Zionist collaborators with Nazism revealed

Tony Greenstein reviews two books by Francis Nicosia: The Third Reich and the Palestine question London 1985, pp320, £25.50; and Zionism and anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany Cambridge 2008, pp344, £50

When in trouble, the first line of defence is to accuse your critics of anti-Semitism. Even if they are Jewish Zionists! Israeli finance minister Yuval Steinitz is right that it is possible to be a Jewish anti-Semite, even if the particular accusation against Richard Goldstone, head of the United Nations commission which accused Israel of war crimes, is patently absurd.1 The history of Zionism is full of such examples.

The past 20 years have seen the rise of the ‘new historians’. Although politically they differ enormously - from Benny Morris, a supporter of ethnic cleansing, who provided the first comprehensive account of the expulsion of the Palestinians,2 to Ilan Pappe, who described how the massacre and expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948 was carefully planned3 - they do have one thing in common. A desire to sweep aside Zionism’s invented history, where propaganda and political necessity masqueraded as history. A history that was subordinated politically to the Zionist movement.

No question is more sensitive than that of the relationship between Zionism and the Nazis. Popular history holds that the Zionists led Jewish resistance to the Nazis, including the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and that Israel was established as a refuge from anti-Semitism. The Kasztner trial in Israel (1953-58), concerning Zionist collaboration with the Nazis in Hungary, has almost been erased from popular memory, even though it led to the fall of the Sharrett government in June 1955. The Haavara transfer agreement between Nazi Germany and the Zionist Organisation - an agreement which led to Palestine being swamped with German goods between 1933 and 1939, with the Zionists operating as overseas salesmen for German companies - has also been largely forgotten.

Yet the question of Zionism’s true record during the holocaust has haunted Zionist writers, despite the best attempts of historians such as Yehuda Bauer at Yad Vashem, Israel’s holocaust museum, to rewrite what happened from a Zionist perspective.4 The first to tackle the subject was Ben Hecht who, in 1962, issued Perfidy, an account of the Kasztner trial. This was followed by Hanna Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1963. In 1977 S Beit-Zvi, in Post-Ugandan Zionism in the crucible of the holocaust,5 documented how the Zionist leadership prioritised building a Jewish state over rescuing Jewish people, whilst in 1984 Edwin Black provided a comprehensive account of Haavara, the economic pact between Nazi Germany and the Zionist movement.6 Lenni Brenner’s Zionism in the age of the dictators offered, from an anti-Zionist perspective, the most complete account of Zionist collaboration with Nazism.7

Francis Nicosia has documented both the relationship of the German Zionists with the Nazi government and the diplomatic factors that led to the Nazis adopting a pro-Zionist foreign policy externally. His problem was how to reconcile this with support for Zionism. He argues that the Zionists had no option but to deal with the Nazis, but he fails to ask what kind of deals were struck, what their motives were, whether Palestine was prioritised to the exclusion of all other destinations and whether the Zionists were indifferent to the Nazi attacks on German Jews when they deliberately undermined the boycott of Germany.

At odds

Nicosia is an author at war with his own evidence, and like Benny Morris his conclusions are at odds with the facts he uncovers. This is especially true of his second book Zionism and anti-semitism in Nazi Germany. The result is a series of apologetics for the record of the German Zionist Federation (Zionistische Vereinigung für Deutschland - ZVfD).

Nicosia’s first book, The Third Reich and Palestine (TRP), detailed the relationship of the Nazi government and its different factions to Arab nationalism, Zionism and the British. It is far more lucid and coherent than his second and more recent work, Zionism and anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany (ZANG), whose attempts to place Nazism in the context of both medieval and post-emancipation anti-Semitism is unconvincing. His argument that “a deeply rooted antipathy toward Jews had been and remained at the core of European life for centuries, a reality from which modern anti-Semitism… developed in the modern period” is both meaningless and ahistorical (ZANG p17).

