Zionism and the “Holocaust”
A few months after Hitler came to power, the leading German Zionist organization sent Hitler a long memo offering formal collaboration with the Nazis. This stomach-turning memo reads, in part:
On the foundation of the new state, which has established the principle of race, we wish to fit our community into the total structure so that for us too, in the sphere assigned to us, fruitful activity for the Fatherland is possible…
For its practical aims, Zionism hopes to be able to win the collaboration even of a government fundamentally hostile to Jews, because in dealing with the Jewish question no sentimentalities are involved but a real problem whose solution interests all peoples, and at the present moment especially the German people.34
At the time, collaboration meant that leading organizations of Zionism worked to undermine a worldwide anti-German boycott called to protest the Nazis’ anti-Semitism. Instead, the World Zionist Organization worked out a “Transfer Agreement” by which money from German Jews could be sent to Palestine to finance imports into Germany. Meanwhile, inside Germany, the Nazis shut down all socialist and Jewish resistance organizations and arrested their leaders. But the Nazis allowed the Zionists to operate. An American Zionist leader confessed his embarrassment: “It was a painful distinction for Zionism to be singled out for favors and privileges by its Satanic counterpart [Nazi Germany].”35
Throughout the 1930s and the Second World War, Zionists always placed the interests of Palestine ahead of fighting anti-Semitism in Europe. Seeking allies against Britain, the Zionist militia, the Haganah, negotiated for support from the German SS. In one secret meeting in Haifa in 1937, Haganah agent Feivel Polkes told the SS’s Adolph Eichmann that “Jewish nationalist circles are very pleased with the radical German policy, since the strength of the Jewish population would be so far increased” and overwhelm the Palestinians. For a period in the late 1930s, the Nazis allowed Polkes to set up Haganah recruiting and training camps inside Germany. For a period of time, Polkes’ sole income was “secret funds from the SS.”36 The Zionists impressed Eichmann. Years later in exile in Argentina, he recalled “I did see enough to be very impressed by the way the Jewish colonists were building up their land. I admired their desperate will to live, the more so since I was myself an idealist. In the years that followed I often said to Jews with whom I had dealings that, 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.”37 This is the man who oversaw Hitler’s Final Solution!
Thousands of Jews, including the rank and file of Zionist groups, resisted Hitler’s attempt to herd them into death camps. Zionists united with Communists and Bundists in the 1943 armed uprising against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto. But even at the Holocaust’s height, Jewish Agency leaders and settler leaders in Palestine offered little help. “The disaster facing European Jewry is not directly my business,” said Ben-Gurion in 1943. Zionist leaders believed the fight in Europe diverted them from their main task: building the Jewish state in Palestine. The chairman of the Jewish Agency’s committee refused to divert Jewish Agency funds from Palestine into rescuing Europe’s Jews. “They will say that I am anti-Semitic, that I don’t want to save the Exile, that I don’t have a warm Jewish heart” said Yitzhak Gruenbaum at a 1943 Jewish Agency meeting. “Let them say what they want. I will not demand that the Jewish Agency allocate a sum of 300,000 or 100,000 pounds sterling to help European Jewry. And I think that whoever demands such things is performing an anti-Zionist act.” During the war, the Agency spent far more money to acquire land in Palestine than to mount rescues.38
Preserving the “remnant” of Jewry for transfer to Palestine, rather than saving the Jews, guided Zionist leaders. Ben-Gurion opposed a plan to allow German Jewish children to emigrate to Britain in 1938. To justify himself, Ben-Gurion said: “If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them to [Israel], then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children but also the history of the people of Israel.”39 Unfortunately, plans like the British proposal to rescue Jewish children, were few. In general, Western governments turned their backs on Jews fleeing Germany. In one celebrated case, the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939 turned away a ship, the St. Louis, carrying more than 900 refugees wishing to emigrate to the U.S. Until several European countries agreed to accept the refugees, they were destined to return to Germany–and to certain death. Still, American Zionist organizations refused to press for abolishing immigration restrictions which prevented Jews fleeing Germany to move to the U.S. Only the Left–the Trotskyist Communist League and the Communist Party–called for the lifting of all restrictions on Jewish immigration.
The wartime actions of some Zionist leaders came back to haunt them. In 1952, Malchiel Gruenwald, an Israeli hotel operator who lost 50 members of his family in the Holocaust in Hungary, accused Dr. Rudolph Kastner of collaborating with the Nazis. Kastner, a prominent Labor Party politician and spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Commerce and Industry, sued Gruenwald for libel. The subsequent trial, which became known as the “Kastner affair,” exposed a sordid history of deal making between the Zionists and the Nazis. Kastner had been the head of the Jewish Agency in Hungary, the leading Zionist representative in that country during the war. He had cut deals with leading Nazis, including Eichmann and SS officer Kurt Becher, to win passage of Jews to Palestine. But as a leader of the Jewish community in Hungary who knew about Hitler’s “Final Solution,” he helped send far more Jews to their deaths. He even appeared as a witness for the defense of Becher at the postwar Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals. Gruenwald charged:
[Kastner] wanted to save himself, so that Becher would not reveal to the international court their deals and their joint acts of robbery…Where now is the money of the Jews of Hungary, millions of which no accounting was given?…He saved no fewer than fifty-two of his relatives, and hundreds of other Jews–most of whom had converted to Christianity–bought their rescue from Kastner by paying millions! That’s how Kastner saved the members of Mapai [the Israeli Labor Party]…He saved people with connections, and made a fortune in the process.40
In the end, the court decided that some of Gruenwald’s charges were true, but that others were unproved. Yet, the court did not want to take upon itself the judgment of Kastner’s actions during the war. It left that to a government board of inquiry. Many in Israel’s elite realized that an investigation would expose dozens of leading Israeli politicians with skeletons similar to Kastner’s in their closets. A former Israeli secret service agent saved the government the embarrassment of an investigation when he assassinated Kastner in 1957. In 1993, the Tel Aviv City Council voted to name a street in Kastner’s honor.41