Zionism and the holocaust

Tony Greenstein continues his examination of the unholy alliance between anti-semitism and Zionism. With the coming to power of the Nazis the collaboration reached new depths

In his address to the 20th Zionist congress in August 1937, Chaim Weizmann recalled being asked whether he was saying that Palestine could accommodate all six million of Europe's Jews. He replied: "The old ones will pass, they will bear their fate or they will not. They are dust, economic and moral dust, in a cruel world "¦ Two millions, and perhaps less She'erit Hapletah. We have to accept it."

Six years later, Ben-Gurion, chair of the Jewish Agency (JA) in 1943, warned that "Hitler's regime puts the entire Jewish people in danger." The Nazis had made their intentions very clear. On January 30 1939 Hitler, in a speech to the Reichstag, declared: "Today I will once more be a prophet. If the international Jewish financiers inside and outside Europe should again succeed in plunging the nations into a world war, the result will not be the Bolshevisation of the earth and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race throughout Europe."

The Zionist record in relation to the holocaust was the logical outcome of a movement which, throughout the war, and in the face of the Nazi exterminations, prioritised above everything the building of a Jewish state.

Racial definitions of Jewry

German anti-semites had long given their seal of approval to Zionism. Heinrich Class, president of the Pan German League, was made an honorary member of the Reichstag on Hitler's assumption of power. "German anti-semites regarded Class's book as 'trailblazing' and his influence on the National Socialists was decisive ..."

In his book If I was the kaiser he wrote: "Those who regard the Jews as a foreign race "¦ must honour the fact that among the Jews themselves the nationalist movement called Zionism is gaining more and more adherents ... They also declare openly that a true assimilation of the Jewish aliens to the host nations would be impossible according to the natural laws of race ... the Zionists confirm what the enemies of the Jews, the adherents of the racial theory, have always asserted ..."

Kurt Blumenfeld of the Union of German Zionists wrote to Walter Rathenau, a government minister: "Under no circumstance does a Jew have the right to represent the affairs of another people."

At no time did the Zionist movement join any campaign against the Nazis. Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who later became chairman of the American Jewish Congress (AJC), wrote: "[The Jews] have been drawn out of the last recesses of christening and mixed marriages. We are not unhappy about it "¦ We want to replace assimilation by something new. The declaration of belonging to the Jewish nation and the Jewish race. A state built according to the principles of purity of the nation and race can only be honoured and respected by a Jew who declares his belonging to his own kind."

On June 21 1933, the German Zionist Federation wrote a memorandum to the Nazi government: "On the foundation of the new state, which has established the principle of race, we wish so to fit in our community into the total structure so that for us too, in the sphere assigned to us, fruitful activity for the fatherland is possible "¦ Zionism hopes to be able to win the collaboration even of a government fundamentally hostile to Jews."

On January 28 1935, Reinhard Heydrich, the "real engineer of the final solution"10 , issued a directive stating: "The activity of the Zionist-orientated youth organisations "¦ lies in the interest of the National Socialist state's leadership "¦ [these organisations] are not to be treated with the strictness that it is necessary to apply to the members of the so-called German Jewish organisations (assimilationists)."11 

In April 1935 Heydrich issued another directive advocating the harassment of the non-Zionist German Jewish organisations. The result was that "Zionist groups were the only ones of a political nature that were allowed to continue functioning."12 

In October 1941 the Gestapo demanded that the renamed Reichs-vereinigung hand over several thousand names to them and questionnaires. They acceded to the demand "in order to be able to do as much good as possible in the interests of the victims."13 

On May 15 1935, Schwarze Korps argued that "The Zionists adhere to a strict racial position and by emigrating to Palestine are helping to build their own Jewish state ... The assimilation-minded Jews deny their race and insist on their loyalty to Germany ... in order to subvert National Socialist principles."14 

As Hanna Arendt pointed out, "It is indisputable that during the first stages of their Jewish policy, the National Socialists thought it proper to adopt a pro-Zionist attitude."15  Arendt's book caused outrage in the Zionist movement. Her crime was to shine a light on events that the Eichmann trial had been designed to bury. A campaign of smears and disinformation against Arendt began.

