§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
It is with considerable reluctance that I raise to-day, and raised yesterday at Question Time, the problem of anti-Semitism in the Polish Forces in this country, and the possibility of the transfer from those Forces to the British Armed Forces of such Jewish soldiers and sailors as wish to transfer. I should not have raised it at all—I would much rather it could have been dealt with as it had been up to quite recently, by private representation and negotiation—if a climax had not been reached, and if the matter had not been precipitated by the event which took place last week, when military police raided a hostel in London at which a group of these Polish deserters were staying in the hope that they would be able to follow the other two groups of deserters who had already been accepted into the British Army.
I was extremely glad that it was found possible yesterday to keep the tone of question and answer at a rather high and restrained level, and I sincerely hope that nothing that is said on either side in this Debate will exacerbate a difficult and delicate situation, or create any unfortunate repercussions. Naturally, I hope also that what is said in this Debate will weigh with the British and Polish Governments, and will induce them to reconsider their decision not to allow any more of these transfers. In the course of one of his answers yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary said—and I was very glad to hear him say it: 2261Naturally I will, after what has happened to-day, again have conversations on the subject with the Polish Government. I am sure no one could be more anxious than they are to see that there is no anti-Semitism in the ranks of the Polish Army.A little further on he said:Improvements have, I know, been made by the Polish Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th April, 1944; col. 2013, Vol. 398.]I certainly endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said about the good intentions of the Polish Government in this matter; I am not making any attack on them at all; but I am rather afraid that their well-intentioned efforts to stamp out anti-Semitism in their own Forces have not been successful, and that the conversations which the right hon. Gentleman says he will now re-open, if they are to be limited merely to the general question of anti-Semitism and are not to deal with the transfer of further troops, will be ineffective—because I do not believe that you can stamp out anti-Semitism by instructions, by Orders of the Day, or by anything else of that formal kind. I repeat that I know that the Polish Government's intentions in this respect are admirable: there is nothing whatever to be said against them for the very vigorous way in which they have tried to deal with the matter; but anti-Semitism, being essentially an emotional thing, cannot be dealt with in that way. It can be cured only by the process—a rather slow process, probably—of education. Perhaps the more blatant or brutal manifestations of it would be checked—I have no doubt about that—but I am afraid that the underlying feeling and its less obvious manifestations will remain.
Of the existence of this sentiment to a pretty wide degree in the Polish Forces, there is no doubt. I know of it from my own experience. I have during this war met quite a large number of Polish officers, in officers' messes and so on, and extremely gallant, charming, and decent young men they are. But, unfortunately, if one gets on to these awkward subjects—which one naturally tries to avoid if one is talking to them—one finds that they have certain fixed prejudices, one of which is this deep prejudice against the Jews. I have seen it in almost all the Polish officers I have met and talked to. If there were not this widespread prejudice, it would hardly have been necessary for the Polish Government to appoint, as it 2262 did, a commission of inquiry into this matter, which, I understand, made certain recommendations with a view to helping to check these manifestations. Above all, I am convinced of the existence of these anti-Semitic manifestations by meeting and talking to large numbers of these deserters who have come to London in the last few weeks. I have personally seen both the former groups and the group who were arrested last week, and their story is absolutely convincing. I have talked to them personally. They are a tough, highly-trained combatant type of soldier, most of them, not the non-combatant clerical type or the sensitive intellectual type, although those types are also present in the group. Their stories are quite horrifying and absolutely convincing. I am certain, on internal evidence, of their authenticity.
All along they have emphasised strongly, in their conversations with me that they were not in any sense trying to run away from the war, or from their duty as fighting men. On the contrary, they want to do it where they believe they can do it more effectively, in the British Army. The letters which I have had from some of those who were transferred, through the good offices of the Foreign Office and the War Office, to the British Army, mention with special delight that the writers have been promised by their commanding officer that, after a preliminary period of six weeks of training and tests, they are to be transferred to the appropriate combatant units of the British Army, and not kept in the Pioneer Corps; they do not want to go merely into the Pioneer Corps. I am not saying anything against the Pioneer Corps, which does most valuable work; but I am sure hon. Members will see my point. It is a fact that there is this widespread anti-Semitism in the Polish Forces, and this fact is in itself intolerable in this country, in the midst of a war against the very kind of system and philosophy of which anti-Semitism is a conspicuous symptom.
These men of the earlier group came to see me a few weeks ago. We met several times, and, rather against my will at first, because I was extremely busy with other things, they made me informally their spokesman. I am not speaking on behalf of any organisation or body at all. I am not a Jew myself, and I do not belong to any of the regular refugee organisations. 2263 Indeed, I understand that some of those admirable and very reputable organisations have looked slightly askance at this particular problem. I know their difficulties, and I realise that they have to consider what they call long-term policy, and to take a broad view of the interests of Jews throughout the world. I do not blame them in the least for that. I am sure that the priest and the Levite had excellent and sensible reasons for not paying attention to the man who had fallen by the wayside and been beaten up by robbers. I am sure they said, "We must take a long view, and plan an efficient police system, to make sure that people are not beaten up by the wayside; we cannot possibly deal with individual cases." But it is the example of the good Samaritan which is commended to us. The long view is all very well, but when I find a human being, or 30 human beings, as in the case of the last group, or a maximum of 600 human beings, in a state of helpless agony and distress of spirit on my doorstep, I feel inclined to ask them into the house, and to try to do something practical and immediate about it.
Such a practical and immediate step was taken by the Polish Government, the Foreign Office, and the War Office a few weeks ago, when, to our great satisfaction, they arranged the transfer of some 200 of these Jewish deserters. I cannot see why they now refuse to regard that as a precedent. I think it is, or should be, a precedent. The maximum possible number affected by this suggestion, is, as I have said, about 600. There were originally, I think, about 850 Jews in the Polish Forces. There are these 30—or possibly as many as 50—under arrest, and awaiting, or undergoing, their courts-martial, and 600 or so more besides. Possibly the right hon. Gentleman, for all his humanity, to which I pay tribute, is almost sorry now, in view of all the trouble we have had to cause him, that he helped to arrange for those 200 transfers. If he does regret that he did it, I can assure him that he would not do so if he could read the letters which these men who have been transferred write about the joy that they feel at being treated once more as human beings and comrades-in-arms, and not just as pariahs and scum. Hon. Members on this side of the House sometimes grumble a bit about the British 2264 Army; but, judging from these letters, it is a utopia or a paradise compared with what these Jews have been through.
There are two main arguments, which were touched upon by the right hon. Gentleman in his replies yesterday, against granting the request for further transfers. The first of them, I admit, is a substantial argument, on the face of it. The second, I think, is rather less respectable. The first argument is that if we give way on this point to all the Jews, we shall have an incalculable number of other racial or religious minorities coming along, and saying, "Please, we want to leave our own forces, and come into the British Army." Some weight is lent to that argument, indeed, by the arrival and the arrest in London last week of another minority group—of Ukrainians and Byelo-Russians—who also alleged various kinds of persecution against the Polish Forces; but I do not think the cases are strictly comparable. For one thing, these Jews, of whom, as I say, there is a maximum of 600 left, are a strictly limited and clearly-definable group of people. There is no possibility of a frontier problem, or any other political problem of that kind arising in their case. At any rate, it is the case of the Jews which we are dealing with, and I do not think that the merits of their case should be prejudiced and confused by the introduction of other not strictly comparable cases, however strong they may or may not be; I know nothing, personally, about the case of the Ukrainians or of the Byelo-Russians—although I may say, in passing, that of all our Allies the Poles do seem to have the most trouble with their various minorities. But I do not want to say anything else about the other cases: I want to concentrate on the case of the Jews, and to ask the right hon. Gentleman to judge it on its merits alone.
The second argument, which I think is rather less weighty than that which I have tried to deal with, is what I may call the operational argument. The right hon. Gentleman said yesterday that we could not remove perhaps as many as 600 Jews from the Polish Forces, many of whom, as I freely admit—as I have myself said—are highly-trained combatant soldiers, just at the moment when the units in which they are serving may be about to take part in momentous operations. I am not going to attempt to guess the total number of Polish Forces in this 2265 country, and I should probably be infringing security if I knew the figures—which I do not—but I am pretty certain that they must run into five figures, and that they could probably be described as scores of thousands. I cannot, for the life of me, see that to transfer boo at the most—it may be fewer—Jews from a force of that size could seriously prejudice any military plans. The other part of this operational argument concerns the maintenance of discipline and morale: there must be no more transfers because people must not be encouraged to think that by deserting they can get themselves taken into some other Army or unit. But what sort of discipline or morale can there be in the units in which these unfortunate Jews are undergoing these experiences? I have a whale drawerful of personal testimonies to the kind of thing they are experiencing, written out laboriously in Polish or, pathetically, in broken English. What kind of discipline or morale can there be in such a unit among the Jews, or, for that matter, among the Jew-baiters? They certainly cannot have a very good discipline if they disobey the orders which the Polish military commanders have, quite rightly, put out against this anti-Semitism.
