28 JUNE 1940, Page 12


[in view of the paper shortage it is essential that letters on these pages should be brief. We are anxious not to reduce the number of letters, but unless they are shorter they must be fewer. Writers are urged to study the art of compression.—Ed., "The Spectator."j


Sut,—The attitude of authority towards alien enemies has slowly passed since the outbreak of war from an attitude of indulgence, and even of tenderness, to one of intolerance, and even of cruelty. This development is due partly to the course of events and the corre- sponding movement of opinion ; and partly also to the substitution of one kind of pressure for another, that of the military authority for that of refugee organisations.

At the beginning of the war official action was largely conditioned by the presence in England of some tens of thousands of refugees from Nazi oppression, and was largely controlled by the pressure that the officers of the Refugee Committees (the Friends, the Jewish, the Czech, and other such committees) were able to exert outside and inside the appropriate Government Departments. It is perhaps the exertion of such pressure that explains the issue last autumn (after the Alien Tribunals had begun their sessions) of an amended set of instructions, which directed that every presumption should be made in favour of refugees from Nazi oppression, and that such refugees should, in the absence of proof to the contrary, be treated as friendly aliens and exempted not only from internment, but also from the special restrictions that applied to other alien enemies. By virtue of this instruction every supposed or alleged refugee from Nazi oppression was exempted from all the special restrictions, such as the prohibition against travelling more than five miles and the prohibition against keeping a camera or a gun or a large-scale map without a police permit. (Why permission to travel should involve permission to keep a camera or a gun or a map I have never understood.) In the result it was found that only 569 alien enemies (refugees and non-refugees) were interned by the Tribunals ; that 6,782 were kept under the special restrictions as to travel and otherwise, and that 64,244 were given " C " certificates and put on the level of friendly aliens. Indeed, it is said that in certain places numbers of the refugees were granted their certificates without having to appear before the Tribunal.

The events which have happened in Norway and Holland and Belgium (and also in France) have convinced most reasonable minds that this way of handling the alien problem was an error. It is now plain that not every supposed refugee from Nazi oppression is a real refugee, and that not every real refugee from Nazi oppression is, by virtue of his presence here, necessarily loyal to the British State. It was, indeed, the practice of the Gestapo to take their passports from men who were put into concentration camps, and only to return the passports and release the internees when they were satisfied that arrangements had been made for such persons to travel as refugees to England or to France or to some other State. Sometimes (and this was all too common in the case of refugees for France) the visa was forged or obtained by corrupt means, and the refugee was allowed to know it. On arrival in France (or in England, as the case may be) he or she was thus within the power of secret Nazi agents on the spot. In other cases pressure was exerted indirectly through fear of ill-treatment of relatives who remained in Germany.

As events developed reasonable people began to be not a little apprehensive of the number of alien enemies that were at large in our midst. A demand grew up for a review of the " B " cases, in which the restrictions had been retained, and in which accordingly some measure of doubt appeared to exist in the mind of the tribunal, and also for a reconsideration of such of the " C " cases as had come to the notice of the police in circumstances giving rise to suspicion. Accordingly a new series of Tribunals, or, as they were called, Regional Advisory Committees, with legal chairmen and lay assessors, were set up last April to review all the "B " cases, and also such " C " cases as might be referred to them by the police authority. They were also charged with the duty of advising whether certain aliens should be allowed to remain within the new protected areas. In dealing with these areas the Regional Committees were to have the assistance and advice of Military and Naval representatives.

In due course the Committees entered on their work and presum- ably carried it out on the lines intended. Suddenly, a fortnight or more ago, the Home Office decided that all " B " category aliens, whether their cases had been reviewed or not, should be interned, a decision in which grave individual hardship was often inflicted in the alleged interests of public safety.

In a somewhat similar way the authorities suddenly decided that all persons, even those apparently who had been allowed by the Com- mittees, acting with the advice and assistance of the Military and Naval representatives, to remain where they were, should be put out of any Protected Areas, and at once. They were put out ; men and women, old and young, hale and infirm, employed and unemployed, even the most reliable. Guests, too, who had nowhere else to go, were obliged to leave the homes of their generous hosts. English families were deprived of their domestics ; farmers were deprived of their labourers; hospitals and homes of their nurses; schools of their teachers.

So far as one can gather, at the present moment all the aliens in category " C " are obliged to live in the parts of England that have not been declared protected areas. There is every reason to suppose that some of these people should be interned. There is no reason to think that they all should be. Yet at the present rate of progress it looks as if they all may be one of these days, with dislocation of domestic and economic life, and immense cost to the public for the mainten- ance of the new internees. Certainly every alien of " C " category now lives in terror of internment at any moment. It is a sad situ-

ation, in which the potential value to this realm of all the bona fide refugees has been or is about to be sacrificed to the military demand for blind and mechanical action. Anything like wholesale exemption would, of course, be criminal folly, but there is, I suggest, a via media between that and wholesale internment.

You will understand the reason why I must be content with signing