In TRP Nicosia shows clearly that both the ‘pro-Zionist’ and ‘anti-Zionist’ foreign policy of the Nazis had little or nothing to do with domestic considerations, but were a consequence of its relationship with British imperialism. In fact anti-Semitism played little part in the coming to power of the Nazis. Between 1930 and 1933 they played it down (ZANG p74). There was “a reluctance” on Hitler’s part to address the Jewish question between 1925 and 1933 because of “a general lack of voter appeal in anti-Semitism” (footnote, TRP p231).

Nicosia concludes that the rise of the Nazis to power in 1933 “left German Zionism with little option but to seek cooperation with a regime that ultimately would attempt to physically annihilate all the Jews of Europe” (ZANG p11). What he fails to explain is the ideological and political symmetry between the Nazis and Zionism. Nicosia accepts that Zionism was itself a ‘volkish’ form of Jewish nationalism, influenced by the same Blut und Boden mythology as its non-Jewish counterparts (ZANG p2).8

What marked out Zionism from all other Jewish movements was not only the fact that ideologically it was a mirror image of anti-Semitism, but that some of the most rabid Jew-haters sought legitimation in it. Nicosia is aware of the ideological symmetry between Zionism and Nazism, but fails to ask what effect this had on Zionist tactics and strategy - for example, the writing off of the vast majority of German Jews in favour of the Zionist elite: “As one of the developing volkish nationalisms of central and eastern Europe in the 19th century … Zionism has accepted the premise that the Jewish people, for racial, religious, cultural or historical reasons, should not be assimilated” (TRP p17).

The Zionist rejection of ‘assimilation’ was “firmly rooted in the conviction that the Jews constituted a unique race” (TRP p18). This reached its apotheosis with the visit in 1933 of Arthur Ruppin, the father of Jewish land settlement in Palestine, to Germany’s leading race scientist and Himmler’s mentor, Hans Günther of Jena University, to share ideas. Ruppin recorded with satisfaction that the professor was extremely friendly.9 Amos Morris-Reich, who tries to gloss over Ruppin’s belief in the racial sciences, nonetheless asks, “Why did Ruppin not express his reservations of Günther in the privacy of his diary, but, on the contrary, describe the conversation as a pleasant encounter?”10 Although the meeting with Günther is mentioned in the German edition of Ruppin’s diaries, it was erased in the English and Hebrew editions edited by Alex Bein.

Nicosia observes that, although today criticism of Zionism “is often dismissed as motivated by a deeper anti-Semitism, in [Theodor] Herzl’s day an opposite non-Jewish reaction, one of support for the Zionist idea, might have resulted in a similar reaction” (TRP p7). But then “before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, active anti-Zionism … was largely a Jewish phenomenon …” (TRP p13).

The diary of Victor Klemperer, a Christian Jew who survived only because he had married an Aryan, was an important chronicle in understanding the harrowing experience that the Christian Jews, Mischlinge (mixed race) and those married to Aryans went through. Klemperer described a meeting with the former leader of German Zionism, Kurt Blumenfeld, in 1935: “The Blumenfelds were here on Friday; I disagree violently with him about Zionism, which he defends and praises, which I call betrayal and Hitlerism” (TRP p13). Nicosia fails even to ask why Klemperer saw Zionism as a Hitlerite betrayal.

Nicosia engages in sophistry, arguing that Herzl, the founder of Zionism, was merely responding to the “threat of modern anti-Semitism and its rejection of Jewish emancipation and assimilation”. Apart from the fact that Zionism started from a rejection of the enlightenment and emancipation, it is a strange way to respond to a threat by welcoming it! As Herzl’s biographer notes, “Anti-semites approved of Herzl for authenticating their own accusations against the Jews.”11

When Herzl’s Der Judenstaat was published in 1896, Herzl “badgered” Edouard Drumont, editor of the anti-Semitic daily La Libre Parole, into reviewing his pamphlet, which he did on January 16 1897. “Drumont praised Herzl for agreeing to so many of the charges made against the Jews by their opponents.”12 As emperor Franz Josef noted regarding Herzl’s argument that civic equality for Jews was a “misfortune because it led to assimilation and intermarriage”, “What would have become of this Herzl if there were no equality of rights?”13