I am afraid that these orders of the day have not only not had the desired effect, but they may even have aggravated the situation, because I have talked with Jews who left their units some time after the orders of the day against anti-Semitism were put out, and they said that these orders of the day had made very little difference, except perhaps that it was not done so noisily. Man after man said: Now they say, these bullying sergeants or N.C.Os., "We cannot do anything in this country, because Churchill, as we all know, is in the pay of the Jews; but you wait until we get you on the Continent of Europe: the moment we get you there, in the second front, then every Pole has two bullets—the first for a Jew and the second for a German." I have been told that more of that sort of thing has been said to them by N.C.Os. and other since the Polish orders of the day condemning anti-Semitism have appeared. What good discipline or good morale can there be in such circumstances? I suggest that these men cannot, from a strictly military point of view, be fighting as effectively in the cause of the United Nations where they 2266 are now as they could be in the British Army.
In this, as in other matters, one must keep a sense of proportion. I hope I have not magnified the importance of this problem unduly. I have certainly not exaggerated by one hair's-breadth the things that have been told to me, honestly and genuinely as I believe—
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
May I ask the hon. Member what steps he has taken to have these allegations confirmed.
§ Mr. Driberg
They confirm each other, for one thing. I do not know if the hon. Member is suggesting that I should, perhaps, have written to sergeants in the Polish army, against whom allegations are made, and said to them, "Did you bully this man on such and such a day?" It is a ridiculous suggestion. One could not confirm it in that way. But, in arty case, there was no suggestion in the Foreign Secretary's reply yesterday that any of my allegations were unfounded. What is more, I had taken the trouble, as I thought it only courteous to do, to send to the Foreign Office, a few days before, a copy of the letter I circulated to a number of hon. Members, giving fairly full details of the background of these cases, and there is no suggestion by the Foreign Office at all that any of my facts are incorrect. I hope I have not exaggerated or magnified the facts unduly.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
When were the instructions against Jew-baiting issued by the Polish Command? What were the circumstances that led them to issue these anti-Jew-baiting instructions.
§ Mr. Driberg
I am not certain why they did that, but I presume it was as the result of protests from the British Foreign Office. It is possible. Probably the Foreign Office said to the Polish Government, "You must do something about this." I thank the hon. Member for pointing that out. This does seem to me an intensely tragic human problem, involving quite an important point of principle. I realise fully the weight of the argument that military necessity must be paramount on the eve, possibly, of invasion, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that there are occasions and situations in which political considerations become military considerations. 2267 Honestly, I do not think it can be claimed on purely military grounds that the retention of this handful of Jews in the Polish Forces is good for discipline, or desirable, even, in view of the operations which we are told are impending.
If I might say so, with all reverence, I think it is not inappropriate that this matter should have been raised during Holy Week. To-morrow is Good Friday, and in many of our churches there will be read a prayer which has been specially composed this year by the Archbishop of Canterbury—a prayer for the persecuted Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. I call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the Jews who are suffering mental persecution and torment in this country, almost under his own eyes, by this strange irony of current history; and I urge him, and plead with him, to do what he can to rescue them and to assist them, not only in his orisons but by his actions.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
I think everyone, irrespective of party, in this House has been deeply moved and affected by the tale that has been told to us by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg). There is one thing, however, that I hope—that neither will this unhappy problem become a matter of party argument nor will any of us feel that we are proving ourselves any less friends of the Poles because we are forced to admit the existence of these difficulties. I have been fortunate enough to have been chairman of one of the oldest Anglo-Polish societies in this country. Therefore I was in a position to meet many Poles, and I formed the highest respect and regard for them. I have also seen a number of Poles in my constituency. I discussed their tenacity and courage with their commander, and found, invariably, comments of the highest enthusiasm. Therefore, I hope I may be free from any bias whatever.
Indeed, I sometimes think that it is high time that some of us recalled the debt we owe to Poland. I think the passage of time and the incidence of great events have blurred matters in our minds. We are inclined to forget, after nearly five years, Poland's gallant stand, and the fact that she fought and faced the enemy for a longer period than any other European country, as well as the fact 2268 that her tenacity, courage and endurance were the inspiration to the world of free peoples and her suffering and hardships the cause of heartburning to all of us. The armies of Poland who escaped fought and bled across Europe and through France to this country. For the last three years they have been defending our shores. During that time they have earned respect and regard to a most widespread degree for their qualities and behaviour, and they have received it.
We must admit, and it is no use blinking the fact, that, in Central Europe, many of them have become tainted with the bestial doctrine of anti-Semitism, and, after they came to this country, this doctrine still permeated their attitude to the Jewish members of their army. I think the numbers are few who have indulged in this persecution. I do not think it is as widespread as my hon. Friend suggests. I think it is limited to a very few camps. I am saying that to preserve, as far as possible, the balance. When this question was raised yesterday, the Foreign Secretary advanced one or two reasons which justified him and the Polish Government in refusing to give the same privileges to the last bunch of deserters as they had given to the earlier escapees. [An HON. MEMBER: "Refugees."] No, they escaped from Europe, where they did not want to serve, and came to London, trying, as far as was humanly possible, to get into the British Army. The Foreign Secretary said that the Polish Government felt, that in view of the imminence of operations, they were unwilling to part with this few hundred Jewish soldiers, all of whom, as my hon. Friend says, are of high quality and good fighting material—or practically all of them. My response to that argument would be, that, if such a transfer were permitted, these men would not be lost to the Second Front. It 'would simply mean that we, in the British Army, would gain a few hundred happy, soldiers, while the Poles would lose a few hundred unhappy ones. It is one of the oldest military axioms that a happy soldier is an efficient soldier, so I would say that, as far as military operations are concerned, and as far as military efficiency is concerned, quite apart from the question of humanity, this transfer might be safely and comfortably accomplished.
One final point. A small number are still in Polish custody. Some are, as my 2269 hon. Friend said, being tried by court-martial, and others are awaiting court-martial. We know what the penalty of desertion is, especially in war time. It is death.
§ Sir T. Moore
I do not say that it is inevitable as a penalty but if my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield knows King's Regulations as well as he should know them, he must realise that the death penalty can be imposed for certain offence in war time. It is the fact, and so it does not brook argument, nor is it worth while arguing. We are well aware that the Polish Government have many grave and difficult problems and that they face them and tackle them with outstanding wisdom and restraint. Therefore, I suggest that it might be possible to add to those great qualities the quality of mercy as far as these men are concerned.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
I am sure that all of us very sincerely and deeply regret the necessity for raising this matter. I felt personally, the moment it was brought to my attention, that it was a matter which deserved to be brought to the attention of the House, and we ought to congratulate my hon. Friend, who obviously in a matter of this kind must speak with deep emotion, but who on this occasion spoke in a restrained manner, and I find nothing of which to complain either with the matter, or the manner in which it has been put before us. We all have the deepest respect and regard for the part which the Polish people are playing in this war, and those of us who were in this House at the time will remember that it is now nearly five years ago since my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), standing at this Box, called the attention of the Government of the day to the tragedies being enacted in Poland and urging the Government to lose no time in going to their rescue.
2270 I say that because we all want it to be conveyed to the Polish Government that the words that are being spoken are not the words of enemies but of friends who have a deep regard for them. It has only been my privilege on one occasion to visit Poland to meet their miners. I know their leaders and I know something of what they have suffered and how gallant they have been; and I look forward to the day when Polish miners will be free once more to join, with the British and other miners throughout the world, in the better contentment of all of us. As a friend and as a member of a party which has a deep regard for them, I would say that recently the national executive, of the party of which I am proud to be a member, made a pronouncement, in which we state that we must use our influence to see to it that a free and independent nation of Polish people will be one of our objectives in the post-war period. I would urge upon the right hon. Gentleman to convey the feeling of the Government, as the Foreign Secretary has already done, and perhaps it would strengthen the appeal to the Polish Government. If it does not, this Debate will do more harm than good.
