destruction of European Jewry. Retrospective attacks on the behavior of communal leaders reveal, in the end, more about the historians making them and their concerns than they do about the agonizing days of World War II and the unprecedented challenges it presented.

(p.227) (p.228)

The Great War to the Holocaust (1914–1945)

Federation of Zionist Youth on a “gap” year program in Israel. From a private collection.


(1) . JC, 7 August 1914; Michael Adler, “The Story of British Jewry in the War,” American Jewish Year Book 21 (1919): 99; Sidney Salomon, The Jews of Britain, 2nd ed. (London, 1938), 48.

(2) . C. C. Aronsfeld, “Jewish Enemy Aliens in England during the First World War,” Jewish Social Studies 18 (1956): 275–83; Colin Holmes, Anti-Semitism in British Society, 1876–1939 (New York, 1979), chap. 8; David Cesarani, “An Embattled Minority: The Jews in Britain during the First World War,” Immigrants and Minorities 8 (1989): 61–81; Mark Levene, War, Jews, and the New Europe: The Diplomacy of Lucien Wolf, 1914–1919 (Oxford, 1992), chap. 1.

(3) . Holmes, Anti-Semitism in British Society, 126–37; Julia Bush, Behind the Lines: East London Labour, 1914–1919 (London, 1984), chap. 6; Bernard Wasserstein, Herbert Samuel: A Political Life (Oxford, 1992), 126–37; C. C. Aronsfeld, “Anti-Jewish Outbreaks in Modern Britain,” The Gates of Zion 6, 4 (July 1952): 15–18, 21.

(4) . David Cesarani’s claim that Jewish status was “savagely eroded” is overstated. “An Embattled Minority,” 75.

(5) . On this theme, see Barbara W. Tuchman, Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour (New York, 1956); Franz Kobler, The Vision Was There: A History of the British Movement for the Restoration of the Jews to Palestine (London, 1956); Israel Finestein, “Early and Middle Nineteenth Century British Opinion on the Restoration of the Jews: Contrasts with America,” and Lionel E. Kochan, “Jewish Restoration to Zion: Christian Attitudes in Britain in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries,” in With Eyes Toward Zion, vol. 2, ed. Moshe Davis (New York, 1986), 72–121; Sybil M. Jack, “No Heavenly Jerusalem: The Anglican Bishopric, 1841–83,” The Journal of Religious History 19 (1995): 181–203.

(6) . The literature on Montefiore is enormous. See Ruth P. Goldschmidt-Lehmann, Sir Moses Montefiore: A Bibliography (Jerusalem, 1984). Among recent works, the most helpful are V. D. Lipman, ed., Sir Moses Montefiore: A Symposium (Oxford, 1982); Sonia Lipman and V. D. Lipman, eds., The Century of Moses Montefiore (Oxford, 1985); and Moshe Samet’s iconoclastic (and entertaining) Moshe Montefiore: Metsiyut ve-aggadah [Moses Montefiore: Reality and myth] (Jerusalem, 1989).

(7) . Norman Bentwich and John M. Shaftesley, “Forerunners of Zionism in the Victorian Era,” in Remember the Days: Essays on Anglo-Jewish History Presented to Cecil Roth, ed. John M. Shaftesley (London, 1966), 207–39.

(8) . Elhanan Oren, Hibbat tsiyyon be-britanyah, 1878–1898 [The Love of Zion movement in Britain] (Tel Aviv, 1974).

(9) . Paul Goodman, Zionism in England, 1899–1949: A Jubilee Record (London, 1949), 25.

(10) . For the history of British Zionism (as distinct from the history of Zionist diplomacy in Britain) from its origins through the Balfour Declaration, see Stuart A. Cohen, English Zionists and British Jews: The Communal Politics of Anglo-Jewry, (p.302) 1895–1920 (Princeton, N.J., 1982); Virginia Herzog Hein, “The British Followers of Theodor Herzl: English Zionist Leaders, 1896–1904” (Ph.D. diss., Georgia State University, 1978).