Nicosia’s treatment of Zionist Moses Hess is likewise disingenuous: “Hess argued that gentiles rejected Jews on the basis of their perceived race rather than the traditional measure of religion” (my emphasis). Yet despite quoting from the same paragraph in Hess’s Rome and Jerusalem, Nicosia omits the following:

“… the tendency of some Jews to deny their racial descent is equally foredoomed to failure. Jewish noses cannot be reformed and the black, wavy hair of the Jews will not be changed into blond by conversion or straightened out by constant combing. The Jewish race is one of the primary races of mankind … The Jewish type has conserved its purity through the centuries.”14

There was clearly nothing “perceived” about Hess’s belief in a Jewish race. Hess, who can lay claim to being the first political Zionist, also believed that “Race struggle is primary; class struggle is secondary.”15

Nicosia demonstrates little understanding of Zionism, past or present, still less how its racial theories were applied in Palestine. For example, he describes the Jewish National Fund, the key organisation involved in settling the land, as having been established in 1920, whereas the JNF was first formed in 1901 (ZANG p155).

Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazis’ minister for the eastern territories, was Hitler’s favourite theoretician (TRP p25). Rosenberg argued that “Zionism must be vigorously supported in order to encourage a significant number of German Jews to leave for Palestine or other destinations” (TRP p25). He was fond of citing the Zionists’ own arguments that the Jews were a separate people. Rosenberg took this as “a clear affirmation that all Jews were aliens in Germany” (ZANG p70). “Rosenberg’s argument that the Zionist movement could be utilised to promote the political, social and cultural segregation of Jews in Germany, as well as their emigration, was eventually transformed into policy by the Hitler regime after 1933.”16

Golden opportunity

The German Zionists used the advent of Hitler in order to oust their ‘assimilationist’ opponents from the leadership of the Jewish community. The Zionists went as far as denouncing and even disrupting the meetings of the Centralverein, the Central Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith (ZANG p167).

The rise of the Nazis was seen as a golden opportunity: “So positive was its assessment of the situation that, as early as April 1933, the ZVfD announced its determination to take advantage of the crisis to win over a traditionally assimilationist German Jewry to Zionism” (ZANG p146). Likewise Berl Katznelson, a founder of the Israeli Labour Party, Mapai, and editor of Davar, paper of the Histadrut, saw the rise of Hitler as “an opportunity to build and flourish like none we have ever had or ever will have” (ZANG p91).

Nicosia concedes that German Zionism “retreated for the most part into its ideological comfort zone, from which they generally dismissed the idea of Jewish self-defence against anti-Semitism …” (ZANG p286). Indeed an understanding of National Socialism and how to respond “seemed to elude the entire Zionist movement, including the Yishuv, until well into the Second World War” (ZANG p289). Yet he draws no conclusions from how this impinged on the role of the Zionist movement, within and without Germany between 1933 and 1939.

Assimilation, not anti-Semitism, was German Zionism’s main enemy. As Kurt Blumenfeld, secretary of the ZVfD (1924-33) and of the (World) Zionist Organisation (1910-14) wrote in a letter to Walter Rathenau, the Jewish minister assassinated in 1922, “Under no circumstances does a Jew have the right to represent the affairs of another people.”17 This was over a decade before the Nazis took power. In September 1932, with the Nazi having achieved a vote of 13 million in the July elections, “Blumenfeld identified the political left in Germany as the immediate danger, especially to Jewish youth.” (ZANG p60). Thus at the very time that Hitlerism was gaining ascendancy, the Zionist movement identified the main opponents of Nazism as the main danger to Jews!

Hitler described Zionism as a “great movement” which had resolved his “indecision” as to whether or not the Jews were a separate people.18 Hitler certainly doubted Zionism’s ability and motives in wishing to build a Jewish state in Palestine, but he supported those who saw “the utility of Zionism in a future National Socialist state” (ZANG p72). In January 1938 Hitler ruled that “Jewish emigration from Germany should continue to be promoted with all possible means, and it should be directed in the first instance to Palestine” (TRP p141). In the debates over Haavara, Hitler consistently supported its continuance against growing opposition from the interior and foreign ministries.

