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Feb 2005 Journal

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Frank Foley - the paper trail

Back in Germany, on 7 May Foley wrote an eight-page memorandum detailing the disastrous consequences of Hitler's racial laws, which deliberately prevented Jews from earning a living. At the same time, he noted police indifference to Nazi vandalism against Jewish property and the blocking tactics used to prevent Jews from taking their money out on emigration.

'Since the beginning of 1935', he wrote, 'a recrudescence of antisemitism has become evident and it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Party has not departed from its original intentions and that its ultimate aim remains the disappearance of the Jews from Germany or, failing that, their relegation to a position of powerlessness and inferiority in Germany.'

Attached to this memorandum, which was forwarded to London on 10 May, is an observation from a senior Foreign Office official, M. J. Creswell: 'Not only the status of the Jew but the whole political outlook of present day Germany is pure mediaeval.'

Other embassy officials also reported to London on unprovoked assaults, the fact that 'Jews have been hunted down like rats in their homes', and the breakdown of domestic life, when a non-Jewish partner felt the only way out was through divorce.

This affected the embassy when a British national was involved. A British-born woman married to a German Jew would try to obtain a divorce in order to reclaim British nationality and go to Britain with her children, hoping that her ex-husband 'in some miraculous way might be able to rejoin her'.

The Berlin consular report of 8 June 1938, describing such cases, concludes:

The anguish and misery thus imported into Jewish households by means of legislation and the activities of the police, secret and public, have evoked much public sympathy during the past month, and expressions of regret and disgust at the action, or inaction, of the Government have been heard in many quarters.

Meanwhile, in Britain the pressure was on to keep refugees out, as desperate queues increased on the Continent. In January 1938 the Director of Passport Control reported that passport staff in Vienna had been increased from 4 to 25, and in Berlin from 8 to 22, while Hungary and Czechoslovakia also needed more staff. The statistical update was attached to a letter, dated 3 January 1938, addressed to Sir Alexander Cadogan, Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

The letter was written by Sir Hugh Sinclair, chief of the SIS, Frank Foley's true boss. He wanted Foley to get on with his real work of providing information - spying - not to get bogged down with actual passport work.

Sinclair's 'Most Secret' letter - due for release by the National Archives in 2005 - reads:

I am getting extremely concerned about the present situation in regard to the admission of aliens into this country.

At present it seems that for an unlimited period an unlimited number of aliens are to be admitted. The result of this is that the Passport Control Officers abroad are simply snowed under with the work entailed in granting many thousands of visas, in addition to those which continue to be authorised in the ordinary way by the Home Office at the rate of some two hundred a day ...

I shall be glad if the strongest possible representations may be made to the Home Office with a view to limiting the number of such people to be admitted to this country.

Sinclair reiterated his view in writing a year later.

The Anschluss was effected in March 1938. The Cabinet met at Downing Street on 13 March to discuss the expected influx of Austrian Jewish refugees. The minutes note that the Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare, 'felt great reluctance in putting another obstacle in the way of these unfortunate people. A curious story had reached him [from M15], suggesting that the Germans were anxious to inundate this country with Jews, with a view to creating a Jewish problem in the United Kingdom.'

The outcome was to put in charge of the Austrian refugee question ministers who would adopt 'as humane an attitude as possible' while 'avoiding the creation of a Jewish problem in this country'.

The glaringly obvious answer to enforced Jewish emigration from Germany was Palestine. German Jewish preparation for this destination was meticulous. Hitler put no bars in its way. But British policy, constrained by opposition from Arabs and from the Muslims of undivided India, blocked any large-scale immigration.

The real 'Palestine problem' is not raised by Foley. In January 1936 he simply noted that economic prospects were good - Jews could be absorbed - but that permits issued by the government of Palestine were going down.

When the Cabinet discussed the crisis on 22 November 1938, nearly two weeks after Kristallnacht, the Secretary of State for the Dominions and Colonies, Malcolm MacDonald, was minuted as saying that 'the Palestine position had been difficult enough before the latest persecution of the Jews had started ... If the matter was looked at simply from the point of view of the present economic absorptive capacity of Palestine, it was clear that large numbers of Jewish immigrants could be admitted to the country ... The matter, however, was not one which could be considered simply in its economic aspect.'

The number of British refugee visas issued across Europe from the beginning of May 1938 to the beginning of April 1939 was officially estimated at around 85,000, with over half in Germany. The number issued by Frank Foley between 1933 and 1939 is unofficially - but realistically - estimated at 10,000.

Foley died in May 1958, aged 73. He was honoured by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile in August 1999.

The first part of this article appeared in the January issue of AJR Journal.
Ruth Rothenberg

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