(11) . Steven Bayme, “Jewish Leadership and Anti-Semitism in Britain, 1898–1918” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1976), chap. 7; S. Cohen, English Zionists and British Jews, 64–72; Paul Goodman, B’nai B’rith: The First Lodge of England, 1910–1935 (London, 1936).

(12) . S. Cohen, English Zionists and British Jews, chaps. 4 and 5 and p. 282; Gideon Shimoni, “Poale Zion: A Zionist Transplant in Britain (1905–1945),” Studies in Contemporary Jewry 2 (1986): 228–32.

(13) . For Weizmann’s career in England from his arrival to 1922, see Jehuda Reinharz, Chaim Weizmann, vol. 1, The Making of a Zionist Leader, and vol. 2, The Making of a Statesman (New York, 1985 and 1993).

(14) . There is a large and contentious literature on the tangle of negotiations and intrigues that led to the issuance of the Balfour Declaration. The most useful accounts are Leonard Stein, The Balfour Declaration (New York, 1961); Isaiah Friedman, The Question of Palestine, 1914–1918: British-Jewish-Arab Relations (London, 1973); S. Cohen, English Zionists and British Jews; Levene, War, Jews, and the New Europe; Reinharz, Weizmann, vol. 2.

(15) . On the origins of the Judaeans, see David Vital, Zionism: The Crucial Phase (Oxford, 1987), 144–50, 228–32.

(16) . Quoted in Reinharz, Weizmann, 2: 26–27.

(17) . S. Cohen, English Zionists and British Jews, 262–63.

(18) . Bill Williams, The Making of Manchester Jewry, 1740–1875 (Manchester, 1976), chaps. 8–10.

(19) . Bayme, “Jewish Leadership and Anti-Semitism in Britain,” chap. 7; S. Cohen, English Zionists and British Jews, 130–43.

(20) . Goodman, B’nai B’rith.

(21) . David Cesarani, The “Jewish Chronicle” and Anglo-Jewry, 1841–1991 (Cambridge, 1994), chap. 4.

(22) . Andrew Godley, “Leaving the East End: Regional Mobility among East European Jews in London, 1880–1914,” in LondonThe Promised Land? The Migrant Experience in a Capital City, ed. Anne J. Kershen (Aldershot, Eng., 1997), 59.

(23) . Charles Landstone, Blue Tiger Yard (London, 1927), 8, 9, 65, 67.

(24) . Harold Pollins, Economic History of the Jews in England (Rutherford, N.J., 1982), 186–89.

(25) . V. D. Lipman, “Jewish Settlement in the East End, 1840–1940” and “The Booth and New London Surveys as Source Material for East London Jewry (1880–1930),” in The Jewish East End, 1840–1939, ed. Aubrey Newman (London, 1981), 37, 47; idem, A History of the Jews in Britain since 1858 (New York, 1990), 207; Aubrey Newman, The United Synagogue, 1870–1970 (London, 1976), 216, 218; Henrietta Adler, “Jewish Life and Labour in East London,” in The New Survey of London Life and Labour, ed. H. Llewellyn Smith, 9 vols. (1930–35), 6: 269–71.

(p.303) (26) . Monty Dobkin, Tales of Manchester Jewry and Manchester in the Thirties (Manchester, 1986), 33–34.

(27) . Pollins, Economic History of the Jews in England, 189; Hannah Neustatter, “Demographic and Other Statistical Aspects of Anglo-Jewry,” in A Minority in Britain: Social Studies of the Anglo-Jewish Community, ed. Maurice Freedman (London, 1955), 132; W. Victor Sefton, “Growing Up Jewish in London, 1920–1950: A Perspective from 1973,” in Studies in the Cultural Life of the Jews in England, ed. Dov Noy and Issachar Ben-Ami (Jerusalem, 1975), 321.

(28) . Geoffrey D. M. Blok and Harry C. Schwab, A Survey of Jewish Students at the British Universities (London, 1938), 3, 6–7, 8–9, 11.

