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Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship
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Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship

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by Martin Gilbert

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An insightful history of Churchill's lifelong commitment—both public and private—to the Jews and Zionism, and of his outspoken opposition to anti-Semitism

Winston Churchill was a young man in 1894 when Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army, was convicted of treason and sent to Devil's Island. Despite the prevailing


An insightful history of Churchill's lifelong commitment—both public and private—to the Jews and Zionism, and of his outspoken opposition to anti-Semitism

Winston Churchill was a young man in 1894 when Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army, was convicted of treason and sent to Devil's Island. Despite the prevailing anti-Semitism in England as well as on the Continent, Churchill's position was clear: he supported Dreyfus, and condemned the prejudices that had led to his conviction.

Churchill's commitment to Jewish rights, to Zionism—and ultimately to the State of Israel—never wavered. In 1922, he established on the bedrock of international law the right of Jews to emigrate to Palestine. During his meeting with David Ben-Gurion in 1960, Churchill presented the Israeli prime minister with an article he had written about Moses, praising the father of the Jewish people.

Drawing on a wide range of archives and private papers, speeches, newspaper coverage, and wartime correspondence, Churchill's official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert, explores the origins, implications, and results of Churchill's determined commitment to Jewish rights, opening a window on an underappreciated and heroic aspect of the brilliant politician's life and career.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This work by acclaimed Churchill biographer Gilbert examines an often-neglected aspect of the British leader's career: his relationship to Jews and Jewish issues. Drawing on a treasure trove of primary documents, Gilbert shows how Churchill grew beyond the kind of friendship with individual British Jews that his father enjoyed into a supporter of Jewish causes-most notably a Jewish state in Palestine. (In later years, Churchill even referred to himself as an "old Zionist.") Gilbert shows that Churchill recognized as early as 1933 that Hitler's regime posed a grave danger for European Jewry. Yet, as Gilbert shows, in the late 1930s, Churchill upset Zionist leaders with his support for limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine out of a concern for British interests in the Arab world. The work is chock-full of narrative, with little interpretation, and some readers might wish for more discussion of questions, such as Churchill's description of Bolshevism (which he loathed) as a "Jewish movement." But this work is a must-read for those interested in Churchill and in Jewish history. 8 pages of photos; maps. (Nov. 1)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Primarily known for his multivolume biography of Churchill, Gilbert has also written extensively about modern Jewish history and the Holocaust. Now he takes the opportunity to combine his expertise on these subjects, and his source material reflects years of work. Gilbert is strongest in narrative; the analysis is sparser. But he's at his best when explaining the interrelationship between Churchill's position as a British government leader-especially during World War II-and his personal support of Zionism and Jewish refugees. Gilbert points out that Churchill had first to safeguard British interests, all the while functioning within a complex governmental system, which sometimes prevented him from promoting causes, such as Zionism, as he might have liked. The book is weaker when Gilbert delineates the number of Jews Churchill interacted with on a daily basis. Does it really matter, for example, that one of his staff at the Ministry of Munitions in 1917 was Jewish? Gilbert's analysis of the tension between Churchill's pro-Jewish and pro-Zionist attitudes and his hatred of Bolshevism, which he considered a Jewish invention, may leave unsatisfied readers still seeking an explanation as to how the two were reconciled. Recommended for research libraries.
—Frederic Krome

