Tony Greenstein | 16 April 2021 | Post Views:

What was the relationship between the Nazis and the Zionists? Is it true that the Nazis supported Zionism?

Did the Zionists collaborate with the Jews’ arch enemy? Come to my talk Friday 6 p.m.

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When Ken Livingstone declared that Hitler supported Zionism the Zionist movement gave us an orchestrated display of faux outrage. To even mention, let alone discuss, Zionism’s record during the Third Reich, was called ‘anti-Semitism’. This in itself suggests that Zionism has something to hide.

The immediate reaction of for example The Independent to Livingstone’s remarks was to commission an article Why the Haavara Agreement does not mean the Nazis were Zionists by Rainer Schulze, who described Ha’avara, the trading agreement between the Nazis and the Zionists as ‘a way to save Jews from the claws of an increasingly hostile regime and attract them to Palestine.’

Yet just a little research would show that Ha’avara was not only bitterly condemned by the vast majority of Jews, including the Jewish Chronicle, for undermining the Jewish Boycott of Nazi Germany, but it was only ever intended to apply to the richest German Jews.

Schulze wrote that ‘Zionism was a movement based on the right of self-determination. It originated as a national liberation movement’.

Schulze is an Emeritus Professor of History at Essex University so there is no excuse for fabricating history.

The Zionist movement described itself as a colonising movement and referred to its settlements in Palestine as colonies. In his famous essay ‘The Iron Wall’ Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism (now Likud) wrote:

My readers have a general idea of the history of colonisation in other countries. I suggest that they consider all the precedents with which they are acquainted, and see whether there is one solitary instance of any colonisation being carried on with the consent of the native population. There is no such precedent.

The native populations, civilised or uncivilised, have always stubbornly resisted the colonists, irrespective of whether they were civilised or savage.[i]

When Theodor Herzl wrote to Cecil Rhodes, the White settler leader, after whom Rhodesia was named, on January 11th 1902, he asked:

“How, then, do I happen to turn to you since this is an out-of-the-way matter for you? How indeed? Because it is something colonial… I want you … to put the stamp of your authority on the Zionist plan…’

Zionism and Anti-Semitism

The IHRA ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism, which anti-Semites like Viktor Orban and Donald Trump love so much defines anti-Semitism as ‘Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’. So if you compare the Nazis’ barring of Jews from certain residential areas of towns to Israel’s policy of barring Arabs from areas of Israel such as Mitzpe Aviv then you are anti-Semitic.

It used to be the case that if something was true it couldn’t be anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism by its very nature was based on falsehoods. Now however something can be both true and ‘anti-Semitic’.

Zionism and Anti-Semitism are like Siamese twins. They feed off each other and share a common belief that Jews and non-Jews cannot live together in the same society. This is why, from the beginning of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century, anti-Semites have consistently supported the Zionist movement.

Theodor Herzl, the founder of Political Zionism understood this well:

‘the anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.[ii]

There are many examples of this mutual affection. William Stanley Shaw, President of the British Brothers League, the precursor of the British Union of Fascists, which campaigned against the immigration of Jewish refugees, expressed his admiration for Zionism:

I am a firm believer in the Zionist movement, which the British Brothers League will do much incidentally to foster. The return of the Jews to Palestine is one of the most striking signs of the times…. All students of prophecy are watching the manifold signs of the times with almost breathless interest…[iii]

John Hagee – President of Christians United for Israel

Christian Zionism combines anti-Semitism, Zionism and Messianism. John Hagee, President of the million strong Christians United for Israel, described Hitler as an agent of god.

The Zionist approach to the Nazis was no different to their attitude historically to anti-Semitism. It sought not to oppose or fight the Nazis but to work with them. Zionism saw anti-Semitism as a force that would drive the Jews to Palestine. In Herzl’s analogy it was the steam that drove the engine.

