Writing in The Jewish Chronicle, Martin Bright notes his recent disappointing visit to Yad Vashem:
I recently lost my rag at Yad Vashem. I didn't shout and stamp my feet. I'm not that crass. Being British, I just quietly fumed and grumbled to a friend who was with me. But I was properly angry, not just on my own behalf but that of my whole country. Why? Because my guide, a senior curator at the museum, had chosen to lump Britain in as part of her sweeping picture of European capitulation in the face of the Wehrmacht.
"Look how they all surrendered," she said, pointing with a series of thrusts of her finger at the map of Europe with a look of disgust.
"Every single European country." I have never felt myself to be a particularly patriotic person, but I couldn't help it. It just bubbled up. "Except one," I said, half expecting her to correct herself. But no, the guide simply looked me in the eye and said: "Well, I suppose you had the good fortune of the Channel."
I decided to visit the rest of the museum without the benefit of her expertise. Yad Vashem is such a devastating assault on the intellect and emotions that it is best experienced alone anyway.
Some of this disappointment is justified. Anyone familiar with British culture knows that the inhabitants of Europe's misty northwest corner hated being lumped in with the rest of Europe. Their is a distinct language, culture and history. While they have often intervened in the goings on of their continental neighbours, they have never seen themselves as a direct part of Europe and still note with great pride that they have not been successfully invaded since 1066. Look at the row that happens every time someone suggest that the pound be replaced by the Euro and the strength of British exceptionalism makes itself obvious.
There is also much truth to Bright's noting that it was Britian alone that, for 2 long years, stood alone against the Nazi enemy in the West. While the rest of Europe either allied itself with Hitler, y"sh or surrendered to him, the British never slowly down in their opposition to his monstrous attempt to conquer the world. They marshalled their Empire in the name of survival and freedom with ultimate success. So bully for them.
However, there is the other side of the British war effort that Mr. Bright may not be aware of. During the war Britain was the West's greatest Nazi enemy but when it came to the Jews they were Hitler's greatest ally.
It was the British who bloackaded Israel so that fleeing Jews could not reach safety there. It was the British who refused any Jewish entry into their little kingdom during the war. It was the British who refused the German offer of one million Hungarian Jews who wound up in Auschwitz. It was the Britsh who, after war, set up internment camps in Cyprus for concentration camp survivors who had suffered enough in Europe and just wanted to go home to Israel. As my father, a "guest" in one of those camps one asked me, what's worse - the guy who slits your throat or the guy who holds down so that you can't escape the first guy's knife?
Ironically, Bright mentions this little bit of history in the final part of his article:
But I can't be the only visitor to have noticed how Britain stands out: the Jewish population of Britain was 300,000 before the war and 300,000 after.
A more telling challenge for British visitors to Yad Vashem than whether or not we were saved by the channel in 1940 would be to ask why the population of Jews did not grow.
That's right. How many hundreds of thousands did Bright's government turn away and send back to certain death?