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Churchill and the Jews

A Lifelong Friendship

Martin Gilbert

Holt Paperbacks

Churchill and the Jews Download image

ISBN10: 0805088644
ISBN13: 9780805088649

Trade Paperback

400 Pages


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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. Nearly 40 years later, 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 politician's life and career.


Praise for Churchill and the Jews

"As Martin Gilbert suggests in his consistently absorbing Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship, there have been few figures in high office in any country who not only admire the Jews for their unique qualities—‘the spirit of their faith and race' as well as their ‘peculiar genius'—but who also were able to accept them as a people apart, deserving not only tolerance but genuine respect for their differences . . . Churchill and the Jews brings together two of Martin Gilbert's persistent passions: Among his vast output, he has written an eight-volume biography of Churchill and at least as many books on various aspects of Judaism, ranging from histories of Israel to histories of the Holocaust. This book reflects his gifts—he is a demon researcher, drawing on a trove of private correspondence, archival material, and previously unpublished government documents . . . [Gilbert's] assessment is an accurate one."—Daphne Merkin, The Sun

"This appreciative study traces Winston Churchill's lifelong relationship with Jews and with Israel from the great British statesman's youth through his death in 1965. Written by Churchill's official biographer, the volume is characteristically comprehensive and well written, complete with illustrations and maps. It proceeds chronologically, provides ample context, and, insofar as possible, relies on Churchill's own words. It also reveals much concerning the antisemitism of Churchill's peers. The volume complements but does not duplicate Michael Makovsky's Churchill's Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft . . . Together, these volumes greatly enhance understanding of Churchill's relationship with the Jewish people and his complex Zionist sympathies. Summing up: Recommended."—J. D. Sarna, Brandeis University, Choice

"Gilbert has produced a stand-alone volume on Churchill and the Jews, a definitive summary of everything that illustrates Churchill's thoughts and feelings about the Jews, and that went into making him a champion of the Jewish people and of Zionism. Gilbert shows that Churchill's confidence in the Zionist experiment was based ultimately on his deep appreciation for the character and the historical accomplishments of the Jews . . . Martin Gilbert did not write this book for the purpose of defending Zionism and the world's eventual implementation of the Balfour Declaration. He has done that elsewhere. His purpose here is to lay out for fellow historians of the present and the future the documentation that they will need to describe Churchill's role. Among countless anecdotes that Gilbert has brought to light is the one about the day in 1932 that Hitler skipped out of a meeting in Munich that was to be arranged by his English-speaking crony, Putzi Hanfstaengel, between himself and Churchill . . . Gilbert has brought to light much previously unreleased official documentation which he uses to clarify substantial matters that are glossed over or simply misrepresented in the general accounts, and indeed in many expert accounts."—Paul C. Merkley Books & Culture

"British historian and Churchill biographer Gilbert 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."—Kirkus Reviews

"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 . . . 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."—Frederic Krome, Library Journal

"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 . . . a must-read for those interested in Churchill and in Jewish history."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


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...

About the author

Martin Gilbert

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.

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Martin Gilbert

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