Behavior of the Victims
In a chapter entitled "Auschwitz: The Death of Choice" in Versions of Survival: The Holocaust and the Human Spirit, the Holocaust scholar Lawrence *Langer writes: "After we peel the veneer of respectable behavior, cooperation, hope, mutual support, and inner determination from the surface of the survivor ordeal, we find beneath a raw and quivering anatomy of human existence resembling no society ever encountered before." The situation of the victim can best be described as one of "choiceless choices where crucial decisions did not reflect the options between life and death but between one form of abnormal response and another, both imposed by a situation that was in no way of the victim's own choosing." Only by understanding the distance between that world and our world can we presume to enter the world of the Holocaust.
who is competent to judge this behavior?
One issue that has been hotly debated between survivors of the camps and those who were not inside, whether they be outside witnesses or researchers, has been the question of who is competent to describe and evaluate the behavior of the victims and their leaders. Many survivors have held the view that "no one who has not had any personal experience of a German concentration camp can possibly have the remotest conception of concentration camp life." Elie *Wiesel said: "Only those who were there will ever know." Primo Levi argued that if the lagers had lasted a little longer they would have developed a language of their own. Ordinary language of ordinary people living through ordinary experiences cannot describe what it was like to be there. Philosopher John Roth suggested an ethical principle: "handle with care," with modesty and humility.
Little does the outsider know of the hard fight for existence that raged among prisoners. Admittedly, survivors have the advantage of the immediate personal experience of a world that is very different from ours, a phenomenon not easily imaginable. But acceptance of this claim at face value would mean that with the last survivor gone, research and evaluation of such behavior would also come to an end. And when Wiesel said, "And those who were there can never tell," he is urging the nonsurvivor to back away, dismissing every attempt to understand.
Survivor testimony, however important, is not unimpeachable. Some generalize on the basis of brief experience in a camp or in a ghetto to arrive at conclusions of broader applications. On the other hand, it is not beyond the capacities of a conscientious witness to learn and seek to comprehend and arm himself with Einfuehlungsvermoegen, which is the proper meaning of the Talmudic saying, "Judge not thy neighbor until thou art come into his place," as formulated in modern terms by Viktor Frankl: "No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same."
Any attempt to apply to the victims of the Holocaust or of comparable extreme situations the standards of behavior of a civilized society must fall short. "Standards of normal society did not obtain in the ghettos and concentration camps. Theft, egotism, lack of consideration for others, disregarding all laws, all this was prohibited in pre-concentration camp days; inside the concentration camp, however, it was normal, indeed essential for survival." In these conditions, "there was neither the time nor the desire to consider moral issues." As Primo Levi put it: "Survival without renunciation of any part of one's moral world – apart from powerful and direct interventions by fortune – was conceded only to very few superior individuals, made of the stuff of martyrs and saints." And saints died far more often than they survived.
Most prisoners were concerned with survival. The admitted purpose of the Nazis in regard to the Jewish victim – as long as he was alive – was to reduce the homo sapiens to the category of a primitive creature with steadily decreasing needs, finally reduced to craving for food: "two hundred grams of bread ruled over life" (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, about the Gulag); "general preoccupation with food" (Frankl); "I am hungry, I am cold; when I grow up I want to be a German, and then I shall no longer be hungry, and no longer be cold" (diary of a child in the Warsaw ghetto). In an early and now virtually entirely disregarded treatment of the camps, the famed psychologist Bruno *Bettelheim, who himself was a prisoner before the war, before the killing began, wrote of the infantilization of the Jews as if the structure of their situation were not essential to what they experienced.
Dehumanization was essential to the Nazi universe. When the commandant of Treblinka was asked why he bothered to dehumanize the Jews even though he was going to kill them, he answered: "Because it made it easier somehow." And dehumanization was structural. The literary scholar Terrence Des Pres termed Nazi action an "excremental assault," the attempt to drown the Jews in their own filth. And the architectural historian Robert Jan Van Pelt has shown that such excremental assault was structured into the camp, into the very design of the latrines, which imposed a biological catastrophe on the victims.
Concentration on material relating to the behavior of Jews alone is insufficient for any valid judgment. Some contemporary phenomena with a degree of comparability offer significant insights into the psychology of terrorized men, for example the behavior of political opponents in Nazi Germany and in the U.S.S.R., of Soviet and German prisoners of war during World War ii, of detainees in Stalinist camps, and of defendants and onlookers in the 1936–37 Moscow trials.
The behavior of the masses will be discussed under the following headings: the invasions; deportations inside German-annexed Poland before the German-Soviet war; isolation ghettos, labor camps and squads (inside and outside the ghettos); collection of deportees and deportation to the death camps; behavior in death camps.
behavior during invasion
The inevitable concomitant of war is the flight of refugees from the area of hostilities. In addition to non-Jews, more than 300,000 Jews from Poland fled, in the face of a catastrophic military defeat and of the total collapse of state and government, to the eastern, non-Nazi-occupied Polish territories, which were controlled by Soviet troops on Sept. 17, 1939, and further east; to the Vilna region (temporarily occupied by the Soviets, later transferred to Lithuania); to the southern part of Lithuania; and to Romania and Hungary. They fled despite the lessons of history: the experience of more than a century taught Jews that safety was in the movement westward, not eastward. The Germans had been comparatively well behaved during World War i. Yet Jews, only one in ten in the Polish population, formed the majority of Polish refugees everywhere but in Romania and Hungary. This movement came to a halt when all powers involved sealed off their borders. In the west, no significant flights were reported during the period of the "phony war" between the declaration of war by France and Britain in September 1939 and the German invasion of France in May 1940.
The situation changed with the invasion, when non-Jews and Jews from France, Belgium, and, to a lesser degree, from the Netherlands used all available roads and vehicles to escape the invading armies. After the beginning of German-Soviet hostilities (in 1941), no such spontaneous movement of Jews was reported from the U.S.S.R., because of the suddenness of the invasion and the psychological unpreparedness of the Jewish population, and also because the Soviet press had been completely silent concerning Nazi persecution of Jews in Poland during the period of the Soviet alliance with Nazi Germany, from August 1939 to June 1941. Similarly, the suddenness of the invasion of Yugoslavia made any large movement of Jewish refugees practically impossible. On the other hand, Jews were among the beneficiaries of the government-sponsored evacuation of special categories of state and party officials and industry personnel.
behavior during the deportations inside poland, 1939–41
The division of the German-occupied part of Poland into the General Government and the areas annexed to the Reich had one dire consequence for some 100,000 Jews and 200,000 Poles of the areas of annexation. These territories were swiftly depolonized and dejudaized; there were mass deportations of Poles and Jews into the General Government territory. The evidence is that Poles and Jews alike, stunned by the debacle and utterly uncomprehending of the meaning of German deportation orders, met their fate without any external sign of resistance.
behavior of jews in isolation
The specificity of the Jewish behavior begins with the next stage of persecution, namely, isolation, which was carried out consistently in the east, partially in the south, and – if at all, in a different setting – in the west of Europe. No resistance was possible in the course of ghettoization, and in some respects ghettoization was even desirable as a sort of defense against bloody pogroms, both spontaneous and Nazi-incited. Jews on their own, separated from the general population, seemed safer, at least for a time. Work in labor camps, an important factor in the gradual physical emaciation of the masses, had one major advantage: Jews came into contact with non-Jews, thus enabling the Jews to trade personal belongings for food. Because of this possibility, ghetto Jews even volunteered for outside labor. The same phenomenon was observed in the Soviet prisoner-of-war camps in the occupied areas. Only a few cases of sabotage by Jewish forced laborers were recorded, but Jews were not overly productive in their work – they heeded the slogan "work slowly." As to the masses enclosed in the ghettos, their basic if not exclusive desire was to rescue themselves and their families; suffering and humiliation were the price that had to be paid for any faint hope of survival. Jews fought starvation and epidemics by making themselves useful as a skilled and unskilled labor force, creating new industries out of nothing, engaging in smuggling whenever it was possible.
For example, in the Warsaw ghetto, which had a Jewish population larger than that of all of continental Western Europe put together, and in other ghettos with lines of communications to the outside world, smuggling assumed gigantic proportions and flourished to the benefit of the inmates. As one diarist put it: "Perhaps, the day will come and the Jewish people will erect monuments to the unknown smugglers."
There are some records of spontaneous mass flights of Jews to the woods from the ghettos (after burning their houses), and of betrayals by the local population (e.g., at Tulczyn). But such an exodus depended on the existence of an escape route and the proximity of a forest. There are also known individual cases of disobedience to the orders of the Jewish councils (Judenraete) and the police (e.g., evasion of labor duty or the payment of fees for release from that duty, or of non-payment of taxes), and even physical resistance against certain actions of the Jewish police occurred in some ghettos. Hunger strikes and street demonstrations in the large, tightly controlled Lodz ghetto are recorded, prompted mostly by labor and food conditions.
There was no lack of channels for the masses to express their dissatisfaction with their fate. In the General Government, the "Jewish Social Self-Help" organization (financed by the American Jewish *Joint Distribution Committee), and in Warsaw the house committees, served this purpose. Political party ties and youth groups from prewar times served not only to maintain, as far as possible, close relations between like-minded persons, but were also a source of mutual help (e.g., party kitchens). The parties were also responsible for the widely distributed underground press, which provided an indispensable source of information. The ghetto dwellers established clandestine schools and prayer houses and tried to preserve records of their collective life.
Demoralization set in, with despair, disease, poverty, malnutrition, and death. The lowest depths of the first category were reached in Warsaw by a group of Jews on Dzika Street 13, called Di Draytsentl, who joined with the Gestapo to oppress their fellow Jews (some of them were killed by the resistance movement), or in the activities of the Salonika collaborators (some of whom were sentenced to death by Greek courts and executed). In Amsterdam and Berlin (but not on the Aryan side of Warsaw) the height of demoralization was reached when some Jews betrayed their fellow Jews in hiding to the Nazi authorities. They, too, were later to answer for their crimes before state courts.
behavior during collection of the deportees and deportation to the death camps
There was an immense difference between the situation in areas of Jewish confinement (ghettos and transit camps) and areas where the Jews were not concentrated in particular places. Having received a summons to appear for Arbeitseinsatz (code name for the deportation in the Netherlands), Jews in the latter still had some chance to escape deportation. While large numbers of those who received summonses showed up for deportation (prodded sometimes, in the case of the Netherlands, by members of the Jewish council, the Joodse Raad), others went into hiding with non-Jews, and a few refused to go into hiding as an act endangering non-Jews on the theory that Jews should not impose on non-Jews dangers intended for them alone. Opportunities for hiding depended on the degree to which gentiles were willing to accept Jews, and on the sanctions imposed by the Germans for such assistance. There was no certainty in this attempt to escape; betrayal of the "submerged" was a daily occurrence. Sanctions differed in the East and the West. In Poland the penalty for hiding a Jew was death.
Two distinguished writers have recorded instances of such behavior. A picture of Ukrainian peasants awaiting shipment to Germany for forced labor at a time when the local population was already well aware of conditions of life there is offered by Anatoly Kuznetsov (Babi Yar, 286–7):
I… tramped obediently into a yard behind one of the cottages. About fifteen peasants were there, old men and boys, some sitting on the mound around the cottage and others just on the ground. Their faces were passive, indifferent, empty of expression. Just to make sure, I asked a boy of my age, "Are they taking us to Germany?" "Uh-huh," he sniffled. "They are taking everybody." The raid was a quiet one. The soldiers went from cottage to cottage, hauling people out: the men came submissively, silently, just as I had come.… We were driven to a collective farm yard.… Our few guards were evidently so used to obedience from people that they did not come into the yard with us.… They [the peasants] were all gray and ragged, and they sat in silence, in a dull stupor.
The following is a striking description by the Polish writer Ferdynand Goetel (Czasy wojny, 112) of the behavior of the Jews in the small town of Zawichost, near Sandomierz:
In the summer of 1943, a Gestapo squad arrived in Zawichost, called in the Jewish leaders (starszyzna) and announced that in a few days the Jews would have to leave town. They should be ready to march and await the arrival of the escort. This happened at a time when Jews even in remote provinces had no illusions as to what was in store for them.… The whole [Jewish] population of the town was on the spot … looking at the road by which the German police was supposed to arrive.
The author asked his companion (a local landlord): "Do they know what is in store for them?" The companion: "Surely." The author: "Why do they not disperse, why do they not escape?" The companion: "Where? To what place can they escape?"
Most Jews were at a severe handicap. They could not blend into the local population. They could not pass as non-Jews and they could not depend on the local population to hide them or not to betray them. Some spoke the native language with difficulty or with an accent and even those who could "pass" were in constant danger that someone from their past would recognize them, in which case they might be betrayed or blackmailed, or that their own emotions would betray them. As for the deportations themselves, the people were locked in cattle cars with strong guards, not knowing their destination and suspicious of the "final objective," subjected to fraud and deception by the Nazis. They were told that they were to be "resettled in the East" and often they believed the deception. There were only individual cases of breaking out and jumping from the moving trains, with all the dangers of such a situation and the uncertainty of finding shelter with Polish or Ukrainian people.
For Polish Jews, the mass deportations came after 30 months of unspeakable suffering that had severely reduced their power to physically or psychologically resist. Some even turned themselves in for the promise of bread. The Nazis were skilled at deception, and a captive population often seizes on any idea that offers it hope lest it be completely demoralized by despair. Even in ordinary situations people often resist facing bad news. The helplessness of the deportees was due to the generally shared rejection of the very idea of total destruction of Jewish communities, the hopes that the deportees, at least the men and women fit for work, were being sent east to other camps or ghettos, and that the first selection would also be the last one. Perhaps the most striking proof of the strength of these illusions was an incident involving thousands of volunteers who crowded the Umschlagplatz (collection point) in Warsaw. The lack of an alternative (armed resistance in absence of weapons and difficulties of communication), fear of collective sanctions, and tenacious belief in Hitler's inevitable defeat, all created a sense of apathy. This analysis, borrowed from a thoughtful essay by the Polish-Jewish resistance fighter Adolf Berman, written in January 1943, is mutatis mutandis applicable to other areas as well.
No escape at all was possible for the Jews in the expanded U.S.S.R. and in Yugoslavia, where – unlike Poland and Western Europe – the process of murder started simultaneously with the invasion, at the hands of the Einsatzgruppen invested with unlimited authority to shoot hundreds of thousands of Jews and "communists." In the second wave of killings (mostly by shooting), the behavior of the masses in those areas was similar to that of the victims in the death camps in Poland. In the final wave of deportations (for example from Lithuania to Estonia), people were sent to labor camps.
jewish behavior in death camps
After the life in the ghettos and camps, after having lost the power of resistance under the constant Nazi terror, and often having also lost all or part of their families, nothing but blind obedience could have been expected of these prisoners when they were shipped to gas chambers disguised as showers. The calm that reigned among candidates for death impressed various witnesses, some of them seeing it as a characteristic of dignified death in view of the impossibility of living a dignified life. The Jewish Sonderkommandos ("special commandos") in the death camps were sometimes forced to perform the macabre job of accompanying the victims to the gas chambers and, after their death, disposing of the corpses, extracting gold teeth, cutting hair, etc. Their situation was paradoxical, perhaps compromised: as long as groups kept arriving, the "services" of these men were needed. When there was a lull in the killing, they would be killed, as they were the most dangerous eyewitnesses. In four death camps, when the killing was close to the end, the Sonderkommando rose up. There were uprisings in Auschwitz in October 1944, in Treblinka (Aug. 2, 1943), Sobibor (Oct. 14, 1943), and Chelmno (January 1945), at the cost of many Jewish lives as against the loss of only relatively few Nazi lives. But their significance is greater than the statistics of numbers killed.
Their reports of the Jews' final moments differ. One Sonderkommando from Auschwitz reported: "Children behaved like children looking for their parents' hand. Parents embraced their children. Children didn't know anything."
Shlomo Dragon, one of two brothers who worked as a Sonderkommando, said: "People called one another by name. Mothers called their children, children, their mothers and fathers. Sometimes we could hear Shema Yisrael" – the central credo of the Jewish religion, traditionally recited by Jews at the point of death: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One."
The lone Sonderkommando survivor from Belzec reports: "I heard the noise of sliding doors, moaning and screaming, desperate calls in Polish, Yiddish – blood-curdling screams. All that lasted fifteen minutes. Screams of children, women and finally one common continuous horrible scream. All that lasted fifteen minutes. The machine ran for twenty minutes and after twenty minutes there was silence."
How did they deal with their own situations? They became numb. Interviewed over time and in many places, Sonderkommandos spoke of themselves as automatons, machines, not people. Feelings were shut down. They had to be.
