Goldmann, Nahum

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GOLDMANN, NAHUM (1895–1982), statesman and Zionist leader, born in Visznevo, Lithuania. When Goldmann was five years old his family moved to Germany – first to Koenigsberg and from there to Frankfurt. His father, Solomon Ẓevi Goldmann, was a writer and Hebrew teacher, and young Goldmann grew up in an atmosphere suffused with the spirit of Judaism. At the age of 15 he published an anonymous article attacking Solomon *Reinach, the vice president of *Alliance Israélite Universelle, that contributed to Reinach's resignation from his post. In 1913 Goldmann spent several months in Ereẓ Israel and reported his impressions in Eretz Israel, Reisebriefe aus Palaestina, published in 1914. During World War i he joined the staff of the Jewish section of the German Foreign Ministry. At that time Goldmann supported a pro-German orientation of the Zionist movement and sought means of gaining the Kaiser's support for the Zionist cause. After the war, Goldmann joined with Jacob *Klatzkin in publishing Freie Zionistische Blaetter, a Zionist periodical (1921–22). At this time the two men also conceived the idea of publishing a German-language Jewish encyclopedia, and in 1925 they founded a publishing house, "Eshkol," for this purpose. Three years later the first volume of the Encyclopaedia Judaica appeared. Hitler's rise to power prevented the completion of the venture, and when publication of the encyclopedia had to be interrupted, a total of ten volumes in German and two in Hebrew had been issued. (In the 1960s, Goldmann took the initiative in inaugurating the English-language Encyclopaedia Judaica.)

In the early 1920s Goldmann joined Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir, but later left the party and became a member of the Zionist "radical" faction and in 1926 was elected its representative on the Zionist Actions Committee. He was critical of Weizmann's plan to coopt non-Zionists to the *Jewish Agency. He also denounced the Zionist leadership for its lack of interest in the political and cultural problems of Jewish masses in the Diaspora. As Ereẓ Israel would not be capable of absorbing the entire Jewish people; it should serve as an inspiration to the Jewish people and be a symbol and the principal instrument of its renascence.

Goldmann was the chairman of the Political Committee at the 17th Zionist Congress (1931) and played a decisive role in forging a majority to oppose the reelection of Weizmann as president of the Zionist Organization. Two years later, however, when the Radical faction was disbanded, Goldmann began to lean toward Weizmann and eventually to cooperate with him. In the same year, Goldmann was forced to leave Germany, and in 1935 he was deprived of German citizenship and became a citizen of Honduras. At the end of 1933, upon the death of Leo *Motzkin, he was elected chairman of the Comité des Délégations Juives, and in 1935 he became the representative of the Jewish Agency at the League of Nations. Together with Stephen *Wise, he organized the *World Jewish Congress and at the first conference of the Congress, in 1936, was appointed chairman of its executive board. Shortly after the outbreak of World War ii, he moved to New York where he established the Zionist Emergency Council for political work and represented for years the Executive of the Jewish Agency, later becoming the chairman of the American Section upon its establishment.

During the Mandatory period Goldmann supported the idea of establishing a Jewish State. In 1931, during the debate on the "final goal" of Zionism and in 1935, as the head of the *General Zionist faction, he declared that the principal task of the Zionist Movement was to create among the Jewish people the momentum for the establishment of a Jewish State in Ereẓ Israel. In 1937, he was among the most ardent supporters of the Partition Plan, preferring sovereignty to territory. This attitude also prompted him to support *Ben-Gurion at the *Biltmore Conference. Henceforth, until May 1948, he took an active and sometimes decisive part in the diplomatic and public relations activities designed to bring about the immediate establishment of a Jewish state. When the State of Israel came into being, Goldmann was elected one of the two chairmen of the Executive of the Zionist Organization (Berl Locker was the other), and in 1956 he was elected president of the organization. Upon the death of Stephen Wise, he was also elected president of the World Jewish Congress. He held that position until 1977, when he relinquished it and was named founder-president.

