A Devil’s Advocate

The Holy Spirit, the creative spirit of the people, out of which Jewish life and teaching arose, deserted Israel when its children began to feel ashamed of their nationality. – Moses Hess, Rome and Jerusalem

Those who destroy and ruin you will come from unto you. – Isaiah 49:17

History too often begins with the last lie. An opinion or narrative is introduced into political discourse, cited as fact, and then the faux history moves forward, its validity rarely challenged.

In Hannah Arendt’s well known book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, focusing on the Eichmann trial in 1961, Eichmann is said to have claimed he acted as a true Zionist during the years after the Nazis came to power. Initially, Germany only wanted for its German and Austrian Jews to leave the country; and the most obvious place to send Jews at the time was to Britishcontrolled Palestine. After all, it was primarily the British and French who divided the spoils of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, and it was the British who in 1917 “viewed with favor the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.” It was the British who took on the obligations under the Balfour Declaration, which was to allow for enough Jews to enter Palestine to create a large enough Jewish population for a future state to be successful.

The original language of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 called for the “reconstitution as the National Home.” But a number of people were uncomfortable with such strong (unambiguous) language and it was eventually watered down, substituting “establishment” for “reconstitution,” the language that was eventually approved in 1917. Yet there would continue to be other, behind-the-scenes dramas along the way, primarily coming from—of all places— Jewish members of the British cabinet at the time, the most outspoken being Sir Edwin Montagu. Addressing a cabinet meeting in August 1917, Montagu stated:

When the Jew has a national home, surely it follows that the impetus to deprive us of the rights of British citizenship must be enormously increased. Palestine will become the world’s ghetto. Why should the Russian give the Jew equal rights? His national home is Palestine.

Obviously, Montagu’s real concern was for his own rights as an Englishman. The overwhelming nonJewish majority in the British government were sympathetic to the Jews, and from a Biblical perspective, supported the Jews’ return to their ancestral homeland. Yet, another, more well-known British Jew also had concerns. It was Chaim Weizmann who wrote in the Fall 1937 issue of New Judea magazine:

Palestine is no solution for the Jewish problem of Europe. Palestine cannot absorb the Jews of Europe. We want only the best of Jewish youth to come to us. We want only the educated to enter Palestine for the purpose of increasing its culture. The other Jews will have to stay where they are and face whatever fate awaits them. These millions of Jews are dust on the wheels of history and they may have to be blown away. We don’t want them pouring into Palestine. We don’t want Tel Aviv to become another low-grade ghetto.

In 1934, a year after the Nazis came to power, Hitler stated that Germany no longer wanted its Jews; and it was Adolf Eichmann who began working for German and Austrian Jewish emigration to Palestine. At his 1961 trial in Israel, Eichmann claimed to be a Zionist. He had, in fact, facilitated the transfer of live Jews, asserting that all the Führer wanted was for the Jews to leave – alive. In 1933, 30,327 Jews were allowed to emigrate to Palestine. In 1934, 42,359 were allowed to emigrate; and 61,844 in 1935, the year the Nuremberg laws went into effect. (Nicholas Bethell, The Palestine Triangle, p. 25).

“Of greater importance for Eichmann,” wrote Hannah Arendt, “were the emissaries from Palestine, who would approach the Gestapo and the S.S. on their own initiative, without taking orders from either the German Zionists or the Jewish Agency for Palestine. They came in order to enlist help for the illegal immigration of Jews into British-ruled Palestine, and both the Gestapo and the S.S. were helpful. They negotiated with Eichmann in Vienna, and they reported that he was ‘polite’ …” (Eichmann in Jerusalem, p. 60). It was further noted that “the Jewish population of Palestine, which had stood at around 84,000 in 1922, had reached around 400,000 by 1937. Nearly half of the increase resulted from the emigration of European Jews during the first three years of Hitler’s power in Germany.” (Conor Cruise O’brian, The Siege, p.202) Yet one of the most astonishing pieces of this story came from the obituary of Teddy Kollek in the New York Times (January 3, 2007):

Mr. Kollek was sent to England in 1938 to work with a Zionist youth movement, but he spent most of his energy getting Jews out of Nazi-occupied countries. In 1939 he went to Vienna carrying British entry permits for Austrian Jews. There he met a Nazi who seemed like a minor clerk, and after 15 minutes the official agreed to release 3,000 Jewish children from concentration camps. Mr. Kollek said he never saw the man again until 1961, when the “clerk” was brought to Israel to face the charge of crimes against humanity. It was Adolf Eichmann.

Eichmann is estimated to have sent between 160,000 and 180,000 Jews to Palestine from 1933 to 1938, and would have sent many more but for two specific events. In July 1938, as German and Austrian Jews were finally realizing that their countries were no longer theirs, representatives of 32 countries and 24 organizations had gathered in Evian, France to discuss the Jewish refugee problem and how the various countries might increase their immigration quotas to provide safe haven for the Jews.

