Churchill on Foreign Aliens: Did He Say, “Collar the Lot”?

Churchill on Foreign Aliens: Did He Say, “Collar the Lot”?

Aliens and refugees

(Updat­ed from 2015). The Huff­in­g­ton Post offered an unsub­stan­ti­at­ed Churchill quote to describe some­thing then-can­di­date Don­ald Trump said about Syr­i­an aliens: “Shocked by anti-Mus­lim Hys­te­ria? Churchill Want­ed to ‘Col­lar The Lot.'” Com­pared to Trump’s xeno­pho­bia, they wrote,

Churchill went even far­ther. He ordered the intern­ment of tens of thou­sands of Jew­ish refugees in Eng­land, label­ing them dan­ger­ous ene­my aliens…. Nation­als from Ger­many and Aus­tria, who were liv­ing in Eng­land when World War II broke out, had already been assigned to dif­fer­ent group­ings based on their appar­ent threat to the UK. Cat­e­go­ry A were the “high secu­ri­ty risks.” All 600 of them were imme­di­ate­ly interned.

Those deemed “no-secu­ri­ty risk” in Class C includ­ed 55,000 refugees from Nazi oppres­sion. The great major­i­ty were Jew­ish, and left free—at first. But then, in the Spring of 1940, France fell. With fear of a Ger­man inva­sion and the entry of Italy into the war, spy fever broke in Eng­land. Action was demand­ed against thou­sands of “dan­ger­ous aliens” liv­ing there. Unwill­ing to con­sid­er which of those for­eign­ers might actu­al­ly be dan­ger­ous, Churchill com­mand­ed “Col­lar them all.”

Sure­ly Churchill had more impor­tant things on his mind in 1940 than which refugees were dan­ger­ous. But let it go. Peo­ple who write such things have no con­cept of what it was like to live under the threat of immi­nent extinc­tion. More impor­tant are the ques­tions: Did he actu­al­ly say this? And what was his atti­tude toward “undoc­u­ment­ed aliens”?

Did Churchill say it?

It’s an open ques­tion. Nowhere among Churchill’s 20 mil­lion pub­lished words (books, arti­cles, let­ters, papers, gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments) does “col­lar the lot” or “col­lar them all” appear. Of course, not every­thing is pub­lished. But a phrase so wide­ly bandied about should have prove­nance. One pos­si­ble source I must check is Peter and Leni Gill­mans’ 1981 book, Col­lar the LotIf it’s a book title, sure­ly they offer a source?

Among works about Churchill, the phrase appears only once: In Churchill: The Unruly Giant, Nor­man Rose says “col­lar the lot” was an expres­sion of WSC’s sym­pa­thy, not out­rage, toward alien refugees:

Britain took action against its own sus­pect groups. Local Fas­cist ele­ments, Mosley and oth­ers of his ilk, were interned with lit­tle regret. But the order also went out to round up “ene­my aliens,” main­ly Ger­man, Aus­tri­an, or Czech refugees, once vic­tims of Nazism, now casu­al­ties of an ugly strain of col­lec­tive hys­te­ria. Approx­i­mate­ly 70,000 in num­ber, many of whom were Jews, includ­ed dis­tin­guished aca­d­e­mics, sci­en­tists, musi­cians, artists, as well as ordi­nary folk. “Col­lar the lot,” instruct­ed Churchill, con­vinced that he was pro­tect­ing them from “out­raged pub­lic opin­ion.” (265)

“Out­raged pubic opin­ion” is not Churchill’s phrase either, though quite believ­able. Dur­ing the First World War, Lon­don­ers kicked Ger­man dachs­hunds in the streets. It was as Rose writes, a kind of col­lec­tive hys­te­ria. The words bear fur­ther research, and per­haps a more expan­sive article.

“Unjust to treat our friends as foes”

Good his­to­ri­an that he is, Dr. Rose does pro­vide foot­notes to sup­port his sum­ma­ry. In the offi­cial biog­ra­phy, Mar­tin Gilbert lists the groups of par­tic­u­lar con­cern to the War Cab­i­net on 15 May: Ital­ians; Czech, Dutch and Bel­gian refugees;  British Fas­cists and Com­mu­nists. “It was much bet­ter, Churchill added,

that these per­sons should be behind barbed-wire, and intern­ment would prob­a­bly be much safer for all Ger­man-speak­ing per­sons them­selves since, when air attacks devel­oped, pub­lic tem­per in this coun­try would be such that such per­sons would be in great dan­ger if at lib­er­ty. (Win­ston S. Churchill, vol. 6, 342.)

