James Parkes

1896 to 1981

James Parkes was born on the island of Guernsey, which is off the coast of Normandy, north of St Malo; it is a British Crown dependency.

Parkes was an infantryman during World War One, then studied at the University of Oxford, and was ordained by the Anglican Church in 1926. For over a decade he worked in Europe, promoting  international cooperation. Here, he learnt at first hand of the rising antisemitism in Germany, and despite an attempt to assassinate him in 1935, he continued his activist work – which included rescuing Jewish refugees during the 1930s.

Reverend Dr James Parkes returned to Britain and continued his work – which in part took the form of many hundreds of articles and books, including The conflict of the Church and the Synagogue (1934), and The Jew and his neighbour: A study in the causes of anti-Semitism (1930). Today, Parkes is regarded as a pioneer in the study of antisemitism: he built a collection that became known as the Parkes Library, which he donated to the University of Southampton in 1964: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/parkes/libraryandarchives/index.page

For those of you who have read Clare Ungerson’s (2014) book on Kitchener camp, you will know the importance of Neville Laski to our Kitchener history. Laski was President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and one of the group of men who pleaded with Prime Minister Chamberlain to provide assistance to European Jews trying desperately to leave Austria and Germany in the late 1930s, which, of course, became this Kitchener camp rescue.

Laski keeps appearing in the Kitchener narrative, mainly because he was on the Board of the CBF, and his papers, for example, are held at the Parkes Institute today, as are those of the Anglo-Jewish Association. Also of interest in our present context are the papers of Rabbi Dr Werner Van der Zyl, and the papers of Sir Robert Waley Cohen, who again will be a familiar figure to those who have read Four Thousand Lives. All these are held at the Parkes Institute in Southampton.

Among many archives I hope to get to over the course of this year, the Parkes Institute is high on my list, if they’ll have me. And when I have made my visit, as usual, I will report back here: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/parkes/index.page?