This racial bitterness and anti-Semitism is something that we detest, and do not want to see accepted in this country. It is a beastly doctrine in any form. It is one of the things against which we are fighting. We are deeply grieved to see evidence of it anywhere and particularly to find evidence of it among those whom we call our Allies. These are really tragic cases and I can understand how deeply felt an insult to one's nation can be. It goes very deep indeed. I realise how it became impossible for these men who feel so deeply and are hurt so much, whose dignity has been touched so much, and whose deepest feelings have been injured and who feel the situation keenly, to stay. I would say to my right hon. Friend that we are grateful for the manner and tone in which this matter was dealt with by the Foreign Secretary, yesterday.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter
I know that the hon. Member is speaking for the Labour Party. If we take these unfortunate Jews away from the Poles into this island, is not that, in itself, even condoning what the Poles are doing? Have we not the right, as senior partner, to demand that the Poles should clear up the situation 2271 and take these people back as honourable soldiers? I put that to the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I said earlier that I hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would convey to the Polish Government how all of us detest anti-Semitism and do everything he could to clear it up. I have heard the evidence submitted to us for consideration in some of these cases. We ought to ask them to stop it. I have the gravest doubts of the wisdom of sending these men back with their memories. At the same time, I agree with the hon. Member. We should convey our friends and Allies, the Polish Government, that we as a whole detest anti-Semitism and that we appeal to them to do everything within their power and to take every step to stamp it out. We do not like it anywhere, least of all in this fair isle of ours.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
It is most important that nothing should be said in the course of this discussion which is likely to impair relations between Poles, whether Jews or non-Jews. The Polish Jews are living together to-day with Poles who are not Jews. They will have to live together in the future. I agree with my hon. Friend who introduced this subject, that we must see this matter in its proper proportion. I hope we shall. That there is some anti-Semitism in the Polish Army there can be no doubt. Otherwise, the Polish High Command would not have issued the orders that they have issued. We must accept that but I am not prepared, unless there is further evidence, to accept all the allegations which have been made. One has to be fair to both sides. When we are considering this Polish problem we have to recognise that, if there am Polish Jews who are the victims of anti-Semitic outbursts at the hands of other Poles, there are also alive to-day in Poland a great many Jews who owe the fact that they are alive to Poles who are not Jews, who have sheltered them from the Germans often at the risk of their own lives. That is what I mean when I say that we must view this matter in its proper proportions and, with all due respect to my hon. Friend, we must take the long view. I am one of those who look forward to the time after the war when the Jews in Poland will have what the Jews have in this country, equal and full rights of citizenship. When that claim is put forward 2272 after the war I do not want anybody to be able to throw at them this accusation, "During the war you were not prepared to fight in the Polish Army." Therefore I think we have to realise that if a claim is put forward for Polish citizenship after the war we do not want it to be obstructed because of that argument, because it is a charge that will be made against them.
We are concerned, however, with the fate of these particular men. For the reasons I have advanced, I am not prepared to advocate that they should be transferred to the British Army. I think that ultimately it will be in the interests of Poland, and of the Jewish subjects of Poland, that this matter should be cleared up by dealing with the cause of the trouble, which is the anti-Semitism that exists, rather than by trying to run away from it and taking away the particular victims for the time being. I would urge first, however, that the Polish authorities should not deal too hardly with these men who, I hope, will follow the advice of their Jewish representatives, which is that they should return to their Polish units. But the men are concerned with this, that when they get over to the other side in the Second Front, they may then perhaps be murdered by some of the anti-Semites in the Polish Army.
I hope that all Poles will recognise that their enemy is Hitler and his Nazi followers, and their duty is not to fight each other but to fight the common enemy. The Polish Government must make every effort to deal with this evil of anti-Semitism, whether it exists on a large scale or on a small scale, for the sake of its own future. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] It is not for me to tell the Polish Government how it should deal with it, but I do say that it is the duty of a Government to govern and to see that its instructions are carried out. No Government can control the thoughts of men, but a Government can prevent the manifestation of those thoughts when those manifestations are evil, as they are when people are persecuted for anti-Semitic reasons. It is the duty of a Government to see that any action taken against innocent people by anti-Semites is severely dealt with, and that is a responsibility which any Government must accept. I want to appeal to the Polish Government to realise what a danger to their whole future it would be if the anti-Semitism— 2273 which unfortunately one has to recognise existed in Poland before the war—were to continue there after the war.
It is perfectly true that if you scratch an anti-Semite you find a Fascist or a Nazi underneath, and as we are fighting this evil in this war, the Poles must realise that for the common cause for which Poles and others are giving their lives, this curse of anti-Semitism must be uprooted out of Poland and elsewhere. Therefore, I want to express the hope that these particular men will not be too harshly dealt with as a result of the action they have taken; that they, on the other hand, will recognise that, as soldiers, it is their duty to return to their unit; that the Polish Government will be aware of the danger of anti-Semitism to their whole future, and show by their actions that they believe that anti-Semites are the enemies of Poland.
§ Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
I confess I rather dreaded this subject being raised in to-day's Debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driherg). I thought it might have been wiser if he had been content with the assurance given by the Foreign Secretary yesterday, that he would renew his conversations with the Polish Government, because that would have given rather more time, behind the scenes, for some amicable arrangement to be arrived at. But since he has raised it, although I may seem to be speaking on both sides of the fence, I can only speak the truth as I see it.
First, as to the probability of this charge of anti-Semitism made by the soldiers being true, I must testify that for over a year I have known of the prevalence of this evil. I have had complaints of it from serving Jewish Poles who wished to consult me as to how they could avoid joining the Polish Army, and even from British people who were billeting these men and had made friends with them. It seemed to me that the evidence was quite overwhelming that there is a great deal of this kind of anti-Semitism, which has prevented men who were, say, Jewish doctors from being employed in the Polish Army on anything but rough manual duty, and has prevented men entitled to stripes or to commissions from getting them, as well as the kind of insults which the hon. Member for Maldon has quoted. There- 2274 fore, I do not doubt the reality of the grievance. It may be asked why I have not said anything in the House before. I will tell hon. Members why. Because I felt it was a very delicate subject for an Englishwoman to raise. So many people have paid testimony that I will not repeat what we all feel for our gallant Allies the Poles, knowing what they have suffered, what splendid work they do, and what charming people they are. So what I generally did was to recommend these complainants to seek the advice of the two great representatives of Polish Jewry on the Polish National Council, who, I knew, were doing their utmost to secure remedies for reasonable complaints on behalf of their Jewish clients, and at the same time to be completely loyal, as I think they both have been completely loyal, to Poland because they felt that Poland must, after all, come first. I am sure those two men did their best, but we have only to see what has happened during the last few months to realise that they did not succeed in stamping out this evil.
The question now is, What can be done about it? Honestly, I cannot help feeling very deep doubt as to whether—especially after what has happened during the last few months, and especially after this Debate—it is going to be possible for really cordial relations to be established between Polish Jews and the non-Jewish Poles in the Army. The non-Jewish will feel that the Jews have, so to speak, blackened them in the eyes of the British public. I cannot see really good relations being established, whatever the Polish Government does—and I am sure it will do its best—or whatever our own Foreign Office does. What can be done to solve the difficulty? I would like to suggest something very bluntly, as a complete outsider on military matters. These are, by admission, most valuable men. The Polish Government cannot have it both ways. If they were shirkers, or evil, frightened, neurotic people, the Poles ought to be glad to lose them and have them transferred to the British Army. It is quite clear that the reason they do not wan: them is to be transferred, is that many of them are valuable people—tank drivers, parachutists, engineers, all sorts of trained men. Therefore they are valuable stuff in an Army that is likely to be engaged in operations on the Continent.
2275 One can well understand that an Army like the Polish Army, which although very gallant, is not very big, cannot afford to lose lightly even 650 men of that calibre. I have been reading, as I suppose nine-tenths of the British public have been reading in the last few days, the publication, under the auspices of the War Office, "The Eighth Army." One of the things that struck me most was how extraordinary it was that during the whole of the North African campaign, people of all nationalities were mixed together. I read of battles or sorties in which there were Africans, Indians, men of the West Sussex Regiment and Free Frenchmen and it seemed to me that the Eighth Army was really an interlocked Army. Is it impossible, then, for these men to be put into the British Army, under British officers and N.C.O.s, and attached to the Polish Forces, so that the latter could use them for the purposes for which they have been trained? I know that 650 is a small number but could not an arrangement of that sort be made, so that we could have the best of both worlds? As an outsider, I just cannot see how men, wanted for Skilled work, will be useful on the Continent, if they are utterly miserable and are afraid at the same time—quite unreasonably, no doubt—that they will be shot in the back by Poles who resent the kind of action they have taken. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will discuss this whole matter again with the Polish authorities who, we know, have done their best to try to stamp it out. It is, however, deep-rooted; and it is difficult to fight against a psychological disease. The Polish authorities have done their best, but I cannot see why they cannot succeed to such an extent that these men will be really happy and efficient Polish soldiers. Is there no way in which this happiness and freedom from fear can be combined with the interests of the Polish Army.
§ Captain Alan Graham (Wirral)
I think the House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) and my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) for their speeches. They were in the tone which we should all try to preserve in discussing this question, and if my researches for truth in this matter do not necessarily lead me to the same conclusions as those of the hen. Member for 2276 Maldon (Mr. Driberg), I hope I shall not, in consequence, be accused of anti-Semitism or anything of that sort. It is precisely partisanship that we wish to avoid, if we are to arrive at the truth. In the search for truth, it is quite possible that things shocking to our ears may emerge. That is always the danger of sincerity, but sometimes the risk has to be taken. I am glad that even the hon. Member for Maldon, in the course of very widespread and exaggerated attacks on the Polish Army, exonerated the Polish Government and the Polish military authorities from these charges—[An HON. MEMBER: "Not the military authorities."]—yes, the Polish Command, from any policy of anti-Semitism because, in fact, they have done what lies in their power to stamp out this abuse, but as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities, we cannot by legislation deal with something that is psychological.