"Even before its publication, this book became both the centre of a controversy and the object of an organised campaign ... The clamour centred on the 'image' of a book which was never written "¦ I allegedly had claimed that the Jews had murdered themselves. And why had I told such a monstrously implausible lie? Out of 'self-hatred', of course."16 

One of the most infamous of the Nazi measures was the requirement for Jews to wear the yellow star. Robert Weltsch, editor of the Zionist Judische Rundschau, coined the slogan "Wear it with pride, the yellow star."17 

On September 15 1935, the Nuremburg laws, "the most murderous legislative instrument known to European history"18 , were enacted, depriving German Jews of their citizenship and forbidding sexual relations between Jews and Aryans. The introduction to the Nuremburg laws stated: "The least amount of opposition to the underlying ideas of the Nuremburg laws has been raised by the Zionists, because they know at once that these laws represent the only correct solution for the Jewish people as well."19 

Arendt noted in the Eichmann trial that "there certainly was something breathtaking in the naivety with which the prosecution denounced the infamous Nuremberg laws of 1935, which had prohibited intermarriage and sexual intercourse between Jews and Germans, [since] Israeli citizens "¦ seem agreed upon the desirability of having a law which prohibits intermarriage."20 

Transfer agreement

At a time when Jews, trade unionists and anti-fascists were launching a worldwide economic boycott of Nazi Germany, the World Zionist Organisation was secretly negotiating an economic agreement which allowed richer German Jews to liquidate their property in Germany and redeem part of the money in Palestine. This agreement was announced by the Nazis shortly before the 18th Zionist congress in Prague, in September 1933.

The Jewish Chronicle reported: "The spectacle is puzzling to the world, whose sympathy we bespeak, and disheartening to Jews for whom the boycott is one of the few weapons to their hand and who now see themselves deserted by the movement which they most have a right to claim as an ally in their fight."21 

Some 60% of all capital invested in the settler economy in Palestine between 1933 and 1939 came from Nazi Germany!22  By June 1937, the largest exporter to Palestine was Germany.23  As Baruch Vladeck, chairman of the Jewish Labor Committee in the USA described it, Palestine had become "the official scab-agent against the boycott in the Near East".24 

There were some boycotts that the Zionists did support. In 1941 Agudat Yisrael began sending food packages to the inhabitants of the ghettos in Poland. In July the AJC and the Zionist Organisation of America began picketing their offices. It is estimated that 25% of the Warsaw ghetto and 18% of the Là³dz ghetto died from hunger and disease even before the deportations had begun.25  Hans Frank spoke of a "sentence of hunger death" against 1.2 million Jews.26 

The Judenräte

Everywhere the Nazis conquered, "the most important concentration measure prior to the formation of the ghettos was the establishment of Jewish councils (Judenräte)."27  As Eichmann commented, "The assimilated Jew was, of course, very unhappy about being moved to a ghetto. But the orthodox were pleased with the arrangement, as were the Zionists."28  Some two-thirds of the Judenräte consisted of Zionist supporters.29 

There were three stages to the final solution - concentration in ghettos, deportation to the east and extermination. Everywhere there were functioning Judenräte, the Nazis were successful in their plans.

The Prague Community Council was to provide the model for the Judenräte, which in the towns of Poland and Russia in 1941-43 registered the names of their flock, brought them to the assembly place, and eventually followed them to the execution pits and death camps.30 

The Judenräte were reviled by the Jewish population and with good reason. The Nazis insisted that "the authority of the Jewish council be upheld and strengthened under all circumstances".31 

Unable to fulfil their welfare function, "they made themselves felt all the more in their implementation of Nazi decrees. With the growth of the destructive function of the Judenräte, many Jewish leaders felt an almost irresistible urge to look like their German masters." A Nazi observer in Krakà³w in March 1940 "was struck by the contrast between poverty and filth in the Jewish quarter and the businesslike luxury of the Jewish community headquarters." In Warsaw, "the Jewish oligarchy took to wearing boots".32  In Là³dz, Rumkowski had his portrait put on ghetto stamps and currency.

