In a statement that illustrated how much the British and others knew about the persecution of the Jews as early as 1942, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden told the House of Commons about mass executions of Jews by Germans in occupied Europe and read a United Nations declaration condemning “this bestial policy.”
Eden said the Germans were carrying out “Hitler's oft repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe.” He described how hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were being transported from German-occupied territory “in conditions of appalling horror and brutality” to Eastern Europe. Eden also revealed that Jewish ghettoes were being “systematically emptied” except for the able-bodied who were being sent to labor camps.
“None of those taken away are ever heard of again,” Eden said.
He also said the United Nations would try to give asylum to as many refugees as possible but that there were “immense geographical difficulties” as well as security procedures to overcome.
After Eden spoke, the House rose and held a one-minute silence in sympathy for the victims.
Four days earlier, synagogues all over Britain held a day of mourning for the massacre of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Despite the clear knowledge of atrocities taking place, documents found decades later indicate that as late as August 1943, the British coordinator of intelligence and other high-ranking officials did not believe reports of the mass murder of Jews.
Source: “1942: Britain condemns massacre of Jews,” BBC, (December 17, 1942).