My Masters Degree thesis allowed me to delve deep into the mind of Margaret Thatcher. The thesis centered on how the Second World War influenced Margaret Thatcher’s politics up until 1982, and in particular her actions in the Falklands War. During my study I was intrigued by how important religion was to her. Thatcher’s father, Alfred Roberts, was a pastor, and Methodism was a formative part of her childhood, but she also from a young age was made aware of Judaism. She had an unusual experience during the Second World War when her sister’s penfriend from Vienna, Edith, who was escaping the Holocaust, came to stay with their family. As part of the Rotary organization, she was staying with different families, organized by Alfred Roberts. Consequently, Thatcher had been exposed to a victim of the horrific consequences of fascism on the individual in the Holocaust.
As MP of a largely Jewish constituency, Finchley, she never lost this personal understanding of the Holocaust or her affiliation with Jews. As I examined further I found consistent references to the Second World War and her personal connection to Jews. In 1965, in her constituency, Thatcher addressed a large audience in an overwhelmingly positive speech concerning her trip to Israel where an observer noted that Thatcher revealed: ‘one of the visits which touched her the most was her visit to the memorial to the courage of the Jewish people who lost their lives under Nazi rule in Germany.’ Margaret Thatcher’s engagement diary for her first years as Prime Minister showed that she had numerous meetings concerning the Holocaust with Ministers. A speech to the Board of Deputies of British Jews in 1981 reiterated Thatcher’s feelings: ‘I think of the terrible suffering inflicted on the Jews of Europe in the Second World War and of Britain’s own role, for a time alone, in destroying the tyranny that caused that suffering. It was Winston Churchill who, during the War itself, described the persecution by the Nazis of the Jews as “the most bestial, the most squalid and most senseless of all their offenses.”’
It is often claimed by academics such as Richard Vinen, that Thatcher was a philo-semite. This may be a result of her experience of the Second World War, or it could just be coincidence that she happened to be in a Jewish constituency. Either way, Nigel Lawson is correct to assert: ‘There had never been a cabinet with so many Jewish men – me, Michael Howard, Leon Brittan. I wondered why, and the conclusion I came to is not that she had a thing for Jews, but that she was one of those rare politicians without the faintest whiff of antisemitism.’