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EMILY SMITH

"Beyond the Land?" - Auslandshachsharah, the chosen children and agricultural training as a response to the Jewish refugee crisis in Britain during the Second World War

This paper develops ideas about how refugees have been educated or trained during displacement, or by outside communities seeking to offer relief and support. This paper highlights the work of British-Jewish organisation the Central British Fund, who were the pioneers behind refugee support work in Britain during the Holocaust. As with many other humanitarian organisations working with refugees at that time, education and training became an important part of what the agency would define as “constructive relief” – a way to ensure that refugees were a contribution to society, were sufficiently prepared for re-settlement and could become self-supporting. This paper examines the placement of Jewish refugees in agricultural training upon their arrival in Britain during WWII, and the role of the CBF within this endeavour. Agricultural training schemes formed part of a wider plan that would encourage refugees to learn a trade, find employment and be prepared for re-emigration. These schemes were influenced by a number of private and public agendas; the first being the Youth Aliyah hachsharah programme for agricultural work and Zionist education. The second being controlled by the Ministry of Agriculture and their absorption of refugees into areas where there was a shortage of farm labour needed for the war effort. Arguably, both were fuelled by nationalistic agendas, steering their work towards a wider goal of strengthening national identities and productive employment. This paper will focus on the education and training at one of the hachsharah centres (Whittingehame Estate in Scotland) and some of the refugees who were placed there. This study uses individual refugee case files, as well as testimonies collected by local history projects. The purpose of this paper is to highlight the impact of the CBF, the Youth Aliyah and the Ministry of Agriculture on the lives of young refugees, particularly in relation to their previous socio-economic background, and what this meant for the prospect and realities of their future settlement. It aims to challenge ideas we may have about the motivations behind the work of the British-Jewish community in response to the refugee crises, and begins to complicate narratives about refugee support within this history.