Inmates describe one unique type of person in the camp, the *musselman, the walking dead. No one described him more emphatically than Primo Levi at the beginning of his account of life in Auschwitz, If This Be a Man (U.S. title Survivalin Auschwitz): "An emaciated man, with head drooped and shoulders curved, on whose face and in whose eyes not a trace of thought is to be seen." Levi cautions: "Whoever does not know how to become an 'Organisator,' 'Kominator,' 'Prominent,' soon becomes like a musselman. In life a third way exists, and is in fact the rule; it does not exist in the camps."
Inmates shunned the musselmen; they needed all their strength to keep themselves together, to keep from falling into such despair.
In the daily dilemma of the conflict between the instinctive will to remain alive at all cost and the faint hope of maintaining at least a certain amount of "God's image," the condemned Jews in the death camps reached the depth of human degradation. In terms of numbers and ultimate fate, the recaptured Soviet prisoners of war who were imprisoned by their own country as "deserters" for refusing to fight unto the death came closest to the Jews, with two significant differences: they were young and mostly single and thus spared the fate of having to witness the agony of their loved ones; and they were military men trained in the use of arms and indoctrinated with Soviet and Russian patriotism. Like the Jews, who were not protected by any international convention, these prisoners were also unprotected, since their government considered all of them deserters and did not invoke the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War.
Here are a few Dante-esque scenes of their behavior:
The exhausted comrades were considered by the less exhausted ones as living corpses, and some of the stronger prisoners watched the dying and upon their death stripped them naked, sometimes even before they gasped their last breath. Despite cruel punishment meted out to marauders by their own comrades, these crimes continued, since in the climate of total demoralization punishment did not work. Groups of marauders – each with their own sphere of influence – acted collectively and with exclusive claim to the "property" of their victims. Another phenomenon in these camps was cannibalism. Corpses were found in the morning with hearts, livers, and large pieces from their insides cut out. The cannibals, if caught, were delivered to the Germans for death by shooting. And still it went on.
Under the circumstances, the Jewish masses could not and did not – as a rule – revolt. No significant acts of sabotage or other forms of resistance have been recorded for their part by prisoners of war (both those internationally protected by the Geneva Convention and remaining mostly in camps in their home countries and – a fortiori – unprotected Soviet prisoners of war), or the millions of European workers (on Sept. 30, 1944, some 7.5 million) situated in the heart of Germany, many of them enjoying wide freedom of movement and other privileges, or by non-Jewish prisoners of concentration camps (prior to 1945).
Behavior of Jewish Officials
jewish councils (judenraete)
The personal integrity of the members of the Joodse Raad in Amsterdam or the Reichsvereinigung in Berlin or of Elchanan Elkes in Kovno was never questioned, in contrast to that of members of councils in Poland. Individual cases of misconduct (e.g., extorting money from victims for better quarters) have been recorded. The political acumen of the average members in the daily conflict with the Machiavellian Nazis was not less than that of a Chamberlain or Daladier, but not sufficient to avert disaster, which visited the Jews no matter what they did. The sense of responsibility of members accepting the office is beyond question. A few examples out of many: Adam *Czerniakow (Warsaw) was offered an immigration certificate for Palestine, but he refused to leave the community and eventually committed suicide. David Cohen (Amsterdam) received a visa to Switzerland but refused to leave. Julius Seligsohn (Berlin) returned from the U.S. to help in the Reichsvertretung and subsequently died in the concentration camp in Oranienburg.
A critical test of the behavior of councils called upon to participate in the deportation to the death camps came at atime when the destination of the deportees became known. The question for the historian is the following: Why did they not refuse to take the German orders when it was clear that they were becoming what may loosely be called accomplices of the Nazis? Hope (sometimes fulfilled) for exemption from deportation of the council member and his family and friends was built into the four reasons that predominate in the contemporary literature:
(1) The Nazi terror against the recalcitrant members of the councils and their families and expected reprisals against the community for their acts and omissions.
(2) The danger of refusal to cooperate would lead to the appointment of a new unscrupulous member (the principle of negative selection).
(3) The theory that alternatively no other person would be appointed to the Jewish council and the Germans would do the job themselves, with much more cruelty.
(4) The hope that as long as selection remained in the hands of the Jewish leaders the best elements of the community might be preserved for its future rehabilitation.
This type of "cooperation" imposed by the Gestapo on the Berlin Jewish community in the process of "resettlement" was different. Under threats that otherwise the "ss and sa would do it alone," members of the Gemeindevorstand in Berlin were ordered to put at the disposal of the Gestapo its "register" of Berlin Jews. After a heated debate, the Vorstand and the Reichsvereinigung agreed to cooperate "in the hope that they would be able to do as much as possible in the interests of the affected persons."
A special problem arose in cases in which councils, knowing the impending disaster, failed to share this knowledge with the people. Their behavior has been a subject of controversy. In places where nothing could have been done to change the course of events, some members considered it advisable not to let victims know the truth in order to spare them the agony and ultimate desperation that comes from knowing that the end is near and there is no way out. This was the policy followed, according to some reports, by Leo *Baeck in Theresienstadt when he saw that there was no possibility of escape. On the other hand, such behavior provoked the charge that information essential to their decision making, however narrow the options, was withheld from the victims. In the most extreme cases there were charges of collaboration with the Nazis, who, too, tried to keep the destination of the victims secret, but such charges are exaggerated. Jewish leadership did not want the captive Jews killed; their goal of survival was inimical to the Nazi goal of the Final Solution.
The individual behavior of council members varied: some participated in the deportations; others refused, knowing full well that they were "personally responsible for carrying out orders" and the penalty would be death. Their one option was suicide.
Fear of Nazi mass vengeance – collective and disproportionate reprisal – also was a factor in leading many council members to oppose resistance and flights from the ghettos to join the partisans, while others tolerated or even encouraged such flights, and some were prepared to assume leadership for armed resistance or organized mass flights when, in their view, the proper moment came.
Canons of behavior in these extreme cases were formulated post factum by the Israel legislature and put to the test in Israel courts. Under the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law 5710 – 1950, "the delivery of a persecuted person to an enemy administration" was declared a punishable crime (Art. 5 of the Law). The article covers all forms of participation in selection and deportation of Jews. The same law established two criteria for the release of a person from criminal responsibility:
(1) if he did or omitted to do the act in order to save himself from the danger of immediate death threatening him and the court is satisfied that he did his best to avert the consequences of the act or omission, or
(2) if he did or omitted to do the act with intent to avert consequences more serious than those which resulted from the act or omission, and actually averted them.
In the light of these canons, the Israel courts were faced, among other things, with the following problems:
(1) Are the criteria for legal evaluation of the acts of the Jewish participants in the deportation to be borrowed from normal codes of behavior in normal times or are they to be established while bearing in mind the particular nature of the Nazi period and its effects on the nature of an ordinary simple human being?
(2) Is the nonresignation of a Jewish participant in deportation who had known the purpose of that deportation reprehensible?
(3) Is the forced delivery of a minority of victims to the Nazis justified when it can be proven that in such a case the immediate deportation of the majority was prevented? In other words, does such an act fall under the clause of "averting more serious consequences"?
(4) Is the care for the Jewish participant's family and the threat to him and his family ground for releasing him from responsibility for this participation? It is difficult to say whether the Israel legislature's canons might have helped men of conscience to determine their decisions, had these canons been in effect in the ghettos.
From a traditionalist point of view, there was, however, the Code of Maimonides (Yad, Hilkhot Yesodot ha-Torah, 5:5) under which "…if pagans should tell them [the Jews] 'give us one of yours and we shall kill him, otherwise we shall kill all of you,' they all should be killed and not a single Jewish soul should be delivered." But if the victim is specified, he may be handed over. The principle is that Jews may not themselves be killers. In actual practice, the interpretations given to this Code of Maimonides by rabbinical authorities during the Shoah were contradictory. Thus the rabbi of Kovno, Abraham Duber Cahana Shapiro, ruled that "if a Jewish community… has been condemned to physical destruction, and there are means of rescuing part of it, the leaders of the community should have courage and assume the responsibility to act and rescue what is possible." In contrast, the Vilna rabbinate, replying to the argument of the head of the Judenrat that "by participating in the selections and delivering a small number of Jews, he is rescuing the rest from death," took the strict view of Maimonides. Their advice to the Judenrat chairman, Jacob Gens, was ignored. Rabbi Isaac Nissenbaum of the Warsaw ghetto pushed for a new form of "sanctification," not traditional martyrdom, "kiddush ha-Shem," but survival as a form of defiance "kiddush ha-Ḥayyim." The secular sector argued that the Code of Maimonides was incomplete guidance for unprecedented circumstances.
As in the case of Jewish councils, the behavior of the Jewish police, who were employed by the Jewish Councils to keep order in the ghetto and who in some cases participated in the deportation of Jews, does not lend itself to easy generalization. In their conflicting duties toward the non-Jewish commandants, the Jewish councils, the Nazi authorities, and their own community, there were considerable differences between large cities and small towns, where the relations of the police and the local Jews were close, as well as differences between local policemen and those recruited from among the refugees. In cases where converts from Judaism were chosen as policemen, their outsider status and distance from the Jewish population caused additional problems. The functions imposed on the Jewish police were, to say the least, distasteful: enforcement of obligatory labor duty and all this implied, in conditions where the evasion of one laborer was bought at the price of recruiting another one; collection of taxes and "contributions"; confiscations of Jewish property; combating smuggling (but also practicing it); participation in collecting deportees (mostly only in the first wave, a task later taken over entirely by the Germans), ranging from active search for hidden victims and their brutal treatment, particularly in the presence of Germans, through apathetic compliance with orders, to clandestine help for the victims, and even refusal to participate in the "hunt." The policemen and their families were promised exemption from resettlement in return for participation in the collections and were threatened with reprisals for noncompliance. Naturally, the promises were not kept. After each "action," the cadres of police were reduced and the policemen and their families were also deported. Incidentally, there were differences of opinion among Jewish observers about whether participation of the Jewish police in the actions was not preferable to exclusive German participation.
The majority of Jewish police in areas with no partisans opposed resistance. This policy was not unpopular among the masses who, fearing Nazi mass reprisal, likewise opposed resistance, while in the eastern (Polish-Soviet) areas cases of cooperation with and assistance to résistants were rather frequent.
Perhaps the two extremes of the behavior of the Jewish policemen are epitomized in the ghettos of Warsaw and Kovno. The facts known about Warsaw (where, incidentally, a number of suicides and the evidence of an opposition group among policemen are recorded) differ in two respects from those in Kovno: police in the latter participated only perfunctorily in the collection of deportees while the former – with some exceptions – readily participated; and the Kovno police were in close contact with the résistants while no such contact is known in Warsaw (again with a few exceptions). The functions of Jewish supervisors in labor camps and kapos in concentration camps were essentially police functions and offered opportunities for supervisors to abuse and mistreat their charges. Some used their role to assist Jews; others let their power go to their head and behaved brutally; some did both.
The Soviet police in German prisoner-of-war camps combined, so to say, the functions of the councils and the police. It consisted of healthy, strong, and amoral prisoners. These men – with very few exceptions – knew no pity or compassion for their own comrades. They would beat up prisoners with impunity and frequently flog them to death. The black market of products "imported" to the camp was in their hands. They were the absolute masters of the camps.
Behavior of the Active Elite
In Poland, in both the German- and Soviet-occupied or annexed areas, the active elite consisted of representatives of party-affiliated and unaffiliated youth movements of various shades of opinion. It took some time for them to unite in a common cause; these groups were ideologically opposed to each other, and had to overcome the reasoning of the older generation to create contacts with the Polish underground, acquire arms from them, and use their channels of communication. These were exclusive groups, reluctant to receive new members for reasons of security and because there were not enough arms to go around.
The motives for integrated Jewish participation in the resistance in Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, Italy (where Jews had had previous contacts with left-wing anti-Fascist movements), France, and Slovakia (in the revolt of 1944) were both patriotic and subconsciously Jewish.
In particular, in the Maquis (the term for French resistance fighters) the Jews were welcome as French patriots, enemies of the Nazis, and victims of the German occupation regime. The Jewishness of a candidate was a guarantee of his devotion to the cause. He was more reliable than the average Frenchman from a security viewpoint. No wonder the Jewish role in the movement was out of all proportion to the percentage of Jewish population in France. The Éclaireurs Israélites de France was a small but an effective – avowedly Jewish – group of résistants. This was not the situation in the East. Whether ghetto fighters or partisans in the woods, the Jews were guided by unequivocally Jewish motives – rescue of national honor, "a few lines in history books." More sober – but again Jewish – was the motivation of Palestinian Jewish parachutists.
Physical Resistance and Flight
The behavior of the active resistance groups in the conditions sketched above manifested itself in various ways. With the exception of the Netherlands, where physical resistance – an act of sabotage – occurred early (January–February 1941) and was paid for with 400 Jewish lives (the people were seized at random by the Nazis and shipped to Mauthausen via Buchenwald where all but one perished within a few months), there was no organized armed resistance in the early years of the war. Revolts in Eastern Europe started in major ghettos at the beginning of 1943, at the time the majority of the Jewish population had already been destroyed, but significantly, at a time when France did not yet have its own Maquis and Tito's Partisans had not yet become a serious factor. The Warsaw ghetto revolt of April 1943 was the first direct confrontation of local forces with the Nazis. From the viewpoint of rescue, this and the following revolts were of little value (except for those few fighters who survived the unequal fight). The price was high, the influence of the uprising on the Nazis (who sped up the process of destruction) was inconsiderable, but the moral purpose – to demonstrate and affirm Jewish honor – was achieved.
flight from the ghettos to join partisans
The flights from Polish and Soviet ghettos were of practical rescue value in areas where partisan bands were active (woods and marshes), although the partisans were largely hostile to the Jews (Soviet partisans were more hospitable than Polish, but not always), as was the local population, which was the main source of food supply for the groups. The conditions for a Jewish partisan movement were most unfavorable; it could receive no help from a Jewish state or a Jewish army; it had no arms, and the few it could acquire were obtained with difficulties and at great sacrifice. No concerted action by the ghettos was possible, or even by Jews not confined in ghettos, given their isolation from the non-Jewish population. A Jewish partisan in a generally hostile environment had no outside help, no supply of food, no mobility. Despite these agonies, the Jewish partisans gave a good account of themselves and a far from negligible number of them survived.
flight of zionist youth
A particular form of defiant behavior toward the Nazi and pro-Nazi authorities was that of He-Ḥalutz and other Zionist youth groups: escape to Palestine. Their escape was not merely personal, but communal and ideological; they intended to join the efforts to build a state. Those who chose to do this had to traverse dangerous routes, whether they came from the West as, for example, from the Netherlands, or from Eastern countries like Poland, and had to make their way via the Carpathian mountains, Slovakia, Hungary, or Romania, and the Black Sea.
flight from the concentration camps
Finally, there was the successful flight of 76 Jewish prisoners (out of a total of 667 who made the attempt) from concentration campsto bring the world the news of the annihilation of their people. The risks were enormous. That a deaf ear was turned to their message reflects on the kind of world they had to appeal to.
Behavior of Jews in Allied Armies
No analysis of Jewish behavior or the "Jewishness" of certain types of behavior would be complete without a look at the behavior of the Jews in the Allied forces. From all the accounts, one conclusion emerges: not only did they do their duty, like their fellow citizens, but also they often excelled in acts of heroism because of their complete identification with the purposes of the anti-Nazi coalition, emotionally strengthened by the conviction that they were fighting for their countries and for their people too. Jews from Germany who had emigrated to Allied countries went back in uniform to fight the war. Some were chosen for special intelligence units, where their knowledge of the enemy and/or language proved valuable. They volunteered for dangerous missions. They demonstrated courage. This is true for all Allied armies and in particular for the Soviet Army, where the Jews distinguished themselves in the number and grade of decorations they were awarded. In addition, they were instrumental in the creation of national divisions in the Red Army, e.g., Lithuanian, Latvian, and Czechoslovak, constituting the majority of the volunteers there.
In the Netherlands, a Jewish court of honor tried members of the Joodse Raad and condemned them on several counts, including acceptance of membership in the council. Neither the Courts of Honor in the Displaced Persons (dp) camps, nor later Israeli law and practice, considered membership in Jewish councils or police reprehensible per se. The Joodse Raad members were further condemned for publishing the Joodse Weekblad, which had become a mouthpiece for the Germans, and for participating in the selection and transportation of the Jews to the East, but not for shipping them knowingly to their death. In Warsaw, members of the pre-Soviet invasion Jewish Council (deeply involved in anti-Nazi activities) who had fled abroad were considered by people like Czerniakow to be deserters.
