United Kingdom

History

The United Kingdom declared war on Nazi Germany on 3 September 1939, after the German invasion of Poland. After the defeat of France in the spring of 1940, the British Expeditionary Force withdrew from the European Continent. Although the Channel Islands near the French coast did fall into German hands, from the summer of 1940 until 1945, mainland Britain resisted German invasion and became a refuge for many governments-in-exile and refugees of the occupied countries in Europe.

At the outbreak of the war, 370,000 to 390,000 Jews were living in the UK, out of a total population of about 48 million. The Channel Islands were home to only a few dozen Jews. Anti-Jewish measures on the Islands were issued by the German military authorities in Paris and followed the timing of those in France. They were implemented by the German military administration with the assistance of local authorities. Three Jewish women were deported to France and via France to Auschwitz in 1942. The Nazis operated four concentration camps on the island of Alderney from January 1942 with approximately 5,000, mostly French inmates. About 700 of the prisoners were French Jewish forced labourers, at least 8 of whom died there. The United Kingdom had begun accepting refugees following the November Pogrom of 1938 when the British Government agreed to allow an unrestricted number of unaccompanied Jewish children to enter the country, a measure which remained in effect until the war broke out in September 1939. In total, approximately 65,000 Jewish refugees found shelter in the UK. British forces liberated concentration camps in northern Germany, including Neuengamme and Bergen-Belsen.

Archival Situation

As the official archive for the UK Government, the National Archives in London houses records from the UK central government and central courts. The Public Records Act (1958) places responsibility for the management of public records on departments. Additional repositories of the National Archives also exist on Jersey and Guernsey.

In addition to the national archives, there are many private archive initiatives. Next to the national archives, the UK is home to a number of independent and affiliated archives relating to the Holocaust and Nazi era. The Island Archives St Barnabas in Guernsey hold extensive collections on the German occupation of Guernsey (1940-1945), including those of the Feldkommandantur and the local civil administration. The Jersey Archive also holds Holocaust-related collections, such as registration cards. The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide is the largest of these collections and the oldest Holocaust memorial institution in the world. Founded as the Jewish Central Information Office in 1933 by Dr Alfred Wiener, the Library has been based in London since 1939 and holds extensive collections including published and unpublished works, eyewitness accounts, photographs and press cuttings. The Imperial War Museum in London has a department of documents whose collections range from film and oral history to works of art, large objects, and personal letters and diaries. The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum as well as the Polish Underground Movement Study Trust hold important Holocaust-related material generated by the Polish Government in Exile as well as the Polish underground in occupied Poland. Archives in the UK also house many sources about the Holocaust in other countries, mainly concerning British intelligence on what was happening in occupied Europe as well as the reactions of the governments-in-exile and resistance movements located in the UK.

EHRI Research (Summary)

EHRI has merged and updated the existing information about archives holding Holocaust-relevant materials in the UK. The portal currently contains 19 repositories holding Holocaust related materials in the UK, including the national archives, The Island Archives St Barnabas in Guernsey, The Jersey Archive and The Imperial War Museum in London. The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum as well as the Polish Underground Movement Study Trust hold important Holocaust-related material generated by the Polish Government in Exile as well as the Polish underground in occupied Poland. The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide is the largest of these collections and the oldest Holocaust memorial institution in the world. Founded as the Jewish Central Information Office in 1933 by Dr Alfred Wiener, the Library has been based in London since 1939, and holds extensive collections including published and unpublished works, eyewitness accounts, photographs and press cuttings. An important task of the EHRI project in the UK was to include information about the collections held by The Wiener Library in the EHRI Portal. Most of the Wiener Library collections have descriptions written by a member of the Wiener Library stuff – Howard Falkson. These collection descriptions are included in the Archives Hub and the export of these descriptions from this Archives Hube to the EHRI Portal is currently taking place.

EHRI Research (Extensive)

A. EHRI approach to the United Kingdom: Pre-existing research and archival guides, expert support

In the United Kingdom, EHRI has identified, with the support of EHRI partner Wiener Library, a number of online research tools and traditional archival guides:

AIM25 is a major project to provide electronic access to collection level descriptions of the archives of over one hundred higher education institutions, learned societies, cultural organisations and livery companies within the greater London area. This work is in progress - new data is being added regularly. EHRI partner Wiener Library participates in this project.

The Archives Hub is a service funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee. It provides access to descriptions of archival collections with value to researchers held across the UK. At present it covers the descriptions of approximately 200 collection holding institutions. EHRI partner Wiener Library participates in this project.

Among the traditional archival guides, the following should be mentioned:

  • [2000] Wilkinson, Mary & Julie Robertshaw, Select catalogue of English-language material on the Holocaust held in the department of printed books (London: Imperial War Museum, Department of Printed Books, 2000),
  • [1993] Cantwell, John D., The Second World War. A guide to documents in the Public Record Office (London: HMSO, 1993).

An important task of the EHRI project in the UK was to include information about the collections held by the Wiener Library in the EHRI Portal. Most of the Wiener Library collections have descriptions written by a member of the Wiener Library stuff– Howard Falkson. These collection descriptions are included in the Archives Hub mentioned above and have been exported from here to the EHRI Portal.

B. Characteristics of the British archival system and specific challenges

The National Archives in London are the official archives for the UK Government, storing its records and those of the United Kingdom’s central courts. The Public Records Act (1958) places responsibility for the management of public records on departments. Additional repositories of the National Archives also exist on the Channel Islands, Jersey and Guernsey. In addition to the national archives, there are many private archive initiatives.

C. EHRI identification and description results on Great Britain

In the United Kingdom, EHRI has identified 19 repositories, and is able to provide 510 archival descriptions at this point, all of them at Wiener Library. The Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide is the largest of these collections and the oldest Holocaust memorial institution in the world. Founded as the Jewish Central Information Office in 1933 by Dr Alfred Wiener, the Library has been based in London since 1939 and holds extensive collections including published and unpublished works, eyewitness accounts, photographs and press cuttings.

Holocaust-related material, however, is held by many more archival institutions, such as the Island Archives St Barnabas in Guernsey, which hold extensive collections on the German occupation of Guernsey (1940-1945), including those of the Feldkommandantur and the local civil administration, or the Jersey Archive, which stores registration cards. In the National Archives, there are very important documents relating the Second World War and the Holocaust among the British government and military records. The most popular are within departments WO, HO, PREM and FO. Records of war crimes and criminals (both alleged and proved) from 1939-1945 are also kept there as well as copies of documents captured by the Western Allied forces from enemy powers at the end of the Second World War. Furthermore, the Imperial War Museum in London has a department of documents whose collections range from film and oral history to works of art and large objects, but also to personal letters and diaries. The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum as well as the Polish Underground Movement Study Trust hold important Holocaust-related material generated by the Polish Government in Exile as well as the Polish underground in occupied Poland. The collections in the Sikorski Institute are now regarded as holding the most important Polish émigré collections in the world. An extensive description of the Institute and its holdings can be found in Alina Skibinńska’s archival guide, which has been revised and translated into English as part of EHRI’s efforts on Poland.

Finally, archives in the UK also house many sources about the Holocaust in other countries, mainly concerning British intelligence on what was happening in occupied Europe as well as the reactions of the governments-in-exile and resistance movements located in the UK.