Human Rights Day

Today, 10 December, is Human Rights Day. Observed by the international community every year it commemorates the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Declaration arose directly from the experience of the Second World War and represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled. It was a milestone document in the history of human rights. Proclaimed as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations, it sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected.

We would like to take this opportunity to share with you a significant collection which relates to human rights. The philosopher Jorge (George) Santayana (1863-1952) famously said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”; the preservation of archives is crucial to the maintenance of our collective memory.

Jewish children, probably from Czechoslovakia, c. 1946 [MS 241/4/2/2]

Jewish children, probably from Czechoslovakia, c. 1946 [MS 241/4/2/2]

The need to record and preserve is illustrated by the founding of the Institute of Jewish Affairs (IJA) in February 1941 as a research institute to provide analysis of political, legal and economic issues affecting Jewish life. It was launched and sponsored by the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the American Jewish Congress. In 1994 it was re-established in London as Institute for Jewish Policy Research. The Institute’s founder Dr Jacob Robinson argued that Jewish leaders, struggling for the interests of the Jewry after World War I, were hampered by the lack of up-to-date information and by the lack of research.

The Special Collections holds over two thousand four hundred archive boxes of material generated by the IJA providing an extensive source for the study of Jewish peoples in the mid and late twentieth century. Topics covered include various aspects of human rights and civil liberties, genocide and war crimes, as well as extradition, torture, terrorism.

The image above comes from a file relating to Dr Stephen Barber’s “children’s scheme” providing assistance to Jewish children, many of them orphans, in the years following World War II. This file relates to Czechoslovakia. In his papers Dr Barber describes a scheme to send 100 children, many of whom were suffering from TB, to Switzerland to recuperate. He gives details of orphanages which were being established for the children and he makes a particular appeal for clothing for them.

20,000 students gathered in a rally of solidarity with the Jews of the Soviet Union, 2 December 1969 [MS 237/3/159 f1]

20,000 students gathered in a rally of solidarity with the Jews of the Soviet Union, 2 December 1969 [MS 237/3/159 f1]

By the mid-1950s, state persecution of Soviet Jews was a major human rights issue. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, large numbers of Soviet Jews applied for exit visas; while some were allied to leave, many were refused permission to emigrate; they unofficially became known as refusenicks. This photograph comes from a file of press service cuttings giving information on protests in the name of the refusenicks including details of the work of the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry.

The plight of the Czech orphans and the Soviet Jews are just two of many human rights issues covered by the IJA papers in the Special Collections.

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