In the dp camps, courts of honor and rehabilitation commissions were active for a number of years. They were connected with the central and local organizations of dps in Germany and Italy. The functions of these institutions were complementary: while the courts considered alleged misdeeds and judged the defendants, the rehabilitation commissions, acting at the request of individuals who felt themselves unjustifiably maligned, investigated and ruled on their appeals. In both cases the basic approach was to find whether the persons concerned deserved a place in the postwar Jewish community. Persons found guilty were disqualified from participation in the new Jewish organizations, either permanently or for a number of years. In addition, they were denied dp benefits (material assistance, help in emigration) and, in particular cases, were even excommunicated. The number of trials of council members was minimal (as was their presence among the survivors); most of the trials were against ghetto policemen and kapos (prisoner supervisors or prisoner-functionaries in the camps). Some trials were also conducted in Poland and in some countries of resettlement, including Israel, where they were based on law and were conducted in the state courts.
The following conclusions emerge:
a) While participation in the Jewish councils was largely determined by a long tradition of communal responsibility, their members and those of the Jewish police were in the last stages faced with demands never made by the Nazis on other institutions created and used by them as instruments of local control. This general survey has discussed the effect of their participation on the final outcome of the Nazi policy of extermination. The morality of individual behavior and conscience has to be considered in context in each case.
b) In two aspects the behavior of the active elite was undoubtedly superior in spirit and objectives: (1) the conscious and deliberate element of self-sacrifice to save the honor of the Jewish people; (2) the quality of the Jewish share in the war on the side of the Allied powers.
c) The behavior of the Jewish masses in the various stages of the Holocaust is in a general way what could have been expected from any group having to face all-pervading terror by the overwhelming power of a ruthless enemy like the Nazi machine. In two respects it was, perhaps, above expectations. First, the instinctive will to live (in the ghettos where families were not separated) developed resourcefulness and inventiveness in combating famine and oppression hardly found elsewhere in comparable situations. Second, in spite of continuous terror and the bestiality of the persecutors, depersonalization only rarely reached the lowest level of animalization.
d) The behavior of the Jewish masses was not a result of inherited or "racial" traits, as some critics have contended, but was the product of Nazi terror unprecedented both in its objectives and methods.
[Jacob Robinson /
Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)
Spiritual Resistance in the Ghettos and Concentration Camps
There were two types of resistance, armed resistance and unarmed resistance, called by many scholars of the Holocaust spiritual resistance. The term spiritual resistance is employed here in an all-inclusive sense. Rabbi Issac Nissenbaum of the Warsaw ghetto stated, "This is the time of the Sanctification of Life, and not of the Sanctification of the Lord's Name in death. In the past the enemies were after our souls, and Jews sacrificed their bodies in the Sanctification of the Lord's Name. Now the foe is after the body of the Jew, and the Jew is obligated to protect it, to keep himself alive." Rabbi Nissenbaum's distinction is all-important. Traditional martyrdom, kiddush ha-Shem, entailed a willingness to die for one's belief, to sanctify God's name. To defy the Nazis, who were determined to implement the "Final Solution to the Jewish Problem," Jews had to live. Ghetto inhabitants used a less theologically loaded, simpler but nevertheless powerful term, iberleben, to outlive, to survive. The preservation of the Jewish human image was the meaning of the spiritual resistance, which throughout the entire period of the Holocaust embraced most areas of life, and it was not confined to a small group. Even after active armed resistance had developed and involved a minority in many places, it was nevertheless passive resistance, spiritual resistance, that was embraced by Jews as a whole. This involved a number of factors. Jewish tradition was studied for lessons in the ways of spiritual defiance, how to endure despite oppression. Moreover, the situation in which the Jews found themselves on the outbreak of the war afforded hardly any possibility of armed resistance. The German doctrine of collective responsibility and disproportionate reprisal against acts of resistance meant that innocent fellow Jews would likely be killed. Armed resistance was most often a last resort, when death was already certain and imminent. Before that revelation dawned, there were many other means of defiance.
Yet, even later, as understanding of the situation slowly developed, when the only clear alternatives were armed resistance, which meant certain and immediate death, and attempts to gain time in the hope of staying alive, surviving and lasting out the war, it was only natural that the majority would choose the latter. Only a small minority of idealistic youth, usually those without responsibilities for young children or elderly parents, join an armed resistance. Spiritual resistance, in contrast to armed rebellion, was the only choice of the individual as much as it was the heritage of the group. From the many testimonies available, it emerges that the vast majority of the Jewish population in the ghettos and camps responded with a form of spiritual resistance.
Encompassing most areas of life, spiritual resistance comprised education and religion, underground publications, self-help kitchens, humor, cultural creativity, and efforts to create a historical record.
Education serves as an outstanding example of the Jews' attempt to preserve their humanity generally and the special Jewish ethos in particular.
In Germany, when Jews were expelled from the public schools, they created their own schools. When they could no longer perform in theaters or concert halls, Jewish community institutions, even synagogues, became forums for Jewish performers. This process also occurred in the ghettos of Eastern Europe. For a considerable period, in all the ghettos, systems of education were maintained either quasi-legally or clandestinely. Besides elementary schools, which were permitted, there were in the Warsaw ghetto, for example, two underground gymnasia or high schools (secondary education was permitted only in *Vilna and *Lodz); and advanced studies: a faculty of medicine and a pedagogical institute in which Jewish and non-Jewish subjects were taught. In Theresienstadt, all children were taught in a technical school-level program, with the addition of Jewish studies, despite the fact that the Germans prohibited teaching. Art was taught by Frei da Dicker Brandeis as a form of self-expression and also as therapy and documentation. In the Kovno ghetto, there were two schools and a vocational ort school. In the Piotrkow ghetto, there were a clandestine school and gymnasium. In the transit camp at Westerbork, the Netherlands, classes were organized for the children. A children's opera was produced and performed at Theresienstadt.
Normally, education constitutes preparation for the future, but in this instance there was little hope for the future. The various forms of instruction constituted proof of the desperate desire to maintain basic, elementary subsistence, but also general human and Jewish spiritual values. In the ghetto, it also represented the commitment to live with such values for as long as it was possible to live. With this aim in view, special emphasis was placed on Jewish studies, including Hebrew, Bible, and history, in the clandestine and quasi-clandestine schools. This curriculum gave a sense of meaning to the identity that was being assaulted by those outside the ghetto. In the elementary and secondary schools, traditional Jewish holidays and national events such as Hanukkah, Purim, and Tel-Hai Day were celebrated when their meaning had special application to the current situation. Students gave performances of readings from Yiddish and Hebrew authors, such as Ḥayyim Naḥman *Bialik, Mendele Mokher *Seforim and Y.L. *Peretz. Certain festivals, like Purim, took on new meaning, as, for instance, the new light in which the wicked Haman could be seen.
Mobile libraries continued to function clandestinely, with those in charge also organizing literary evenings on Jewish literature. The lending library at Theresienstadt had 65,000 books, and because it was a gathering place for the elite of central European Jews, its cultural creativity was extraordinary. Operas and plays were performed, and Rabbi Leo Baeck lectured on Jewish philosophy.
Ghetto humor was sardonic and defiant. Among the documents found in the archives of the Warsaw ghetto was the following story:
A police officer comes into a Jewish home and wants to confiscate the possessions. The woman cries, pleading that she is a widow and has a child to support. The officer agrees not to take the things, on one condition – that she guess which of his eyes is the artificial one.
"The left one," the woman guesses.
"How did you know?"
"Because that one has the human look."
Shimon Huberband collected the folklore of the ghetto, which used humor to defend against chaos and fight despair. "A teacher asks his pupil, 'Tell me Moyshe, what would you like to be if you were Hitler's son?' 'An orphan,' the pupil answers."
The Jews also used humor to describe their own situation. On life in the ghetto: "We eat as if it were Yom Kippur [the Day of Atonement, a day of fasting], sleep in sukkas [a temporary hut open to the sky without a roof] and dress as if it were Purim [when outlandish customs are the rule of the day]." Humor is always a tool of the oppressed to deal with their oppression.
Throughout the period the youth movements operated quite intensively clandestinely, not only in the East, in Poland, but in the West, including Germany. The most active among them were the Zionist movements, whose members later formed the nucleus of the armed rebellion. Before 1942, however, when the operations for total annihilation began, it was the ideology of the movement that was accepted by most of the public: affirmation of life, maintenance of physical existence, and Jewish pride. The youth movements founded schools and a gymnasium (Dror in the Warsaw ghetto) and there were secret study groups in the club. Libraries were organized; an underground publishing division of Dror published Y. Katznelson's play Job and also translated poems of Bialik, plays, and articles. The youth movements held clandestine seminars to prepare leaders and organized such cultural activities as songfests, choirs, readings, and Bible gatherings. An important function was fulfilled by the movements' liaison officers, who established contact with the ghettos and sent messages that helped fight the isolation imposed upon the Jews.
The youth movements were geared to a different time – the future – and to a different place – Erez Israel. They did not deny the reality of their situation, but rather formed a spot of light that illuminated vision, Jewish pride, and strong conviction in the great darkness.
The newspapers of the underground (in which the youth movements played a large part as well) were also instituted to counteract the feeling of helplessness and despair among the Jews, and at the same time attempted to persuade them that Germany would eventually suffer defeat. In the Warsaw ghetto for example, some fifty underground newspapers and journals were published, including those of various political parties and factions, and there was an illegal youth press as well. Publications in Polish, Hebrew, and Yiddish made their way to other ghettos, to the provinces, and even to closed camps, despite the dangers involved. They included works by poets and authors and they spread the idea of active resistance and armed rebellion. A large number of the underground ghetto papers were rescued and are housed in the Yad Vashem Archives.
One of the most inspiring facets of Jewish public life was the maintenance of religious life in the ghettos and camps, even in the extermination camps. In the underground, in hidden bunkers, there were ḥadarim and talmudei torah and places where yeshivah students studied. There is ample evidence of organized public worship, kindling of Hanukkah candles, wearing of ẓiẓit (in the Kovno ghetto), and even observing kashrut in the camps. The Sefer She'elot u-Teshu vot mi-Ma'amakim by Rabbi E. Oshry of the Kovno ghetto includes responsa from the Holocaust period and bears remarkable witness to the depth and devotion of this religious life. In the very time of expulsions and fear, religious Jews addressed questions to the rabbis about how to conduct themselves according to the halakhah in their terrible situation. No statistics are available for Jews who observed the commandments in the ghettos or camps, but there is sufficient documentation, including responsa. Works like Esh Kodesh of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the admor (a Hebrew acronym used by Hasidim, meaning "our master, our teacher, our rabbi") of Piaseczno, which includes the Sabbath and holiday sermons he delivered in the Warsaw ghetto, make it clear that religion provided a moving demonstration of spiritual resistance, of the elevation of the human spirit in the face of an enemy who in addition to physical extermination sought to deprive the Jews of their humanity. For observant Jews, at least, it allowed their lives of suffering and their deaths to retain some meaning.
Along with the religious, a cultural life was also maintained. Ghettos established theaters in which numerous performances were given on subjects relating to topical issues. In the Vilna ghetto, the theater presented The Eternal Jew by D. *Pinski. A Yiddish theater in 1942 gave 120 performances attended by 38,000 people, and there were similar theaters in Lodz and Warsaw. In the winter of 1941, the Brit Ivrit (Hebrew Union) was founded in the Vilna ghetto, and it organized gatherings and parties for the Jewish holidays. There was also a symphony orchestra and a choir. In March 1943, an exhibition of the works of the ghetto artists, painters and sculptors was held. In the Theresienstadt ghetto, varied artistic and cultural activities took place. Musicians performed, inter alia, Verdi's Requiem. An opera, The Emperor from Atlantis, the text of which has survived, was composed by V. *Ullman but never performed. By chance a number of intellectuals and writers were held in several camps in Estonia and they set the tone of the cultural atmosphere there. They included the writers H. Krook in Klooga, Z.H. *Kalmanovich in Narva and the poet H. *Glick, as well as teachers, ḥazzanim, composers, and conductors, and they organized diverse cultural evenings. In camps in southwest France, there were Oneg Shabbat parties ("Sabbath Delight," the name for the traditional celebratory Friday night gatherings) and Hebrew lessons.
A primary motivating force behind all this intense activity, in addition to the desire for spiritual meaning, was a desperate urge to document what was happening. It was an expression of a constant theme throughout Jewish history: "And thou shalt tell thy son"; "Remember that which Amalek did to thee"; but during the Holocaust period it took on a new dimension. In the face of the Germans' vile intention to leave no remnant or memory of European Jewry, the Jews felt the need to place on record all that was happening and to make it available to future generations.
Pictorial art that survived the war (probably only a small portion of the total), made in the ghettos and camps under impossible conditions, provides an impressive documentation of daily life: the fear, the hunger, death. The story of Theresienstadt is unique. The artists there worked officially for the Nazis, but clandestinely recorded what was happening to them. Their hidden works were recovered after the war and some are now in Yad Vashem. Some can also be found at the Auschwitz State Museum and in Theresienstadt. They cover every aspect of Holocaust existence – a transport arriving at the ghetto, the distribution of food, a funeral in the ghetto, hunger, death.
A unique documentarian was Mendel Grossman, a photographer from the Lodz ghetto who, ignoring danger to himself, immortalized with his camera all that transpired in the camps, taking 10,000 pictures during four and a half years. Grossman himself did not survive, but his photographs did, although a large proportion of them were lost in Israel during the War of Independence. Hirsh Kadushin, an engineer by training, became the photographic chronicler of the Kovno ghetto. He began his work after a dying neighbor drew a message on the ground with his blood: "Yiddin Nekama!" ("Jews Revenge!"). Kadushin felt that he had been summoned. "I don't have a gun," he said. "The murderers are gone. My camera will be my revenge." He built a small camera, carried it under his clothing and managed to photograph every aspect of ghetto life. He worked in a hospital where a nurse bartered film. As the ghetto was being destroyed, Kadushin buried his photographs. He retrieved them after the war and has given them to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to stand as a permanent record of life and death in the Kovno ghetto.
Literary activity was equally notable, as professional authors and those who felt the need to write for the first time recorded their experiences and impressions of life in the ghetto. The approximately one hundred diaries in the Yad Vashem archives, as well as other material, attest to the strength of that urge. Among the most famous are the diary of Adam Czerniakow, the head of the community and of the Judenrat in Warsaw, covering the period from September 6, 1939 to July 23, 1942; those of Chaim *Kaplan of the Warsaw ghetto, Z.H. *Kalmanovich of the Vilna ghetto, and H. Krook of Vilna-Klooga, who recorded the testimonies of life in the various camps as related to him by those who arrived at Klooga from elsewhere; those of Mordecai *Tenenbaum from the Bialystok ghetto, and Justina Davidson-Darnger of Krakow.
The clandestine archives constitute the peak of this determination to document. The largest was that established and directed in the Warsaw ghetto by Dr. Emmanuel *Ringelblum, a journalist and historian, in October 1939 under the code name of "Oneg Shabbat"; the archive was maintained until the ghetto's destruction. Its materials were buried in milk cans and metal containers and found after the war (some are still missing). These archives include monographs on the lives of the Jews in the ghetto, information on the fate of destroyed cities and towns, hundreds of diaries, chronicles, underground newspapers, and a large amount of other documentary material. In the Bialystok ghetto, the Tenenbaum-Mersik archives were established at the initiative of Mordecai Tenenbaum. In addition to his own diary and ghetto poems, it includes copies of German documents and the protocols from Judenraete meetings. There was another archive in Vilna named after the author A. *Sutzkever and the poet S. *Kaczerginski, and in Lodz and Kovno. Even children kept diaries, as Alexandra Zapruder documented in her collection of children's diaries, Salvaged Pages. These diaries tell what happened from the perspective of those often too young to understand, but still determined to record the events.
These archives constitute one of the most important sources for research into the Holocaust as they recount the story of the Holocaust from the perspective of its victims.
In Theresienstadt, women dealt with starvation by writing down their recipes, a physical remnant of the world they once inhabited. In other camps, women composed cookbooks and saved them to preserve something of the life they had once led.
[Adina Dreksler /
Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]
the holocaust and the halakhah
Halakhah, the collective rabbinic term for the prescriptive laws of Judaism, constitutes a unique witness to the destruction of European Jewry and its civilization in the years 1939–45. In the form of responsa (she'elot u-teshuvot) – written decisions of rabbinic authorities on questions of law and practice – the desperate struggle of observant Jews to maintain their way of life, and life itself, emerges in vivid relief.
