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Jan 2005 Journal

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Frank Foley - the paper trail

The unveiling of a plaque to Frank Foley in the British embassy in Berlin in November 2004 was a remarkable about-turn in the British Government's view of its recent past. Foley was, after all, only a minor civil servant in the Passport Control Office, albeit using that as a cover for his real work of reporting to Britain's Special Intelligence service on unfolding events in pre-Second World War Germany.

In addition to those two jobs, he took on a third, unofficial and highly risky task, that of helping hundreds of thousands of Jews to get out of Germany through the liberal issuing of visas. (The full story is told by Daily Telegraph journalist Mike Smith in Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews, Hodder & Stoughton, 1999.)

Considering how much Frank Foley's dissident views and independent actions were at odds with official policy and opinion, the honouring of his memory in the very heart of the establishment which he defied is truly mind-boggling.

It is worth reminding ourselves, 70 years later, with the benefit not only of hindsight but the introduction of Holocaust education in the school history syllabus and the establishment of Holocaust Memorial Day in 1999, just how entrenched and hostile were both official and unofficial attitudes.

Documents released by the National Archives (the former Public Record Office), some in advance of their official release date in order to fill out the background of these events, shed a fascinating light on the relations and interaction between the men on the ground and their superiors at head office in that tense period.

In the aftermath of Hitler's taking up the office of Chancellor in January 1933, Frank Foley informed the embassy's Chancery section of a dramatic increase in caseload. His letter of 29 March was forwarded to the Foreign Office central department two days later:

This office is overwhelmed with applications from Jews to proceed to Palestine, to England, to anywhere in the British Empire.

Professional men of the highest standing, including some who were wounded on the German side during the war [1914-18], have consulted me with regard to emigration ...

I have received no special instructions with regard to England.

The Cabinet met in Downing Street on 12 April to discuss the 'proposals made to the Home Secretary on behalf of the Jewish Community, for dealing with the problem of the influx of Jews from Germany in consequence of recent events in that country.'

The minutes of that meeting, which discussed the report presented by a special committee, drew 'attention to the grave objections involved in the adoption at the moment, either of a policy of making the present restrictions more severe, or of relaxing those restrictions in the direction desired by the British Jewish Community.'

The special committee recommended maintaining existing arrangements, while keeping a watching brief, and tightening checks on the duration of refugees' stay and their condition of 'non-employment', together with the introduction of police registration. But the key point was

That the answer to the British Jewish authorities should be to the effect that there can be no question at the present time of relaxing the restrictions on the entry of aliens to the United Kingdom for the benefit of German Jewish refugees.

In cases where such refugees had been given permission to land for a temporary stay, and desired to extend it, the Government would be prepared to consider a further extension provided that the Jewish Community were prepared to guarantee, so far as might be necessary, adequate means of maintenance for the refugees concerned.

The Cabinet heard proposals

that it would be in the public interest to try and secure for this country prominent Jews who were being expelled from Germany and who had achieved distinction whether in pure science, applied science, such as medicine or technical industry, music or art.

This would not only obtain for this country the advantage of their knowledge and experience, but would also create a very favourable impression in the world, particularly if our hospitality were offered with some warmth ...

While fully realising the importance of not allowing this country to be flooded with foreign refugees who would before long either become a burden to the community or replace other workers who would become a burden, the Cabinet were anxious to avoid the danger of creating an atmosphere in Europe critical to this country.

The second and concluding part of this article will appear in the February issue of AJR Journal.
Ruth Rothenberg

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