(29) . Horace Thorogood, East of Aldgate (London, 1935), 84–85.

(30) . For a more detailed treatment, see Geoffrey Alderman, London Jewry and London Politics, 1889–1986 (London, 1989), 65–68; Todd M. Endelman, Radical Assimilation in English Jewish History, 1656–1945 (Bloomington, Ind., 1990), 194–96.

(31) . Ena Abrahams, quoted in Jewish Women in London Group, Generations of Memories: Voices of Jewish Women (London, 1989), 101; M. S. Holzman to R. N. Salaman, 6 February 1927, box 1, Salaman Papers, CUL Add. MS 8171, Cambridge University Library.

(32) . There is a much larger literature on these forms of interwar antisemitism. See, e.g., Gisela C. Lebzelter, Political Anti-Semitism in England, 1918–1939 (New York, 1978); Holmes, Anti-Semitism in British Society, part 3; Tony Kushner and Kenneth Lunn, eds., Traditions of Intolerance: Historical Perspectives on Fascism and Race Discourse in Britain (Manchester, 1989); Andrea Freud Loewenstein, Loathsome Jews and Engulfing Women: Metaphors of Projection in the Works of Wyndham Lewis, Charles Williams, and Graham Greene (New York, 1993); Anthony Julius, T. S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form (Cambridge, 1995).

(33) . George Sacks, The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Jew-Baiting (London, 1935), 12–13; Thorogood, East of Aldgate, 83–84. The card game is found in the collection of the Manchester Jewish Museum.

(34) . Betty Miller, Farewell Leicester Square, Persephone Books ed. (London, 2000), 142–44; Ralph Glasser, Gorbals Boy at Oxford, Pan Books ed. (London, 1990), 25.

(35) . Saul Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jews, vol. 1, The Years of Persecution, 1933–1939 (New York, 1997), chap. 3.

(36) . Israel Zangwill to R. N. Salaman, 4 April 1920, A120/68/1; Nina Salaman to Israel Zangwill, 9 July 1920, A120/85/1, Israel Zangwill Papers, Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem.

(37) . There is a large literature on the history of the BUF. See, for example, Robert J. Benewick, The Fascist Movement in Britain (London, 1972); Robert Skidelsky, Oswald Mosley (London, 1975); Kenneth Lunn and Richard C. Thurlow, eds., British Fascism (London, 1980); D. S. Lewis, Illusions of Grandeur: Mosley, Fascism and British Society, 1931–81 (Manchester, 1987); Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: A History, 1918–1985 (Oxford, 1987); Thomas P. Linehan, East London for Mosley: The British Union of Fascists in East London and South-West (p.304) Essex, 1933–1940 (London, 1996). Of particular interest is Jewish History and Culture 1, 2 (winter 1998), which is devoted to “Cable Street: Fascism and Anti-Fascism in British Society.”

(38) . See, for example, William D. Rubenstein, A History of the Jews in the English-Speaking World: Great Britain (London, 1996), 313–18.

(39) . Maurice Levine, Cheetham to Cordova: A Manchester Man of the Thirties (Manchester, 1984), 26; Sharon Gewirtz, “Anti-Fascist Activity in Manchester’s Jewish Community in the 1930s,” Manchester Region History Review 4, 1 (spring-summer 1990): 22–23; Sacks, Guide to Jew-Baiting, 12.

(40) . For a firsthand description of the emotional impact of Blackshirt terror, see Morris Beckman, The Hackney Crucible (London, 1996).

(41) . The Times, 27 and 28 November 1924.

(42) . William Goldman, “A Blighted Romance,” in “In England and in English”: A Collection of Modern Stories by Jewish Writers, ed. William Goldman (London, 1947), 45. For similar comments, see Levine, Cheetham to Cordova, 12.

(43) . H. Llewellyn Smith, “Introduction,” New Survey of London Life and Labour, 6: 22.

(44) . Elaine Smith, “East End Jews in Politics, 1918–1939: A Study in Class and Ethnicity” (Ph.D. diss., University of Leicester, 1990), chap. 1; Endelman, Radical Assimilation, 176–79; David Cesarani, “The East London of Simon Blumenfeld’s Jew Boy,” London Journal 13 (1987–88): 46–53; Jewish Women in London Group, Generations of Memories, 89. In 1924, a reporter was astonished “to see lads in dress clothes and very well turned out young women emerging from the most unpromising-looking alleys on their way to a dancing hall” in the East End. The Times, 28 November 1924.

(45) . Jack Solomons, Jack Solomons Tells All (London, 1951); John Harding, Jack Kid Berg: The Whitechapel Windmill (London, 1987); Robert Murphy, Smash and Grab: Gangsters in the London Underworld, 1920–1960 (London, 1993), chap. 3; Raphael Samuel, ed., East End Underworld: Chapters in the Life of Arthur Harding (London, 1981); Sidney Theodore Felstead, The Underworld of London (New York, 1923), 106–19.

(46) . John Vincent, ed., The Crawford Papers: The Journals of David Lindsay, Twenty-Seventh Earl of Crawford and Tenth Earl of Balcarres, 1871–1940, during the Years 1892–1940 (Manchester, 1984), 596; The Times, 28, 29, and 30 July 1936; Murphy, Smash and Grab, 30–34.

(47) . Lily H. Montagu, My Club and I: The Story of the West Central Jewish Club (London, 1954); Lionel Lewis Loewe, ed., Basil Henriques: A Portrait Based on His Diaries, Letters, and Speeches, as Collated by His Widow, Rose Henriques (London, 1976); Sharman Kadish, “A Good Jew and a Good Englishman”: The Jewish Lads’ and Girls’ Brigade, 1895–1995 (London, 1995).

(48) . E. Smith, “East End Jews in Politics,” chap. 4; Stephan Wendehorst, “British Jewry, Zionism and the Jewish State, 1936–1956” (D. Phil. diss., University of Oxford, 1997), 281; Tony Kushner, “Jewish Communists in Twentieth-Century Britain: The Zaidman Collection,” Labour History Review 55, 2 (1990): 68–69; Charles Poulsen, Scenes from a Stepney Youth (London, 1988), 92–95; Ralph Glasser, Growing Up in the Gorbals, Pan Books ed. (London, 1987), 7.

(p.305) (49) . On British Jews and Communism, see E. Smith, “East End Jews in Politics,” chap. 4; Levine, Cheetham to Cordova; Alderman, London Jewry and London Politics, chap. 4; Gewirtz, “Anti-Fascist Activity in Manchester’s Jewish Community”; Kushner, “Jewish Communists in Twentieth-Century Britain”; Henry Felix Srebrnik, London Jews and British Communism, 1935–1945 (London, 1995). Phil Piratin’s memoir Our Flag Stays Red, 2nd ed. (London, 1978) and Joe Jacobs’s autobiography Out of the Ghetto, 2nd ed. (London 1991) are also helpful.

(50) . Raphael Samuel, “The Lost World of British Communism,” New Left Review 154 (1985): 11.

(51) . Neville J. Laski, Jewish Rights and Jewish Wrongs (London, 1939), 115–18; JC, 2 February 1934; Basil L. Q. Henriques, Fratres: Club Boys in Uniform (London, 1951), 119; Kadish, “A Good Jew and a Good Englishman,” 126; David Cesarani, Reporting Anti-Semitism: The “Jewish Chronicle,” 1879–1979, The Parkes Lecture 1993 (Southampton, Eng., 1994), 5, 11, 15, 19, 28.

(52) . Laski, Jewish Rights and Jewish Wrongs, 136.

(53) . Jewish Defence Committee, The Problem and Meaning of Jewish Defence (London, [ca. 1943]), 3, 4–5, 7.