Owing to the Nazi persecution of the rabbis and the grave condition of European Jewry as a whole, few extant responsa were actually written during these years. Aside from Mi-Ma'amakim by Ephraim Oshry (1914–2003), five volumes of finished essays published in New York (1949–79) and said to have originated in the Kovno ghetto, only scattered responsa remain from the period of German occupation. These are urgent communications in the form of correspondence, with little elaboration. More extensive documents, referring to incidents in the ghettos and death camps that obviously could not be addressed at the time, were published after 1945, primarily in Israel.
Both the sequence and the spiraling horror of the Jewish ordeal are mirrored in the questions posed to the rabbis, e.g., whether to comply with the German decree of forced sterilization; whether one may pose as a gentile to escape detection; whether one may commit suicide in order to assure Jewish burial; whether one must repent for inadvertently smothering a crying infant in a ghetto bunker; whether assignment in the direction of the crematoria is sufficient proof of death; whether a husband must divorce a wife who submitted to sex with her captors during the war. Less harrowing concerns are also attested, e.g., whether Nazi legislation invalidates kosher slaughter (sheḥitah); whether a ghetto dwelling requires a mezuzah; when a woman may visit a ghetto mikveh; the status of clothes left behind by the dead.
Because they pertain to the lives of Jews in extremis, rulings in such cases are in the category of hora'at sha'ah, emergency measures that do not serve as legal precedents. It had long been established that those who transgress the law under duress are exempt from punishment (Ned. 27a; bk 28b). Yet if the final judgment was invariably lenient, the rabbis imposed certain limits. When addressing severe prohibitions, the responsa frequently cite the locus classicus in rabbinic literature: "If they say to a man, 'Transgress or you will be killed,' he should transgress rather than be killed (ya'avor ve-al yehareg), with the exception of idolatry, unchastity, and murder" (Sanh. 74a). But even unambiguous halakhah could pose impossible dilemmas. While interned in Auschwitz, Ẓevi Hirsch Meisels (1902–1974) was reportedly asked to decide a matter of life or death: a father had the means to bribe the guards and rescue his son from a selection, but only if another boy were taken in the son's place. The father asked the rabbi's permission to pay the ransom. This was no theoretical ruling but a prescription for action (halakhah le-ma'aseh). Despite his awareness of the principle that the claim of one life cannot override the claim of another (cf. Mish. Oho. 7:6), Meisels, by his own account (Mekadeshei ha-Shem, "Sanctifiers of the Name," 1:7–9), could not bring himself to invoke it: "I do not decide either yes or no. Do as you wish as if you had not asked me at all."
That halakhah was considered, at least by some Jews, to apply even in such dire circumstances testifies to its comprehensive character and to its bitter acquaintance with oppression. Most manifestations of the Nazi persecution had been suffered by Jews in the past – murder, torture, rape, infanticide, forced labor, expulsion. However, the Germans devised some methods previously unknown: gas chambers and crematoria, compulsory sterilization, medical experimentation, the delivery of human ashes, the "selection" of victims. The responsa that address these matters open new, if tragic, territory in Jewish law.
Reeling from the Nazi onslaught, the rabbis groped for precedents. In the responsa, German Jews forced by Nazi legislation to abandon the laws of kashrut are analogized to captive Jewish women in antiquity forced to abandon their virtue. Slovakian Jews who chose apostasy for the sake of deportation exemptions are compared to *Conversos who accepted Christian baptism to evade the Inquisition. Jews in hiding from the Nazis are compared to Judean hostages in the days of the Roman Empire. Nor are the parallels confined to halakhic issues. The danger of violating the ghetto curfew is compared to the danger of encountering lions at night in a Babylonian village. Engaging in forbidden conduct to escape deportation is likened to the ancient art of charming a snake to escape its sting. The mass execution sites in Poland are equated with the ruins of the Temple in Jerusalem. Biblical paradigms abound: the Third Reich is identified with Esau and Rome; the subjugation of Eastern Europe mirrors the Philistine conquest of Saul at Mount Gilboa; the agony of Jews in the ghettos and death camps recalls the torture of Zedekiah by Nebuchadnezzar; the ordeal of a condemned son in Auschwitz emulates the binding of Isaac. The Nazi persecution, like all the others, is absorbed into the realm of halakhic discourse. In the responsa there is no sign that the axiom of Israel's divine election has been shaken by annihilation. Rather it is "owing to our many sins" (be-avonotenu ha-rabbim) that the Jews of Europe suffer and perish. God is beyond reproach. The elaboration of divine law continues unabated.
The Holocaust responsa are to be distinguished from memoir, hagiography, or martyrology. Their juristic function imposes the obligations of composure and measured argument. Emotion is typically confined to liturgical coda and biblical pleas for vengeance and redemption. This is not to say that the rabbis were unmoved by the questions addressed to them: they could hardly be impervious to the anguish of those who sought their guidance. The responsa evince an unusual degree of tension between the duty to impose the law and empathy for the stricken.
After the war in Europe ended, the most immediate halakhic concerns included the enforcement of religious observance in the dp camps; the recovery of Jewish children entrusted to the care of gentiles; the disposition of execution sites and mass burial pits; proper forms of memorial; the status of Jews who strayed from Judaism or were accused of transgression or collaboration; and most frequently, the fate of agunot, wives whose husbands had vanished, rendering the women ineligible to remarry. This problem was epidemic in the wake of the catastrophe: enormous numbers of Jewish husbands had disappeared without trace, let alone witness. Despite the historical reluctance of halakhic authorities to grant permission to remarry without conclusive proof of death, the post-war responsa concerning agunot are much inclined to leniency. The overriding motive that emerges is the healing and rebuilding of the Jewish people.
M. Dworzecki, Yerushalayim de-Lita ba-Meri u-va-Sho'ah (1951); idem, Maḥanot ha-Yehudim be-Estonia 1942–1944 (1970); A. Bauminger (ed.), Ha-Yeled ve-ha-Na'ar ba'Sho'ah u-va-Gevurah (1965); A. Czerniakow, Yoman Getto Varshah (1969; English, The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniakow: Prelude to Doom, 1979); Yad Vashem, Ha-Amidah ha-Yehudit bi-Tekufat ha-Sho'ah (1970); Sh. Esh, in: Iyyunim be-Ḥeker ha-Sho'ah ve-Yahadut Zemanenu (1973), 238–253; M. Tenenbaum-Tamarof, Dappim min ha-Deleikah (1974); E. Oshry, She'elot u-Teshuvot mi-Ma'amakim (1959–1976); Z. Kalmanovich, Yoman Getto Vilna (1977); Y. Kermish, Itonut ha-Maḥteret ha-Yehudit be-Getto Varshah (1980); Y. Szeintuch, Jewish Creativity in the Holocaust (catalogue, 1979). add. bibliography: J. Rudavsky, To Livewith Hope, To Die with Dignity: Spiritual Resistance in the Ghettos and the Camps (1997); Spiritual Resistance: Art from Concentration Camps 1940–45: A Selection of Drawings and Paintings from the Collection of Kibbutz Lochamei Haghettaot (1981); G. Flam, Singing for Survival (1992); M. Unger, Spiritual Resistance of the Jews in the Ghettos and Concentration Camps (1970); P. Schindler (ed. and tr.), Yissakhar Shlomo Teichthal, Em Habanin (1999); R. Kirschner, Rabbinic Responsa of the Holocaust Era (1985). holocaust and halakhah: M.Y. Breisch, Ḥelkat Ya'akov (1951); S. Efrati, Mi-Gei ha-Haregah (1961); M.M. Kirschbaum, Ẓiyyun le-Menaḥem (1965); R. Kirschner, Rabbinic Responsa of the Holocaust Era (1985); Z.H. Meisels, Mekadeshei ha-Shem (1955); E. Oshry, Mi-Ma'amakim (1949–79); Y.Y. Weinberg, Seridei Esh (1961–69); H.J. Zimmels, The Echo of the Nazi Holocaust in Rabbinic Literature (1977).
There were only a handful of countries and Jewish communities that could be of assistance to Jews during the Holocaust. First and foremost was the Jewish community of the United States, then the largest and freest, and it had assumed international leadership in the aftermath of World War i. Great Britain was also in a position to assist. Other countries were in a position to receive refugees seeking a haven, when a visa meant the difference between life and death.
The Jewish communities of the neutral countries were of little help. They might do all they could to assist the Jews of Europe, but they had limited influence on their governments and their governments were deeply committed to their own neutrality for reasons of state that were unlikely to change. Spain, Turkey, and Switzerland were important listening posts for information regarding the fate of European Jewry, and the Jewish communities of Turkey and Switzerland cooperated fully with emissaries of the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine) and of American Jewry in ascertaining the fate of European Jews and coming to their assistance with the limited resources at their disposal. There is no doubt that the Turkish government was aware of the Yishuv's operations in Turkey and permitted them. Yet when the ssStruma was stranded in Istanbul in 1941, the Jewish community was not strong enough to pressure its government to accept the Jewish passengers as refugees or to offload them pending the arrival of a more seaworthy craft. Instead, they lingered, abandoned, until the ship was towed out to sea and a Soviet submarine ended the ill-fated voyage. Only one of its 759 passengers survived the sinking of the ship.
Spain had a small Jewish community that was in no position to be effective, but the Spanish government did not turn back Jews at the border. It allowed them through-passage to Portugal, where many were able to go on to the United States and elsewhere. A Portuguese diplomat, Aristides De Sousa *Mendes, used his good offices to assist the Jews, and was punished upon his return home and disgraced. The Swedish Jewish community did provide for Danish Jews in 1943 when their government accepted them into the country on their bold rescue by the Danes (made possible by the decency of the Danish people, the geographical proximity of Denmark to Sweden – some nine miles – the relatively benign German occupation of Denmark, the Danish resistance, and the fact that it occurred at a time when German victory looked dubious at best). A Swedish Jew provided the basic contact with Raoul *Wallenberg, who had worked for him, that enabled the famed diplomat to be chosen by the American War Refugee Board for his heroic yet fatal mission to save the Jews then herded in Budapest.
Little was expected of the Soviet Union, which had no interest in rescuing Jews and which later denied the specificity of Jewish victimization, lumping the fate of the Jews with the general Soviet population. There are no known requests from the Soviet Union to bomb Auschwitz, and once it took the offensive against German forces, it pursued its own strategic vision of the war, positioning itself for postwar regional dominance. There is ample testimony, however, of the assistance offered by Jewish personnel serving in the Red Army to rescue Jews and to provide for their needs.
the united states
U.S. policy during the Holocaust and, earlier, toward Jews seeking a haven in the United States, must be seen in a larger context. Restriction of immigration and the introduction of a proportional quota system based on the countries of origin of the population in the United States in the 1890 census were written into American law in the 1920s. The implications for the Jews were immediate: the large-scale immigration that had brought hundreds of thousands of Jews to the United States slowed to a trickle. The long-range implications were even more ominous: when the condition of German, and later Austrian, Jewry became difficult and then dire, the United States had a rigid quota system in place, making it an impediment to respond to the ever more desperate needs of European Jews.
American foreign policy was isolationist. In the early 1930s, the United States was unwilling to assume an international role commensurate with its actual power and or its growing responsibility. Antisemitism was a real factor domestically, more so than it had been in the first 250 years of Jewish life on the American continent. Henry Ford and the Dearborn Independent were a source of antisemitic propaganda; Father Charles Coughlin, a Detroit priest, was a powerful radio orator and an antisemite; and Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic, was an isolationist, deeply opposed to war with Germany and not favorably inclined toward the Jews. Anti-immigrant sentiment was widespread and after the Depression began in 1929 there was a fear that immigrants would take American jobs.
Jews went to Washington with Franklin D. *Roosevelt in 1933 because it was a place where the sons of immigrants could rise on the basis of their talent and not be barred from advancement because of their religion. Many lawyers and economists barred from prominent law firms or Wall Street houses joined the new administration. They became targets for those opposing the New Deal, often called the "Jew Deal." And for these Jews as well as for the U.S. government, there was a fear that the war might be called a Jewish war rather than an American war and consequently there was a reluctance to highlight Jewish issues.
It would be a mistake to read back into history today's prominence and strength of the American Jewish community, which in the 1930s primarily consisted of immigrants or first-generation Americans weakened by the Depression and less than confident of their place in the United States. They were only slowly achieving their place in American society and were unprepared for the crisis that was to confront their brethren abroad.
Bystander, Abandonment, Acquiescence. The American historian Richard Breitman has suggested that in the neat division between perpetrators, victims, bystanders, and rescuers, the United States could be considered a bystander with regard to the European Jews, at least until the winter of 1944 when it actively began rescue efforts; that is, eleven years after the rise of Adolf Hitler, almost six years after Kristallnacht, two and half years after the Final Solution became the operative policy of Germany and the systematic murder of Jews had begun, and two years after the Wannsee Conference and the deportation of Jews from the ghettos of Poland and elsewhere. Only then did the United States actively pursue rescue options.
David Wyman was harsher in his judgment. In his influential book of that name, he suggested that American policy must be described as "the abandonment of the Jews."
On January 13, 1944, three senior non-Jewish Treasury Department officials (Randolph Paul, John Pehle, and Josiah DuBois) submitted a memo to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., the president's neighbor in Hyde Park and among Roosevelt's closest Jewish advisers, describing American policy. They called their 18-page document "Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of this Government in the Murder of the Jews."
The memo charged that State Department officials:
…have even gone so far as to use this Governmental machinery to prevent the rescue of these Jews.
…have taken steps designed to prevent these [rescue] programs [of private organizations] from being put into effect.
…in their official capacity have gone so far as to surreptitiously attempt to stop the obtaining of information concerning the murder of the Jewish population of Europe.
They have tried to cover up their guilt by:
(a) concealment and misrepresentation;
(b) the giving of false and misleading explanations for their failures to act and their attempts to prevent action; and
(c) the issuance of false and misleading statements concerning the "action" which they have taken to date.
Their judgment was harsh, but not inaccurate.
During the 1930s the United States took a series of small steps, mostly with regard to the admission of Jews who were termed refugees. The quota system restricted immigration, and the consular offices that were charged with administering these laws made life even more difficult for the potential immigrants. Wyman termed these difficulties "paper walls," creating barriers to immigration. One provision of U.S. law required that immigrants be excluded who were likely to become public charges (lpc), meaning that it was likely they could not obtain employment in the United States. In some consular offices this was interpreted not as a question of probability but of possibility, so that even able professionals with marketable and desired skills were not admitted, because if they could not find a job they might then become public charges. German Jews were required to provide a certificate of good conduct, attesting to their character. This attestation was to come from the German police. Affidavits were required to vouch for the economic viability of the immigrant. Financial hurdles had to be satisfied; they too were open to interpretation. High standards were set. Not once until 1938 did the number of immigrants from Germany equal the full quota eligible for admission to the United States.
Public opinion polls taken at the time revealed widespread opposition to loosening the quotas, even among people who were critical of the Nazis. According to Roper polls taken in 1938 and 1939, while 95 percent of Americans disapproved of the German regime, fewer than nine percent supported changing the system to allow more refugees into the country. After Kristallnacht, even more Americans opposed any change. Because the United States did not discriminate on the basis of religion, German Jews desiring admission were officially termed refugees. It made the situation more palatable to Americans even though everyone understood that the refugees were Jews.
Once the war began, German Jews seeking asylum could be considered enemy aliens and excluded as Germans – something that they surely were not considered to be in their native land – and hence of suspect loyalty.
With the refugee crisis mounting the United States convened an international conference at Evian, France in July 1938. (See "Evian Conference," above.) The invitation specified that no country would be required to change laws, there would be no expenditure of additional funds, as all refugee resettlement would be paid for by philanthropic sources. Britain was assured that Palestine would not be on the agenda. The United States was clearly unwilling to change its own laws. Other nations followed the American example. The Evian Conference gave the appearance of concern for the refugees, but in reality it indicated to the Germans that no one wanted the Jews; their policy of forced emigration would fail and the countries willing to accept Jews could not keep pace with their desire to be rid of them.
Even efforts to rescue children were not successful. In February 1939, Senator Robert Wagner of New York and Representative Edith Rogers of Massachusetts introduced a bill that would grant special permission for 20,000 German children under the age of 14 to emigrate to the United States. The bill specified that the children would be supported privately, not by the government. The bill was designed to emulate Great Britain's successful Kindertransport that brought 10,000 children to England. President Roosevelt never spoke a word of support for it. The Wagner-Rogers Bill died in committee. Its opponents argued that it was not right to separate children from their parents; others felt, among other things, that the children would grow up to be adults and might then take American jobs.
