The Jewish Trail of Tears The Evian Conference of 1938

by Laffer, Dennis R., M.A., UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA, 2011, 410 pages; 1490514

Abstract:

The purpose of this thesis was to explore the origins, formulation, course and outcome of the Intergovernmental Committee for Political Refugees meeting (better known as the Evian Conference) of July 1938. Special emphasis was placed on contemporary and later historical assessments of this assembly which represented the first international cooperative attempt to solve an acute refugee crisis. A general review followed by a more detailed evaluation was made of existing official and un-official accounts of the meeting utilizing both public records, private diaries, books, newspapers, journals and other periodicals for the period of January 1, 1938 through December 31, 1939. This data was supplemented by later recollections of conference participants as well as post-Holocaust historical scholarship.

Various appraisals have been made of the motivations behind the summit and its ultimate success or failure. Franklin Roosevelt has particularly come under criticism by scholars who believed that his Administration had “abandoned” the Jews to their fate. The President's supporters, on the other hand, declared that FDR did everything possible given the existing political, economic and social conditions of the late 1930's. It is my conclusion that although Roosevelt may have been sympathetic to the plight of Central European Jewish refugees their resettlement and ultimate destiny merited a lower priority given his focus upon rebuilding the national economy and defense. The President clearly recognized the looming threat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan but was unwilling to expend political capital on an issue that faced domestic and political opposition. I further maintain that the conference was set up to fail while providing propaganda value for the participating democracies.

The hypocritical rhetoric and actions of the delegates and the ineffectiveness of the conference's sole creation, the Intergovernmental Committee for Political Refugees, was clearly recognized by Nazi Germany and ultimately influenced its anti-Jewish policies. Thus, it is not a coincidence that the pogrom of November 1938, Kristallnacht, occurred only four months later. The avoidance of dealing with the Jewish refugee problem was further highlighted in the futile Wagner-Rogers Bill of 1939, the Hennings bill of 1940 and especially the Bermuda Conference of 1943, a time in which the details of mass murder of Jews and other groups was already well known within official circles. Further work needs to be done on the diverse responses of the Jewish community both within the United States and abroad to the peril facing their co-religionists.

AdviserGraydon Tunstall
SchoolUNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA
Source TypeThesis
SubjectsEuropean history; American history; Judaic studies
Publication Number1490514

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