A Commission was set up by the Polish military authorities in consequence of the representations of the many friends of Poland in this country who pointed out that there was nothing more damning to the Polish cause that it should acquire, however unjustly, a reputation in this country for tolerating anti-Semitism. As the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) pointed out, their friends went to them and it was in response to this that the Commission was set up. Incidentally, General Sikorsky, in his lifetime, set his face resolutely against any anti-Semitism and that policy has been carried on by the Polish Government. The Commission which was set up recommended inter alia the following: the issue of special instructions to all officers ordering energetic repression of any excesses which, even outwardly, could be interpreted as a sign of an unfavourable attitude towards Jewish soldiers. In the case of punishable acts, the authors of such acts were to be tried by court-martial. The instructions should restate and re-emphasise the principle of equal and just admission of Jews to O.C.T.U.s and special courses and of equal treatment as regards promotion and citation for good conduct. Furthermore, the Commission advised the organisation of frequent meetings of N.C.O.s and men, and of talks by education officers, for the purpose of inculcating the need for goad comradeship between soldiers of all creeds in accordance 2277 with the age-old Polish tradition. It should also be stressed in these talks that the Polish Government would always extend equal treatment to all Polish subjects without any discrimination whatever.
The date of those recommendations was 23rd February last. It was complained by the hon. Member for Maldon that apparently there had not been much result but as these instructions were issued only six weeks ago I think it is a little too early to look for immediate results, psychologically. I agree that it is a pity that these instructions were not issued considerably earlier but I hope the House will not think that anti-Semitism is a matter of inherent Polish viciousness. There are, in all these things, I regret to say, historical reasons which, however regrettable, are, nevertheless, understandable. When this war broke out the ratio of Jews in Poland was something like one in 10 of the Polish population—a very high proportion. The intelligence of the Jewish race is well known. The high natality of Polish farmers and peasants meant that their lands had to be continually split up so that it was impossible for them to get a proper living. The amount of land which was split up did not enable a large number of Polish peasants and their families to get a living. It might be asked why they did not go into the small trades connected with agriculture. They could not do so because the Jews had a monopoly of those small trades. They were more apt at them and, moreover, there were no vacancies. There was no possibility for the children of Polish peasants in very large numbers to find an occupation in their own country and, consequently, they had to emigrate.
Wherever you have an alien element brought into a country you have very strong sentiment aroused against that element. Those of us who have Scots blood in our veins know that when James I became King of England, as well as of Scotland, he brought with him a large number of Scottish courtiers and followers, who got very good jobs in this country, and, shocking though it may appear, for a considerable number of years the Scots were very unpopular in this country and there was a strong anti-Scottish feeling. Where there is a high proportion of an alien element in another nation you cannot avoid this feeling being aroused against them. It is very deplor- 2278 able but it happens to be true, as anyone with a knowledge of history knows. Also it is not merely from the Polish army that desertions of this sort have happened. Only a fortnight ago there were 80 Jewish desertions from the Czechoslovak army. So it is nothing particularly against the Polish army in this country that these desertions take place from them. There have also been desertions from the British Forces in the Middle East. I will give the reasons why they have taken place. There are certain Jewish political organisations in Palestine—I am certain unofficial and not representative of the Jewish race as a whole—which have organised desertions of the Jews from the Polish army and subsequently incorporated them in illegal military Jewish units. Up to 1,000 Jews deserted the Polish ranks immediately before the embarkation of the Second Corps for the fight against the Germans in Italy.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
On a point of Order. In view of the fact that this is a discussion started for the purpose of bringing, in the gentlest and kindest manner, a serious question before the Polish Government, in the hope of getting a settlement, is it desirable that we should have such a manifestation of anti-Semitism by one who is associated with certain Polish officers, so as to give the impression that those Polish officers are encouraging anti-Semitism in the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
What is desirable it is not always my duty to say. What I am concerned with is, what is in Order, and on the Adjournment, I am afraid there is nothing I can do as long as the hon. and gallant Member is in Order.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that the Polish Army Command made it a condition that E.N.S.A. should not send a single concert party to the Polish army which included a Jewish artist, and that they insist on that condition? Has that condition been repudiated or annulled.
§ Captain Graham
Certainly, but the reason for that is not necessarily anti-Semitism. In all probability it is that, where there are Polish artists available, they feel that Polish artists are more likely to entertain Polish troops. At all events, if hon. Members will try not to be the partisans of one side or the other, but will concentrate on getting at the truth, they should know that thousands of Jews from the ghettos and elsewhere in Poland owe their lives to the fact that they had been sheltered by Christian Polish families, who did so at the risk of their lives. That is an undeniable fact, and it is totally wrong to assume that there is any really widespread feeling or definite acts of anti-Semitism amongst the Poles in Poland or here. Of course, between certain individuals you have feelings of resentment, as exist in every country between one element and another, which is not assimilated to the nation. Disraeli, one of the greatest Jews we ever had in this country, refers in his "Life of Lord George Bentinck" to two sorts of Jews, those who make excellent citizens of the country where they are living, and others who, no doubt owing to persecution, do not feel that they can attach their loyalty to any country and prefer underhand methods to overt aboveboard methods. I ask hon. Members to realise that Jews can fall into those two categories and that, in their very natural desire to right an injustice and see that suffering is not inflicted, they should not be shielding dishonest underhand methods under the banner of righting a great wrong.
It has been said that those Poles who were forcibly conscripted in the German army, then sent to serve under Rommel in Africa, taken prisoner and brought here to Polish units, are the particular germ-carriers of anti-Semitic feeling. My information from the Polish Ministry of War is that that is most definitely not the case. It is not perhaps very flattering to Polish ideas of discipline but they say that the discipline that these troops endured in Rommel's army was such as to make them so highly disciplined that they could not be guilty of any spontaneous enthusiasm for Jew-baiting or anything of that kind. They are extremely well-disciplined troops with the most excellent morale. I have met many Jews in the Polish Army. One 2280 stood by my side when we were addressing a public meeting not long ago. He had escaped from a ghetto in Warsaw. The question was asked, "Is there any real anti-Semitic feeling in the Polish Army?" He said, "I am a good Jew but I am also a good Pole and I am in the Polish Army. In my experience I have not come across it." I must leave the House to judge whether it is in the interests of the Poles themselves to allow anti-Semitism, where they could stop it and, in regard to what is actually happening in Poland and the communion of common suffering binding Jews and Poles together in the awful, harrowing persecution which they are both undergoing, more than any other people, at the hands of the Germans, whether by raising this question, we are likely to do any good, either to the future relations between Poles and Jews after the war in Poland, or between the Jews and Poles to-day who are, at the risk of their lives, sheltering Jews.
§ Mr. G. Strauss (Lambeth, North)
I very much regret the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wirral (Captain Graham), not so much because of its contents, which I wholly disapprove, but because he has engendered a quite unnecessary heat and a prejudice into this discussion on an important matter. It makes it far more difficult to deal with the practical problem of the 600 men in the Polish Army who are, everybody agrees, suffering some minor or major form of persecution. Everybody who has spoken in the Debate, including the hon. and gallant Member for Wirral, has agreed that at least some anti-Semitism exists in the Polish Army. The only difference between Members who spoke previously and the hon. and gallant Member was that he excused it and defended it.
§ Mr. Strauss
It is very regrettable—for the Polish Government have done all they can in their official capacity to stop this anti-Semitism—that this disease should be championed by the hon. and gallant Member, who smeared that Government with the anti-Semitism which he sustains and which I do not believe they do. The question is what this House should ask the Government to do in the 2281 present circumstances. I do not think that sufficient attention has been drawn to the fact that this virulent outburst of anti-Semitism in the Polish Forces has been caused by a particular event. That is the influx into the Polish Army during recent months of large numbers of men who were bound to be anti-Semitic in their outlook. I do not know how many men there were, but my guess is that there were thousands of Poles who, because they were threatened with concentration camps and all sorts of things, opted in 1940, or it may be even earlier, to join the German Army. For three years these men were in the German Army. Many of them fought under Rommel, and during that period were subjected to the full blast of German anti-Semitic propaganda. They were captured in Tunisia and were immediately incorporated into the Polish Army and sent over here.