On May 13, 1939, the ssSt. Louis, a luxury liner of the Hamburg-America Line, left Germany for Cuba carrying 936 passengers, all but six of them Jews. Each had a visa for Cuba. They seemed to be the lucky ones among the hundreds of thousands of Jews seeking to leave the Reich after Kristallnacht. Yet upon arrival the Cuban government refused to honor their visas, which had been canceled. The ship was forced to return to Europe after the United States refused to open its doors to the refugees, despite great clamor in the press.
The American journalist Dorothy Thompson wrote: "It is a fantastic commentary on the inhumanity of our times that for thousands and thousands of people a piece of paper with a stamp on it is the difference between life and death."
American isolationism ended with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the United States became fully committed to winning the war in Europe as well as one with Japan. Unconditional surrender was demanded; total dedication was required. Jews joined their fellow Americans in the war effort wholeheartedly, giving it complete and fervent support. As Lucy Dawidowicz has pointed out, the Germans fought two wars, the world war and the war against the Jews. The Allies fought the first war. They did not, officially, recognize the second.
Yet even the harshest critic of American policy, and Roosevelt, must concede that the most important contribution the United States made toward ending the Holocaust was winning the war. Few recall how difficult it was to prepare the country for war and also to initiate the Lend-Lease program of aid to Britain and others.
During the war years, there was some reluctance to focus on the Jews because it was an American war; the former isolationists sought to portray it as a Jewish war. The reasoning of Washington was that the best way to help the refugees was to win the war – and then address the refugee problem. This proposition and order of priorities was not reexamined even after the receipt of compelling proof regarding the systematic murder of the Jews.
For although the Allies had received information on the murder of the Jews, they had made no special military efforts to rescue them or to bomb the camps or the railroad tracks leading to them. They felt that only after victory could something be done about the refugees, their term for the Jewish situation. That decision was made early in the war; it was not reexamined even as additional information regarding the Final Solution and the killing centers was received. There was much information available to everyone. Perpetrators saw what was happening; some spoke guardedly of the unpleasant tasks they faced, others enthusiastically. Ordinary Germans and nationals of other countries witnessed the deportations; at some level they understood that the Jews would not return. In some cases they took over their homes and their possessions, knowing full well but never quite admitting that the Jews were gone. The victims had a natural propensity to deny bad news, to search in any bit of information for some tiding that could bring them back from the edge of despair. Hungarian Jews were victimized in March of 1944 more than 30 months after the Einsatzgruppen had begun to kill, more than two years after the killing centers began to function mercilessly. They had heard some rumors, the testimony of those who arrived from Poland and elsewhere, but they did not believe that it could happen to them. The bystanders could observe what was happening. Only the rescuers perceived that their actions were a matter of life and death, and they acted to save lives.
On August 11, 1942, Dr. Gerhart Riegner, the World Jewish Congress representative in Bern, Switzerland, sent a secret cable through secure channels to the State Department and to Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, president of the World Jewish Congress, informing them:
That there has been and is being considered in Hitler's headquarters a plan to exterminate all Jews from Germany and German controlled areas in Europe after they have been concentrated in the east. The numbers involved is said to be between three and a half and four million and the object to permanently settle the Jewish question in Europe.
The information had reached Riegner through a highly placed German industrialist, Eduard Schulte, general manager of the Georg von Giesche Mining Company, who was in a position to know what was happening. In fact, the cable was an understatement. The Final Solution was already operative policy within the German government; the numbers discussed at Wannsee some eight months earlier were 11 million Jews and gassing had already been going on at Chelmno since December 1941 and at other camps since later that winter in early 1942.
The State Department never gave the cable to Rabbi Wise. Stamped on the document were instructions not to pass it on. Instead, Wise received the same information on an unsecured telegram from a Jewish member of the British Parliament, Samuel Silverman. When he went to the State Department toinquire as to its accuracy, Sumner Welles, undersecretary of state, asked him not to go public with the information until it could be confirmed. In November Wise was told that his deepest fears could be confirmed. He called a press conference and revealed the information. The State Department did not confirm Wise's report in public, and the press thus received the information from a Jewish source, which it considered somewhat dubious or exaggerated, rather than from a government official and therefore to be trusted.
Shortly thereafter, unknown to Wise, the State Department tried to shut down the secret channel of information regarding the Jews by signaling to consulates its own lack of interest. (This incident was later referred to in the 1944 Treasury Department report, mentioned above.)
President Roosevelt and Jewish leaders met only once, on December 8, 1942, during the height of the killing process. Six death camps were operating at the time. A memorandum from the president of the Jewish Labor Committee, Abraham Held, gave details of the meeting. It began at noon. An Orthodox rabbi led a prayer. Rabbi Wise informed the president of a memorandum spelling out the condition of the Jews in German-occupied Europe. The president indicated that he was aware of the facts. He asked if the group had any suggestions. Held urged the use of a neutral party to intercede on behalf of the Jews. The president did not reply. During the 29 minutes of the meeting, Roosevelt spoke for 23. The Jews pressed their case for six minutes, and perhaps half that time was used for prayer.
In April 1943, at the time of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – but unrelated to it – another conference was convened by the British and American governments. This time the location was somewhat remote for wartime: Bermuda. The island in the Atlantic was chosen in part because press scrutiny and domestic pressures could be avoided. It was a pleasant place for officials of the Foreign Office and the State Department to spend time in April. The results were unimpressive.
Jan Karski, a Polish courier, met with Roosevelt to convey information on the situation in Poland. The young courier went beyond diplomatic protocol and his own sensitive assignment to convey a message from the Jews of Warsaw. Roosevelt told him: "You tell your people that we will win the war and then we will take care of the refugees." Statements were made, declarations were offered, and commitments were undertaken to bring the perpetrators to justice, but no concrete action was forthcoming. In truth, there was great despair that anything could be done. In fact, nothing was done.
Only in January 1944, an election year, when Treasury Secretary Morgenthau pressed the president and brought forward the concerns of his staff that had been so forcefully conveyed to him, and when domestic pressures were increasing, did the president establish the *War Refugee Board, charged with implementing an American policy of rescue. The members of the board were the secretaries of state, treasury, and war. All funds for the board's work had to come from private sources. The president gave one million dollars toward its initial efforts.
The board lobbied the White House to elicit statements from Roosevelt condemning the murder of Jews, drew up plans for postwar war-crimes trials, and conveyed requests for the bombing of Auschwitz. Through its European operatives, one of whom was Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat, the War Refugee Board played a crucial role in saving perhaps as many as 200,000 Jews. It established a haven for 1,000 Jews at Oswego, New York.
Yet when John Pehle, its dedicated director, viewed the work of the refugee board from the perspective of 12 years of American efforts, he commented: "What we did was little enough. It was late. Late and little, I would say." Until the establishment of the War Refugee Board, American policy toward the Jews was constrained by antisemitism within the State Department, domestic nativist sentiment (perceived or real), the relative powerlessness and disunity of American Jews, and a 1941 decision that absolute priority should be given to the war effort. Its premise was that the only way to save the refugees was to win the war.
As American troops entered and liberated the concentration camps on German and Austrian soil, they were forced to deal with the survivors, bury the dead, heal the wounded, and nurture the bereaved. Over time, larger decisions had to be made with regard to the fate of the survivors: where and how they were to live, what was to be their postwar destination – to return home, to migrate to Palestine, to find refuge elsewhere – and whether to open American-held territory to refugees fleeing pogroms in Poland and the rise of Communism. In an ironic way, the United States had to deal with the refugees after it had won the war, but with far fewer than it would have if it had given them a haven before the war or rescued them during it.
R. Breitman and A. Kraut, American Refugee Policy and European Jewry 1933–1945 (1987); H. Feingold, The Politics of Compromise: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust (1970); idem, Bearing Witness: How America and Its Jews Responded to the Holocaust (1995); D. Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews (1984); idem, Paper Walls (1985).
[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]
The American Jewish Press. The American Jewish press was the primary source of news about Jews around the world. In particular, the Yiddish press, which had a circulation of around 400,000 nationally, with a readership that was probably two to three times higher than that, was the place where Jews turned for information about Jewish matters. In addition, the Jewish press was what is known as an "organ press" in that its publications were mainly organs of particular parties, organizations, or segments of the community and reflected what they were thinking and doing.
For example, the *Jewish Daily Forward was the voice of Jewish labor; the *Jewish Day was reflective of liberal thinking and Zionist affiliation; the *Jewish Morning Journal contained a combination of a religious outlook, patriotic Americanism, and Zionism; the *Morning Freiheit was the official Communist Yiddish daily; the Congress Bulletin was the voice of the American Jewish Congress; the National Jewish Monthly was published by B'nai B'rith; Opinion was an independent monthly edited by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise; Hadoar was the Hebrew language weekly; the Sentinel was a weekly newspaper in Chicago, which had the second largest Jewish population in America; the Jewish Exponent was published in Philadelphia, the third largest Jewish community; the Jewish Advocate was published in Boston, the fourth largest community.
As the tragedy of European Jewry was unfolding, the American Jewish press provided contemporary accounts. Beginning with Kristallnacht on November 9–10, 1938, and continuing through the Hungarian Jewish deportations in the spring of 1944, the newspapers conveyed the news in a timely fashion, editorialized about the news with varying degrees of passion, and reported on what American Jews were doing in response to the crisis of European Jewry.
For example, the announcement by Rabbi Wise on November 24, 1942, when he was finally allowed to go public with the content of the Riegner telegram of August 1942, stating that two million Jews had already been killed in Poland and four or five million more (depending upon the estimate of Jews under German control) were destined for annihilation, was carried by every Jewish newspaper and magazine. The Yiddish newspapers initially publicized the news, editorialized about it, and called upon American Jews to participate in a day of prayer and fasting on December 2. The December 4, 1942 edition of Congress Weekly, published by the American Jewish Congress, appeared with a black cover on which the Hebrew words from Lamentations, "Rivers of water flow from my eyes over the destruction of my people," were emblazoned in white. The Reconstructionist, then one of the most intellectually influential Jewish journals, on December 11, 1942, listed on its front page in a black box headed by the word Yizkor ("remember") the numbers of Jews from individual European countries who had already been murdered. There was no possibility of avoiding the news and no mistaking its importance.
However, reflecting a certain lack of urgency, the story soon disappeared from the front pages. In local newspapers like the Jewish Advocate local issues superseded the news from Europe. In the December 4 issue, the major subject was the Coconut Grove nightclub fire in Boston that claimed the lives of nearly 500 people. The newspaper wrote: "Nothing in our memory has so severely shocked and so completely stunned, bewildered and confused the whole community as this great calamity… even the tragedy of the global war cannot obscure the horror of the local catastrophe which has plunged hundreds of homes into sudden mourning." This appeared in the same issue with the report of Wise's disclosures of two million Jews murdered and four or five million more to be annihilated. The subject of European Jews, in fact, was not even carried in the newspaper in the next two issues and appeared again only in the December 25 issue.
A look at the order of the editorials in the Jewish Advocate on December 4 is instructive. The first seven editorials were in the following order: a Hadassah donor luncheon; victory loan (war) bonds; writing to soldiers; Hannukah; our women and bonds; what we are (concerning a Department of Justice ruling that Jews constitute a race); and a memorial to Professor Nathan Isaacs (a prominent teacher and scholar) on the eve of the unveiling of his gravestone. The eighth editorial dealt with the Wise revelations.
During the years of the Holocaust, in the eyes of the Jewish press, Jews were often preoccupied with other matters, local concerns, antisemitism, and the normal issues of daily life rather than the terrible plight of their Jewish brothers and sisters in Europe. Judah Pilch, writing in the weekly Hadoar in January 1943, summed up this pattern of response in the following words: "And what will happen when my son asks me tomorrow: 'What did you do while your brothers were being exterminated and tortured by the Nazi murderers?' What will I say and what will I be able to tell him? Shall I tell him that I lived in a generation of weaklings and cowards who were neither moved nor shocked when they heard of hundreds of thousands of their brothers being led to their slaughter hour by hour, day by day, year by year? I shall, however, certainly not dare to tell my son about the 'business as usual' conduct of our lives at a time when the press was informing us about the extermination of complete communities. I would be ashamed to face him with such a description." These and similar editorial comments by writers such as Chaim Greenberg, Trude Weiss Rosmarin, and Samuel *Margoshes suggest that what was going on in America during the Holocaust was a painful reenactment of a scene described by the poet Ḥayyim Naḥman Bialik in his "City of Slaughter":
The sun was shining
The trees were flowering
And the murderer kept on killing.
[Haskel Lookstein (2nd ed.)]
Britain had many considerations as it fought the war against Germany: the appeasement of Germany prior to the war, its policy of restricting the immigration of refugees to Palestine and of accepting some at home, most especially the Kindertransport; the role of Anthony *Eden and Prime Minister Winston *Churchill in the requests to bomb Auschwitz; and finally the role of British troops in the liberation of the concentration camps and in the rehabilitation of the survivors they happened upon.
Until 1939, Britain followed a policy of appeasement. Weakened by World War i, its resources stretched by the empire, British forces were not ready for another world war and public opinion was unprepared to support one. Some within Britain felt that the conditions imposed upon Germany in the aftermath of World War i were unduly harsh and that an attempt by Germany to rid itself of those restrictions was clearly justified. Britain attempted to avoid war and, perhaps equally important, to mask its weakness by a policy of appeasement. This policy reached its height in the aftermath of the German Anschluss, the incorporation of Austria in March 1938. Great Britain did nothing. When it became clear in the months after that this annexation would not satisfy Hitler's territorial ambitions, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried his best to avoid war. At the Munich Conference of September 1938, he consented to the German annexation of the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia. Returning home, he said he had brought "peace in our time."
When Germany occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Chamberlain's policy of appeasement was recognized as a total failure. British policy shifted. A mutual defense pact was established with Poland and Romania. And then Britain waited.
When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany, but little happened – this period was known as the "phony war." Britain used this time to get on a wartime footing by improving its military preparedness.
Britain was also willing to appease the Arabs by restricting the entry of Jews to Palestine. In March 1939 it issued a *White Paper restricting Jewish immigration and Jewish land purchases in Palestine, limiting its usefulness as a haven for Jews fleeing Europe. David Ben-Gurion voiced the Zionist response, saying that the Jews would fight with Britain against the Germans as if there were no White Paper and fight the White Paper as if there were no Nazi menace.
The German invasion of Western Europe in May 1940 led to the removal of Chamberlain and to Winston Churchill's becoming prime minister. From then on, Britain was fully committed to war. Germany put out peace feelers to Britain, which refused all negotiations. It successfully evacuated 200,000 troops from Dunkirk, in France, and regrouped at home. From 1940 onward, until the U.S. entry into World War ii, Britain stood alone against Germany, which had established a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union, and the United States remained neutral, at least in name. In reality, it was busily supplying Great Britain with war materiel and slowly putting itself onto a war footing. By 1941 the Lend-Lease program was formalized. The Germans attacked Britain by air, but the Luftwaffe failed to defeat the Royal Air Force and the people of Britain stood firm despite repeated bombing.
With the U.S. entry into the war in December 1941 after Pearl Harbor, World War ii became global and the U.S.-British alliance firm. Three conditions were attached that were to prove decisive to the conduct of the war, decisive as well to the fate of the Jews within German-occupied Europe. There was a total blockade of German-occupied Europe; the Allies would not negotiate with Hitler; and the fight was unconditional, for total surrender. These made negotiations regarding Jews far more difficult and in fact led to the leaking of information to English newspapers regarding an overture by the Germans in 1944 offering 1,000,000 Jews in return for 10,000 trucks, which killed any possibility, however remote, of an agreement.
Refugees. With the rise of Hitler to power, the British public was sympathetic to the Jews, and the Jewish community was willing to assume the burden of supporting the refugees. No government funds were required. Britain also consented to being a way station for Jews going elsewhere. More than 80,000 Jewish refugees reached the country by September 1939. During the war years, only 10,000 arrived. Among those who went to Britain were 10,000 Jewish children on the Kindertransport, who left their parents behind to seek safety in England. Some were given to non-Jewish families and some were adopted by Jews. Many were kept in an institutional setting. The financing of refugee resettlement was undertaken by private, nongovernmental funds; British Jewry was generous.
When facing Germany alone, the British public and its leadership became quite worried and imposed restrictions on anyone from Germany. They did not differentiate between Jews and non-Jews. Some 30,000 "enemy aliens," many of them Jews, were confined to camps in England. Eight thousand were deported to Canada and Australia. When the threat of a German invasion passed, these prisoners were released.
The British government learned about the Final Solution when it broke German secret codes, but it would not act on the information unless it could be confirmed from another source and thus not reveal to the Germans that their code had been broken. It would not act on such information, even to save its own troops.
In fighting the war, Britain undertook no special action on behalf of the Jews. But clearly the fight itself was essential to Jews.
