HC Deb 20 December 1945 vol 417 cc1524-9
Miss Rathbone

(by Private Notice)asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether he can now make a statement concerning the treatment of Jewish displaced persons in the British Zone in Germany.

Mr. J. Hynd

Yes, Sir. I am aware of the criticisms to which the hon. Member refers. They are without foundation. The information is necessarily rather long, and I hope that the House will bear with me while I give it.

On the collapse of Germany in May, 1945, the military authorities were faced with a stupendous task in dealing with the many millions of displaced persons who were then at large in ex-enemy territories. By the end of October, the vast majority of those who could be repatriated had either been returned to their countries of origin, or were on their way, leaving in the British zone in Germany approximately 5.50,000 who were not immediately repatriable. Of this number only a relatively small proportion were Jews. Jewish persons receive the same treatment and facilities as other displaced persons.

Displaced persons have an absolute priority over the German population in regard to food, and special efforts are made to provide a balanced diet. A minimum ration scale of 2,000 calories per day is prescribed, with additions for workers and other special categories. This is much in excess of what is being received by the Germans. Frequent levies of clothing for the benefit of displaced persons have been made on the German population to augment such imported clothing as has been available. The biggest levy has just been completed and as a result Winter clothing is now being issued to displaced persons. Every effort is made to provide adequate protection against the cold. Deficiencies still exist, particularly in blankets and men's overcoats, but steps are being taken to make good the shortages.

Displaced persons are accommodated in areas known as assembly centres which often consist of block of houses requisitioned from the German people. Other assembly centres consist of large well-fitted barracks or camps. Inevitably, given the general shortage of accommodation in the heavily bombed German cities, some assembly centres are overcrowded but the standard of living space laid down as the minimum for displaced persons is higher than that allowed for the German population. The movement of displaced persons to specially selected winter accommodation started in October last and is now practically complete.

Prominence has been given to conditions which exist in what has been called "the notorious Belsen Camp." This camp was in fact destroyed by order shortly after the British troops arrived. The only assembly centre near the site is that: at Hoehne where a large number of displaced persons, among them 9,500 Jews, are accommodated. Hoehne assembly centre consists of large brick barracks formerly occupied by S.S. troops who, under the Hitler regime, received special treatment and accommodation. Many displaced persons who have been transferred from Hoehne to other assembly centres, have asked to return.

The centre is run by the British Red Cross Society under the direction of a relief detachment of the military authorities. The Jewish displaced persons maintain their own guards, workshops, recreation rooms, and sick-bay, and organise their own working parties and administration. The hospital is administered by U.N.R.R.A. There is an adequate supply of medicine and the hospital is well fitted and well run. Included in the staff are some German doctors and nurses who work under the direction of U.N.R.R.A. doctors. Each displaced person has at least two blankets, as have all displaced persons in assembly centres, and all have received a fresh outfit of clothing since leaving the Belsen concentration camp.

There is no censorship of newspapers within the centre and complete freedom of movement in and out of the camp is permitted. No restriction is placed on Zionist activities. Contrary to statements which have been circulating in the Press overseas there was no disturbance at this centre on 15th November. Nor has there been a disturbance at any other time. The facts are that recently a procession of Jewish displaced persons from the centre marched to the office of the military government detachment to present a resolution to be passed to the British authorities. The commanding officer of the detachment accepted the resolution for onward transmission. There were no incidents and no arrests and the acting president of the Jewish committee at the centre reports that he has had no complaints about the procedure.

The following food scale is in force:

2913 calories per day for nursing and expectant mothers.

2849 calories per day for workers.

2161 calories per day for non-workers and children.

Ex-enemy nationals, including many Jews, who have been persecuted because of their race, religion or activities in favour of the United Nations, provided that their loyalty to the Allies has been established, are treated similarly to United Nations displaced persons. Those who were at one time at assembly centres and have left voluntarily have been given ration books, enabling them to draw the higher scale of rations appropriate to medium heavy workers. The large number who are scattered as individuals throughout the British zone and live voluntarily as part of the indigenous population, cannot readily be traced, and the administrative difficulties are such that it is not yet possible to provide them with the material benefits that are available at the centres. The local British authorities have this matter under consideration and are endeavouring to overcome the difficulties.

Miss Rathbone

While thanking the hon. Gentleman for his in many ways reassuring report, though there are still admitted deficiencies, may I ask him whether he will consider whether it would not help to forestall criticisms, whether justified or unjustified, if he would follow the example of the President of the United States by appointing a Jewish adviser to the Military Government in our Zone similar to the appointment of Judge Rifkind who has been appointed Jewish adviser in the American Zone?

Mr. Hynd

I am afraid it would be impossible to take any measures which would forestall criticisms which are unjustified, and which are in this case deliberately fabricated. Iam already considering the appointment of Jewish advisers. So far as the second part of the hon. Lady's supplementary question is concerned, in regard to Jewish welfare workers in the camps, there are already Jewish welfare workers on the staff of U.N.R.R.A. who are now taking over control of these camps I have had no complaint of a shortage of Jewish personnel with U.N.R.R.A. If there are such complaints I shall be glad to consider them.

Mr. Vernon Bartlett

Is the hon. Member aware that I and probably other Members of this Househave visited Belsen, or as it now is, Hoehne Camp, and the work done by the people in control is very praiseworthy indeed; and however much sympathy one has with the displaced persons, a great deal of credit should go to the people who have organised those camps?

Mr. Lipson

Can the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he is satisfied that an adequate amount of work and other activities are provided for these displaced persons, and that the arrangements in the British Zone in this connection are at least as good as in the American Zone?

Mr. Hynd

I cannot speak for the American Zone, but I can assure the House that the difficulty is not so much the inadequacy of available work but the reluctance of many displaced persons to take advantage of those facilities, largely due to psychological factors. They feel it is time that they were given a rest; they were slave workers and they feel that the Germans should now work for them. Facilities are provided in most camps and are taken advantage of. Special rations and other amenities are offered to encourage participation in those facilities.

Mr. Lindsay

May I ask the Minister how these completely inaccurate reports are put about? I have received reports about the work of the British Red Cross.

Mr. Hynd

I obviously cannot say how these inspired Press statements in other countries originated. The fact is that they have been published and, therefore, I am glad to have this opportunity of repudiating them.

Mr. Janner

While I thank the Minister for the statement he has made, is he prepared to consider, in view of the very peculiar position of Jewish displaced persons, the possibility of having separate camps for them, so that, in addition to receiving the ordinary amenities, they may have congenial and appropriate surroundings in which to recover?

Mr. Hynd

I am afraid the implication would be very detrimental.

Miss Rathbone

Is the Minister aware that as far as I have been able to make out—and I have been making inquiries since I first heard of these violent criticisms—the particularly unfair criticisms which he has answered to-day do not seem to have originated in any of the well-known Jewish bodies in this country? They did not even know that the criticisms had been made.

Mr. Hynd

I am glad to saythat, so far as I am aware, such stories have not appeared in the British Press.

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