Sponsored by the United States, the Evian Conference brought 30 nations together in Evian, France, to discuss the plight of European refugees during summer 1938.
In 1937, recognizing the worsening condition of Jews in Europe, President Franklin Roosevelt relaxed screening rules for refugees. At the same time, the American public was strongly opposed to an increased Jewish presence in the country, with one poll suggesting that 82 percent were against the entry of large numbers of Jewish refugees. Roosevelt invited 32 nations to attend the largely ineffectual conference. Just as the United States public was unwilling to take the lead in relocating Jewish refugees, all other countries shrank from taking aggressive action. During the 1930s, Canada had been especially marked by international policy makers as a large country with available land for resettling overcrowded and mistreated populations, from the Japanese to the Jews. The Canadian government under William Lyon Mackenzie King thus attended reluctantly, fearing that Canada’s appearance would suggest a readiness to accept more Jewish refugees. Canadians generally were isolationists, and Quebecois especially were opposed to both international involvements of every kind and resettlement of Jews in particular. All countries at the conference eventually agreed with the Canadian view that “governments with unwanted minorities must equally not be encouraged to think that harsh treatment at home is the key that will open the doors to immigration abroad.” The conference did lead to establishment of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, but lack of funds and international support hampered its work. Adolf Hitler, the Nazi leader of Germany, interpreted the results as confirmation that the Jews had little international support.