In the summer of 1944 Chaim *Weizmann and Moshe Shertok urged Foreign Minister Anthony Eden to bomb Auschwitz. Eden brought the issue to Churchill, who responded: "Get anything you can out of the raf. Invoke my name if necessary." With such approval, the British turned to the Americans, but nothing happened. Factories near Auschwitz factories were bombed, but not the death camp.
Liberation of Bergen-Belsen. The British liberated Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945. They happened upon the camp in the course of their military operations. Since no special steps were taken to liberate the camp, no preparations had been made to deal with its inmates. What the troops saw created an indelible impression. The camp had been ravaged by a typhus epidemic. Thousands of bodies lay unburied, rotting in the sun. Sixty thousand prisoners were still alive, many in critical condition. In the first days of freedom, thirteen thousand died. About 14,000 more died in the weeks that followed despite valiant efforts by British doctors to save them.
As the British entered, the camp commandant, Josef Kramer, greeted his conquerors in a fresh uniform. He expressed his desire for an orderly transition and his hopes of collaborating with the British. He dealt with them as equals, one officer to another, even offering advice as to how to deal with the "unpleasant" situation. As he toured the camp, Derrick Sington, a junior British officer, said to the commandant: "You've made a fine hell here." Kramer responded: "It has become one in the last few days." But the ruse did not last for long.
The uncontrollable epidemic was so lethal that the camp had to be burned down. Former inmates were moved to a Panzer tank corps school two miles down the road, and it became the site of a displaced persons camp. The British were horrified by what they had found. Mass graves were dug and bulldozers were brought to shovel in the dead. Local civilians were marched into the camp and taken on a tour. Before they began their visit, the colonel in charge of medical efforts spoke to them.
You must realize that according to those wretched victims who experienced other camps, this camp was in some respects one of the better ones. Chiefly because in this camp it was possible in most cases, though not in all, to die fairly quietly from hunger or typhus. In certain other camps, the inmates were done to death and hurled into mass graves, sometimes before they were dead…
What you will see here is the final and utter condemnation of the Nazi Party. It justifies every measure the United Nations will take to exterminate that party. What you will see here is such a disgrace to the German people that their names must be erased from the list of civilized nations…
It is your lot to begin the hard task of restoring the name of the Germans… But this cannot be done until you have reared a new generation amongst whom it is impossible to find people prepared to commit such crimes; until you have reared a new generation possessing the instinctive good will to prevent a repetition of such horrible cruelties.
We will now begin our tour.
The images of Bergen-Belsen and its bulldozers are among the most unforgettable of the Holocaust.
R. Breitman, Official Secrets: What the Nazis Planned, What the British and the Americans Knew (1988); M. Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies (1981); L. London, Whitehall and the Jews, 1933–48 (2000); M. Sompolinsky, Britain and the Holocaust (1999); B. Wasserstein, Britain and the Jews of Europe, 1939–1945 (1999).
[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]
In a book called None Is Too Many, the Canadian historians Irving Abella and Hersch Troper sum up Canada's record in the Holocaust. Their judgment is dramatic, perhaps harsh but not inaccurate. Canada fought valiantly and courageously in World War ii. It joined the war effort shortly after the invasion of Poland, more than two years before the United States, and once they entered the battle Canadian forces fought with dedication and determination. But the battles of World War ii did not include the second war that the Germans were fighting, what Lucy Dawidowicz termed "the war against the Jews." Abella and Troper argue that Canada had the worst record among the Western states of opening its borders as a haven to Jews. It was a reluctant participant in the Evian Conference, a virtual nonfactor in its deliberations. Support for the war effort did not translate into sympathy for the Jews.
The reasons were primarily domestic. Until 1923, Canada actively recruited European immigrants to emigrate to Canada as workers for its vast territory, most especially its agricultural lands in the West. Jews were urbanized and therefore less desirable because of their lack of agricultural experience. With the end of recruitment of agricultural workers and the onset of the Depression, Canada sought to restrict immigration and to protect its domestic workforce. As an urban population Jews were competitive with its professionals and artisans and hence undesirable candidates for immigration. The Canadian government did not respond to special pleadings on behalf of Jews, even though the Jewish community, primarily centered in Montreal and Toronto, urged Canada to open itself to immigration.
Those Jewish refugees who went to Canada arrived by accident. During the war, Jews of German and Austrian birth who had sought a haven in Great Britain were interned as "enemy aliens" – as German and Austrian nationals. They had achieved a status in Britain and Canada that they could not achieve in their native lands. British-held enemy aliens were sent to Canada, which received them not because they were Jews but because Great Britain wished to expel them.
Canada was willing to receive a thousand refugee Jewish children from Vichy France, but by the time the arrangements were made, it was too late. The Germans had entered the Vichy zone and the Jewish children were deported to the death camps. The opportunity for rescue had passed.
Only after the war did the policy change. Canada did receive a thousand orphans. It allowed a liberal definition of family reunification and received clothing workers and furriers. But by then there were other options, immigration to the United States or aliyah to the newly formed State of Israel, which opened its gates to Jews seeking a haven. The Jews who did arrive after 1948 – and Canada did receive a sizable survivor population – were welcomed as part of a larger flow of East European immigrants. In short, in the Jews' great hour of need, Canada was unavailable. Among the few it did receive was the distinguished Jewish philosopher Emil *Fackenheim.
[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]
the catholic church
In response to Hitler's antisemitic policies, Pope *Pius xi, like the German episcopate, seems to have limited his concern to Catholic non-Aryans. The encyclical Mit brennender Sorge ("With Burning Anxiety") of March 1937 rejected the myths of "race" and "blood" as contrary to revealed Christian truth, but neither mentioned nor criticized antisemitism per se. Nor was antisemitism mentioned in the statement of the Roman Congregation of Seminaries and Universities, issued on April 13, 1938, attacking eight theses taken from the Nazi doctrine as erroneous. In June 1938, the pope asked the American Jesuit priest John LaFarge to prepare an encyclical condemning antisemitism, but, although the first draft was delivered in September, it was not issued before Pius xi died in February 1939. It remained unissued and sequestered by his successor. On July 15, 21, and 28, and again on August 21, 1938, as Mussolini was preparing his anti-Jewish laws (despite the membership of thousands of Jews in the Fascist Party), Pius xi made four speeches often cited by his supporters as condemning antisemitism. In fact, while the pope expressed his disapproval of "exaggerated nationalism" in all four speeches, he mentioned racism or the single human family in only two of them, and antisemitism not at all. In September 1938, during a reception for Catholic pilgrims from Belgium, Pius xi is said to have condemned the participation of Catholics in antisemitic movements and to have added that Christians, the spiritual descendants of the patriarch Abraham, were "spiritually Semites." This statement, however, was omitted by all the Italian papers, including the Vatican's own L'Osservatore Romano, from their accounts of the pope's address.
The elevation of Cardinal Pacelli to the papacy as *Pius xii in the spring of 1939 brought to the throne of St. Peter a Germanophile who, in contrast to his predecessor, was unemotional, dispassionate, and a master of the language of diplomatic ambiguity. On October 20, 1939, eight weeks after the German Army invaded Poland, Pius xii issued his encyclical Summi Pontificatus, allegedly a replacement for Pius xi's "hidden encyclical," but while he lamented human suffering particularly in "Our Dear Poland," condemned statism, spoke of "the human race in the unity of one common origin in God," and called for compassion for all victims of the war, he did not mention Jews or antisemitism. In another encyclical, Mystici Corpus Christi, on June 29, 1943, Pius xii again declared that "Our paternal love embraces all peoples, whatever their nationality and race," but specifically about the Jews he only quoted Corinthians, "for in one spirit were we all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free."
The Vatican was in a unique position to have accurate and early information on the war. It had priests in each country, in many towns and villages. As a neutral entity, it also had local representatives of the pope in each area. Chaplains traveled with the military. Priests knew what was happening in their locales. The neutral Vatican had papal nuncios or Apostolic delegates in almost all countries. The Vatican received detailed information about the murder of Jews in the concentration camps from 1942 on, but Pius xii restricted his public utterances to carefully phrased expressions of sympathy for the victims of injustice and to calls for a more humane conduct of hostilities. In his Christmas message of 1942, the pope spoke of his concern for the hundreds of thousands who, without personal guilt and merely on account of their nationality or descent, were doomed to death. Again, addressing the College of Cardinals on June 2, 1943, the pontiff mentioned his twofold duty to be impartial and to point out moral errors. He had given special attention, he recalled, to the plight of those who were still being harassed because of their nationality or descent and who, without personal guilt, were subjected to measures that spelled destruction. The pope repeated this concept in an address to the College of Cardinals a year later, on June 2, 1944, two days before Rome was freed of German occupation, referring to his compassion and charity that extended to all, "without distinction of nationality or descent."
The pope's policy of neutrality encountered a crucial test when the Nazis began rounding up the 8,000 Jews of Rome in the autumn of 1943. Before the arrests, the Nazis told the Jewish community on September 26 that unless it raised 50 kilograms of gold within 36 hours, 300 hostages would be taken. When it seemed that the Jews themselves could raise only part of this ransom, a representative of the community asked for and received an offer of a loan from the Vatican treasury. As events later transpired, this help did not have to be invoked, for the Jewish community was able to raise the entire amount. Despite this ransom, on October 16, 1943, German police rounded up 1,259 Roman Jews. Contrary to German fears, Pius xii, while he threatened to protest publicly, did not do so. On the morning of October 16, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Luigi Maglione, asked the German ambassador to the Holy See, Ernst von Weizsacker, to "intervene in favor of those poor people," explaining that the "the Holy See would not want to be obliged to express its disapproval." But on October 18, over 1,000 Roman Jews – more than two thirds of them women and children – were transported to the death camp at *Auschwitz, and the pope was silent. Only on October 26 and 29, 1943, after most of the deported Roman Jews were dead, did L'Osservatore Romano write of the pope's compassion and charity for those who were suffering for reasons of their "nationality, religion, or descent." This was the first time that persecution on the grounds of religion had been mentioned. About 7,000 Roman Jews were able to go into hiding. More than 4,000, with the knowledge of the pope, found refuge in the numerous monasteries and houses of religious orders in Rome, and a few dozen were sheltered in the Vatican itself. The rest were hidden by their Italian neighbors, among whom the anti-Jewish policy of the Fascists had never been popular. L'Osservatore Romano mentioned the persecution of the Jews only two more times, in two articles in December 1943. It did not protest the deportations and destruction of European Jewry at the hands of the Nazis, but objected to recent Italian measures ordering Italian police to arrest Jews and intern them within the country.
Pius xii's failure to publicly protest against Nazi atrocities, especially against the murder of the Jews, drew criticism. In July 1942, Harold H. Tittmann, the assistant to Roosevelt's personal representative at the Holy See, Myron C. Taylor, pointed out to the Vatican that its silence was endangering its moral prestige. In January 1943, Wladislaw Raczkiewicz, president of the Polish government in exile, appealed to the pope to issue an unequivocal denunciation of Nazi violence in order to strengthen the willingness of the Poles to resist the Germans and help the Jews. Bishop Preysing of Berlin, a man of courage and compassion, urged the pope on at least two occasions to issue a public appeal on behalf of the Jews. A similar request with regard to the Hungarian Catholics was directed to Pope Pius in September 1944 by Isaac *Herzog, the chief rabbi of Palestine.
After the end of World War ii, Pius xii was again criticized for his silence. It has been argued – among others, by the German playwright Rolf *Hochhuth – that the pope could have saved numerous lives, if indeed he could not have halted the machinery of destruction altogether, had he chosen to take a public stand and confront the Germans with the threat of an interdict or with the excommunication of Hitler, Goebbels, and other leading Nazis belonging to the Catholic faith. As an example of the effectiveness of public protest, it is possible to cite the resolute reaction of the German episcopate to the euthanasia program. In Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania, the forceful intervention of papal nuncios, who threatened the pro-Nazi governments with public condemnation by the pope, was also able, temporarily, to halt the deportations. At the very least, it has been suggested, a public denunciation of the mass murders by Pius xii broadcast widely over the Vatican radio would have revealed to Jews and Christians alike what deportation to the east actually meant. Many of the deportees might thus have been warned and given an impetus to escape, many more Christians might have helped and sheltered Jews, and many more lives might have been saved. There is no way of proving these arguments. Whether a papal decree of excommunication against Hitler would have dissuaded Hitler from carrying out his plan to destroy the Jews is doubtful, and revocation of the Concordat by the Holy See would have bothered Hitler still less. However, a flaming protest against the massacre of the Jews, coupled with an imposition of the interdict upon all of Germany, or the excommunication of all Catholics in any way involved with the apparatus of the Final Solution, would have been a more formidable and effective weapon. This was precisely the kind of action that the pope could not take, however, without risking the allegiance of the German Catholics.
The pope had other, perhaps still stronger, reasons for remaining silent. In a world war that pitted Catholics against Catholics, the Holy See, as Mr. Tittmann was told by highly placed officials of the Curia, did not want to jeopardize its neutrality by condemning German atrocities, and the pope was unwilling to risk later charges of having been partial and contributing to a German defeat. Moreover, the Vatican did not wish to undermine Germany's struggle against the Soviet Union. Late in the summer of 1943, the papal secretary of state declared that the fate of Europe was dependent upon a German victory on the eastern front. The apostolic delegation in Washington warned the American Department of State in a note dated August 20, 1943, that Communism was making steady headway in Italy and Germany, and Europe was in grave peril of finding itself overrun by Communism immediately upon the cessation of hostilities. Father Robert Leiber, one of Pius xii's secretaries, later recalled (in Stimmen der Zeit, March 1961) that the pope had always looked upon Russian Bolshevism as more dangerous than German National Socialism. Hitler, therefore, had to be treated with some forbearance. The reluctance of Pius xii to be drawn into a public protest against the Final Solution stands in contrast to the often energetic rescue activities of several of the papal nuncios in Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Turkey. In particular, Monsignor Roncalli, the apostolic delegate in Istanbul, who later became Pope *John xxiii, wrote to the king of Bulgaria on behalf of Bulgarian Jews, and issued thousands of safe-conduct certificates for the Jews of Budapest. The extent to which these men acted upon instructions from Rome is not clear, but the motives for the Vatican's solicitude seem to have been mixed. It appears that from late 1942 on, the Vatican was aware that an Allied victory was inevitable. Considerations of expediency began to reinforce whatever moral revulsion the pope may have felt at the massacre of the Jews, and Pius began to drop hints to the bishops of Germany and Hungary that it was in the interest of their people, as well as the church, to go on record against the slaughter of the Jews. For example, he wrote an Austrian churchman on Oct. 15, 1942, that to intercede for those suffering in the conquered territories was not only a Christian duty but ultimately could only be of advantage to the cause of Germany.
The Nazis' assault on European Jewry occurred in a climate of opinion conditioned by centuries of Christian hostility to the Jewish religion and people. At the same time, other factors, such as varying patterns of nationalism, had an important bearing on the attitude of the Catholic churches of different European countries toward the Jewish tragedy. Thus it is important to differentiate between the situation in Germany and in the various German-occupied countries of Europe. During the nineteenth century some elements of German Catholicism contributed toward the emergence of modern antisemitism, and in the 1920s many Catholic publicists agreed with the Nazis on the importance of fighting Jewish liberalism and the Jews' alleged destructive influence in German public life (see *Church, Catholic, Modern Period). This antisemitic trend received a powerful impetus after Hitler's accession to power in 1933. Seeking to counter the Nazis' offensive against the Catholic Church as a rival for the loyalty of the German people, many churchmen attempted to gain favor with the Nazi regime and its followers by adopting certain aspects of Nazi ideology. They stressed the "elemental" values of race and racial purity, and limited their dissent to insisting that this National Socialist goal be achieved without resort to immoral means. The sacred books of the Old Testament, they argued, were not only beyond the Jewish mentality but in direct conflict with it. Jesus, they conceded, had been a non-Aryan, but the son of God was fundamentally different from the Jews of his time, who hated and eventually murdered him. They also said that the Jews had had a demoralizing effect on Germany's national character; the press, literature, science, and the arts had to be purged of the "Jewish mentality." In the face of the Nazis' antisemitic legislation, the Church retreated, even when the ordinances touched on vital domains of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, such as matrimony. The diocesan chancelleries helped the Nazi state to detect people of Jewish descent by supplying data from church records on the religious background of their parishioners. The bishops facilitated the emigration of non-Aryan Catholics, but little, if any, solicitude was shown for non-Aryans who were not of the Catholic faith. Similarly, when mass deportations of German Jews began in October 1941, the episcopate limited its intervention with the government to pleading for Christian non-Aryans. When the bishops received reports about the mass murder of Jews in the death camps from Catholic officers and civil servants, their public reaction remained limited to vague pronouncements that did not mention the word Jews. An exception was the Berlin prelate Bernhard *Lichtenberg, who prayed publicly for the Jews. The joint pastoral letter of the German episcopate of August 1943, for example, spoke of the right to life and liberty, which should not be denied even to "men of foreign races and descent," but such statements could be interpreted as referring to the Slavs. Almost half the population of the greater German Reich (43.1 percent in 1939) was Catholic and even among the ss, despite Nazi pressure to leave the Church, almost a quarter belonged to the Catholic faith.