The main concern of the SD (SS security/intelligence service) was the danger for Jewish emigration posed by Britain’s restrictive immigration policy in Palestine rather than the formation of an independent Jewish state (ZANG p140). As late as July 1939 Hitler was still firmly supportive of Haavara and Jewish emigration to Palestine (ZANG p142). General Gerhard Engel, an adjutant of Hitler, described how the fuhrer had come to favour the concentration of Jews over their dispersion (ZANG p143). Hitler and the SS were also the last to abandon emigration as a solution to the Jewish question, in particular to Palestine, even after 1939 (ZANG p264).

Hitler made his position clear in respect of the British empire and its role in the Middle East, giving short shrift to those who would form an alliance with the oppressed nations:

“I as a German would far rather see India under British domination than under that of any other nation …. A coalition of cripples cannot attack a powerful state which is determined, if necessary, to shed the last drop of its blood to maintain its existence. To me, as a nationalist who appreciates the worth of the racial basis of humanity, I must recognise the racial inferiority of the so-called ‘oppressed nations’, and that is enough to prevent me from linking the destiny of my people with the destiny of those inferior races.”19

Nazi support for Arab nationalism and the Palestine revolt of 1936-39 was never forthcoming (TRP p83). “Hitler’s hopes for an understanding with Britain precluded even the mildest form of moral support for an Arab nationalism aimed at loosening Britain’s grip on its share of the Levant” (TRP p181). Germany’s consul-general in Palestine, Walter Döhle, reported in January 1938 that because of its promotion of Jewish emigration, sympathy among Arabs for the Nazis was declining (TRP p191).

Even though German foreign minister Konstantin Neurath had issued, on June 1 1937, policy guidelines raising for the first time the question of using the Arabs as a counterweight to Zionism, the foreign office sought to keep as much distance as possible between the Nazis and Arab nationalism (TRP p111), When the Iraqi prime minister sought German support for opposition to the Peel commission’s recommendation for partition, Neurath was firmly opposed (TRP p123).

The Zionists’ relationship with the Nazis included the collaboration of Feivel Polkes, an agent of the Jewish paramilitary organisation in Palestine, Haganah, who offered information about the communist resistance to the Gestapo. Polkes “declared himself ready to gather information for Germany that did not conflict with his own political ends … he would vigorously support German foreign policy interests in the Middle East.”

In the summer of 1933, Baron Leopold von Mildenstein, head of the SD’s Jewish department, went on a six-month visit to Palestine. This was followed, a year later, by a series of 12 articles in Goebbels’ paper Der Angriff,20 in which Mildenstein waxed lyrical about the “new Jew” and Zionist settlement in Palestine.21


The transfer agreement (Haavara) between the Zionists and Nazis was agreed in August 1933. German Jews leaving for Palestine could convert their assets into frozen marks (Sperrmarks), held in an account in Germany, which would purchase German goods for export to Palestine. The emigrants would receive payment of about 15% from an account held by Haavara Ltd in Tel Aviv.

Haavara was supported by the Nazis for one simple reason. It would fatally undermine that which they feared most - an anti-Nazi boycott. Germany’s economy was export-dependent and “the volume of German goods sold abroad was already dangerously low. Germany simply could not stand further reductions”;22 “The Reich chancellery expressed alarm over the growing boycott movement” (ZANG p83). From a high of 26.9 billion RM in 1929, foreign trade had dropped to 10.4 billion RM in 1932 (TRP p30). A report for Hitler of May 1935 on the prospects for future German foreign trade painted a bleak picture because of protectionism, but also because of the small but growing international boycott of German goods (ZANG p83).

There were particular worries concerning the participation of non-Jewish businesses in the boycott: “The foreign office was flooded with letters from German firms with branches abroad, expressing alarm over the intensity of anti-German feeling and propaganda over alleged atrocities against Jews in Germany.” Yet at the very time that Nazis leaders were fretting over the boycott, the Zionists did their best to destroy it, despite the fact that it had “forced the Third Reich to vigilantly restrain anti-Jewish violence in Germany”.23 As Nicosia admits, “Clearly the boycott generated considerable fear in Berlin about its potential for severely disrupting the government’s economic policies” (ZANG p83-84).