Life magazine, the second most read news magazine in 1938 after the Saturday Evening Post, had published a 13-page story, “The Jews – Again the Wandering Children of Israel are On the Move in Hostile Europe,” noting that then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt had reminded the world that it was “beset with an acute refugee problem. In all lands, he said, were unwanted minorities—millions of people for whom haven should be found, He specified refugees in Russia, Italy, Spain. But the world well understood that he really meant the greatest of all refugees, the Jews who are the world’s eternal wanderers and who once again must take up their unresting march from countries which once welcomed them and no longer will tolerate them.”

The Evian Conference, July 6 through July 15, 1938, ultimately became a disaster. It confirmed that there were no countries of refuge for Jews in 1938, including America. Rabbi Stephen Wise (American Jewish Congress) made excuses for the FDR administration’s restrictionist policies concerning the opening of immigration to America for the Jews of Europe. Members of American Jewish Committee with close ties to Roosevelt, such as Sam Rosenman, Judge Joseph Proskauer and other Jewish leaders, were silent. The only person who ultimately called out the hypocrisy of the Evian Conference was Adolf Hitler. His first response – Kristallnacht – was followed by his bitterly sarcastic speech to the Reichstag on January 30, 1939:

It is a shameful example to observe today how the entire democratic world dissolves in tears of pity but then, in spite of its obvious duty to help, closes its heart to the poor, tortured people.

The Nazi publication Der Weltkampf echoed Hitler’s theme: “We are saying openly that we do not want the Jews, while the democracies keep on claiming that they are willing to receive them—and then leave them out in the cold.” Meanwhile, Rep. Will Rogers (D-California) and Sen. Guy Gillette (D-Iowa) – two non-Jews – introduced resolutions urging “the creation by the President of a commission of diplomatic, economic and military experts to formulate and effectuate a plan of immediate action designed to save the surviving Jewish people of Europe.” (Rafael Medoff, The Deafening Silence). Rabbi Stephen Wise (American Jewish Congress), Nahum Goldman (World Jewish Congress), Max Currick (Reform Judaism’s Central Conference of American Rabbis) and Rep. Sol Bloom (D-New York), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, fought against the creation of this special committee, prompting Rep. Herman Eberharter (D-Pennsylvania) to question the Jewish leadership’s opposition:

 It seems to me that you ought to be able to appreciate that if these groups who are so vitally interested cannot agree themselves, it must be a very difficult question for a committee like this in Congress to pass such an important resolution. If these groups are fighting among themselves as to the wisdom of this thing…if the Jewish people themselves, and those interested in their fate in Europe cannot agree as to the wisdom of this, your position is not very sound. (Ibid., p.133).

The only option left for Jewish refugees fleeing Europe would have to be Palestine. But Britain, in control of the Palestine Mandate, would again appease the Arabs. With the support of two influential British Jews, Sir Herbert Samuel and Sir Edwin Montagu, the Malcolm MacDonald White Paper became law on May 23, 1939, and Britain, in an overt betrayal of its obligations under the Mandate, slammed shut the gates to Palestine for Jews and possible rescue.

The year 1938 proved critical in European Jewish history, when decisions were made that led to the slaughter of six million Jews. It’s a bit ironic that while Oskar Schindler is commemorated with a plaque at Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile for the 1200 Jews he saved, there is no plaque acknowledging the efforts of Adolf Eichmann. I know how strange that must sound. But the obvious culpability of Britain and its soon-to-be-elected Prime Minister Winston Churchill – with the betrayal of their obligations under the Palestine Mandate – is too conveniently overlooked. And yes, the U.S. could be considered an unindicted co-conspirator. Washington knew what was happening. But it was Britain that held the keys to the gates of Palestine. It knew of the slaughter of millions and stood idly by in silence, refusing to hear the cry from the chimneys as the souls of six million Jews ascended to the heavens.

I write only of Jews because I am a Jew, with no disrespect toward the millions of innocent non-Jews who were also murdered. Jews are forbidden to turn their backs on a fellow Jew. Yet, hidden from sight in history’s darkest recesses, at least two Jews, and probably others not named, railed against rescue for fear of the loss of their British stature. In turning their backs, they too were culpable. British Jews aspired to assimilate – to be British, perhaps unaware of the consequences. Might one ask whether today’s liberal Americanized Jews, when it comes to Israel, are no different? When Herbert Samuel, High Commissioner, named an Arab thug as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem to appease rioting Arabs, did he really believe that Mohammed al Husseini would put down his sword and join in the chorus of “God Save the Queen”?

Actions have consequences. We of all people have learned that inaction also has consequences. At Eichmann’s trial, when he claimed to be a Zionist, I found it strange that no one challenged him on what seemed absurd. But after considerable research driven by my curiosity, a different story emerged. Was Eichmann ultimately culpable? Yes. Did he get what he deserved? Absolutely. But what about the others? As Elie Wiesel z”l observed, “some are responsible, but all are guilty.” History may not always be as it appears.

Shabbat Shalom, 12/09/16 Jack “Yehoshua” Berger

* * Back issues are archived at The Times of Israel.com

About the Author
Educated as an architect with a Masters in Architectural History, Jack Yehoshua Berger became a practicing architect and real estate developer. In his late 30's he met a Rabbi who turned him on to the miracle of Israel and he began learning how the amazing country, against all odds, came to be the miracle of the modern world.