While in the past the episcopate had issued orders to deny the sacraments to Catholics who engaged in dueling or agreed to have their bodies cremated, the word that would have forbidden the faithful, on pain of excommunication, to go on participating in the massacre of Jews was never spoken. A few bishops, most notably Clemens August Count von Galen of Muenster, had demonstrated their willingness to risk a serious clash with the Nazi regime by protesting the extermination of the insane and retarded in the "euthanasia" program. This intervention had been successful in large measure because it had had the backing of public opinion. In the case of the Jews, however, it was far from clear whether the episcopate could count on the support of the faithful, and this was probably one of the main reasons why a clear public protest against the Final Solution was never issued. Only a few Jews were hidden by the clergy or helped by individual Catholics in Germany. In Poland, where no official policy on the part of the Catholic Church has been discerned, it would seem that, as in Germany, the initiative to help Jews was taken only by individuals. This situation stands in marked contrast to that prevailing in German-occupied Western Europe, where declarations of solidarity and help for the Jews were almost universally regarded as signs of patriotism and resistance to the Germans. Here some of the highest church dignitaries condemned the persecution of the Jews.
In Holland, where the church as early as 1934 had prohibited the participation of Catholics in the Dutch Nazi movement, the bishops in 1942 immediately and publicly protested the first deportations of Dutch Jews, and in May 1943, they forbade the collaboration of Catholic policemen in the hunting down of Jews, even at the cost of losing their jobs. In Belgium, members of the episcopate actively supported the rescue efforts of their clergy, who hid many hundreds of Jewish children. In August and September 1942, several French bishops in the unoccupied zone used their pulpits to denounce the expulsions of foreign Jews to the north of the country. Throughout Western Europe numerous priests and members of the monastic clergy organized the rescue of Jews, and hid them in monasteries, parish houses, and private homes. French priests issued thousands of false certificates of baptism. Many lay Catholics in France, Holland, Belgium, and Italy acted similarly, thus saving thousands of Jewish lives. The concern of the population of these countries for their Jewish fellow-countrymen was undoubtedly a key factor behind the bold protests of the French, Dutch, and Belgian bishops.
In Eastern Europe, antisemitism had deeper roots, and the record of the Catholic churches there is more ambiguous. In Slovakia, a Catholic priest, Dr. Josef Tiso, was president of a pro-Nazi regime; the church there was more interested in saving souls than lives, although some members of the episcopate did protest the deportations as a violation of human and divine law. Several Hungarian bishops protested to the authorities the deportation and mistreatment of the Jews but at the same time put difficulties in the way of issuing conversion certificates that would have saved many Jews from deportation. Large numbers of Jews, nevertheless, owed their lives to the courageous rescue activities of lesser clerics, monks, and Catholic laymen.
After the War. After the war, some Vatican officials assisted in an operation to save former Nazis and transfer them to South America. There is evidence in the British Public Record Office that Pope Pius xii was personally involved in this operation. According to those documents, the pope was aware that former Nazi and Ustasha (Croatian fascist paramilitary) war criminals were being offered asylum in Roman Church institutions. Also, he personally intervened in transfer operations organized by the Confraternity of St. Girolamo degli Illirici, a Croatian order, and by the nearby Pontifical Croatian College.
Among those helped at St. Girolamo was Ante Pavelic, the former chief of the Croatian puppet state during the war, who fled to Austria and probably hid in a monastery in Klagenfurt. At that time, Father Krunoslav Draganovic, a former colonel in the Ustasha, was operating from the Pontifical Croatian College in Rome to produce false identity cards at the local Franciscan printing press. Draganovic brought Pavelic to Rome in April 1946 and hid him. Draganovic then obtained an International Red Cross passport for Pavelic, and on October 11, 1948, the Ustasha chief left Genoa for Argentina.
The Nazi escape route to Argentina was organized with help from Cardinals Giovanni Battista Montini, Eugène Tisserant, and Antonio Caggiano, the Bishop of Buenos Aires, according to documents in the recently opened archives of the International Red Cross. Bishops and archbishops such as Alois Hudal, Giuseppe Siri, and Augustin Barrère helped in the bureaucratic procedure, while priests signed requests for passports from the International Red Cross. About 5,000 war criminals were helped in this way.
Another major organizer of help to Nazi war criminals was Monsignor Alois Hudal, the Austrian director of the Germanicum College of Santa Maria dell'Anima in Rome. In 1945, Hudal wrote: "I thought it was my duty to direct my charitable work first of all to former Nazis and Fascists and in particular to the so-called Criminals of War." Hudal was personally involved in assisting the flight to Brazil of Franz Stangl, the Austrian commandant of Treblinka, who was responsible for the murder of about 750,000–870,000 Jews. Hudal was host to Stangl in Rome and gave him some money. Among many other important Nazis Hudal helped were Eduard Roschmann, Friedolin Guth, Erich Priebke, Gerard Bohne, and Adolf Eichmann.
In addition to his involvement with clandestine operations in Rome, Pius xii intervened secretly in Washington and London in August 1945 on behalf of Nazi criminals, with letters sent by the Secretariat of State and at least one in his own name. The letters asked for urgent consideration to avoid extradition from Italy to Yugoslavia of Ustasha and Croatian war criminals. Between 1946 and 1952, Pius xii also tried to intervene in favor of former Nazis condemned in several trials, in order to change their death sentences. This he did for Arthur Greiser, condemned for killing 100,000 Jews in Poland; Otto Ohlendorf, whose Einsatzgruppe D had killed 90,000 Jews in the Soviet Union, and Oswald Pohl, the chief of the ss-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptsamt (ss-wvha; ss Central Economic Administration Office, the organization administering the concentration camps).
In May 1949, Monsignor Montini wrote to Monsignor Hudal that the pope was favorable to an extensive amnesty for the Germans imprisoned in the camps of Fraschette d'Alatri and Farfa Sabina, both near Rome. On that occasion, the German bishops opposed the involvement of the Church.
Jewish Children. The war was not yet over when Jewish organizations and soldiers from the *Jewish Brigade, a unit within the British Army made up of Zionist volunteers from Palestine, in Italy started looking for Jewish children who had been hidden in Catholic monasteries or colleges. The children had been saved by Catholic priests, monks, and nuns, but many were orphaned when their parents were deported. Some children were discovered and brought to Jewish institutions. For example, Eliahu Lowiski, a soldier, of Kibbutz Bet Alfa found and took some Jewish children from Catholic schools and monasteries in Florence in 1944. There are also records of some cases in Poland, where priests and adoptive parents sent Jewish children who had not been baptized during the war to Jewish institutions. More often, however, Jewish children throughout Europe remained unclaimed by Jewish organizations because there was no record of their whereabouts. Members of those organizations tried again and again to find them. There are thousands of adults in Poland who discovered only in the 1980s and 1990s, after their adoptive parents had died and after Communism fell and such knowledge was no longer dangerous, that they had been born Jews and had been saved by Polish non-Jews.
On September 21, 1945, Leon Kubowitzky of the World Jewish Congress met with Pius xii to ask him to publish an encyclical on the Jews and to give back the children who had been saved by the church. The pope asked for a memorandum, but did nothing.
In November 1945, Gerhart Riegner, also of the World Jewish Congress, was received by Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini of the Vatican Secretariat of State. Riegner, too, asked for help in locating and returning the children, but again the children were not returned.
In 1946, the Vatican's Holy Office sent a letter to the papal nuncio in Paris, Monsignor Angelo Roncalli, forbidding him to give baptized Jewish children back to Jewish institutions. This letter was published in January 2005 by the Italian historian Alberto Melloni. In 1953, in apparent obedience to the letter, Cardinal Giuseppe Pizzardo, secretary of the Holy Office, opposed giving back two brothers in France named Finaly, because they had been baptized. After eight years of struggle, the Finaly brothers finally went to their relatives in Israel.
The Kielce Pogrom. In 1946, about 50 Jews were killed in Kielce, Poland, after a rumor was spread about the supposed killing of a Catholic boy by the Jews. The American Rabbi Philip S. Bernstein together with his fellow military chaplain Herbert A. Friedman visited the pope at Castel Gandolfo at the behest of the United States military to discuss the impact of this pogrom. No public expression of sorrow or condemnation of antisemitism ever came from Pius xii.
[Guenter Lewy /
Sergio Itzhak Minerbi (2nd ed.)]
Changes in Catholic-Jewish Relations since the Holocaust. The controversy over the role of the Roman Catholic Church has not ended. In the decade 1995–2005, a significant number of books have been published examining the behavior of the church during the war. Among them were Susan Zuccotti's Under His Very Windows, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty to Repair, James Carroll's Constantine's Sword, David I. Kertzer's The Pope against the Jews, Michael Phayer's The Catholic Church and the Holocaust 1930–1965, Carol Rittner, rsm and John K. Roth's edited volume Pope Pius xii and the Holocaust, and Gary Wills' Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit, which raises anew the historical questions and the accountability of the church for its actions, and inactions, during the Holocaust. The debate has only intensified with the efforts to canonize Pope Pius xii.
One consequence of this debate has been the change in the church's own perception of its actions and inactions during the Holocaust, implicit in initiatives undertaken since to rectify those factors within the church itself that contributed to the circumstances that allowed the Holocaust to happen. These initiatives were undertaken by two popes, including Pius xii's immediate successor, John xxiii, who had been exposed to the Holocaust and its victims and who had endeavored to be of assistance to Jews.
The convening by Pope John xxiii of Vatican Council ii (1962–65) and the council's proclamation Nostra Aetate, which seeks to eliminate the accusation that Jews are Christ-killers and universalize responsibility for the crucifixion, was a significant step. Roman Catholic liturgy has been amended to change scriptural readings that reinforce that perception and to eliminate the libel "perfidious Jews." John xxiii also made a point of stopping by a Rome synagogue to greet Sabbath worshippers and thus to show publicly the church's friendliness toward the Jews, and to recognize the continuity of Jewish tradition after the time of Jesus.
Pope John Paul ii continued the initiatives of John xxiii. He attended services at the synagogue in Rome, the first time the bishop of Rome had ever entered a synagogue. He established diplomatic relations with Israel, albeit after the Oslo Accords. He visited Israel in 2000 (Pope Paul vi had visited the Holy Land and apologized for the antisemitism of Christians, but did not acknowledge that of Christianity). At Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial to the Holocaust, he said: "I assure the Jewish people that the Catholic Church, motivated by the Gospel law of truth and love and by no political considerations, is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of antisemitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place." Furthermore, he gave a religious justification for mutual respect: "The church rejects racism in any form as a denial of the image of the Creator inherent in every human being." His words were carefully chosen; his gesture broadcast to the entire world.
Pope John Paul ii wrote:
On numerous occasions during my Pontificate I have recalled with a sense of deep sorrow the sufferings of the Jewish people during the Second World War. The crime, which has become known as the Shoah, remains an indelible stain on the history of the century that is coming to a close.
As we prepare for the beginning of the Third Millennium of Christianity, the church is aware that the joy of a Jubilee is above all the joy that is based on the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God and neighbors. Therefore she encourages her sons and daughters to purify their hearts, through repentance of past errors and infidelities. She calls them to place themselves humbly before the Lord and examine themselves on the responsibility which they too have for the evils of our time.
The church has now committed itself to Holocaust remembrance. In 1998 it issued "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah," a document carefully crafted by the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.
Critics of "We Remember" – both Jewish and Catholic – argue that the statement, while welcome, does not go far enough. It does not explain that anti-Judaism came from the Vatican; in fact, it implies that it did not, that it is secular, social, and political. It states that Pope Pius xii saved hundreds of thousands of Jews, a statement that is contrary to historical fact. It does not mention past centuries of Catholic persecution of Jews. It omits all mention of indirect Catholic responsibility for the Holocaust as well as the failings of the Catholic hierarchy. It short, it blames the Holocaust on the failings of individuals and absolves the church of any responsibility.
Individual church leaders and national churches have been more forthcoming, bolder, braver, and less restrained. Cardinal Etchegaray, Archbishop of Marseille, said in 1980: "The roots of antisemitism are in major part of religious nature," and German bishops have stated that "the church which we proclaim as holy and which we honor as a mystery, is also a sinful church and in need of conversion."
The French bishops at Drancy on September 30, 1997, said in their "Declaration of Repentance":
It is important to admit the primary role, if not direct then indirect, played by the consistently repeated anti-Jewish stereotypes wrongly perpetuated among Christians in the historical process that led to the Holocaust.
The French bishops also continue to stress the "serious consequences" of "a tradition of anti-Judaism [that] affected Christian doctrine and teachings," admitting that priests and leaders of the Church "bear a serious responsibility."
The Vatican has clearly been more cautious, and more protective of the memory and record of Pope Pius xii, even at the expense of its credibility.
In response, the Jewish community has come to recognize a shift in Catholic-Jewish relations. In 2000, rabbis engaged in dialogue with Roman Catholic priests issued the call "Dabru Emet" (Speak the Truth) to recognize and welcome these changes. Irving Greenberg, a prominent post-Holocaust theologian and former chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, wrote of this change in his work For the Sake of Heaven and Earth.
It would be an exaggeration to suggest that Catholic-Jewish relations are without conflict, but it is no exaggeration to affirm that Catholic-Jewish relations at the turn of the twenty-first century are probably the best they have been in two millennia of conflict and tension-filled coexistence.
[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]
the protestant churches
Germany. In Germany, the "German Christians" (Deutsche Christen) emerged in 1933 as a minority group that promoted the nazification of the German Evangelical Church and sought to exclude Christians of Jewish origin from membership, in direct support of Nazi anti-Jewish policy and in opposition to church doctrine. They were opposed by the Confessing Church (Bekennende Kirche), which defended the rights of Christians of Jewish origin within the church and opposed the intrusion of the Nazi state into church policies. The Confessing Church quickly divided between those calling for a broader political opposition to Nazism, including opposition to its anti-Jewish measures, and those who confined their critique to church-related matters. Some of the more radical anti-Nazi Confessing Christians eventually offered underground aid to Jews by hiding them and helping them leave Nazi Germany, and a few were involved in resistance groups against the regime itself.
In general, however, the Confessing Church refrained from public criticism of Nazi anti-Jewish laws and few Confessing Church leaders ever condemned the persecution of the Jews. An exception was the memorandum sent by the Confessing Church to Hitler (May 1936), which stated that "when, in the framework of the National-Socialist ideology, antisemitism is forced on the Christian, obliging him to hate the Jews, he has nonetheless the divine commandment to love his neighbor." In 1938, while a few individual clergy preached sermons condemning the Kristallnacht, there was no official church statement protesting the violence. Indeed, when Bishop Wurm of Wuerttemberg wrote a private letter of protest to the German minister of justice, he nonetheless added that he was not criticizing the state's right "to fight Judaism as a dangerous element." During the war, the Protestants in Germany maintained their cautious silence, the notable exception being Bishop Wurm, who in a 1943 sermon finally decried the churches' silence about Kristallnacht and announced that the Allied bombing of Germany was "God's revenge for that which was done to the Jews."
German-Allied and -Occupied Countries. The Lutheran Church in Slovakia protested in November 1939 and in May 1942. Romania had a long record of antisemitic activities in which leaders and members of the church frequently participated. In Hungary, the bishops of the Reformed and Lutheran churches voted in the upper house for the first and second anti-Jewish laws in 1938 and 1939. They protested when mass deportations began in 1944, but after pressure from the government, a prepared public statement was not read out from the pulpits.
The Lutheran churches in Norway and Denmark issued public protests when the deportations from their countries began. The Protestant churches in the Netherlands, together with the Roman Catholic Church, sent several protests, some of which were read from the pulpits. In France, the president of the Protestant Federation, the Rev. Marc Boegner, sent letters to the French chief rabbi, to Admiral Darlan, Marshal Pétain, Pierre Laval, and others. A message was read from the pulpits twice. The non-Roman Catholic churches in Austria, Belgium, the Protectorate (Bohemia-Moravia), Finland, Italy, and Poland apparently did not issue any public protest during World War ii.
