Meant to help Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, the conference remains a bitter indictment of the world community

Failure of Evian Conference remembered, 81 years later

evian conference 248 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Eighty-one years ago, on the cusp of World War II, then-US president Franklin D. Roosevelt convened the Evian Conference in France in a bid to deal with mass Jewish immigration from Europe in the face of antisemitism and hatred.

The conference took place between July 6 and July 14, 1938, several months after Nazi Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, and in both countries the Nuremberg Laws were in full swing, leaving Jews, especially in Germany and Austria, with two choices: to flee or stay and face continued persecution.

The question at the time was, where could they escape to?

Roosevelt invited representatives from 32 countries, including the US, the UK, France, Canada, six small European democratic nations, several Latin American countries, as well as Australia, and New Zealand.

“When he proposed the conference, the president made it clear that no country would be forced to change its immigration quotas, but would instead be asked to volunteer changes,” an information pamphlet on Yad Vashem’s website explained.

As the conference wore on, the reality set in: no country was willing to open its doors to protect the Jews, each coming up with different excuses as to why they are unable to change their policy.