These men are the main cause of the present trouble. It is not only the inherent anti-Semitism of a section of the Polish population, which we are all agreed about, whatever the causes may be, but that anti-Semitism has been supercharged very violently by the influx of these 3,000, who are practically Nazis, and who have joined the Polish Army recently. We have such an acute situation to-day that it is ridiculous to expect that it can be improved by the Polish Government issuing an order of the day such as was read by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Such an emotional situation cannot be treated by orders or commands or requests. It is there, deep among the men and among the officers—not all of them, but a very large section—with the result, as we have ample evidence to show, that this persistent anti-Semitism flourishes in the Polish Army to-day. According to my investigations, it does not manifest itself in any spectacular acts of brutality here or there or in one particular camp or another. That is not the form it takes, It takes the form daily and hourly of jeers, jests, taunts and threats on these Polish soldiers by noncommissioned officers and, may be, other ranks, but, I believe, rarely by officers, which make the lives of these people quite unbearable. It makes them feel they are not wanted. It makes them feel that the people who are persecuting them are their immediate enemies. Much as these Jewish soldiers loath and hate 2282 the Germans and want to get at them, they feel that the people who are persecuting them daily in every act which they do are their immediate enemies. They do not want to go into battle with these people at their sides if they can help it; they want to go into battle with comrades at their sides. I can say from the evidence of quite a number of Polish soldiers that threats are being made to them constantly. They may be idle threats but they are made in such words as, "You wait until we get into battle. You see what we will do with our first or second bullet." That sort of threat is made to these fellows frequently, so much so that their lives have become intolerable.
It has been recognised that the situation is unsatisfactory. That has been recognised by the Polish Government and the British Government. They have done the wise thing in the past, and have said, "We will take over some of these boys into the British Army," and there are 200 of them there to-day. Now the Government say that they cannot take any more, and they give two reasons. The first, given by the Foreign Secretary yesterday, was that the Polish Government have made far-reaching efforts to make sure that anti-Semitism does not prevail in the ranks of the Polish Army. I believe that the Polish Government have made such efforts, but they have not had any effect, and they can have no effect. Does anybody suggest that a man's complete outlook in life, his religion if you like, can be altered by an order of the day hung on the notice board? It cannot be done and has not been done, and all the evidence it is possible to get shows that anti-Semitic persecution is as virulent to-day as it was before this notice was put up.
The other argument put forward is one that must command the respect and attention of the House. It is that at this stage, with the invasion operations looming ahead, it would be damaging to the fighting strength and capacity of the Forces of the United Nations if 600 men were withdrawn from the Polish units taking part. I do not think that there is very much in this argument. The number of men involved is comparatively small, and I suggest that it is desirable, from 2283 the point of view of the unity, discipline and morale of the Polish Divisions which are going into the fight, that this internal conflict should be removed as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. Speaker
If the hon. Member does not give way the hon. and gallant Member must not remain standing.
§ Mr. Strauss
I am usually willing to give way when I am interrupted, but I will not give way to somebody who would not give way himself. It must be obvious that it is very difficult for a soldier to fight in good heart for freedom, when he himself is persecuted and is fighting in the close company of his persecutors. It would be much better all round if these soldiers could be transferred to units where they could fight in a comradely way, with soldiers who would treat them as brothers.
Therefore I beg this Government and the Polish Government to look at this matter afresh. I am sure that I shall be expressing the view of the majority of hon. Members, and, I believe, the opinion of the majority of the nation, in suggesting that they might come to a solution of this question along the very simple lines of letting this transfer take place as soon as possible. It should be done very quickly, so that the men who are anxious to take an effective fighting part in the coming operations should be there, trained and in their places when the operations begin. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the matter, and I beg the Polish Government to let no question of prestige stand in the way. Many of the men concerned volunteered to join the Polish Army, and they want to fight in the best possible way, where they can do so most effectively, to help the cause of freedom and the cause of the United Nations. Let them be transferred as quickly as possible to British fighting units and then, when the operations take place, I am certain that they will fight with outstanding valour.
§ Mr. Bartle Bull (Enfield)
I am not quite convinced that the case has been made out, although it was put moderately by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) and others who spoke in its favour. As I told him before the Debate, 2284 I do not agree with his point of view. I would like to go further and to say that in my opinion it is a great pity that this matter has been raised. Technically, the men of whom the hon. Gentleman was speaking are deserters. Either you are to have a rule about desertion or you are not to have such a rule; either you have discipline in an army or you have not. The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) suggested that I had not such a knowledge of the King's Regulations as I ought to have. I do not know what knowledge I ought to have of the King's Regulations. I have not read through, and I have not the knowledge of, every Bill which has been before this House as I ought to have, and other hon. Members have not that knowledge either. I think that disposes of that small point. If desertion and that type of thing are to take place, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Maldon, I would remind him that there are other Allied Armies, and that it simply cannot be allowed. You must have a law with regard to desertion.
§ Mr. Driberg
But it did happen a few weeks ago that this act of desertion, regrettable though it was, was endorsed or condoned by the action of the War Office and of the Foreign Office in accepting these men.
§ Mr. Bull
I do not quite understand what the hon. Gentleman means by an act of desertion. The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs talked about shooting, in the case of desertion in the field. If there was, it is a horrible thing to say, but I do not know of any man being shot in this war for desertion in the field. If the hon. and gallant Member or the hon. Member for Maldon can cite me any such case—
§ Mr. Driberg
All I was trying to say was that the Polish courts-martial are competent to pronounce sentence of death for this offence.
§ Sir T. Moore
The hon. Member has put wrong words into my mouth. That is the point at issue. The hon. Member for Enfield said that I said that the penalty for desertion was shooting. I did not say that.
§ Sir T. Moore
I said that under the Polish regulations, and under the King's Regulations as well, the possible penalty for desertion in war-time was death.
§ Mr. Bull
And I reply to the hon. and gallant Gentleman that were that sentence carried out, there would be infinitely fewer acts of desertion in the face of the enemy. But the deserter goes back, gets a shower bath, a bed to lie on and a meal. That disposes of that point.
As regards the problem of Jews in the Polish army before the war I visited the ghetto in Warsaw. I do not want to see any worse sight than I saw there. I am perfectly in sympathy with the solution of the problem, as far as that goes, but I would like to remind the House of one small point which we ought to consider, because it bears on what we are discussing at the moment, According to my reading of history, since we lost the 13 American colonies—albeit that at the beginning of that war most of them were in our favour and most of the people of Britain were in their favour—I thought we had learned something. I thought this House had learned that the main function of the British Parliament was to legislate for Great Britain. Here we are attempting to advise and legislate for the Poles and anyone else who comes our way. I suggest to hon. Members that Allies are fairly hard to come by.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Is not the hon. Member aware that this House gave the powers to the Polish authorities that they are now using? Surely we are entitled to give them advice how to use them.
§ Mr. Bull
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will explain that point to me afterwards. My main point was that I had always understood that the function of this House was to legislate for the British Isles. That is what I always understood, and that is 2286 why what we are now discussing disturbed my thoughts. As I said, Allies are fairly hard to come by. We are not overburdened with them, yet here we are doing our best to alienate one of the first Allies that we had in this war. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes.
§ Sir T. Moore
There was nothing said in the Debate for the purpose of trying to alienate the Poles. We expressed our tremendous regard and admiration for their grand qualities.
§ Mr. Bull
All right, I agree with that, but why attempt to legislate for them? It is their problem, and not ours. What in the world has it to do with us? We have enough minority problems in our own country, let alone trying to cause trouble among our Allies. I think that we ought to do nothing—to use an American phrase—to sell Poland down the river after the war. I hope we shall remember that they were the first nation to stand up properly and fight while we were arming and getting ready. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) was talking all day yesterday. If he wishes to interrupt me may I ask him to stand up and do it like a man? I have the greatest admiration for the Polish and Czech soldiers. There is nothing better. They may have lost their countries for the moment, but they held up the enemy while we, late, were attempting to get ready. It is the greatest pity that we should do anything to attempt to legislate for them.
One hon. Member mentioned something about bullying sergeants and N.C.Os. I always found that they bullied the junior officers, but I did not ever see any case of the bullying of private soldiers, in my small Army experience. The hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss) mentioned something about two Polish bullets, the first for a Jew and the second for a German. In any mess, an officers' mess, an N.C.Os.' mess, anywhere you like, one hears inconsequential words spoken. One hears also a certain amount of nonsense spoken in this House. One cannot get away from the fact that too much store must not be set by that. I suggest it is rather a pity to introduce such a remark. All sorts of silly things have been said to me at various times which do not amount to anything. My final observation would be that we have all seen how much 2287 time it took us, for example, to get through the Committee stage of the Education Bill. I therefore suggest that we have enough business of our own to attend to. For goodness' sake let us, at least, leave our Allies alone.
§ Mr. Pritt (Hammersmith, North)
I wish to answer one or two things which the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull) has said, as well as to make one or two other observations. Firstly, the hon. Member said, "Let us either have a law for deserters or not." Of course, all experience shows that everybody who administers the law has, occasionally, to administer it with less rigour. When we have here a responsible Foreign Office and a responsible War Office, which three times running have agreed, and got the Polish Government to agree with them, that the proper thing to do with deserters is to let them pass into the Forces of another Army, I think the inevitable inference is that there 'are very strong and compelling reasons for this lenient treatment. That provides a good deal of foundation for what we are now pressing the Government to do, to continue in that practice. Then the hon. Member said, "Why are we worrying about the Poles?"