Kirkus Reviews
British historian and Churchill biographer Gilbert (Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction, 2006, etc.) explores the great statesman's early, fervent support of Zionism and wartime pleas to save the Jews from Nazi persecution. Churchill believed the Jews, thanks to Moses and the code of conduct he received at Mt. Sinai, "grasped and proclaimed an idea of which all the genius of Greece and all the power of Rome were incapable." Continuing his father Randolph's friendship with prominent British Jews such as Lord Rothschild, Churchill, as a young MP in 1904, became a vocal critic of the Aliens Bill restricting Jewish immigration from Tsarist Russia. As Home Secretary, he dispatched troops to restore order after the pogrom at Tredegar, South Wales. Early on, he became friendly with the one who would most shape Zionist policy, Chaim Weizmann, the Manchester chemist whom he enlisted during World War I to manufacture explosives for British ammunition. While supporting the Balfour Declaration, Churchill was deeply wary of Bolshevism as representing the "bad" Jews. Indeed, he hoped that Zionism would work to counterbalance Jewish Bolshevik sympathies. Churchill visited the Holy Land, excoriated Islam as a "retrograde force" and lobbied against restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine, especially as Arab resistance grew and Nazi persecution of the Jews gained force. Regarding the rise of the Nazis, Churchill demonstrated extraordinary prescience as early as 1933 and continually warned in speeches and writings of the impending menace. He led the debate against Partition and called the MacDonald White Paper (devising a policy in Palestine of permanent Arab majority) a "shameful act of appeasement."Gilbert diligently pursues Churchill's attempts to save Jews throughout the war, his disillusionment with Jewish terrorism and failure to bring up the future of Palestine at Potsdam. The author masterfully sketches the evolution of Israel through a long, difficult British Jewish process of conception. Gilbert's deep, lifelong scholarship and knowledge of his subject lend his book both authority and accessibility.
From the Publisher

“Gilbert's deep, lifelong scholarship and knowledge of his subject lend his book both authority and accessibility.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A must-read for those interested in Churchill and in Jewish history.” —Publishers Weekly

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Chapter 1

Churchill had no Jewish ancestry; his claim to an exotic origin came from a possible American Indian ancestor. But from his early years the Jews held a fascination for him. As a schoolboy at Harrow, the stories of the Old Testament were an integral part of his education and imagination. One of his earliest surviving essays was ‘Palestine in the time of John the Baptist’. Writing about the Pharisees, Churchill asked his reader – in this case his teacher – not to be too censorious about that ‘rigid’ Jewish sect. ‘Their faults were many,’ he wrote, and went on to ask: ‘Whose faults are few?’ At the age of thirteen he could himself be forgiven for describing the ‘minarets’ of the Temple of Zion.

In Churchill’s family circle, his father Lord Randolph Churchill was noted for his friendship with individual Jews. The butt of a popular clubland jibe that he only had Jewish friends, he was even rebuked by members of his family for inviting Jews to dine with him at home. On one occasion, when a guest at an English country house, Lord Randolph was greeted by one of the guests, a leading aristocrat, with the words: ‘What, Lord Randolph, you’ve not brought your Jewish friends?’ to which Lord Randolph replied: ‘No, I did not think they would be very amused by the company.’

Churchill, a devoted son eager for his father’s approval, took his father’s side in this pro- and anti-Jew debate. The Jews whom his father knew and invited to dine were men of distinction and achievement. One was ‘Natty’ Rothschild, 1st Baron Rothschild, the head of the British branch of the Rothschild banking family, who in 1885 became the first Jew to become a member of the House of Lords. Another was the banker Sir Ernest Cassel, born in Cologne, a close friend of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

When Churchill’s father despaired of his son succeeding in the army examination in 1892, he wrote to Churchill’s grandmother that if the boy failed again in the examination, ‘I shall think of putting him in business.’ He was confident that he could get the young Churchill ‘something very good’ through Rothschild or Cassel. Shortly before Churchill’s nineteenth birthday, his father took him to Lord Rothschild’s country house, Tring Park. The visit went well. ‘The people at Tring took a great deal of notice of him,’ Lord Randolph wrote to Churchill’s grandmother.

It was just before his eighteenth birthday that Churchill had reported to his mother how ‘young Rothschild’ – Nathaniel, second son of the 1st Baron Rothschild – had been playing with him at Harrow School, ‘and gorged eggs etc some awful sights!’ Fifty years later, the son of ‘young Rothschild’, Victor Rothschild, who succeeded as third baron shortly before the Second World War, was to be responsible for checking Churchill’s wartime gifts of food and cigars to make sure they did not contain poison. For Victor Rothschild’s bravery in dismantling an unexploded bomb hidden in a crate of onions – a bomb timed to explode in a British port – Churchill would recommend him for the prestigious George Cross.

