Tag Archives: Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld

World Refugee Day

Today is #WorldRefugeeDay and the start of @RefugeeWeek.  This UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events and activities celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and promotes better understanding of why people seek sanctuary.

The University’s Special Collections documents stories of millions of refugees who have sought sanctuary in the UK from Spanish refugees seeking assistance from the first Duke of Wellington after fleeing their country in the 1820s, to those who have been victims of more recent wars.

For example, in 1922 Atlantic Park opened in Eastleigh, at the time one of the biggest transmigratory camps in the world. Its purpose was to bring migrants together in one place, provide them with better conditions and protect them from unscrupulous people. A large proportion of the people at the camp were Ukrainian Jewish refugees.

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Booth in the interior of the hall at Atlantic Park, Eastleigh, with a number of the refugees in residence at the transit camp, 1920s [MS 311/53]

Conditions in the camp, however, were generally far from acceptable and deaths were not infrequent. Due to increasingly strict immigration laws, many refugees remained in the camp for longer than intended, unable to settle in a new, safer home.  A report on condition in the camp can be found in the minutes of the Executive Committee of the Union of Jewish Women. [MS 129/B/6 AJ 26]

The Kindertransport is perhaps one of the more famous humanitarian efforts of the Second World War.  Chief Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld – executive director of the Chief Rabbi’s Religious Emergency Council from its foundation in 1938 until 1946 – supported children coming to the UK in 1938 and was personally involved in escorting groups of Jewish children from the ghettos in Poland to Great Britain in 1946-7.

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Polish refugees (oldest and youngest) brought to the UK by the Chief Rabbi’s Religious Emergency Council, c.1946 [MS 183/1006/1]

The archive (MS 183 section F) contains a great deal on the administration and organisation of CRREC’s work in the field of both the rescue and support of refugees, particularly child refugees, 1938-49.  For refugees brought over to Great Britain by the Council, for example, information can be found in the form of photographs, biographical profiles, correspondence and refugee fund assistance cards.  Landing cards and identity cards complement the block passport and other mass travel documents which exist for child refugees who travelled with the Council.

This collection is one of a number of archives relating to Jewish refugees in the 1930s and 1940s – detailing both the work of organisations and providing individual or personal accounts. Other collections include the Polish Jewish Refugee Fund (MS 190); papers of Diana Silberstein, 1936-46, a native of Sarajevo, who came to Britain as a refugee (MS93) and a typescript autobiography of Dr D.Fuerst, a refugee dentist from Nazi Austria (MS116/68).

The world is currently experiencing the largest refugee crisis of recent times and questions surrounding asylum and immigration are more topical than ever.  These stories – some inspiring, other distressing – must serve to provide some lessons from history.  This is undeniably an important part of the history of the United Kingdom which should be preserved and remembered.

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User perspectives: Discovering the situation for Jews and Jewish Refugees during the twentieth century using the Anglo-Jewish archives

The University of Southampton holds one of the largest collections of Jewish archives in Western Europe. The holdings partly grew out of the association with the Parkes Library, originally the private library of Reverend Dr James Parkes. Parkes devoted his life to investigating and combating the problem of anti-Semitism and since the arrival of Parkes’ Library at the University in 1964 the study of Jewish/non-Jewish relations has developed significantly.

Books within the Parkes Library

Books within the Parkes Library

Alice Caffull, a former University of Southampton Modern History and Politics undergraduate student, and now a Master’s Jewish History and Culture student, explains how she has used the Anglo-Jewish archives for her research.

“I consulted the “Refugee Voices” Association of Jewish Refugees collection in both my undergraduate and postgraduate degree because of my interest in personal testimony and memoirs. I used this collection in various essays and found it an easy-to-navigate and fascinating source. I study MA Jewish History and Culture and therefore the wealth of Jewish history contained within the archives is extremely useful and exciting for me. I spent a whole module (an Individually Negotiated Topic module) on the diaries of Samuel Morris Rich, a Jewish teacher who kept a diary from 1905 until his death in 1950. I really enjoyed getting into the content of these diaries and assessing the situation for Jews particularly before the First World War through his diaries.

MS 168 AJ 217/4 Diary of Samuel Morris Rich, 1908

MS 168 AJ 217/4 Diary of Samuel Morris Rich, 1908

The archives were also one of the main reasons that I stayed at Southampton to do my Master’s degree, as well as of course for the fantastic Parkes Institute. For my MA dissertation I will be spending many more hours in the Archive, looking at Rabbis Hertz and Schonfeld’s papers, the papers of James Parkes and Carl Stettauer, and the records of various Councils and committees such as the Council for Christians and Jews. These will hopefully aid my discussion of the work of the Salvation Army in England with refugee groups in the first half of the twentieth century, a previously unstudied topic. Through these documents I am looking for information on the work of Christian and Jewish groups together, and for any references to the work of the Salvation Army within wider Christian and philanthropic movements at this time.”