Such was the Nazis’ panic that Germany’s Jewish leaders were ordered to a meeting with Goring on March 25 1933. There they were told to go to London and then New York to try to have the American Jewish Congress boycott rally, due to take place on March 27 in New York’s Madison Square Gardens, called off.24

The boycott was extremely popular internationally. It has been adopted by the labour movement in the United States and the Nazis were terrified of what it could do to their exports: “Reich leaders realised that boycott agitation was accelerating, especially in Great Britain. Placards proclaiming ‘Boycott German goods’ spread infectiously throughout London, and were now in the windows of the most exclusive West End shops.”25 Even in Palestine German consul-general Heinrich Wolff warned that the momentum for a boycott of German goods was growing (TRP p38).

What better way to undermine all this than to proclaim that the Jews, of all people, were profiting most from trade with Germany? Wolff “was particularly assertive in his view that Palestine was the weapon with which Germany could wreck the boycott movement” (TRP p41).

The Zionists’ role as scab agents for trade with Nazi Germany sealed the fate of the boycott. Haavara resulted in Germany becoming the biggest exporter to Palestine, accounting for 16.1% of all its imports. Some 60% of investment in Jewish Palestine from 1933-39 was from Nazi Germany!26 Haavara officials even sought out other markets for German goods in the Middle East (TRP p48).

In 1933 the 18th Zionist Congress in Prague avoided voting on resolutions supporting Haavara. Initially Berl Locker for the Zionist Executive denied all knowledge of it (TRP p53). In 1935, however, the 19th Zionist Congress at Lucerne rejected boycott and endorsed Haavara.

As if realising the weakness of his own argument, Nicosia differentiates between the “reluctant” collaboration of the mainstream Zionists and the enthusiastic collaboration of Zionist Organisation president Georg Kareski, who saw in Hitler’s ascendancy “a positive rather than a negative reality” (TRP p198). But if collaboration was necessary in order to save Germany’s Jews, then what does it matter if it was reluctant or enthusiastic? In fact the evidence suggests that the mainstream Zionists were equally eager to collaborate and volunteered their services. Kurt Blumenfeld went out of his way to lobby Nazi leaders to secure an invitation to the meeting with Jewish organisations on March 25 1933.

Nicosia tries to justify the Zionist role in Nazi Germany by arguing that they “were not spared the treatment meted out to non-Zionist Jewish organisations” (ZANG pp100-01). But this is irrelevant. A distinction has to be made between Zionism as a political movement and Zionists as individuals. And it was not even true. Even on an individual level, the Zionists received preferential treatment. In November 1938, in Berlin and Vienna, “the SS ordered the release from jail of all Jews arrested during the Kristallnacht pogrom who were in any way connected with the Palastinaamt [Palestine office]” (ZANG pp140, 177-78; TRP p160).

In fact non-Zionist or anti-Zionist Jewish organisations “were specifically targeted and closely scrutinised for any indication that they might seek to promote assimilationist or deutschnationale [German national] agendas”, whereas police reports on Zionist events “usually mentioned with satisfaction that assimilationist tendencies were not in evidence” (ZANG p118).

In a memo of May 24 1934, Reinhard Heydrich of the SD argued that the Zionist organisations should receive “preferential treatment” compared to the assimilationists. The SD proposed that “the severest measures be taken against all assimilationist efforts among the Jews, and that the strongest support be given to all Zionist organizations” (ZANG p136). On January 28 1935 Heydrich issued a directive stipulating that Zionist organisations “are not to be treated with that strictness that it is necessary to apply to the members of the so-called German-Jewish organisations (assimilationists)”. As Lucy Dawidowicz noted, “The Zionists and proponents of emigration to Palestine were less badgered in their activities by the police and the SD than the non-Zionists.”27 With the banning of all Jewish assimilationist groups later in 1935, “Zionist groups were the only ones of a political nature that were allowed to continue functioning” (TRP p57). The revisionist Zionist National Youth Herzlia was even allowed to wear its own uniforms (ZANG p122; TRP p56).