Another branch of the Rothschild family whom Churchill knew was the family of Leopold Rothschild, at whose house at Gunnersbury, just outside London, he dined while he was an army cadet in 1895, and whose son Lionel, later a Conservative MP, he befriended at that time. Lionel was at school with Churchill’s younger brother Jack. ‘He is a nice little chap,’ Churchill wrote to Jack, ‘and the Leo Rothschilds will be very grateful to you if you look after him.’ Churchill added: ‘Their gratitude may also take a practical form – as they have a charming place at Gunnersbury.’

Also a Jewish friend of Churchill’s parents was the German-born throat specialist, Sir Felix Semon. In 1896, shortly before Churchill left Britain for India as a soldier, he consulted Semon about his speech defect, the inability to pronounce the letter ‘s’. An operation was possible, but Semon advised against it; with ‘patience and perseverance’ he would be able to speak fluently. ‘I have just seen the most extraordinary young man I have ever met,’ Semon later recalled telling his wife. After telling Semon of his army plans, Churchill confided: ‘Of course it is not my intention to become a mere professional soldier. I only wish to gain some experience. Some day I shall be a statesman as my father was before me.’

Churchill’s parents were also friendly with the Austrian-born Baron Maurice de Hirsch, a leading Jewish philanthropist, at whose house in London they were frequent guests. The Baron’s adopted son, Maurice, known as ‘Tootie’, later Baron de Forest, first met Churchill in the late 1880s at Hirsch’s racing home near Newmarket. During one of his school holidays, he was a guest at Hirsch’s house in Paris.

Paris at the time of Churchill’s visit in 1898 was in turmoil following the trial and imprisonment of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army, accused of being a German spy. Emile Zola had taken up the captain’s cause, and in a powerful article headed ‘J’Accuse’, denounced the government and the anti-Semitism of the French army, and exposed the falsity of the charges. ‘Bravo Zola!’ Churchill wrote to his mother. ‘I am delighted to witness the complete debacle of this monstrous conspiracy.’

After Lord Randolph Churchill’s death in 1895, shortly after Churchill’s twentieth birthday, his father’s Jewish friends continued their friendship with the son. Lord Rothschild, Sir Ernest Cassel and Baron de Hirsch frequently invited him to their houses. In an aside in the first volume of the official biography, Churchill’s son Randolph wrote, with a verbal twinkle: ‘Churchill did not confine his quest for new and interesting personalities and friends to Jewish households. During this period he was sometimes invited into Gentile society.’

While soldiering in India in 1897, Churchill was keen to find a newspaper willing to take him on as its war correspondent. ‘Lord Rothschild would be the person to arrange this for me,’ he wrote to his mother, ‘as he knows everyone.’ On his return from India in the spring of 1899, eager to embark on a political career, Churchill again found Lord Rothschild a willing facilitator. He was pleased to find, while dining at Rothschild’s London house, that another of the guests, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, A. J. Balfour, ‘markedly civil to me – I thought – agreed with and paid great attention to everything I said.’

It was his father’s friend, Sir Ernest Cassel, who offered to look after Churchill’s finances after his father’s death. Churchill, having made his first earnings through his writing, told Cassel, ‘Feed my sheep.’ This the banker did, investing Churchill’s eventually considerable literary earnings both wisely and well. Cassel made no charge for his services.

In preparing to go to South Africa as a war correspondent in 1899, Churchill sought funds for his kit and provisions. Lord Rothschild gave him £150 and Cassel gave him £100: a total sum that was the annual income for many middle-class families. In 1902, Churchill’s second year in Parliament, Cassel secured him a £10,000 stake in a loan offered that year by the Japanese government. On that investment, Churchill wrote to his brother Jack, ‘I hope to make a small profit.’ In 1905, Cassel furnished a library for Churchill’s bachelor flat in London’s Mayfair. Cassel’s help to Churchill was continuous. Bonds that he bought for Churchill in the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in 1907 provided him with the salary he paid to his typist – twice over. When Churchill married in 1908, Cassel gave him and Clementine a wedding present of £500: some £25,000 in the money values of today.