Arendt's conclusion provoked outrage among the Zionists: "The whole truth was that if the Jewish people had really been unorganised and leaderless, there would have been chaos and plenty of misery, but the total number of victims would hardly have been between four and a half and six million people."33 

As Steinberg observed, "This argument provoked a general outcry among the Jewish historians of the catastrophe, but could not be refuted." After all "The Jewish Councils had been created by the Germans for the sole purpose of destroying the Jews "¦"34 

SS captain Dieter Wisliceny explained: "Our system is to exterminate the Jews through the Jews. We concentrate the Jews in the ghettos - through Jews; we deport the Jews - by the Jews; and we gas the Jews - by the Jews."35 


The Zionists negotiated with the SS to secure facilities to train their pioneers in Europe and then bring them to Palestine. Ehud Avriel noted that ""¦ there is keen competition for patronage of our work among the Nazis."36 

""¦ these Jews from Palestine spoke a language not totally different from that of Eichmann. They had been sent to Europe by the communal settlements in Palestine and they were not interested in rescue operations. That was not their job ... They wanted to select 'suitable material'..."37 

The 'rescue activities' of the Zionist movement were concentrated on saving the elite of their own organisations in Europe. Henry Montor, executive vice-president of the United Jewish Appeal explained: "By 'selectivity' is meant the choice of young men and women who are trained in Europe for productive purposes either in agriculture or industry and who are in other ways trained for life in Palestine ... There could be no more deadly ammunition provided to the enemies of Zionism ... if Palestine were to be flooded with very old people or with undesirables "¦ Until the resources of Palestine are adequately developed, immigration of 30,000 to 60,000 a year may be possible."38 

Selectivity was the explicit policy of the Zionist movement, as Chaim Cohen, attorney general confirmed, when conducting the appeal of Rudolph Kastner: "If in Kastner's opinion, rightly or wrongly, he believed that one million Jews were hopelessly doomed, he was allowed not to inform them of their fate; and to concentrate on the saving of the few. He was entitled to make a deal with the Nazis for the saving of a few hundred and entitled not to warn the millions ... It has always been our Zionist tradition to select the few out of many in arranging the immigration to Palestine ... Are we to be called traitors?"39 

Lucy Dawidowicz explained: "The Zionist movement itself set up rigid standards for prospective immigrants, "¦ which to begin with excluded anti-Zionists as applicants for certificates. Young people in good health, with some training for agricultural work or manual trades, and persons with capital were the preferred candidates for Aliyah in a process where the needs and interests of Palestine took precedence over a strategy of rescue."40 

Refugeeism and territorialism

Why did all wings of the Zionist movement play down reports of annihilation and obstruct the rescue efforts of others? Nathan Schwalb, Hehalutz representative in Switzerland, provided one explanation, in a letter to Rabbi Michael Weissmandel in late 1942:

"After the victory [of the Allies], they will once again divide up the world between the nations, as they did at the end of the first war "¦ we must be aware that all the nations of the Allies are spilling much blood and if we do not bring sacrifices, with what will we achieve the right to sit at the table when they make the distribution of nations' territories after the war? ... Because only through blood will the land be ours."41 

There was no more determined opponent of 'refugeeism', as it was termed, than Ben-Gurion: ""¦ are we again, in moments of desperation, going to confuse Zionism with refugeeism, which is likely to defeat Zionism ... Zionism is not a refugee movement. It is not a product of the second World War, nor of the first. Were there no displaced Jews in Europe ... Zionism would still be an imperative necessity."42 

In a letter December 17 1938 to the Zionist Executive, Ben-Gurion explained: ""¦if the Jews are faced with a choice between the refugee problem and rescuing Jews from concentration camps on the one hand, and aid for the national museum in Palestine on the other, the Jewish sense of pity will prevail and our people's entire strength will be directed at aid for the refugees in the various countries. Zionism will vanish from the agenda and "¦ also from Jewish public opinion. We are risking Zionism's very existence if we allow the refugee problem to be separated from the Palestine problem."43 

Zionist historian Noah Lucas commented: "As the European holocaust erupted, Ben-Gurion saw it as a decisive opportunity for Zionism. Just as Weizmann in the first world war had realised the opportunities presented by the fluid political situation, so now Ben-Gurion above all others sensed the tremendous possibilities inherent in the dynamic of the chaos and carnage in Europe."44 

Describing a press conference he gave on his return from the USA, "Ben-Gurion dwelt at length and replied to questions on the following topics: America in general and American Jewry in particular, anti-semitism in America, the Biltmore Plan "¦ As for the holocaust - not a word. Nothing was said, nothing was asked; the subject was simply not on the agenda."45 

The Evian conference, which met from July 6-15 1938, was called by president Roosevelt to try and find a solution to the problem of Jewish refugees. It was a face-saving exercise and very few offers to take in refugees were made.