Goldmann was largely responsible for initiating negotiations with the Federal Republic of Germany on the payment of *reparations to Israel and indemnification for Nazi victims. It was primarily Goldmann who arranged for the secret preliminary contact with German statesmen, mainly with Chancellor Konrad *Adenauer, before the official negotiations took place. It was also mostly at his initiative that the Claims Conference, which became the most comprehensive and representative world Jewish body, was established. He was elected president of the Conference and led its delegation in the negotiations with Germany. Goldmann subsequently conducted similar negotiations with Austria. As a result of the work done by the Claims Conference, a Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture was established in 1965, with Goldmann as its president. He initiated the creation of the Conference of Jewish Organizations (cojo) and became its president, founded the World Council of Jewish Education, took an active part in organizing the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations for Israel, was the chairman of the first international conference for Soviet Jewry (Paris, 1960), etc.

In the field of Zionist affairs, Goldmann participated in the formulation of the Jerusalem Program (1951; see *Basle Program) and conducted the negotiations with the Israel government that preceded the enactment of the law on the status of the World Zionist Organization and the signing of a covenant between the State of Israel and the Zionist Organization. He supported the concept of the centrality of the State of Israel in the life of the Jewish people, but opposed any attitude that negated the Diaspora (while at the same time refusing to accept the view held by many American Zionists that the American Diaspora was no longer to be regarded as an exile). Goldmann regarded the continued existence of the Jewish people in the Diaspora as threatened not by antisemitism, but by assimilation as a result of full emancipation and by the unparalleled prosperity of the Jews in most countries since World War ii. He believed that the struggle of the Jewish people should now be directed to uphold the right of the Jews to be different from other peoples and preserve their uniqueness. This task, primarily an educational one, should be the main concern of the Jewish people and its leaders.

In 1962 Goldmann left the United States and became a citizen of Israel. He did not, however, take an active part in the internal political life of the country. He subsequently spent part of his time in Israel and part in Europe. In 1968 Goldmann took on Swiss citizenship but continued to be active throughout the Jewish world.

Goldmann frequently voiced criticism of Israel's leadership, which he accused of narrow-mindedness, overestimating the power of the state and its military forces, lacking the proper attitude toward the Jewish people in the Diaspora, and of pursuing an inflexible policy. He advocated a more elastic and moderate policy toward the Arab states and also recommended that Israel moderate her criticism of Soviet policy vis-à-vis the Middle East and Jews living in the U.S.S.R. Declarations made by Goldmann in this vein periodically caused friction between him and leading Israel personalities; furthermore, the various offices held by Goldmann also raised the question of whether his criticism represented the view of the Zionist Organization, the World Jewish Congress, some other Jewish body, or only his personal opinion. Relations between Goldmann and Israel leaders took a further turn for the worse after the *Six-Day War, when the impression was created that Goldmann's identification with the State of Israel was rather less than that of many other Jewish leaders. It was against this background that several Zionist parties began to oppose his continuance in office as president of the organization, and at the 27th Zionist Congress (1968), Goldmann did not put forward his candidacy for the presidency. The Autobiography of Nahum Goldmann appeared in 1969. In 1970, a controversy was aroused by Goldmann's approach to the Israel prime minister in connection with a possible meeting between himself and *Nasser. When the Israel government expressed its disapproval, the matter was dropped.

Selections of Goldmann's articles and speeches have been published in two volumes: Dor shel Ḥurban u-Ge'ullah (1968) and Be-Darkhei Ammi (1968).

[Chaim Yahil]

Goldmann relinquished the presidency of the World Jewish Congress in November 1977, but despite his age continued to be a controversial figure, and in 1978 was severely criticized because of his support of Egypt's attitude in the peace negotiations. A number of such actions indicated his growing dissociation from Zionism and the State of Israel. In 1978 Foreign Relations of the U.S. 1950, Vol. 5, The Near East, South Asia and Africa was published, consisting of nearly 2,000 previously top-secret documents of the U.S. State Department. The publication revealed that in 1950 Goldmann – then president of the wjc – told the State Department that he would use his influence to prevent American Jews from exerting pressure on the U.S. government with regard to its policy toward Israel.


J. Draenger, Nachum Goldmann, 2 vols. (Ger., 1959, Fr., 1956); A. Carlebach, Sefer ha-Demuyyot (1959), 172–5; R. Vogel (ed.), The German Path to Israel (1969).

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Goldmann, Nahum

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