The William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History is a good source for the history of Winston Churchill.
Last week, I wrote about Winston Churchill on the 75th anniversary of his famous “Iron Curtain” speech. I noted the abundance of pages in the William Davidson Digital Archive that refer to Churchill, his actions and ideas, as his career unfolded in the 20th century. It is not an overstatement to say that the modern world would be a different place without Churchill.
Churchill has both supporters and critics. Martin Gilbert, the late preeminent chronicler of Jewish history (himself a Jew) in his book Churchill and the Jews, concluded that Churchill demonstrated a lifelong commitment to Zionism and opposition to antisemitism. One can also find plenty of Churchill quotes and actions lauding Jewish culture.
Michael Cohen, professor emeritus from Bar-Ilan University in Israel, however, believes that Churchill’s affinity for Jews was a constructed myth. Moreover, several Churchill letters from 1937 were recently uncovered where he made several less-than-flattering comments about Jews.
I briefly wrote about Churchill’s impact upon Metro Detroit but did not address a larger question. What was his relationship with Jews and his impact upon British Mandate Palestine and the State of Israel?
The pages of the Chronicle and the JN from the 1920s to 1940s have hundreds of interesting stories related to Churchill and British Mandate Palestine. This area, which encompasses modern Israel, was given to British control or “mandate” after the conclusion of WWI. Several stories in the Chronicle cite Churchill’s vigorous defense of the Balfour Declaration and the U.K.’s obligation to support a Jewish homeland. He was an outspoken critic of the Parliamentary “White Paper” in 1930 that restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine.
In the 1940s, the Chronicle and the JN closely followed the events of WWII. The actions of Churchill — and Roosevelt and other Allied leaders — appear on hundreds of pages. It soon becomes obvious that Churchill was the stubborn, inspirational and tough wartime leader that Great Britain needed.
Along with praise for his successes, there are critical questions. For example, why was Churchill so slow to authorize a Jewish Brigade to fight in WWII? Why did he not do more for Jewish refugees from Nazi aggression, including increased immigration to Palestine? Should Churchill have ordered the bombing of Auschwitz, an act which some thought might save thousands of Jewish lives even if incarcerated Jews might be killed? By the way, these same questions were leveled against Roosevelt and other Allied leaders.
Like most great world leaders, including Abraham Lincoln, Roosevelt, David Ben- Gurion or Golda Meir, Churchill possessed some sterling attributes, along with some flaws in character. These other leaders also had to deal with the politics of Congress, Parliament or the Knesset, and they all faced one overriding issue: wars of monumental scale, wars that, if lost, could mean the end of their nations. It is also always good to keep in mind that they were products of their time, not of the 21st century. In this context, Churchill was a realist.
On the balance, it seems that Churchill was a supportive Zionist and opposed antisemitism. The JN reached this same conclusion upon his death — see the editorial in the Jan. 29, 1965, issue.
But you can decide, and the Davidson Archive is a good source for the history of Churchill.