Christopher Sykes wrote: "The Zionists, who played no part in the conference, were not worried by its failure ... From the start they regarded the whole enterprise with hostile indifference ... If the 31 nations had done their duty and shown hospitality to those in dire need, then the pressure on the National Home and the heightened enthusiasm of Jews with Palestine would both have been relaxed. This was the last thing the Zionist leaders wished for ..."46 

Lucas reached exactly the same conclusion: "The Zionists were not displeased by the failure of the Evian conference, since the opening up of the barriers to immigration elsewhere would have eased the pressure in Palestine."47 

Apart from the Dominican Republic, which offered to admit 100,000 Jews, virtually no other state was willing to accept Jewish refugees. Beit Zvi describes in detail how the Zionist movement set out to prevent the offer of the Dominican Republic being implemented.48  Richard Crossman, a vehemently pro-Zionist Labour cabinet minister wrote: "The Zionists' ... main preoccupation is not to save Jews alive out of Europe, but to get Jews into Palestine."49 

The chairman of the 'Rescue Committee' of the JA in Palestine was Yitzhak Greenbaum. Not only did the committee lack an organisational base, budget and administration, but for a long time it even lacked a permanent name!50  Greenbaum's explained his policy: "And when I was asked, 'But could you donate from the resources of the United Jewish Appeal (Foundation Fund) for the rescue of Jews in Europe,' I said no. And I say again no "¦ In my opinion one should resist this wave which relegates the Zionist activities to secondary importance. And because of that I was called anti-semitic and was judged to be responsible for the fact that we do not absorb ourselves completely in the rescue activity."51 

Greenbaum was consistent in his views that the needs of Zionism took precedence over the need to save European Jewry. He faced criticism, in particular from Melech Neustadt of Poalei Zion-Hitahdut, yet even Neustadt sought only to save the activists of the Zionist movement, not Jewry as a whole. 52  Greenbaum related in Haboker of December 7 1942 how his comrades from Poland "would always ask me to sound the alarm and I would throw cold water on their ideas and cool their enthusiasm."53 

By 1936 there was an extensive system of Zionist agricultural training centres throughout north Germany. Throughout 1935-36 the JA was permitted to send training instructors from Palestine to Germany.54  Hagannah agent Feivel Polkes "declared himself ready to gather information for Germany that did not conflict with his own political ends. Among other things, he would vigorously support German foreign policy interests in the Middle East and use his influence to secure sources of oil for the German Reich "¦ if German foreign currency regulations for Jews emigrating to Palestine would be relaxed."55 

Polkes wanted the Nazis to use their powers of persuasion to ensure that German refugees only went to Palestine. The Gestapo were happy to do "everything in those days to promote emigration, particularly to Palestine."56  SS files show that in return for information from Polkes on Jewish attempts to kill Hitler, "pressure will be exerted on the Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland to oblige Jews who emigrate from Germany to go exclusively to Palestine, and not to other countries."57  Not only were the Zionists trying to close the doors of Britain and the USA to Jewish refugees: they were pressing the Nazis not to allow anyone to leave unless it was for Palestine, and passing information to the Gestapo.

Suppressing the holocaust story

Davar, the official JA newspaper, stated in an editorial in 1944 that "The Nazi denial of extermination has a good foundation."58  On April 11 of that year the concentration of Hungary's Jews begins. No mention is made in the Zionist press. On May 11 1944 another speech of Ben Gurion and again no mention of Hungary. On May 15 the deportations begin. Moshe Sharrett makes a speech - again no mention of the danger to the Hungary's Jews. On May 21, after some 60,000 Jews have been deported, Ben-        Gurion delivers a speech - again no mention of Hungary's Jews. On May 23, Ehud Avriel sends a cable from the Zionist information office in Istanbul concerning the murder of Hungary's Jews in Auschwitz. It has had this information since the end of April. On July 10 Davar publishes a small item of news about the deportations from dissident Zionist Moshe Krauss in Budapest. One day earlier, Horthy had ordered a halt to the deportations. For six weeks, until July 16, the JA utters not a single word about the deportations from Hungary.

