“As we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one by encouraging any scheme of large-scale foreign migration…”

When do you believe the above statement was made and by whom?* You find the answer at the bottom of this post.

The online module on the The Evian Conference In 1938 aims to inform about this international conference and at the same time offers discussion and study material about the refugee situation in the 1930s and today. This online module was commissioned by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and produced by the House of the Wannsee Conference.

“The historical experience of the Evian conference sheds a light on the difficulties in finding an adequate and humane response to the refugees’ situation Europe finds itself confronted with.” – House of the Wannsee Conference

The introduction explains the situation of the Jews in Germany from 1933 on: the anti-Jewish laws, the pogroms and the waves of Jewish refugees from “Greater Germany” (after the Anschluss of Austria). Also the challenges of leaving Nazi Germany are described: emigration from Greater Germany meant giving up all personal property and any assets to the Nazi state.

Viennese Jews are forced to scrub the pavement, Spring 1938

The main topic of the online module is the reaction of the international community to the situation of the Jews in Nazi Germany and to the Jewish refugees fleeing that regime.

“Although the Nazi terror against Jews provoked public protests throughout Europe and America, it was mostly still considered by other governments as an internal affair which was not to be interfered with as long as the Germans were not trying to attack directly the interests of foreign states.” – House of the Wannsee Conference

From 6 to 15 July 1938, delegates from 32 countries met in the French town of Evian for an intergovernmental conference. American president Franklin D. Roosevelt had initiated the conference with the aim of dealing with the situation of the Jewish refugees and establishing a permanent intergovernmental committee to deal with refugee problems.

Postcard of Evian-les-Bains, June 1938

What were the challenges for the international community in 1938? How were the refugees treated in the countries they arrived at? What scope of action did the international community have to deal with this crisis? Did these refugees have any legal status or protection?

These questions and topics are covered via the necessary context, different assignment ideas, discussion questions and visual materials (images, cartoons, statistics). Testimonials make the story personal and speeches and statements made by attendees of the conference bring the events closer to the reader.

Political cartoon entitled “Will the Evian conference guide him to freedom?” Source: The New York Times, July 3, 1938

“I don’t think that anyone, who didn’t live through it, can understand what I felt at Evian – a mixture of sorrow, rage, frustration and horror. I wanted to get up and scream at them all, ‘Don’t you know that these ‘numbers’ are human beings, people who may spend the rest of their lives in concentration camps, or wandering around like lepers, if you don’t let them in?'” – Golda Meir

The strength of the resource, next to its comprehensiveness, is that it goes further than just describing the conference and its context. It presents the Evian conference from different perspectives. How were Jewish organizations involved and what were their proposals for dealing with the refugee situation? What was the perspective of Nazi Germany? What did the regime have to say about the discussions and the outcome of the conference? And of course the positions of the different countries participating in the conference are also presented, using extracts from their speeches.

“In North America, in South America, in France, in Holland, Scandinavia and Greece wherever the stream of Jewish migrants has poured in, a clear increase in anti-Semitism has already been recorded. It must be an aim of German foreign policy to strengthen this wave of anti-Semitism…” –  German Foreign Ministry Memorandum on Policy Regarding Jews, 1939

This online module can be used for different learning methods. An interesting exercise could be to compare newspaper articles from different perspectives (German versus English newspapers) and discuss the differences in describing the outcome of the Evian Conference. Also, the comparison can be made to media coverage on today’s refugee situation.

Example of a newspaper resource presented in the online module: “Juden, was nun?” [“Jews, what next?”] in: Das Schwarze Korps [The black corps; magazine of the SS troops published by the Reich], 24 November 1938

We are looking forward to hearing your opinion about this resource. Do you have experience teaching about the Evian Conference? Which topics, positions or perspectives would you emphasize when discussing the conference? Leave a reply or contact us via email.

*Answer: Australian delegate Lt. Colonel Thomas Walter White at the 1938 Evian Conference.

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