Churchill valued his friendship with Cassel. When Cassel died in 1921, Churchill wrote to Cassel’s granddaughter Edwina Ashley that her grandfather was ‘a good and just man who was trusted, respected and honoured by all who knew him. He was a valued friend of my father’s and I have taken up that friendship and I have held it all my grown life. I had the knowledge that he was very fond of me and believed in me at all times – especially in bad times.’

On 22 January 1901 Churchill was in Winnipeg, towards the end of a lecture tour about the war in South Africa – and his escape from a Boer prison camp – when he learned of the death of Queen Victoria. ‘A great and solemn event,’ he wrote to his mother, ‘but I am curious to know about the King. Will it entirely revolutionise his way of life? Will he sell his horses and scatter his Jews or will Reuben Sassoon be enshrined among the crown jewels and other regalia? Will he become desperately serious? Will he continue to be friendly to you?’

The King, Edward VII, did remain friendly to Churchill’s mother, and did retain his friendship with the Baghdadi-born Jew Reuben Sassoon, whose nephew Philip Sassoon – a future Secretary of State for Air – was to become a friend of Churchill and, with his sister Sybil, a generous host at his home, Port Lympne, on the Channel coast. H. H. Asquith, soon to become Prime Minister and Churchill’s patron, described the Jews in a letter to a female acquaintance – who, ironically, later converted to Judaism – as ‘A scattered and unattractive tribe.’ Churchill made no such comments, publicly or privately. Indeed, in a letter to his mother in 1907, he warned her against publishing a story in her memoirs that was clearly anti-Semitic, about a leading politician, Lord Goschen. ‘I do not think that the Goschen story would be suitable for publication,’ he wrote. ‘It would cause a great deal of offence not only to the Goschens, but to the Jews generally.’ It might be a good story, but, he told his mother: ‘Many good things are beyond the reach of respectable people and you must put it away from your finger tips.’

Until 1904, Churchill’s acquaintance with Jews was entirely social. But within four years of his entering Parliament, it was to become political, and decisive.

Copyright © 2007 by Martin Gilbert. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Sir Martin Gilbert was knighted in 1995 "for services to British history and international relations." The author of an eight-volume biography of Winston Churchill, among his other books are Churchill: A Life, The First World War, The Second World War, and most recently The Somme. He lives in London, England.

One of Britain's most distinguished historians, Martin Gilbert was knighted in 1995. A fellow of Merton College, Oxford, he is also the official biographer of Winston Churchill. Among his books are The Holocaust, The Second World War, Churchill: A Life, Auschwitz and the Allies, The First World War, and Never Again.

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Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
B-2 More than 1 year ago
This is a detailed review of Winston Churchill’s position and attitude towards the Jewish people ( in one sentence it can be described as consistent - but not unconditional- sympathy and support). The book is written by the most respected modern expert of Churchill’s life. It is very detailed, easy and interesting to read. There are a few caveats however. First, the book assumes the reader’s basic familiarity with Churchill’s biography and major political events during his life, in particular involving Jews and Israel. Second, it is written as a detailed chronological account of facts. I personally would prefer an overview organized by the issues, such as Churchill’s position on anti-Semitism, or on anti-British Zionist insurgency, or decision-making during the Holocaust, or creation of Israel. It is however an important and authoritative work on the important topic providing all the answers you might want. I grade books as Buy and Keep ( BK), Read a Library Copy (RLC) and Once-I-Put-It-Down-I-Couldn’t-Pick-It-Up (OIPD-ICPU). This one is a good RLC for most, and BK for the enthusiasts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago