Monday, October 5, 2015

The Evian Conference (1938): A Failure Of Nerve

Displaced Persons

“At stake at Evian were both human lives – and the decency and self-respect of the civilized world. If each nation at Evian had agreed on that day to take in 17,000 Jews at once, every Jew in the Reich could have been saved. As one American observer wrote, “It is heartbreaking to think of the ...desperate human beings ... waiting in suspense for what happens at Evian. But the question they underline is not simply humanitarian ... it is a test of civilization.’ ”
Walter Mondale, The New York Times, July 28, 1979

Evian Conference: United States delegate Myron Taylor delivers a speech at the Evian Conference on Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Evian-les-Bains, France, July 15, 1938. 
Rozett writes: “In spring 1938, President Roosevelt and his Administration decided to convene a conference to deal, ostensibly, with the problem of Germany’s fleeing Jews. Between the 6th and 15th of July, representatives from 32 countries met in the French spa town of Évian-sur-les-Bains. It became rapidly clear at the time, and even clearer subsequently, that the Evian conference yielded no substantial solutions to the ongoing stream of refugees.”
Photo Credit: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md.
Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

An article, by Robert Rozett, in The Times Of Israel brings to mind the failure of the Evian Conference in 1938 to solve the Jewish refugee crisis, which ought to act as a reminder to the world  that it does not have to fail today with a crisis of similar, or greater, numbers. Ignoring it or studying it to death, as was the case more than 75 years ago, will not resolve anything or bring about anything good.

The lessons of the past can be instructive, and become more than history lessons. Yet, this is the case only if these lessons translate to the world’s political leaders acting with moral clarity. In “That refugee crisis and this refugee crisis“ (September 10, 2015), Rozett, director of Yad Vashem Libraries, in Israel, writes:
In spring 1938, President Roosevelt and his Administration decided to convene a conference to deal, ostensibly, with the problem of Germany’s fleeing Jews. Between the 6th and 15th of July, representatives from 32 countries met in the French spa town of Évian-sur-les-Bains. It became rapidly clear at the time, and even clearer subsequently, that the Evian conference yielded no substantial solutions to the ongoing stream of refugees. The various countries’ emissaries set forth reasons why their nations could do little or nothing more than had already been done to help. Each emissary voiced hopes that other countries would provide a solution. In short the Evian conference was a dismal failure, ultimately fortifying the foundations of the Nazis’ Final Solution.
Today Europe and the world face another refugee crisis of great proportions. Today’s crisis appears in some ways much greater than that of the 1930s, with more complex and diverse characteristics and causes. It extends beyond several hundreds of thousands of persecuted persons belonging to one ethnic group, in one nation. Now, millions of people in extremis around the world are on the move and seek relief, refuge and a safe future. It is truly a global problem.
Since 2011, more than 4 million have fled the brutal and bloody multi-sided war in Syria alone, a war that has left an estimated quarter of a million dead. In Iraq, ISIS has targeted its enemies killing, enslaving, terrorizing and raping large segments of minority groups like the Yazidis, various Christians and those Muslims who do not follow the ISIS line, engendering massive flight. As of the end of 2014, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 19.5 million people around the world have been driven from their homes because of armed conflict.
There are a number of good books recounting the details of The Evian Conference, including one that I read a number of years ago and found riveting: Hans Habe’s novel, The Mission (1966), a fictionalized account that is nonetheless supported by sufficient facts to provide a thoughtful account of what likely took place behind closed doors. Most of all, it is a failure of nerve; the official communiqué of the conference can be found here.

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For more, go to [TOI]

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