Kastner, leader of Hungarian Zionism testified that: "I learned that the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee representatives in Switzerland, Moshe Schwalb and Saly Mayer, did not give out information to the press about the mass killings: they failed to give the press the news I sent from Budapest. I sent cables also to Istanbul Rescue Committee (of the Jewish Agency). They were also kept secret from the press. I informed them almost daily by cable about the pace of extermination. My cables were never published anywhere."59 

When confronted at the annual meeting of the WJC by Jewish survivors from Poland as to why they had refused to publicise the exterminations, the executive stated candidly: "The opinion of the executive board was that it was inadvisable because of our diplomatic ties with these governments."60 

In a Histadrut Council meeting in early December 1942, Anshel Reis, from the Association of Polish Immigrants, mentioned the pamphlet Stop them now of Zygelbolm and Wedgewood containing details of the exterminations. "Where were we? Why did our news agencies not report this? What did we do to stop the slaughter?" And Moshe Aram replied "Reis is right. For months, we - the Yishuv and the Histadrut and the haverim and the functionaries - have been unwitting accomplices to murder."61 

As early as 1940, Beit Zvi notes that the first direct reports of the killings in Poland had reached the JA from Zionist activists Bartglass and Koerner, and again in 1941 when Jewish refugees had reached Palestine from Vilna via the USSR.62 

There were two reports published in Palestine concerning the exterminations citing Hungarian soldiers returning home, who stated that nearly a quarter a million Ukrainian Jews had been massacred. The second report, emanating from Molotov, cited the murder of 100,000 Ukrainian Jews.

Alongside these reports was an editorial comment: "There is no doubt that the Nazi murderers spilled blood like water in the areas of occupation. However, all the large numbers cited from 'soldiers returning from the front' must naturally be taken with considerable restraint."63 

The following day there was a longer piece by one of the paper's editors, Dan Pines, which spoke of "various irresponsible informants (who) are continuing to kill Jews with their own hands. They scoop up every rumour "¦ and submit it to the papers "¦ Do the disseminators of the reports "¦ not realise that many people are not inclined to become overly excited about the facts and figures in these reports because their exaggerated character renders them untrustworthy?"64 

Coming from the official paper of the JA, Pines's comments carried significant weight with the other Zionist papers. For example, Hamashkif reduced the number of Jews murdered to "thousands". Beit Zvi comments that Göbbels "in his wildest dreams" could not have dreamt of the kind of treatment that the Zionist press accorded the holocaust. On March 23 1943, Davar was reprimanded by Yosef Gravitzky of Palcor for copying a 'report' from the Nazi paper Ostland, that two million Jews remained in Poland.

Numerous 'reports' and false information were concocted by the ministry of propaganda in Berlin. Unfortunately they found an echo in the Palestine press. The religious Zionist paper, Hatzofeh, printed an editorial 'The high price of blood', four days before the Zygelboim report. It declared that "if authentication should prove impossible, it is better not to carry the report". As Beit Zvi remarked, "Before a report concerning the annihilation of Jews could be absorbed in the country "¦ it required confirmation by the information apparatus of the Third Reich."65 

On August 10 1942 in an editorial Davar argued: "Some of the numbers concerning the slaughter of tens of thousands which were published recently seemed to be exaggerated "¦ From this point of view, the Nazi denial may be trustworthy."66  On November 8 it reported that its information on Poland was being supplied "according to German statistics, which are faithful in these instances".67 

Finally on November 12 1942 a JA communiqué admitted that the final solution was underway. This was because of reports from a group of Jews from Europe, including Poland, coming to Palestine in exchange for German citizens interned by the British.68 

On December 7 of that year Haboker ran an item, 'Sensational announcement by Y Greenbaum, chairman of the Rescue Committee: We knew about the massacres in August but didn't make them public'69 

A further report arrived in Geneva concerning the Vatican's apostolic mission, Monsignore Martilotti, of Slovakia. It detailed the deportation of Slovakia's Jews. For two weeks, until August 30, Richard Lichteim of the JA delayed sending it to Palestine.70