§ Mr. Pritt
The hon. Member said, "Why are we legislating for the Poles?" We are not at the moment legislating for them. We are asking the Government to negotiate with the Poles, and persuade them to take a certain course. We are dealing with the matter rightly and emphatically, because if we had not, by legislation in this House, given the Poles the power to discipline and shoot men, then every time they touched a Jewish or Polish soldier in this country they would be guilty of common assault for which they could be sued in the police court or the county court. Therefore we have a direct responsibility, legal, theoretical and moral, for the actions of the Polish Government. I am very glad that nobody has sought to say a word against the Polish Government, but it does not alter the fact that we have a duty in the matter. The hon. Gentleman said that saying "One bullet for the Jews, another for the Germans" may be "just pretty Fanny's way"—
§ Mr. Pritt
He said that it just did not mean very much. The question is what it does mean. Sometimes, I quite agree, we all talk nonsense. This might be nonsense, but here is a case in which it has been taken by the Jews to whom it was addressed, to be so little nonsense that they deserted at the peril of their lives, and made their way to London. Then, as to 200 of them, this appeared to the Foreign Office, which is not unduly sentimental, and to the War Office, which is not sentimental in the least, to be so real, that on that and similar evidence it was right to transfer these men to the British Army. So, if I may be pardoned for using a colloquialism, I do not think that one can get away with that.
If I may come to a more general point, one or two hon. Members have said it was a great pity to raise this question at all. It is a great pity that this question has had to be raised. I had some little part in it; my hon. Friend the Member for Mal-don (Mr. Driberg) had a great deal more of the responsibility and so had my hon. Friend the Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss). The raising of this matter is something which has been anxiously debated internally, and withheld for months and months while the Foreign Office was behaving with the utmost responsibility. We all agreed and hoped that it would never be necessary. One thing I noticed, when it was in fact raised yesterday, was that the Foreign Secretary did not make any complaint of that action being premature or unreasonable or that it was detrimental to the public interest. The truth is quite plain—it is sad to have to say it—that it really had to be raised, and having been raised, it has been dealt with by almost everybody with the utmost reason and moderation.
One or two hon. Members asked whether people are satisfied with the evidence. One might answer that by saying that much of it has convinced two Government Departments. I have a great 2289 many faults, but I have had 32 years' training in weighing evidence. I have had these cases brought to me at desultory intervals over the last four years—I know the hon. Member has had many more than I have. I have had half a dozen of these people in my chambers and cross-examined them, using every conceivable trick I have learned at my clients' expense in the last 32 years, to see if they were stating the truth, and I came to the conclusion that broadly most of them were, in substance, telling the truth.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter
Will the hon. and learned Member tell us, since these discussions were going on behind the scenes for a number of weeks, did he gather that the Polish authorities, the Polish high command or the Polish Government, said that they could not grapple with this themselves? We would like to know if that is true. Did they say that.
§ Mr. Pritt
Oddly enough, they said a great deal more to the Foreign Office than to me. They only interviewed me once, with great 'courtesy, and made it clear that they were trying hard to deal with the problem. I do not think that they could be expected to say in terms "It is beyond us," but we are entitled to judge, as is the Foreign Office, whether it is beyond them. I think we can see from what has been said to-day that you can no more cure anti-Semitism suddenly, than you can cure pneumonia in two seconds. There just is not time to deal with this medically, it has to be dealt with surgically. The only thing I want to say about the Foreign Office is that I have noticed, over many months, in the course of the negotiations, their first attitude was, "It is not a matter which we can really do anything about. It is not a thing in which we can reasonably be expected to interfere." Their second attitude, that to which they eventually passed, was, "This is something in which we really must interfere."
What we can do is to impress on the Foreign Office that this is something about which the House feels strongly, and that' the promise of the Foreign Secretary to resume conversations with the Polish authorities ought to be developed into negotiations with, and with all proper pressure upon, the Polish Government.
There were one or two remarks from the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) to which I would like to reply. 2290 He said that, taking the long view, it might be felt that when these Poles got back to Poland, these Polish Jews released from the army would be reproached by Polish Gentiles and Jews that they did not fight for their country in their own country's army. I do not think anything of the sort will be said. I am not going to try to speculate on what sort of a Poland it might be in which these things might be said, except to say that we all want it to be an independent Poland and a strong Poland. I am not going to say how many divisions of the Polish Army there are here. I do not know, and I would probably be wrong if I guessed. But I do say that, when the people go back to Poland, there will be Polish Armies there. There will be the Polish Army now fighting in the ranks of the Red Army, the Polish Army now in Britain—I hope they will be there—and there is the Polish Army under General Anders somewhere in the Middle East. I hope they will be there and that they will have taken part in the war before, they get there. Then there will be the Polish underground army, which will outnumber the whole lot. I do not think it will matter very much, if there is a good, tough Jew, who has fought for his country, whether he has "Royal Engineers," or whatever it may be, on his shoulder.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham also suggested that the method proposed by the Foreign Office, to transfer these people to the British Army, was really dodging the issue and running away. I suggest that that is the last thing of which they can be accused. I feel that it was a most broad-minded and courageous action on the part of the British Government. The only question now is whether they can go on in the same course. I think many hon. Members think they should, and I support them.
§ Major Lyons (Leicester, East)
I want to say first that the whole House is indebted to the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) for having brought this matter to Debate. He put the case yesterday with great moderation, and it was dealt with by the Foreign Secretary with great sympathy and reasonableness. I am sure we all appreciate the difficulties with which this matter is beset. I have had no case of this nature submitted to me. I have had no personal examination, therefore, of any incident. There is no 2291 doubt, however, that the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), and other hon. Members, are satisfied that there is a great deal of evidence, unfortunately, to support the allegations that have been made. It is a very great pity indeed that this matter has had to be brought forward and the sorry facts dealt with.
May I make this appeal? This is a very serious matter, which is undermining these men who want to do their best in the Polish Army. They are faced with a grave position—a position recognised in the past by two responsible Government Departments, who have had the courage to act in a way which, I am sure, commends itself to the whole House. We have legislated in the past to super-impose in this country a jurisdiction for our visiting Allies—something which has been unknown before. I remember I was apprehensive about it. I am not saying that it has worked badly; far from it. I am not trying to criticise the Polish Government; far from it. This was an innovation, and, after all, having made the innovation, we have some responsibility to see that there is administered a code of justice substantially in accord with our own notions. Let me take the right hon. Gentleman's approach to the Polish Government. I am quite unconvinced that, with a firm stand, this matter cannot be avoided. Can the Polish Government be pressed to take a firm stand against it? We know perfectly well that we are dealing with a type of Government not our own. We are dealing with visiting Allies. We respect the attitude they have adopted in this war, but we deplore this conduct, which is quite intolerable to us. I venture to urge the right hon. Gentleman—and I am fully appreciative of the sympathy which his right hon. Friend showed yesterday, as we all are—to persuade the Polish Government to make such a stand as will stamp out this pestilential conduct which we are discussing, and which will enable the Polish Army to take its part, with great courage and justice, having regard to the issues for which the war is being waged. And if this should unhappily fail, then let them seek again, by way of transfer, the way out of this impasse, which will give these men the simple and just right which is theirs.
§ Mr. Mack (Newcastle under Lyme)
I think the whole House is indebted for the moderation shown by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg)—a moderation which was not altogether justified. The hon. Member must be aware, as, indeed, many other hon. Members of the House are aware, that these things are far more deep-rooted than some would be prepared to admit. In fact, anti-Semitism in Poland is no new thing. Poland has a record in anti-Semitism which is one of the worst in the whole world, and which goes back far beyond the beginning of this war. The causes, into which we have no desire to enter, may be very deep-rooted, but I observed a remark from one hon. Member, who presented the Polish case and referred to two kinds of Jews—one an excellent and outstanding citizen and the other an entirely different citizen. He said, in regard to the second category, that this was, no doubt, owing to Christian persecution. I do not believe there is such a thing as Christian persecution, because if it is persecution it cannot be Christian. I may say that all these attempts to gloss over the attitude of the Poles in their own country, and, what is worse, within the shores of this country, do not convince hon. Members who know the facts.
