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The Bermuda Conference 1943. The Negotiations on the Rescue of Jewish Refugees and Their Failure?

Research Fellow: Annika Heyen, M.A.
Project lead: Prof. Dr. Christoph Rass/Dr. phil. Sebastian Musch
Project Funding: Gerda-Henkel-Stiftung

From April 19 to 29, 1943, delegates from the United States of America and Great Britain met in Bermuda to discuss the growing "refugee problem" in Europe. Although the Bermuda conference took place behind closed doors, it was keenly watched by world opinion and its outcome was eagerly awaited. There was great hope on the part of civil society groups, especially Jewish organizations, that the two Allied powers would decide on concrete measures to save the remaining Jewish population of Europe persecuted by the Nazi regime.  There was corresponding disappointment with the results of the conference: the reactivation of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees (ICR), already contemporarily regarded as an ineffective instrument, and the recommendation that small groups of those who had already fled the sphere of influence of the "Third Reich" be allowed to leave for the United States or Palestine and that others be offered temporary protection in camps in Gibraltar or North Africa.  Those who had not yet been able to reach safety could only be saved by a quick Allied victory, the British and U.S. governments argued. 

This PhD project examines the Bermuda Conference from a migration history perspective and thus not (only) as a failed attempt to save Europe's Jewish population from the Holocaust, but as a starting point for the development of the postwar refugee regime. The project therefore focuses on questions about the negotiation of flight in the context of World War II and the Holocaust: who negotiated in Bermuda and what knowledge of current events did these individuals bring with them? What goals did the Allied powers pursue at the conference and with what mandates did they endow their delegates? What expectations did the world public have of the conference? What was the agency of the (Jewish) NGOs that did not sit at the negotiating table?

The search for answers will take me on a journey through archives in Great Britain, the United States, Germany, Israel, and Bermuda, where I will examine conference minutes, correspondence between the individual actors, the records of the delegates, and the information folders of the Jewish NGOs about the Holocaust.