On the 17th December the Foreign secretary of the British government made a statement to the House of Commons. It was now officially accepted that the stories of what would become known as the ‘Holocaust’ were true. Various stories from around Europe had been emerging during the course of 1942.
At first many were disbelieved as being literally ‘incredible’ because they were so horrific or because of the scale of what the Nazis were attempting. But the collation of evidence, much of it done by the Polish government in exile, had reached a point where it was now widely accepted that the Nazis were perpetrating an unprecedented crime. They had industrialised the killing of people and were committing murder on a mass scale.
I regret to have to inform the House that reliable reports have recently reached His Majesty’s Government regarding the barbarous and inhuman treatment to which Jews are being subjected in German-occupied Europe.
He went on to read out a Declaration which had been prepared by the ‘United Nations’, at that time a loose association of the Allied countries, the governments in exile in Britain and other representatives of occupied Europe.
The attention of the Governments of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxemberg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Yugoslavia, and of the French National Committee has been drawn to numerous reports from Europe that the German authorities, not content with denying to persons of Jewish race in all the territories over which their barbarous rule has been extended the most elementary human rights, are now carrying into effect Hitler’s oft repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe.
From all the occupied countries Jews are being transported, in conditions of appalling horror and brutality, to Eastern Europe. In Poland, which has been made the principal Nazi slaughterhouse, the ghettoes established by the German invaders are being systematically emptied of all Jews except a few highly skilled workers required for war industries.
None of those taken away are ever heard of again. The able-bodied are slowly worked to death in labour camps. The infirm are left to die of exposure and starvation or are deliberately massacred in mass executions. The number of victims of these bloody cruelties is reckoned in many hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent men, women and children.
The above mentioned Governments and the French National Committee condemn in the strongest possible terms this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination. They declare that such events can only strengthen the resolve of all freedom loving peoples to overthrow the barbarous Hitlerite tyranny. They re-affirm their solemn resolution to ensure that those responsible for these crimes shall not escape retribution, and to press on with the necessary practical measures to this end.
Member of Parliament James de Rothschild spoke for the Jewish community in Britain:
May I express to the right hon. Gentleman and this House the feelings of great emotion — the really grateful feeling that I am certain will permeate the Jewish subjects of His Majesty’s Government in this country and throughout the Empire at the eloquent and just denunciation which has just been made by the right hon. Gentleman.
Among the Jewish subjects of His Majesty there are many to-day who have been in this country only for a generation or so. They will feel that, but for the grace of God, they themselves might be among the victims of the Nazi tyranny at the present time. They might be in those ghettoes, in those concentration camps, in those slaughter-houses.
They will have many relations whom they mourn, and I feel sure they will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and to the United Nations for this declaration. I trust that this proclamation will, through the medium of the B.B.C., percolate throughout the German-infested countries and that it may give some faint hope and courage to the unfortunate victims of torment and insult and degradation. They have shown in their misery and their unhappiness great fortitude and great courage.
I hope that when this news goes to them they will feel that they are supported and strengthened by the British Government and by the other United Nations and that they will be enabled to continue to signify that they still uphold the dignity of man.
The full statement and the House of Commons debate can be read at Hansard.
The ‘Holocaust’ was known about and officially acknowledged long before the death camps were overrun by the advancing Allies in the last year of the war. The Declaration led to the development of the concept of ‘Crimes against Humanity’ and the establishment of the legal machinery for the post war Nuremburg War Crimes trials.