(54) . Opposition to the Board’s response to the BUF is discussed in Lebzelter, Political Anti-Semitism in England, chap. 7; David Rosenberg, Facing Up to Anti-semitism: How Jews in Britain Countered the Threats of the 1930s (London, 1985), 46–60; Elaine R. Smith, “Jewish Responses to Political Antisemitism and Fascism in the East End of London, 1920–1939,” in Traditions of Intolerance: Historical Perspectives on Fascism and Race Discourse in Britain, ed. Tony Kushner and Kenneth Lunn (Manchester, 1989), 53–71.

(55) . A. J. Sherman, Britain and Refugees from the Third Reich, 1933–1939 (London, 1973); Louise London, “Jewish Refugees, Anglo-Jewry and British Government Policy, 1930–1940,” in The Making of Modern Anglo-Jewry, ed. David Cesarani (Oxford, 1990), 163–90; Sharon Gewirtz, “Anglo-Jewish Responses to Nazi Germany, 1933–39: The Anti-Nazi Boycott and the Board of Deputies of British Jews,” Journal of Contemporary History 26 (1991): 255–76; V. D. Lipman, “Anglo-Jewish Attitudes to the Refugees from Central Europe, 1933–1939,” in Second Chance: Two Centuries of German-Speaking Jews in the United Kingdom, ed. Werner E. Mosse et al. (Tübingen, 1991), 519–31; Ronald Stent, “Jewish Refugee Organisations,” in Second Chance, 579–98.

(56) . The best account of British refugee policy is Louise London, Whitehall and the Jews, 1933–1948: British Immigration Policy and the Holocaust (Cambridge, 2000).

(57) . Norman Bentwich, They Found Refuge (London, 1956), 41–42.

(58) . On the experiences of the refugees and, in particular, their contacts with English Jews, see Marion Berghahn, German-Jewish Refugees in England (London, 1984); Zoë Josephs, Survivors: Jewish Refugees in Birmingham, 1933–1945 (Birmingham, 1988); Elaine Blond, Marks of Distinction: The Memoirs of Elaine Blond (London, 1988), 58–94; Karen Gershon, We Came as Children: A Collective Autobiography (London, 1989); Lipman, “Anglo-Jewish Attitudes to the Refugees”; Tony Kushner, “An Alien Occupation—Jewish Refugees and Domestic Service (p.306) in Britain, 1933–1948,” in Second Chance, ed. Mosse et al., 553–78. See also Lore Segal’s moving autobiographical novel, Other People’s Houses, Plume Books ed. (New York, 1973).

(59) . Blond, Marks of Distinction, 86.

(60) . The fullest accounts of Zionism in Britain after the Balfour Declaration are David Cesarani, “Zionism in England, 1917–1939” (D.Phil. diss., University of Oxford, 1986); and Wendehorst, “British Jewry, Zionism, and the Jewish State.”

(61) . S. Cohen, English Zionists and British Jews, 282.

(62) . Geoffrey Alderman, Modern British Jewry (Oxford, 1992), 261; Lipman, A History of the Jews in Britain, 179.

(63) . Cesarani, “The East London of Simon Blumenfeld’s Jew Boy,” 49–50; idem, “The Transformation of Communal Authority in Anglo-Jewry,” in The Making of Modern Anglo-Jewry, ed. Cesarani (Oxford, 1990), 131; E. Smith, “East End Jews in Politics,” chap. 4.

(64) . Cesarani develops this argument in his dissertation and in the articles cited above, as well as in “One Hundred Years of Zionism in England,” European Judaism 25, 1 (spring 1992): 40–47, and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Suburbs: Social Change in Anglo-Jewry between the Wars, 1914–1945,” Jewish Culture and History 1, 1 (1998): 5–26. This function of western Zionism was first put forward in Stephen M. Poppel, Zionism in Germany, 1897–1933: The Shaping of a Jewish Identity (Philadelphia, 1977).

(65) . Gideon Shimoni, “The Non-Zionists in Anglo-Jewry, 1937–1948,” Jewish Journal of Sociology 28 (1986): 91.

