Even the Jewish community themselves, he argues in Jews and Other Foreigners, were inhibited by fears of an anti-Semitic backlash caused by letting in ‘alien’ foreigners.
Mr Williams, one of the country’s leading scholars of Jewish migration to the UK, believes Government offers of help were half-hearted.
The Quakers declared they would only support “non practicing Jews and Friends” - those with existing contacts within the Quaker community - and the Catholic Church did virtually nothing, argues Mr Williams.
He said: “Though both the British and Mancunians have strong humanitarian traditions, they they were often undermined by self-interest, government policy, the failure to challenge it and anti-semitism.
“So these findings have a critical bearing on the notion of how in Britain we regard ourselves as a tolerant society. So much more could have been done to support the Jews – especially as the British knew what was happening in Nazi Germany. Many refugees were well treated, but many weren’t. There is a degree of complacency about our recent past so it’s important to dispel that mytLessons should be learned from remembering how it really was: our political leaders say they preach tolerance, but their rhetoric is often anti-immigrant.”
Britain’s treatment of the Jews was no worse than many other countries, argues Mr Williams."
Only 1930s Shanghai, which was ruled by Japan, was a true safe haven, where Jews could arrive without a visa.
He added: “Manchester, which touts itself as a beacon of tolerance, was particularly poor.
“The Lancashire Development Company, for example, was happy to bring in refugees but only if they were useful. The Kurers, in another example, were a family of devout Viennese Jews brought to Manchester by the Manchester Quakers. The Quakers were keen to support the Kurers- but only on their terms and not as Jews. The family were documented as taking part in a ‘Christmas party’ at the Meeting House with the head of the family dressing up as Father Christmas. This must surely have been difficult for them.