I was associated with the late Colonel Victor Cazalet, who was a good friend to Poland, and who, on one occasion, came to me and spoke of this matter. By his kindness, I was privileged to meet General Sikorski, to whom I spoke. He was a moderating influence in Polish and international affairs, and it is rather unfortunate that he was succeeded by an element which seems to be less moderate in that respect, but, whatever may be said about that, he assured me that there were elements in Poland and in this country causing him great concern, and he was trying to do his best to counter-balance that with whatever power lay with him as Prime Minister. The fact remains, and I have made a close investigation and have visited them, as the hon. Member for Maldon did, that they are not able to have their orders obeyed by the military command in this country. In fact, they are being completely ignored by that command, and the worst excesses in that respect are taking place in various parts of this country. Jews are being told—and I am assured of this not by one here and one there—that when they get back to 2293 Poland they will be killed. That may be said to be barrack-room talk, but the fact is that it creates a psychological effect of the worst kind on a man who is already worried about the part he is going to play in this great battle.
Members of the Jewish persuasion are not helping by trying to tone this matter down and apologising, or by saying, as the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) did, that they should take the long-distance view. If these men are allowed to go, there may be reprisals in post-war Poland. I am not going to say what post-war Poland will be like, except that it is doubtful if this Government, as we know it, will play any part there. It may be that an entirely different Government will be playing its part at that time. In so far as the Poles are fighting for liberty, I would be among the first to support them in that very desirable end. If we are going to face the possibility of post-war persecution by merely handing hack these unfortunate, people to the Polish Government to do with them as they like, we are making not only a bad bargain but a gesture which is very unfortunate. This is a matter, I think everybody will agree, where commonsense should prevail. We are all thankful for the statement made the other day by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. As we know of their good intentions, I would remind the House that sometimes the way to hell is paved with good intentions. As long as the principle of racial discrimination is allowed to obtain inside this country it leads to the posibility of a greater degree of anti-Semitic and other discriminations after the war. This is the principle for which we are fighting, and it is against the Atlantic Charter and the principles of equality that we can allow a minority to be treated in this fashion.
We are indeed very grateful, whatever the outcome of this discussion may be, to my hon. Friend for having the courage and the public spirit to bring this matter before the House. I am sure that the vast number of Members of all parties who are anxious that there should be equality and fairness as between the Jews and the Polish army and between the Jews and the Polish nation will support the move that we are making in order to bring this matter before the attention of my right hon. Friend. I trust that he 2294 will intercede with the Polish Government and point out that it is foreign to our mentality, and that he will see as far as possible that these unfortunate Jews are released and allowed to serve in the British Army.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
I am pleased to know, from what the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack) said, that one of the main difficulties in this question is likely to be removed, that is to say, if he is speaking on behalf of his own race. He protested very ardently against the pernicious theory of race discrimination. One other hon. Member, also of the Jewish persuasion, condemned in no uncertain terms the race discrimination that is causing so much trouble in the world to-day. The reason that I mention that to the House is this. The hon. Lady the Member for the Combined English Universities (Miss Rathbone) pointed out that it is mainly a pyschological fault and that in her opinion—and I think she is right on that—it is extremely difficult to deal with it by any administrative action of any sort; the cause of the trouble must be removed.
In the case in question, things have come rather to a head. The feeling, which has always been latent among several nations for hundreds of years, and which gives rise to anti-Semitism, has been very seriously exaggerated during the present war. I am not blaming anyone for the policy which has led to that situation. It was an absolute necessity in the circumstances of the time in order to rouse our people and the people of our Allies to fight this war with their whole will and power in order to defeat the enemy. We were obliged to point out certain terrible threats to the future of mankind. It is the theory of the Herrenvolk, that there is a predominant race in some way or other, completely different from any other race on earth; some specially favoured race, whose mission it is to dominate all the other races of the world and reduce them to subjection. The second thing is that, in carrying out the great mission of the Herrenvolk, which Hitler proclaims and has proclaimed with so much force for so many years, the annihilation of beaten races who were subjected by force of arms to the Herrenvolk has been carried out—smiting them hip and thigh, so that not one of them 2295 remains. I suggest, without rubbing in the lesson any further of the psychological or the racial, that this unfortunate and most pernicious feeling common among Gentiles is due, in the main, to the fact that the particular race with which we are dealing has from the earliest moment of its history, proclaimed the theory of the Herrenvolk, and the fact that no other race has any right even to a bare existence.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I will not follow the ravings of the hon. Member for Mosley (Mr. Hopkinson), but I will direct the attention of the Minister to something of great importance from my point of view, and through the Minister, to the Polish authorities in this country. I have had a long association with the Polish people and before the last war I took part in many demonstrations for a free and independent Poland. Some 40 or 50 years ago there was a large influx of Polish miners and steelworkers into Scotland, and nowhere have men and women been so warmly received and made at home as has been the case with regard to the mining and steel districts of Scotland. There has never been any feeling against these Polish workers and they have been good neighbours. I would like the Polish authorities to understand that there is an appalling feeling to-day. Let anybody who has any scepticism at all come and go into the factories and round the districts where Polish officers are in the habit of frequenting, and listen to the stories that are told about the language they use and the threats they make, and see the impression it makes cm the people there. I have never known feeling against anybody, at any time, such as the feeling which exists in this regard.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter
Recently I had occasion to visit some of the Polish squadrons in the Air Force and I found everywhere nothing but the greatest possible respect for these Poles. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is giving a completely unfair view.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I should have said that no body of soldiers could receive more consideration or better treatment than the Polish soldiers have received. The airmen and others are respected, but the feeling against a particular element, because of the language they are using, is 2296 appalling. If the hon. Member has any doubt, I will introduce him to some of the people who will persuade him of the truth of this. The Minister and the Polish authorities ought to understand that these particular offenders are doing harm not only to themselves, but to the Polish people.
§ The Minister of State (Mr. Richard Law)
This has been an interesting Debate, and, in one respect at least, an unusual one. It is unusual for this reason, that a Debate of this kind generally arises, as this has done, out of a reply given by a Minister at Question Time. It generally arises because the hon. Member who has asked the Question is so dissatisfied with the answer that he gives notice that he will raise it on the Adjournment. A formula with which we are all familiar is, "Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of this reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise it on the Adjournment." In this case, however, the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), who has initiated this discussion, did not use that formula. In fact, he said that the reply of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was sympathetic and understanding, and, in spite of that, he wished to have this Debate. I am very glad that the hon. Member does think that the attitude of the Foreign Secretary—and indeed it is clear that the House thinks so too—is sympathetic and understanding in this very difficult problem. I can assure the House that we are fully alive to the difficulties. We are conscious of the feeling which a great number of hon. Members have upon this subject, and we are doing our best to resolve the problem.
I shall not be able to give the House an assurance that we shall resolve it on the lines suggested by more than one hon. Member and, indeed, I hope to be able to develop to the House arguments which will, I hope, convince the majority of hon. Members that the problem is not in fact capable of a solution along those lines. This has been an interesting Debate, and it has been conducted at a very high level. My hon. Friend the Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Strauss) complained that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wirral (Captain Graham) had engendered heat and prejudice in our discussions. I do not quite know what are the standards of my hon. Friend the Member for North Lambeth on these matters, 2297 but I am inclined to think that, according to his judgment, heat and prejudice are engendered in a discussion whenever anybody happens to disagree with him; as long as they agree with him, it is on a very high level.
§ Mr. Law
I go further than my hon. Friend the Member for North Lambeth. I think this Debate has been marked by a very high level of detachment and objective search after the truth on both sides of the House. One noticeable feature of it has been the fact that there has been no kind of criticism, from any part of the House, of our Polish Allies. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Lianelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) who said that hon. Members who had taken part in this Debate were speaking, not as critics, but as friends, and I am very glad that my hon. Friend said that. I am very glad that it does reflect the opinion of this House to-day. It is quite clear that, whatever has been said, is not intended to be a reflection upon our Polish Allies, or upon the Polish Government in particular.
The hon. Member for Maldon, and other hon. Members, submitted that when we had discussions with the Polish Government, the result of which was that 200 soldiers should be transferred from Polish units to British units, we had thereby created a precedent, and that it was extremely unreasonable not to follow that precedent now. At the time when this transfer was made, it was made clear that this was not to be regarded as a precedent; that we should not expect that, if there were any further desertions from the Polish Army, and if members of the Polish Forces came up to London to interview hon. Members of this House, it was going to be followed in the future. We must, I think, first of all get out of our minds the idea that a precedent was created at that time. It was not a precedent, and it was made quite clear that it was not intended as a precedent.
Then hon. Members may very well ask, if it was not intended to be a precedent, why was it done? The answer is that we felt, and the Polish Government felt, that here was a situation which wanted looking into and correcting. Therefore, as an exceptional measure, these men were 2298 transferred and, in the meantime, the Polish Government looked into the situation that we have been discussing to-day. More than one hon. Member has said—
§ Mr. Driberg
Might I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman before he leaves that point? Surely, since the Polish Government have not been successful in suppressing anti-Semitism in the intervening period, as indeed they could not be, the situation for these 30 or 50 men is precisely the same situation as for the 200?