The Allies, Neutral Countries, and International Organizations. Between 1933 and 1939, Protestant church bodies and their leaders in France, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, Britain, and the United States issued official condemnations of antisemitism and, in several cases, explicit condemnation of events in Nazi Germany, including the promulgation of the *Nuremberg Laws of 1935 and *Kristallnacht in 1938. In Great Britain, the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of Chichester, and other Anglican Church leaders voiced strong protests, but their demands for practical steps, such as easing immigration restrictions on refugees, were of no avail. The same is true of the United States, where church leaders issued many protests. A December 1942 "resolution on antisemitism" was passed by the Federal Council of Churches (the precursor of today's National Council of Churches) that condemned the "virtual massacre" of European Jews.
Churches in the Soviet Union (which were tightly controlled by the government) apparently did not issue any public protest during World War ii.
In the neutral countries during the war, the Church of Sweden strongly protested against the deportation of the Norwegian Jews. In Switzerland, protests of the Protestant churches were a factor leading to the alleviation and ultimate canceling of the government measures against Jewish refugees entering Switzerland "illegally," who were at first sent back to their doom. The churches also rendered material aid to the refugees.
Some of the earliest protests against the Nazi anti-Jewish policies emerged from ecumenical and interdenominational groups. At its meeting in September 1933, the World Alliance for International Friendship through the Churches, an ecumenical organization, condemned the "state measures against the Jews in Germany." Regional church branches of this organization in Holland, Belgium, France, and Switzerland issued similar statements in 1933.
The World Council of Churches, then still in process of formation, had offices in New York, London, and Geneva. In particular, its director for refugee work, Adolf Freudenberg, worked closely with Gerhart Riegner at the World Jewish Congress to compile information about the genocide and disseminate it to church leaders and diplomats. Freudenberg and the wcc general secretary, Willem Visser't Hooft, sent three letters to the International Red Cross, in which they reported on deportations and mass executions of Jews and pleaded for help. Together with Riegner, Visser't Hooft sent an aide-mémoire to the governments of the U.S. and Great Britain, informed church leaders in these countries about the extermination of Jews, intervened with the Swiss government on behalf of Jewish refugees, and helped send gift parcels to Jews in concentration camps.
Postwar Statements. Most of the early postwar Protestant statements were generalized acknowledgements of the churches' failures under Nazism. The 1945 Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt, the earliest Protestant statement in postwar Germany, acknowledged the German Lutheran church's complicity with the Nazi regime but failed to mention explicitly the persecution and genocide of the Jews. The 1948 Darmstadt "Message Concerning the Jewish Question" condemned antisemitism and recognized the evil of the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but still spoke of "the Jew as an erring brother destined for Christ." The German Evangelical Church first addressed the problem of Christian anti-Judaism – and the need for a new relationship to the Jews – at its 1950 Weissensee Synod.
There were parallels to this development in the Protestant statements that began to emerge outside Germany. "The Christian Approach to the Jews," the statement approved at the first assembly of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in 1948, condemned antisemitism but explicitly approved evangelization of Jews as part of the churches' mission. The earliest document ("The Ten Points of Seelisberg") calling for a new Jewish-Christian relationship and a Christian acknowledgement of the validity of the Judaic faith was made in 1947 in Seelisberg, Switzerland, at the founding conference of the International Conference of Christians and Jews.
In the decades since then, over 100 statements have been made by Protestant and Orthodox churches throughout the world that have addressed the long-lasting legacy of the Holocaust for Christians and have used this legacy as a starting point for rethinking Christian teachings.
The persecution of the Orthodox Serbs in Yugoslavia by the Ustasha matched in cruelty the persecution of Jews. Orthodox Church leaders reportedly stood up for the Jews, but hardly any details are available. In Greece, the archbishop of Athens, Damaskinos, headed a group of prominent citizens who sent a strong protest against the deportations of the Jews to the prime minister of the puppet regime and to the German representative in Athens. The contents of these protests show that they were based mainly on national, rather than on religious, considerations. Damaskinos was personally active in the rescue of individual Jews. The bishop of Salonika, Genadios, also intervened on behalf of Jews. The attitude of nonresistance of the population of Salonika, however, shows that the faithful did not always follow the example of their leaders.
The metropolitan of the Bukovina region, Tot Simedrea, the metropolitan of Transylvania, Balan, and Patriarch Nicodemus personally and successfully intervened with the Romanian government on behalf of the Jews after fervent appeals from Chief Rabbi Safran. In Bulgaria, the metropolitan of Sofia, Stephan, and the metropolitan of Plovdiv, Kyril, intervened personally with King Boris, using extremely forceful expressions. The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church repeatedly sent strong protests in writing to the government. According to a Jewish spokesman, Joseph Geron, the Orthodox Church played a major role among the "collective factors" that helped in the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews.
Individual Christians rendered material help. The moral importance of such deeds are sterling, though their practical importance should not be overrated; only a small minority of the Protestant and Orthodox Christians in occupied Europe risked their lives on behalf of the persecuted Jews. It is difficult to assess the practical results of interventions and protests by churches and church leaders. In German-allied countries, where they could turn to their own governments, the interventions of church leaders were of some avail. In the occupied countries, the protests hardly influenced the German authorities; but, insofar as they were read out from the pulpits, the protests contributed to breaking the silence and complacency that surrounded the extermination of the Jews and stirred the faithful to noncooperation with the Germans and to render individual aid to the Jews.
the catholic church: S. Friedlaender, Pius xii and the Third Reich (1966); G. Lewy, The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany, 1933–1945 (1964), ch. 10; P. Blet et al. (eds.), Lettres de Pie xii aux évêques allemands (1966); E. Bentley (ed.), Storm over the Deputy (1964), incl. bibl.; J. Nobécourt, "Le Vicaire" et l'histoire (1964); Rothkirchen, in: Yad Vashem Studies, 6 (1967), 27–53; P. Friedman, Their Brothers' Keepers (1957); M. Faulhaber, Judaism, Christianity and Germany (1934); Carpi, in: Yad Vashem Studies, 4 (1960), 43–56. add. bibliography: S. Zuccotti, Under His Very Windows (2002); D.J. Goldhagen, A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty to Repair (2002); J. Carroll, Constantine's Sword (2001); D.I. Kertzer, The Pope against the Jews: The Vatican's Role in the Rise of Modern Antisemitism (2001); M. Phayer, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust 1930–1965 (2000); C. Rittner, rsm, and John K. Roth (eds.), Pope Pius xii and the Holocaust (2002); G. Wills, Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit (2000); M. Aarons and J. Loftus, Ratlines (1991); U. Goñi, The Real Odessa: How Perón brought the Nazi War Criminals to Argentina (2002). protestant and greek orthodox churches: J.M. Snoek, The Grey Book… (1969), incl. bibl.; W.A. Visser 't Hooft, Struggle for the Dutch Church… (1944); Les Eglises Protestantes pendant la guerre et l'occupation (1946); Die Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland und die Judenfrage (1945); M. Leviev, Nashata Blagodarnost (Bul., n.d.). add. bibliography: J. Adler, "The French Churches and the Jewish Question: July 1940-March 1941," in: The Australian Journal of Politics and History, 46:3 (Sept. 2000), 357–77; V. Barnett, For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest Against Hitler (1992); H. Genizi, The Holocaust, Israel, and Canadian Protestant Churches (2002); M. Hockenos, A Church Divided: German Protestants Confront the Nazi Past (2004); O.D. Kulka and P.R. Mendes-Flohr (eds.), Judaism and Christianity under the Impact of National Socialism (1987); M.R. Marrus (ed.), Bystanders to the Holocaust, vol. 1, part 6: "The Churches" (1989), 1201–1415.
[John M. Snoek /
Victoria Barnett (2nd ed.)]
One cannot approach the role of the Jewish settlement in Palestine, the Yishuv, during the Holocaust by comparing it to the state of Israel with its current military might and self-proclaimed mission of serving as a guarantor that a second Holocaust will never be allowed to recur. The Yishuv was poor and struggling. It had just absorbed German Jewish immigrants fleeing Hitler. In fact, more Jews were absorbed into Palestine between 1933 and 1937 – only in 1938 and afterwards did the numbers coming to the United States surpass Palestine – than anywhere else in the world. It faced Arab riots and armed resistance in 1936 and was rightfully concerned about its own safety and state-building activity in addition to the fate of the Jews in exile.
On the eve of World War ii the Yishuv was in deep internal crisis. The British government had implemented the recommendations of its 1939 White Paper by limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine to 75,000 over five years, 15,000 a year, thus cutting off a haven for Jews precisely when it was most needed. The dangers facing the Jewish communities of Central and Eastern Europe were keenly felt and impacted upon the reservoir of potential immigrants (olim, lit. "ascendants") and on material support for the Yishuv, which then numbered some 470,000 people. Conditions were only to deteriorate with the onset of war.
Despite the problems with British mandatory rule, there could be no doubt that the Nazis were incomparably worse, and thus David Ben-Gurion charted Yishuv policy with his famous statement: "We shall fight for the British against the Germans as if there were no White Paper and fight against the White Paper as if there were no Nazis." He also charted a Zionist policy to link the war and secure the support of British and American Jews – Zionists and non-Zionists alike – to the Zionist aim of creating a Jewish "commonwealth" in Palestine. That aim was realized in the darkest year of Jewish history in May 1942 with the Biltmore Resolutions, which adopted the Zionist vision of a Jewish homeland in Palestine as the agenda for postwar Jewry. These were passed as the deportations to the death camps of German-occupied Poland were in full swing.
To fight against the White Paper, the Yishuv engaged in *illegal immigration. The sinking of the Patria and the struggle of the Struma to stay afloat and keep its passengers alive before a Soviet torpedo sank the ship were the most visible and problematic manifestations of the British determination to enforce the White Paper despite the war.
Still there was a symmetry of interests, and the Jewish community could hardly be neutral in the struggle between Britain and Nazi Germany. Thirty thousand Jews, men and women, some 6.8 percent of the Palestinian Jewish population, signed on for service as part of the British Army. It was only well into the war in September 1944 that a separate Jewish fighting unit, the *Jewish Brigade, was formed. The service of the Jews, whether in British or independent units, was important to the Zionist cause as it demonstrated commitment to fighting Nazi Germany. It also gave the soldiers who were later to fight in Israel's War of Independence important military experience.
The condition of the Yishuv was perilous, and this was legitimately of primary concern. In June-July 1942 German forces were within 62 miles of Alexandria and it was clear that if the British were forced to flee Alexandria, they would leave the Middle East and abandon the Yishuv to fight alone and virtually unarmed against the Germans. For the Yishuv the fight would be unto an all-but-certain death.
Only when the British were victorious at El Alamein in October and the Allies landed in North Africa in November was the fate of the Yishuv assured. Then it shifted its attention elsewhere.
Ever since the publication of Walter Laqueur's important work The Terrible Secret: The Suppression of Information Regarding the Final Solution (1982), historians have distinguished between information and knowledge. What was heard and what was understood in Palestine is an important comparison for assessing the action or inaction of the Allies and of neutral countries, for Palestinian Jews were surely not disinterested. Palestinian Jews dismissed early reports of the Einsatzgruppen massacres as crude Soviet propaganda.
The sources of their information regarding the fate of the Jews were many, including newspaper articles and other news accounts, but Jews in Palestine also received letters from parents and siblings – until they received them no longer – and listened to broadcasts from Europe in their native tongues. They could discern in what was said some of what was left unsaid.
During the early years of the war, the fate of the Jews was considered incidental to the war, the suffering of any civilian population as a result of military conflict, exacerbated by the unique venom that the Nazis felt toward the Jews. By 1941, as Jews were ghettoized in Poland and living under German occupation in most of Europe, the Yishuv sensed that the conditions of Jews had stabilized and would remain miserable but stable until the war ended. No better nor any sooner than the Allies did they perceive the existence of the Final Solution, the German plan to annihilate the Jews.
The Yishuv learned about the Final Solution in the same way the Allies did, through reports from the Soviet Foreign Ministry, the London-based Polish government-in-exile, and the cable that Gerhart Riegner sent to Samuel Silverman in London and Rabbi Stephen Wise in New York. No copy was sent to Jerusalem. The repatriation of Palestinian Jews exchanged for Germans in the fall of 1942 brought a new source of shocking information to the Yishuv. National days of mourning were proclaimed, demonstrations were held, and it is fair to say that the Yishuv felt a deep sense of despair. Families left abroad were being killed and the Jewish people as well as the Zionist enterprise were facing a massive defeat.
A Joint Rescue Committee was established and attempts were made at rescue and clandestine immigration. There was a struggle for limited financial support. Were resources to be allocated to the Yishuv and its development or to rescue efforts that seemed doomed to failure? Only in 1943 did actual rescue, however limited or unlikely, seem even remotely possible and hence warranted the use of resources.
A decision was made to allocate resources to the rescue outside of the normal budget of the Yishuv, and the amount was modest. Dina Porat, an Israeli historian, estimated that it was $32 million in 1980 dollars, which would be used inside occupied Europe. One third was earmarked for bringing Jews to Palestine.
There were three major efforts; the first was to bring assistance to 70,000 Romanian Jews inside Transnistria; the second was to cooperate with the Working Group (see above) in Slovakia as part of the Europa plan, bribing German officials to postpone the deportation of Jews. In both of these attempted rescues, the Yishuv, however well intentioned, was just not able to deliver the sums needed on time. The third was the attempt to deliver small parcels of money, medicine, and documents into neutral and Axis states. The work of a small group of rescuers in Turkey led by Chaim Barlas and including Jacob Griffel, Akivah Levinsky, Teddy *Kollek (later famous as the mayor of Jerusalem), and Venja Pomerantz (later a nuclear physicist involved in Israel's nuclear program) was most notable. Yet there too, the furious effort, noble as it was, saving an estimated 15,000 lives, was simply incommensurate with the need. As an old man who had witnessed much history, Kollek described it as the most frustrating period of his life.
The Yishuv was ready to respond to any other opportunity for rescue. One such opportunity seemed to present itself with the mission of Joel *Brand to Turkey with Adolf Eichmann's offer – we now know that it was ordered by Himmler – of one million Jews for 10,000 trucks to be used against the Soviet Union in the East. Neither the Yishuv nor the American Jewish community had the power to effect the trade; only the Allies could do it. But the Yishuv did press to maintain the illusion, for as long as possible, that the offer would be considered. In the end, the Allies understood that the offer was designed to achieve a separate peace with the West. When word of the offer was leaked in London, the deal was dead.
Two other efforts were noteworthy, the dropping of Palestinian parachutists who spoke the native languages into enemy territory to warn the Jewish community of their fate, and the request to bomb Auschwitz. The former included Hannah *Szenes, dropped into Yugoslavia and captured in Hungary, where she was tortured and executed, becoming a symbol of courage and devotion in modern Israel.
While Israeli historians have focused on the requests in July 1944 to bomb Auschwitz, they overlooked an important and instructive document, the minutes of the Jewish Agency meeting of June 11, 1944, in which the proposal that the Jewish Agency request that Auschwitz be bombed was rejected. David Ben-Gurion said, "We do not know the truth concerning the entire situation in Poland and it seems that we will be unable to propose anything concerning this matter." Dr. Schmorak said, "It is forbidden to take responsibility for a bombing that could very well cause the death of even one Jew." The summation of the meeting, at which Yitzhak Gruenbaum was criticized for advancing the idea with the American counsel, was "not to propose to the Allies the bombing of sites in which Jews are located."
Clearly as late as June 1944 the Jewish Agency in Palestine had no clear idea of what was happening in Poland and of the fate of Hungarian Jews then being deported to Auschwitz. The information available to them was not compelling enough to give them knowledge certain enough to request action that might kill Jews on the ground.
Yet within a month Moshe Shertok and Chaim Weizmann requested of the British that Auschwitz be bombed.
One possible explanation for this action is that the contents of the Vr'ba Wetzler Report – the Auschwitz Protocols – had made their way to Palestine and changed what was known about the nature of Auschwitz, making the ill-informed Jewish Agency's decision of June 11 inoperative.
Only in September 1944 was the Jewish Brigade formed, a Jewish force inside the British Army. The utility of such a force was less important in the war than in the postwar effort to rehabilitate the survivors of the camps and to facilitate the resumption of immigration into Palestine.
Y. Bauer, From Diplomacy to Resistance: A History of Jewish Palestine 1939–1945 (1973); idem, Jews for Sale? Nazi-Jewish Negotiations 1933–1945 (1994); D. Porat, The Blue and the Yellow Stars of David: The Zionist Leadership in Palestine and the Holocaust, 1939–1945 (1990); D. Ofer, Escaping the Holocaust: Illegal Immigration to the Land of Israel, 1939–1944 (1990); T. Segev, The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust (1993).
[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]