Frank Chalk said Wednesday the British Broadcasting Corporation could have helped save Jewish lives during World War II if British officials had made different political choices during the 1940s.
Chalk, a history professor at Concordia University in Montreal, spoke to a classroom full of students and administrators that included USF President Judy Genshaft in the Social Sciences building in room 146 Wednesday.
He talked about his research on radio broadcasting as a powerful propaganda tool that, according to Chalk, has been used to incite genocide and has helped potential victims throughout the world.
Chalk began his research after a 1993 stay in Cambodia, where the United Nations transitional authority was trying to establish a democratic government. Chalk said Timothy Carnie, a State Department officer stationed there, threatened to court marshal anyone who harmed the local radio station, Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines, a station that broadcasted propaganda opposing the UN’s objective.
“That radio is the best friend we’ve ever had,” Carnie told Chalk while in Cambodia. RTLM gave the local UN radio station credibility to the people in the area, he said.
“(The UN) broadcasted truth and objective news. The (opposition) broadcasted misinformation, lies and threats,” Chalk explained. “The peasants figured it out all by themselves and trusted the UN radio.”
The same radio station had been used in the early 1990s to incite the Hutu people, the majority, to commit genocide against the Tutsis, the minority, in Rwanda. Free radios had been distributed before the genocide so that people would hear the message.
Chalk’s experience in Cambodia inspired him to study how radio is used to promote genocide, and also how it can be used for positive purposes. The focus of his talk Wednesday was the BBC broadcasts to Hungary during World War II.
Chalk added that the BBC broadcasted five times every day in Hungary during the beginning of World War II. According to Chalk, the BBC could have used those broadcasts, which had an audience of around 1 million people, to warn Jews about the “deportation” trains coming out of the Jewish ghettoes in Hungary, which ultimately took several to their deaths.
“Two to three-thousand Jews per shipment were received, stripped and fed into gas chambers,” he said. “They were ultimately used as fertilizer.”
The BBC chose not to warn them because it would conflict with Allied war strategies, said Chalk.
Hungary had no organized group against Germany; in fact, they had an incentive to support Germany’s war effort.
In 1920, Hungary had lost lands from Austria, former Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, and wanted them back, he said.
“All Hungarians had been taught to believe that this was a crime against them,” Chalk said.
Germany had promised the return of those lands if it won the war, Chalk added.
Rather than using the broadcasts to speak to Jews or to the small sector of other Hungarians who would sympathize with Jews, the BBC used them to speak to the mainstream sectors of Hungary, Chalk said. The BBC broadcasts emphasized that Germany would exploit the Hungarian economy, and that Hungary would pay for the atrocities it committed, and that the German War intended to impose Nazi paganism on Hungary, he added.
The main goal was “to act in such a way that Germany would be forced to militarily occupy Hungary, which would divert troops fighting the Russians in the East and the Allies in the West.”
The war strategy that Britain adopted precluded the nation from using its broadcasts to appeal to the powerless Jews and their few sympathizers. Instead, it identified with greater Hungary, Chalk said.
Britain also feared that if the BBC pressed for the rescue of Jews, they would have no place to go but to Britain itself or to North Africa and the Middle East, he continued. Britain did not want to absorb the Jewish population and feared that if Jews fled to North Africa and the Middle East, Palestine would rebel against Britain as it did in 1936.
Another argument was that if the broadcasts singled out Jews as the only target of the Nazis, then the BBC would further Nazi propaganda that said Jews were different from others, Chalk said.
After Germany occupied Hungary in March 1944, the BBC broadcasted an American call for Hungary to resist the German occupation and a proclamation that Hungary had the right to be independent when the war was over.
Chalk said in that broadcast, Franklin Roosevelt warned, “None who partake in acts of savagery shall go unpunished.” He went on to urge Hungarians to help protect the Jews there, but the BBC left this part of the speech out of its broadcast.
Arthur Kessler, a communist who appeared live on the BBC and said that in every part Germany occupied of Europe, Jews were being murdered, and that the killing must be stopped, was banned from ever appearing live on BBC again, Chalk said.
Chalk said the nations should learn from what happened to Jews partly as a result of that reasoning. According to Chalk, radio can be a strong medium of influence, and it should be used in the future to identify and warn groups who are the target of genocide to urge those groups to resist and assemble, and to offer post-war rewards for the rescue of victims.