Date: 26 November 2009
Russell Wallis (Royal Holloway) – Britons, Poles and Jews after WWI
From WWI onwards, British society responded to a series of atrocities and humanitarian crises in different parts of the world. The first of these was the so-called ‘rape of Belgium’ by German forces in late 1914. The second was the race murder of the Armenians by Turks. Part of the response to German and Turkish crimes in 1914 and the mass murder of the Armenians by Turks was that atrocity was un-English. In this sense, the response to atrocity was framed by a sense of national identity: in other words, who the English thought themselves to be. Victory in the Great War had confirmed Britain’s international reputation and self-perception both as a defender of small nations and a protector of vulnerable minorities. However, with regard to the nascent Polish state these two ideas came into conflict. This paper explores the forces that dictated British reactions to brutal anti-Semitism in Poland. In particular two distinct but connected war aims were at variance: firstly, the re-establishment of Poland as a separate democratic state and, secondly, the banishment of repression as a method of control. To accommodate the former, the British felt compelled to give the latter considerable latitude.