A few weeks later,

it was Churchill who sound­ed a note of cau­tion. “Many ene­my aliens had a great hatred of the Nazi regime,” he said, “and it was unjust to treat our friends as foes.” His idea was to form such anti-Nazi aliens into a For­eign Legion, for train­ing, and even­tu­al use over­seas, for exam­ple, in Ice­land. (Ibid., 586.)

Britain detained only 2000 Class A secu­ri­ty risks among 70,000 Ger­man, Czech, Aus­tri­an and oth­er aliens. Cer­tain­ly, many of the 70,000 were Jews, who had good rea­son to exit the Greater Ger­man Reich. Churchill’s con­cern that they might become vic­tims of “pub­lic tem­per,” as Rose char­ac­ter­izes it, reflect­ed his sym­pa­thy toward oppressed peoples.

“The test of civilisation”

A relat­ed ques­tion arose after my talk to the Bay Area Churchillians: Did Churchill ever object to Roosevelt’s Japan­ese intern­ment order? Find­ing no evi­dence, I queried Andrew Roberts, who replied: “Not that I know of, either pri­vate­ly or pub­licly. But we know how he’d have felt.”

Anoth­er col­league, Dave Tur­rell, wrote: “I’d have to sug­gest that he did not. He favored it when nec­es­sary. But, deeply in char­ac­ter, he was eager to end it as soon as possible.”

Indeed Churchill was the first leader to urge an end to wartime restric­tions on lib­er­ty. In 1943 he ordered the release of the British fas­cist leader Oswald Mosley, who had been interned in 1940. Churchill wrote eloquently:

The pow­er of the Exec­u­tive to cast a man into prison with­out for­mu­lat­ing any charge known to the law, and par­tic­u­lar­ly to deny him judge­ment by his peers for an indef­i­nite peri­od, is in the high­est degree odi­ous, and is the foun­da­tion of all total­i­tar­i­an Gov­ern­ments, whether Nazi or Com­mu­nist…. Noth­ing can be more abhor­rent to democ­ra­cy than to imprison a per­son or keep him in prison because he is unpop­u­lar. This is real­ly the test of civil­i­sa­tion. —21 Novem­ber 1943; Churchill by Him­self, 102

Churchill, as William Man­ches­ter wrote, “always had sec­ond and third thoughts, and they usu­al­ly improved as he went along. It was part of this pat­tern of response to any polit­i­cal issue that while his ear­ly reac­tions were often emo­tion­al, and even unwor­thy of him, they were usu­al­ly suc­ceed­ed by rea­son and generosity.”

Watch­ing police knock­ing down, mac­ing and arrest­ing peace­ful pro­tes­tors for what amounts to dis­agree­ing with gov­ern­ment restric­tions on lib­er­ty, Churchill’s expe­ri­ence is remind­ful. Civ­i­liza­tion is fragile.

Postscript by Michael Dobbs

Lord Dobbs of Wylie, cre­ator of “House of Cards” and author of what I per­son­al­ly con­sid­er the best Churchill fic­tion, writes: “I dug this out from my nov­el, Nev­er Sur­ren­der, and have used it many times since. It is from Churchill’s ‘fight on the beach­es” speech 4 June 1940, Hansard Col. 795. Even dur­ing the great­est per­il, he gave thought to those unfair­ly treat­ed. He declared that they had not been for­got­ten, even thought they had been grave­ly and unjust­ly put out.”

The Prime Min­is­ter: We have found it nec­es­sary to take mea­sures of increas­ing strin­gency, not only against ene­my aliens and sus­pi­cious char­ac­ters of oth­er nation­al­i­ties, but also against British sub­jects who may become a dan­ger or a nui­sance should the war be trans­port­ed to the Unit­ed King­dom. I know there are a great many peo­ple affect­ed by the orders which we have made who are the pas­sion­ate ene­mies of Nazi Ger­many. I am very sor­ry for them, but we can­not, at the present time and under the present stress, draw all the dis­tinc­tions which we should like to do. If para­chute land­ings were attempt­ed and fierce fight­ing atten­dant upon them fol­lowed, these unfor­tu­nate peo­ple would be far bet­ter out of the way, for their own sakes as well as for ours.

There is, how­ev­er, anoth­er class, for which I feel not the slight­est sym­pa­thy. Par­lia­ment has giv­en us the pow­ers to put down Fifth Col­umn activ­i­ties with a strong hand, and we shall use those pow­ers, sub­ject to the super­vi­sion and cor­rec­tion of the House, with­out the slight­est hes­i­ta­tion until we are sat­is­fied, and more than sat­is­fied, that this malig­nan­cy in our midst has been effec­tive­ly stamped out.

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