Jewish ‘expert’ Bernard Lohsener, who drafted the Nuremberg laws and the definition of “who is a Jew”,28 wrote in the introduction to the Nuremberg laws that “Among convinced Zionists one finds the least amount of opposition to the basic ideas of the Nuremberg laws because they know immediately that they offer the only feasible solution for the Jewish people as well … the Jewish people has existed for millennia and has remained strong because it has maintained the purity of its blood …” (ZANG p108; TRP p53).29

German Zionist leader rabbi Joachim Prinz explained: “It was morally disturbing to seem to be considered as the favoured children of the Nazi government, particularly when it dissolved the anti-Zionist youth groups, and seemed in other ways to prefer the Zionists. The Nazis asked for a ‘more Zionist behaviour’.”30

Nicosia is therefore right when he asserts that after 1933, “the Zionist movement became a vehicle through which German exports were promoted …” (TRP p37).

One feature of Zionist policy has always been opposition to Jewish emigration to countries other than Israel. Nicosia glosses over the fact that under the Nazis the Zionist movement pursued this policy rigorously (ZANG p125): “… the CV criticised what it believed to be the efforts of the ZVfD to direct Jewish emigration exclusively to Palestine at the expense of other suitable destinations” (ZANG p168, citing CV-Zeitung October 13 1935). This gives the lie to the argument that Haavara was designed to rescue Jews.

On 16 January 1937 the German interior ministry informed the foreign office that “it intended to promote Jewish emigration by all possible means, but without specifically favouring Palestine as had been done in the past” (my emphasis TRP pp114-15). In a memo of June 17 1937 the SD’s Jewish department spelled out what the Zionist demands were: “Pressure will be exerted on the Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland [the umbrella group for German Jewish organisations] to oblige Jews who emigrate from Germany to go exclusively to Palestine and not to other countries. A measure such as this is certainly in the German interest …” (TRP p63).

Nicosia concludes, with the benefit of hindsight, that, since the Jews were doomed, the emigration of some 53,000 German Jews to Palestine justified the Zionists’ role.

With the exception of 1939, in no year had German Jews, or those from the Greater Reich, formed a majority of Palestinian immigrants (ZANG p270). Between 1933 and 1935 over 6,000 immigration certificates went to American, British, Turkish and other Jews who were in no danger.31 Of the more than a quarter million Jews from greater Germany who escaped between the beginning of 1938 and September 1939, less than 40,000 went to Palestine (ZANG p274). Yet the German Zionists had sought to block escape to any other country, despite the admission of Arthur Ruppin that Palestine was unable to absorb more than a thousand families.32 Between 1933 and 1941, of the more than half a million Jews who managed to escape from greater Germany, some 16% went to Palestine (ZANG p283). The irrelevance of Zionism is best understood when one considers that between 750,000 and 1.5 million Jews are believed to have survived the Nazi holocaust in the Ukraine and Poland by fleeing into Russia.33

In 1937 trade between Palestine and Germany peaked at over 31 million RM, yet the number of Jews migrating from Germany was at an all-time low of 3,700 (TRP pp212-13). The influence of Haavara on the number of immigrants was marginal, but its benefits for the Zionist economy were immense. Conversely, the number of German Jewish immigrants to Palestine increased sharply in 1938 and 1939, yet the amount of Jewish capital transferred to Palestine via Haavara decreased considerably (note 109 TRP p262).

Nicosia confirms that Zionism was a movement of collaboration. It sought to gain maximal sectarian advantage for its own project, regardless of the effect on Germany’s Jews. In Poland, where over three million Jews lived, they had largely abandoned Zionism, which “was furnishing weapons to the anti-Semites by its theories of the objective necessity of Jewish emigration”.34 As Isaac Deutscher observed, “… the most fanatical enemies of Zionism were precisely the workers, those who spoke Yiddish ... To them anti-Semitism seemed to triumph in Zionism, which recognised the legitimacy and the validity of the old cry, ‘Jews get out!’ The Zionists were agreeing to get out.”35

Nicosia’s books contain much useful and interesting information. However, his analysis of what he has found has been subordinated to his Zionist politics.