§ Mr. Law
I hope I shall be able to deal with that point as I develop my argument. I think my hon. Friend the Member for North Lambeth said that you could not deal with a problem of this kind by the issue of Orders of the Day, that it was a far deeper thing than that, that it was a deep psychological problem and you could not deal with it just by issuing Orders. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, you cannot. But that is not what the Polish Government have done. It is true that the Polish Government have issued Orders of the Day on this subject, and very stringent ones. It is also the case that steps have been taken by the Polish military authorities to give courses of lectures and instructions to all ranks in the Polish Army, to explain to them the necessity for stamping out anti-Semitic feeling whenever it shows itself. That has been done with complete sincerity on the part of the military authorities and it has been done very thoroughly. In addition, orders have been given that any instances of anti-Semitic conduct are to be reported and dealt with as a breach of discipline. I very much doubt whether the Polish Government, or any other Government, could go further than that.
Now we get to the point which the hon. Member for Maldon interjected just now. He said, "Clearly, whatever measures the Polish Government have taken, they cannot have been successful or you would not have had a repetition of what has occurred before; you would not have had another batch of men deserting from the Polish Forces and coming up to London if the efforts which the Polish Government have been making had been in any way effective." I would like the House to examine that proposition. I wonder if it is really so? In any problem of this kind where you have a racial minority, where you have some tendency to anti-Semitism, things begin with trivial inci- 2299 dents and they are magnified by conditions under which the men are living—in this case they become magnified because here we have active and valiant men who have been training and waiting to get into action for a long time, and in such circumstances you are inevitably liable to get some magnification of comparatively trivial incidents. But when you add to that the possibility that a man who is a victim of a trivial incident that may develop into something rather more important, is perfectly free not only to desert, not only to come to London but to approach Members of Parliament, and know that his case will be heard on the sounding board that Parliament is, and to know that some Members will bring pressure upon the Government to bring pressure, in their turn, upon the Polish Government to release him from the Army, then you are bound to get a continuance of indiscipline of that kind. I think that that is absolutely certain.
Why cannot we make a clean job of it and ask for the release of all Jews in the Polish Army? The hon. Member says that there are not so many of them, probably a matter of 600 out of thousands of valiant men in the Polish Army and that that cannot make any great difference. That is the hon. Member's argument, but I do not believe it is a valid argument at all. The fact is that these men are trained to play their parts in the units which have been training together for a very long time to act and to fight as units.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) said that all that the problem really meant was the exchange of 600 unhappy soldiers in the Polish Forces for 600 happy soldiers in the British Forces. Believe me, that is a quite remarkable over-simplification. In modern conditions of warfare, which is highly technical and mechanised, to withdraw 600 men from a unit which has trained together for months, and put in 600 men who are equally good, would effectively destroy the efficiency of that unit. But you are not only doing that; when you take 600 men from the Polish Forces and put them into a British unit which has trained together, the British unit is thrown into confusion. I think we should be taking a serious responsibility upon ourselves if we attempted to insist at this time, above all, on making really sub- 2300 stantial alterations in the military dispositions which the commanders-in-chief have made. That is not a responsibility which I would be prepared at this time, above all times, to take upon myself nor, I suggest, is it a responsibility which any Member of this House ought to be prepared to shoulder at this time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull) reminded us that we had a duty not only to foreign minorities in this country but to our own constituents. I think we ought to remember that, at a time when we are on the eve of a tremendous military adventure, on the eve of probably the most tremendous military undertaking that has ever been planned. We do not want to do anything that will shake the morale or efficiency of any single part of our Fighting Forces, whether Allied or British, and I do not believe you can encourage indiscipline in the kind of way which the hon. Member for Maldon would like to encourage it—and I believe it would be a direct encouragement to indiscipline—without its effect being felt far more widely than just among this particular unit and the particular batch of men concerned. While hon. Members may feel every sympathy with the case which the hon. Member has put before the House to-day, I think we have to keep a sense of proportion, not only in respect of the matters about which my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) spoke earlier, but also in respect of our British interests in this matter.
§ Mr. Driberg
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of my argument that, from the strictly military point of view, discipline, unity and morale in the units in which these things are happening cannot be very good.
§ Mr. Law
I do not want to say anything that would engender into our discussions a note of acerbity that has so far been absent, but it is quite certain that so long as a deserter from any Allied Army can come to London and advertise his case in the British House of Commons you will not get good discipline. I think the answer to the problem which the hon., Member puts about whether you will get discipline in these conditions depends largely upon what is said and what is not said in this House. I think our best chance of getting an effective Polish 2301 fighting unit is to leave this problem to the Poles themselves to solve, in the belief, which I hold, that they are doing their very best to solve it, and that they are having some measure of success. That may be news to the hon. Members, and they may not agree with it, but, in fact, as a result of the action which has been taken over a long period of time by the Polish military authorities to combat this evil of anti-Semitism—
§ Mr. Law
The relations to-day between the Jews and the non-Jews in the Polish Army are probably better than they ever have been before.
I do not think they are likely to be improved by a Debate of this kind. I have no objection to the spirit in which the Debate has taken place, although I still do regret that it had to take place. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham spoke about the necessity for taking a long view in this matter and I think we all ought to consider the effect of this upon the much wider problem of the position of the Jews in the world as a whole. That is a subject in which this House and this Government are deeply interested. What is the effect likely to be, of Jewish refugees, so to speak, from the Forces, coming up to the House of Commons, having their case stated in public, and having it advertised all over the world, on the position of those men themselves and on the position of Jews as a whole.
§ Mr. Law
No, I do not suggest that. This is rather a special case. Without any suggestion of impertinence or condescension, I would ask my hon. Friends to exercise their imaginations in the matter a little bit. At one stage in our deliberations to-day there was a suggestion that the Scottish had been a persecuted minority in this country.
Let us suppose that there is a British military unit training in, for example, the United States, and that in this unit there are a few Scotsmen, or it may be Welsh- 2302 men, who are being subjected to ragging and jokes, which begin by being good-humoured but gradually get less good-humoured and eventually become offensive; and I and my friends from Wales go to Washington and get hold of Members of Congress and say, "We are being treated monstrously on American soil by these British units. Will you expose the scandal?" Then Senator So-and-So gets up and they have a terrific debate and say, "What brutal people the British are, fundamentally anti-Welsh or anti-Scottish. There is nothing whatever that you can do about it. It is true that the British Government are doing their best but, after all, what can they do in the face of a problem like this?" It is plastered all over the newspapers, our colleagues in the old battalion read what the papers say, and then we are very pleased with ourselves and think we have done a great stroke of work, and we go back and expect to be received with open arms. But we are not likely to be received with open arms. What we have clone is a bad thing for ourselves and for all Scotsmen or Weshmen, as the case may be.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Supposing the Washington Government gave a bunch of Englishmen power over a mixed bunch of Englishmen and Scotsmen and the Englishmen started ill-treating the Scotsmen, would not the Scotsmen be entitled to go to Washington and say, "You have given power to the wrong people".
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
May I suggest that in the circumstances envisaged by the right hon. Gentleman the people who would have gone to Washington for protection would be the English.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter
Does the right hon. Gentleman infer from that picture that, if the United States had rescued 200 Welshmen or Scotsmen, they would have done a foolish thing, because we seem to have done the same thing here.
§ Mr. Law
I think my hon. Friend has misunderstood the argument I have been trying to put. I did not say that we did a foolish thing in having these 200 men transferred. Obviously if we had thought it a foolish thing we should not have done it. I think that was legitimate. What would not have been legitimate is to open the door indefinitely and to say, as you would be saying of any member of any 2303 Allied force who has a grievance, that in the opinion of the British House of Commons he has a right to join the British Forces. That is not a proposition which in my view the Government could possibly entertain or which this House ought to ask the Government to entertain. The Polish Government are doing their best to grapple with the problem and I have absolute confidence in them. It is not possible to accede to the hon. Member's request for the reasons I have given, but I hope I shall be able to carry the House with me in my belief that our main function now is not so much to look after this or that thing that is wrong but to sustain these forces, and our own troops, to the utmost extent possible for the great ordeal that lies ahead of us.
§ Mr. Driberg
May I make two short pleas to the right hon. Gentleman? First, would he say that the possibility of obtaining some transfers will not be excluded from the agenda of the conversations that the Foreign Secretary is going to embark on, and would he give special attention to the case of the very few men, 30 or 50, who are undergoing court-martial or are still in London—because, if they are sent back to their units, their personal position will be perfectly intolerable—especially, I admit, in view of the publicity that has arisen from their action?
§ Mr. Law
I am sorry, but I cannot add anything to what I have said on that point. Certainly I cannot give any guarantee that the possibility of transfer will not be excluded and I cannot give any guarantee that we shall attempt to dictate or try to influence the Polish Government as to the disciplinary action which they will measure out in this case. In my judgment the one important thing is that these Polish soldiers should know where they stand. They should know that their duty lies in continuing the work that they have begun.