Finding Refuge

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Date:1937

Description:It has been estimated that Birmingham received approximately 700 Jewish refugees between 1933 and 1945.There are a number of different archive sources and historical accounts to help us get a better understanding of this period of 'migration and settlement' in Birmingham.

Local Studies and History contain a large collections of Newspaper Cuttings on Jewish community at this time (Local Studies and History, LF 19.8). Watching his community facing the crisis of the Jewish Holocaust, Harry Levine started to compile notebooks of newspapers and leaflets. These now provide a range of materials for research into the Birmingham's response to the refugee crisis. Other sources include Zoe Joseph’s invaluable guide, 'Survivors', (also available in Birmingham Collection of Local Studies and History).

At first, individual volunteers helped to provide emergency lodging for local Jewish refugees. However, as Hitler’s persecution of Jewish intensified, and the numbers of refugees arriving in Birmingham increased, new organisations were developed to cope with the situation. Relief efforts were mounted by the Jewish community itself; and in some cases, other religious groups (such as the Christadelphians) also provided aid. Later, a 'Birmingham Council for Refugees' helped to co-ordinate the need for temporary accommodation.

Some of these refugees would end up settling permanently in Birmingham; although this was never an easy option. For instance, with the outbreak of WWII, the shadow of internment camps hung over any 'foreign speaking' jew who had entered the country to find refuge and safety (see right hand icons for more details). Later in the post war period, many Jewish settlers in Birmingham experienced a sense of social and cultural isolation.

For other refugees, the stay in Birmingham was not permanent. A substantial number of Jews would eventually settle in other countries such as America. For others, the need for a spiritual homeland in Israel seemed the urgent necessity.

In the 1940's, conditions faced by refugees in Birmingham often varied greatly. Some were welcomed into new Jewish families; yet others, after having faced persecution of the Nazi’s in Germany, would be treated with suspicion and forced to work for their 'hosts' in England. Meanwhile, barriers of language and a mistrust of German speaking Jewish refugees intensified when Britain entered into WWII, and was theatened with invasion. Nevertheless, depite these difficultues, Birmingham played an important humanitarian role in offering a life saving sanctuary for victims of unbearable oppressions.

From escaped slaves in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, to jewish refugees of the nineteenth and twentieth century, to the current range of communities and individuals displaced through civil war and conflict, it is important that we remember that not only has Birmingham historically offered santuary, but that in return, the resulting inclusion of new skills, outlooks and cultures has enabled the civic growth of the city.

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Donor ref:LSH, Cuttings, Harry Levine 1937-1938 (LF 19.8)  (29/593)

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