Throughout 1942, the Allied governments received detailed reports from the Polish resistance movement of the murder of millions of Jews in Poland. At first, many ministers and officials refused to believe them. However, on 17 December 1942, the British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden read the following statement in the House of Commons on behalf of all Allied governments.

The attention of the Belgian, Czechoslovak, Greek, Jugoslav, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norwegian, Polish, Soviet, United Kingdom and United States Governments and also of the French National Committee has been drawn to numerous reports from Europe that the German authorities, not content with denying to persons of Jewish race in all the territories over which their barbarous rule has been extended, the most elementary human rights, are now carrying into effect Hitler's oft-repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe.

From all the occupied countries Jews are being transported in conditions of appalling horror and brutality to Eastern Europe. In Poland, which has been made the principal Nazi slaughterhouse, the ghettos established by the German invader are being systematically emptied of all Jews except a few highly skilled workers required for war industries. None of those taken away are ever heard of again. The able-bodied are slowly worked to death in labour camps. The infirm are left to die of exposure and starvation or are deliberately massacred in mass executions. The number of victims of these bloody cruelties is reckoned in many hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent men, women and children

The above-mentioned governments and the French National Committee condemn in the strongest possible terms this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination. They declare that such events can only strengthen the resolve of all freedom-loving peoples to overthrow the barbarous Hitlerite tyranny. They reaffirm their solemn resolution to insure that those responsible for these crimes shall not escape retribution, and to press on with the necessary practical measures to this end.

The declaration contained a lot of accurate information, although it hugely underestimated the number of Jews who had been murdered by this time. Many felt that, at this point in the war, there was little that the Allies could do to help Europe’s Jews. However, when the war began to turn in 1943, some observers believed that they could have done more.

Photo: Allied propaganda poster, United States Office of War Information, 1943; public domain, courtesy of Northwestern University Library (images.northwestern.edu)

Declaration: Hansard, 17 December 1942