(66) . Immanuel Jakobovits, The Attitude to Zionism of Britain’s Chief Rabbis as Reflected in Their Writings (London, 1981).

(67) . On the Zionist “conquest” of the Board in the interwar years, see Cesarani, “The Transformation of Communal Authority in Anglo-Jewry.”

(68) . Similarly, Asher Ginzberg (1856–1927), the Hebrew essayist and cultural Zionist better known by his pen name Ahad Ha-Am, lived in London from 1908 to 1921 (laboring unhappily in the office of the Wissotzsky tea firm), but he, even more than the Zionist officials, was in England but not of England. Indeed, his contempt for Anglo-Jewry was boundless. See Steven J. Zipperstein, Elusive Prophet: Ahad Ha’am and the Origins of Zionism (Berkeley, Calif., 1993), 277–82.

(69) . Gideon Shimoni, “From Anti-Zionism to Non-Zionism in Anglo-Jewry, 1917–1937,” Jewish Journal of Sociology 28 (1986): 19–48; idem, “The Non-Zionists in Anglo-Jewry, 1937–1948”; Rubinstein, Jews in the English-Speaking World, 252–57.

(70) . See Bernard Homa, Orthodoxy in Anglo-Jewry, 1880–1940 (London, 1969), idem, Footprints on the Sands of Time (Gateshead, 1990), part 3; Newman, The United Synagogue, part 3; Geoffrey Alderman, The Federation of Synagogues (London, 1987), chaps. 3–4; Anne J. Kershen and Jonathan A. Romain, Tradition and Change: A History of Reform Judaism in Britain, 1840–1995 (London, 1995), chap. 5.

(71) . For more on this colorful figure, see Geoffrey Alderman, “M. H. Davis: The Rise and Fall of a Communal Upstart,” TJHSE 31 (1990): 249–68.

(p.307) (72) . Alderman, Modern British Jewry, 256.

(73) . On British Jewry during World War II, see Chaim Bermant, Point of Arrival: A Study of London’s East End (London, 1975), chap. 15; Newman, The United Synagogue, chap. 12; Tony Kushner, The Persistence of Prejudice: Antisemitism in British Society during the Second World War (Manchester, 1989), chap. 2; Richard Bolchover, British Jewry and the Holocaust (Cambridge, 1993).

(74) . B. L. Q. Henriques, Fratres, 138–42.

(75) . For a suggestive discussion of the impact of military service on American Jews, see Deborah Dash Moore, When Jews Were GIs: How World War II Changed a Generation and Remade American Jewry, Fourth David W. Belin Lecture in American Jewish Affairs (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1994).

(76) . Bernard Wasserstein, Britain and the Jews of Europe, 1939–1948 (Oxford, 1979), 83–108; Kushner, The Persistence of Prejudice, 142–50; idem, “Clubland, Cricket Tests and Alien Internment, 1939–40,” in The Internment of Aliens in Twentieth Century Britain, ed. David Cesarani and Tony Kushner (London, 1993); Louise Burletson, “The State, Internment and Public Criticism in the Second World War,” in The Internment of Aliens, 79–124.

(77) . Quoted in Todd M. Endelman, “Anti-Semitism in War-Time Britain: Evidence from the Victor Gollancz Collection,” Michael 10 (1986): 92. See also A. L. Goldman, “The Resurgence of Antisemitism in Britain during World War II,” Jewish Social Studies 46 (1984): 37–50.

(78) . The question of what British Jewish institutions did—or did not do—during the war to combat antisemitism, to rescue Jews under Nazi rule, and to open Palestine to Jewish immigration, is much contested. The chief contributions to the debate are Kushner, The Persistence of Prejudice, chap. 6; Bolchover, British Jewry and the Holocaust; Rubinstein, A History of the Jews in the English-Speaking World, chap. 6; Meier Sompolinsky, The British Government and the Holocaust: The Failure of Anglo-Jewish Leadership? (Brighton, Eng., 1999).

(79) . Norman Rose, Lewis Namier and Zionism (Oxford, 1980), 7.