German Zionism and the German Jews

In order to understand the reasons for the cooperation between Zionism and the Third Reich, it is important to understand the ideology and the attitude of the Zionist movement towards Jews. In order to do so, a look back to the declarations of its founder, Theodor Herzl, is necessary, writing this related to anti–Semitism: “I achieved a freer attitude toward anti – Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all, I recognized the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti–Semitism”

We could claim that Herzl is orientated to the shaping of an open–minded thought against the narrowness of the anti-Semtic ideology. His thought, is channeled to a “freer attitude;” an attitude which even understands and forgives anti-Semitism. But giving more attention to the above phrase and with relation to the facts examined until now compels the wonder whether the “emptiness and futility” which lie in the attempt to fight (either ideologically or materially) against anti-Semitism denotes a passive attitude towards an ideology which during the Second World War incarnated with the most horrible way. The purpose of the passivity that Theodor Herzl was expressing towards anti–Semitism was the construction of a passive attitude that would prevent the creation and action of Jewish revolutionary parties. In one discussion with Count Von Plehve, the originators of one of the worst pogroms in Russia, Herzl proposed the following: “Help me to reach the land (Palestine) sooner and the revolt [against the Czarist rule] will end”

During the 1930s Hashomer Hatzair (Young Guard), the youth movement that was part of the Socialist–Zionist circle, wrote that: “Α Jew is a caricature of a normal, natural human being, both physically and spiritually. As an individual in society he revolts and throws off the harness of social obligations, knows no order nor discipline” . From the above it seems that the members of the Zionist movement distanced themselves from the Jews. The use of the third person in this small text expresses the existence of a distinct line between the Zionists and the Jews, drawn by the first. A line by which the Jews are defined as the “others;” a line which we meet in the Nazi ideology (and which was legitimized with the Nuremberg Laws) and in this specific case marks the Jew as a person who “knows no order nor discipline.”

Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a leading figure of Revisionist Zionism, wrote under the same notion that “The Jewish people is a very bad people; its neighbors hate it and rightly so … its only salvation lies in a general immigration to the land of Israel”. The substance of Jabotisnky’s thought around nationalism was the idea that physical and racial basic differences existed among nations. This does not mean that he supported the idea of “superiority” of a nation towards another. He rejected any notion related to racism. His nationalism was based to the notion that the nation is above the person, therefore the nation had primacy. More or less this idea around the nature and the role of nationalism affected and applied to all Zionist schools of thought. The need of the nation to save and to restore its existence from the danger of persecution is crucial and it can be achieved by returning to the territorial homeland.

As is seen, one basic axis on which the politics of the Zionist movement was shaped was the absence of any attempt of opposition with any form with the antisemitism . Can this axis from the moment it was enshrined with the above descriptions have contributed to the promotion of anti-Semitism in Europe? A second basic axis was the idea of the transfer of Jews from the German territories and their transportation to the land of Israel. These two elements of Zionist ideology and politics lead to the equation of the “values of Jew–hatred” with the values of anti-Semitism. It further resulted in the recognition of the anti-Semites by the Zionists, as allies, and as “their most reliable protectors and sponsors.”

The politics of the Zionist movement and their ideology towards the rest of the German Jews was very explicit. There was no doubt that they separated themselves by the German Jews who were placed in a separate category: they didn’t speak Hebrew; they didn’t belong to the Zionist movement; were too old to have children, or didn’t have the financial resources to support the settlement of Palestine, a purpose which was of course offered the criteria for this separation. Therefore the Zionist movement not only didn’t do anything for the confrontation of the Holocaust but also fought strongly any immigration policy which was orientated to the transportation of the German Jews in order to save them.

Feature of this policy was the attitude of the Zionist movement in 1938 towards the possible change of U.S immigration laws which would allow the Jews to find refugee. The movement opposed to this possibility, as it was stated by Rabbi Stephen Wise, leader of the American Jewish Congress: “It was decided that no Jewish organization would, at this time, sponsor a bill which would in any way alter the immigration laws.” The very same politics applied when the U.S. Congress started some initiatives in 1943 regarding the extermination of the Jews that had already began. Once again the Rabbi Wise, who at that time was the principal spokesperson for Zionism, traveled to Washington in order to testify against the rescue bill that the U.S. Congress intended to vote, because it would cause problems to the colonization of Palestine.

For the Zionists, the settlement of Palestine was above and beyond everything. It superseded any other purpose, even the rescue of lives of the German Jews, which had value only to the extent of fulfilling the Zionist goal. According to the words of Chaim Weizmann, a Zionist leader who was to become the first president of Israel: “From the depths of the tragedy I want to save … young people [for Palestine]. The old ones will pass. They will bear their fate or they will not.” In another statement of Yitzak Gruenbaum, the chairperson of the Zionist committee, between “the rescue of the masses of Jews in Europe” and  “the redemption of the land – I vote, without the second thought, for the redemption of the land.”

About the Author
Ariel Lekaditis was born in Athens. He has graduated from University of Haifa on Holocaust Studies and he is volunteer on Yad Vashem. He focuses on antisemitism topics particularly in Greece.He is online activist against antisemitism and antizionism.
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