Holocaust Memorial Day: Learning Lessons from History

April 23, 2014

This April 15 was "Yom Hashoah," the day the State of Israel has officially set aside to remember the victims who perished in the Holocaust. Bibi Netanyahu marked the day by highlighting the Jewish nation’s vulnerable state at the time of the Holocaust, in contrast to Israel’s current ability to defend itself against their enemies. “Seventy years ago, we were a nation of helpless refugees – today we can speak for ourselves.” In an address to survivors, President Rivlin proclaimed “The Holocaust was a point of terror in humanity, but the Jewish journey does not start there, and it doesn't end there. The Jewish journey begins in Israel."

From the words of Israel’s leaders, one can infer that their raison d'etre is concern and love towards the Jewish Nation. But, through a historical lens, this talk proves to be the very antithesis of the tragic reality. Bibi Netanyahu’s exhortation to learn from history begs the question of with what the influential Zionist leaders busied themselves during the cataclysmic era that nearly eradicated European Jewry.

WWII & Zionist Leaders

The Zionist leaders in America were a driving force in the Jewish and national scene throughout the era of WWII. Therefore, their actions or lack thereof were critical factors in setting the tone and left an indelible impact on how the American authorities treated the victims of the European furnace.

In 1942, four years into the Holocaust, cables filtered out of Nazi Europe telling of the new gassing techniques. Stephen Wise, the foremost Zionist leader in America, was one of the selected recipients of this startling discovery. Instead of creating an international furor over his brothers’ plight, he followed the State Department's directive in keeping the discovery under wraps (as they wished to verify its authenticity). He penned a letter to Roosevelt where he stated “I have had cables and underground devices for some months, telling of these things, I succeeded, together with the heads of other Jewish organizations in keeping these out of the press”. The year of 1942 saw the implementation of the final solution; the start of the systematic ethnic cleansing in Europe, but the leaders of the free world did little to aid their beleaguered brothers, and hid the tragic news and thus it was not disseminated.

In September, 1943, the American Jewish Conference convened, with a representation of a majority of Jewish factions, and over 3,000 attendees and 500 delegates. The Conference was called to address the importance of “common action to deal with post-war Jewish Problems” and “the rights and status of Jews in the post-war world”. Despite taking place in the midst of the blazing European fire, the critical issue of rescue was conspicuously absent and was supplanted by the Zionist fervor and zeal towards a post-war Jewish solution.

The AZEC, (American Zionist Emergency Committee) was the political arm of the American Jewish Congress, at its helm stood Dr. Abba Hillel Silver. Their ideology was primarily based on obtaining a post-war Jewish homeland and lifting the White Paper restriction. In 1944, they succeeded in getting three-quarters of Congress to endorse the Jewish Commonwealth proposal and were on the verge of being voted as legislation. However, due to the fear of destabilizing the Arab world, the War Department requested Congress to put aside the Statehood proposal and concentrate on a milder proposal. Influential Congressmen informed AZEC’s leaders that a plan solely focusing on lifting the immigration restriction in Palestine would most likely be approved in Congress. However the AZEC leaders refused, claiming that a Commonwealth and Jewish immigration are inherently interlinked, and thus dropped the chance of getting war-ravaged Jews to the relative safety of Palestine.

From their successful results in galvanizing the American support for the acrimonious post-war Statehood proposal, it is self-understood that had that energy been expended solely in attempt to lobby for rescue, thousands of Jewish lives could have been spared.

The mainstream Zionist factions purposely sought to frustrate any efforts they deemed would hamper their grandiose post-war efforts. Rescue appeals proposed by Jewish groups in general and the Bergson group*, in particular, were publicly shunned by the Zionist Establishment. They engaged in unconventional tactics such as attempting to draft their leader Peter Bergson into the Army, testified in Congress against the Bergonsite sponsored rescue proposals and went on a verbal stampede to denunciate their efforts, so that their efforts were hindered, and subsequently halted. The reason of forcibly frustrating the rescue appeals was all done due to their fear of a power shift in the post-war Zionist arena, should the Bergson group experience any success, and therefore expended their resources not to promote rescue, but to prevent it from coming to fruition.

Zionist Leaders in Europe

In Europe, Zionist leaders mostly followed the example of their American counterparts. According to Adolf Eichmann, Rudolf Kastner, would have made a great Gestapo officer, and would readily have sacrificed a thousand or a hundred thousand to achieve his Zionist goal. In an interview, Eichmann recounted how Rudolph Kastner told him to keep old Jews and these who had assimilated into Hungarian society, but persisted to save the biological valuable Jewish blood. And since he aided Eichmann by keeping the deportation camps peaceful, Eichmann allowed his groups to slip away. Eichmann also strongly identified with the Zionist ideology claiming “had I been a Jew, I would have been a fanatical Zionist. I could not imagine being anything else. In fact, I would have been the most ardent Zionist imaginable”. He noted that the rise of Nazism and Zionism had much in common. “We, too, are idealists and we, too had to sacrifice our own blood before we came to power.”

In Slovakia, Rabbi Michoel Ber Weismandl heroically attempted in salvaging the remaining Jews, by bribing Nazi officials. However, the relief efforts were halted when the Zionists in Pressburg refused to aid these attempts. In a letter to Rabbi Weismandel, they wrote, “We must do everything so that Eretz Yisrael will become the State of Israel. If we don't spill any blood, by what right shall we merit to appear at the bargaining table”? “Only with blood shall we get the land.” And with that, Rabbi Weissmandl's proposals of Jewish rescue faded into the oblivion.

Contemporary Zionist Leaders

Zev Jabotinsky, founder of the Zionist Revisionist party, which later evolved into the Likud party, said on an occasion “If I knew that our national independence required many sacrifices from our poor classes, even then I should not hesitate to call on them to make these sacrifices for the sake of Zion”. Jabotinsky believed in suspending the good of the many for the benefit of the few.

On Yom Ha’Shoah, Bibi Netanyahu tells us we should learn from history. Yes, we will heed his call and learn to mistrust their actions, as the history of their fathers bears witness. We will learn to disregard their emigration calls, pleas for safety, false concern, for their real objective is to get insecurity into the hearts of the Diaspora communities. The Jews residing in France, Denmark, and elsewhere, who were urged to leave their birthplace, due to the alleged spike in anti-Semitism, are mere pawns in the Zionist game of achieving their ultimate goal of Jewish union under the Zionist flag. It is rather the Jews in Israel who are in true danger and should reevaluate their choice of residence.

History repeats itself. The Zionists of old foresook their brothers in time of need. Now the actions of the Zionist founders are being replayed by the Zionists of today. We need to learn from the past, so we can understand the present and prepare for the future. So let history be our guide, and we shall understand the difference between our adversaries and our benefactors.