Herzl’s failed prophecy

Salvation through assimilation?

“Philosopher” and I, he an Israeli-French-Polish Survivor living in France and I an Israeli-American living in the United States are both powerfully identified with our people and its state. But our understanding of what Zionism means, and what the mission of Israel is are a galaxy apart. We have debated the difference for more than two years within my blog, Antisemitism and Jewish Survival but it may be that our latest exchange over the past six hours best crystallizes each of our positions.


I commented on Israel, which is BTW very close to my heart… Herzl foretold the danger in 19th century, exhorting all Nalewkians [Warsaw Jewry] to escape to enlightened host environment, to abandon the mediocrity, to assimilate, to adapt modern thought, to learn to speak and look like the hosts.”

This statement goes to the very heart of our difference regarding Zionism: does “assimilation” hold promise for individual Jews to save ourselves? This was the “promise” of Jewish emancipation in the 19th century and then along came Hitler and Germany’s Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. We take solace in the belief that the Jewish Problem Germany sought to “solve” was as described, “race-based,” or “national-based.” Such an interpretation, after all, feeds the understanding that a “madman” was able, through magnetic charisma, to deflect an otherwise modern, educated and tolerant society into a mindless vicious monster.

What lies behind our insistence on such an intentionally shallow analysis intent on ignoring the meaning and prehistory of 2000 years of persecution? What benefits detaching the obvious, that that prehistory is nothing less than the foundation, precondition and very meaning of the Holocaust: the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem? Since Jabotinsky’s 1937 Tisha b’Av speech is at the heart of our discussion I provide this brief excerpt:

… it is already three years that I am calling upon you, Polish Jewry, who are the crown of world Jewry. I continue to warn you incessantly that a catastrophe is coming closer. I became gray and old in these years, my heart bleeds, that you, dear brothers and sisters, do not see the volcano which will soon begin to spit its all consuming lava. I know that you are not seeing this because you are immersed in your daily worries. Today, however, I demand your trust. You were convinced already that my prognoses have already proven to be right. If you think differently then drive me out from your midst.


“However, if you do believe me, then listen to me in this 11th hour: In the name of G-d, Let anyone of you save himself as long as there is still time. And time there is very little.”



“There was in 1937 NO TIME and NO WAY of saving oneself…”

Jabotinsky is quoted in that speech Jabotinsky referred his earlier plea, three years earlier. But the issue is not “window of opportunity” but willingness and ability. Germany had a far smaller and wealthier community and conceivably all might have survived had the “willingness” to leave been there. Poland the largest Jewish community in Europe. Perhaps limiting ourselves to Warsaw the comparison might hold. But the “Staedles” small, impoverished and widespread? As for he referring to Polish Jewry “crown of world Jewry” Jabotinsky was delivering an eulogy, the reference was likely poetic.

Herzl foretold the danger in 19th century, exhorting all Nalewkians to escape to enlightened host environment…”

And this highlights that which for me is the weakness of your argument throughout, “Philosopher”. He, and Pinsker before him, certainly appreciated that the Diaspora was inherently anti-Jewish/antisemitic representing eternal persecution. The limits to both was not appreciating that “eternal persecution” in the Age of the Industrial Revolution had turned a corner in providing a “final solution” to that eternal irritant of Christendom, the Jewish Problem. Unprecedented certainly in the Age of Sword and Fire, where coordination was at the speed of a horse and rider. With all due respect, “Philosopher”, and I have both for you, you allow your prejudice towards your construct, “antediluvial idiotic religious superstitions” to dominate and so are forced to ignore the Holocaust in sufficient historical perspective. There never was such an “escape” available as Herzl fantasized and you promote: “Herzl’s advice, get out of Staedles and became assimilated.” Christians back multiple generations; the Marranos (pigs) were still “Jews” due to “Mala sangre” (bad blood). And this rule survived in Spain into the twentieth century. Whether the 1935 Nuremberg Laws defining “Jew” back to a single grandparent (Mischlinge laws) was based on or inspired by mala sangre; whether Aryan “purity of blood” was based on “limpieza de sangre” or not: what was present in the culture of the West was, and continues, 2000 years of Jews as Other, a feared and despised mythic creature that killed Jesus and whose father is Satan.

That, “Philosopher”, is in the “blood” of Western culture, history. It’s called “superstitions” and its what the Anti-Defamation League uses as the basis for its semi-annual surveys of antisemitism in America.

assimilate, to adapt modern thought, to learn to speak and look like the hosts…”

How else describe German Jewry in the 1930’s “Philosopher”, American Jewry in the 21st century?

“Salvation through assimilation” sounds uneasily suggestive of “Arbeit mach frei!”

About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.
Related Topics
Related Posts