This mutual affection was recognised very early on by the principal theoretician of the Nazi Party, Alfred Rosenberg who argued that:

Zionism must be vigorously supported in order to encourage a significant number of German Jews to leave for Palestine or other destinations.’[iv]


‘intended to use Zionism as a legal justification for depriving German Jews of their civil rights’ and ‘eventually the Jewish presence in Germany.’[v]

Rosenberg was hanged at Nuremburg for crimes against humanity. Heinrich Class, the leader of the 100,000 Pan German League, who became a Nazi member of the Reichstag in 1933 wrote that:[vi]

“… among the Jews themselves the nationalist movement called Zionism is gaining more and more adherents … They also declare openly that a true assimilation of the Jewish aliens to the host nations would be impossible… the Zionists confirm what the enemies of the Jews… have always asserted…” [If I Were the Kaiser, Daniel Frymman]

Donald Niewyk asked if German Zionism

‘reinforced the anti-Semitic stereotype of the Jews as materialists, exploiters, and traitors?… Did their assertions of racial and national otherness… hasten the day when the Nazis might seek to make Germany judenrein?’[vii]

JB Agus asked if

‘the Zionist programme and philosophy contribute(d) decisively to the enormous catastrophe of the extermination of 6 million Jews by the Nazis by popularizing the notion that the Jews were forever aliens in Europe?’[viii]

Ha’avara and the Jewish Boycott – What was the Zionist attitude to the rise of the Nazis?

When Hitler became Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933, world Jewry spontaneously organised a Boycott of Nazi Germany. This caused the Nazis to panic. Only a tiny minority of Jews, the Zionists and the Jewish bourgeoisie opposed the Boycott.

‘faced with the consequences of an economic boycott by the Jews of the whole world the Nazis of Germany are denying stories of the atrocious treatment which has been meted out to those of Jewish nationality.[ix]

The Boycott reigned in the Nazi terror but the Zionists were wholly indifferent to the plight of Germany’s Jews.

On 9 June 1933 the German Zionist Federation, (ZVfD) the Jewish Agency and the Palestine Land Development Company began negotiations with the Nazi government to secure a trade agreement. Agreement was reached by August 7th.

The Zionist leaders of the Palestine Jewish community (Yishuv) opposed the Boycott of Nazi Germany because

‘Zionist priorities… awarded precedence to the realization of Zionist goals and the building of Palestine over the struggle to preserve Jewish civil rights in the Diaspora.’ [x]

Dov Hoz observed that “In these negotiations, we are reaping the fruit of the boycott we oppose.” [xi] But for the Boycott the Nazis would not have agreed to Ha’avara. The Zionist movement was parasitic on the Boycott movement. As Yf’aat Weiss noted

The Zionist movement found itself in a profound conflict between transfer and boycott and, in the broad sense, between the needs of the Yishuv and the sentiments of the Jewish people.[xii]

Marek Edelman – the Bundist Commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance

The Zionists spoke of ‘saving the wealth’ and ‘rescuing the capital from Nazi Germany’ not saving the Jews.[xiii] Those 20,000 German Jews who it benefited were amongst the richest Jews in Germany, the very ones who could have found other places of refuge.

Far from doing their best to maximize the number of German Jews who could enter Palestine (no one believed then that the Nazis would kill Germany’s Jews) the Zionists sought to restrict the numbers. Werner Senator, a member of the Jewish Agency Executive [JAE] warned that if German Zionists ‘did not improve the quality of the “human material” they were sending the number of certificates would be cut.[xiv]

If the Zionists sought to rescue the maximum number of German Jews then it made no sense that nearly 5,000 American Jews and 20,000 from countries where Jews were not under threat were given certificates to enter Palestine between 1933 and 1939. Even as dedicated a Zionist as Elie Wiesel, wrote that

‘Surely, Jewish Palestine… needed money to finance its development, but this brazen pragmatism went against the political philosophy of a majority of world Jewry. There developed a growing perception that instead of supporting and strengthening the boycott, Palestine was, in fact, sabotaging it.’ [Elie Wiesel] [xv]

The behaviour of the Zionists infuriated Jewish workers and trade unionists. In a debate between Berl Locker of the Zionist Executive and Baruch Vladeck, the Bundist editor of the Yiddish Forward and Chairman of the Jewish Labor Committee, Vladeck described how

‘The whole organized labor movement and the progressive world are waging a fight against Hitler through the boycott. The Transfer Agreement scabs on that fight.’

Vladeck contended that

The main purpose of the Transfer is not to rescue the Jews from Germany but to strengthen various institutions in Palestine. Vladeck termed Palestine ‘the official scab agent against the boycott in the Near-East’.[xvi]

The Zionist leaders welcomed the Nazis

The Zionist leadership actually welcomed the rise to power of Hitler. In their eyes the triumph of the Nazis had vindicated them. They had been right when they said that there was no future for the diaspora.

I’m not suggesting that the Zionists welcomed the holocaust. In 1933 very few people thought the Nazis would exterminate the Jews. However most Jews realised that the Nazis represented a new form of racial anti-Semitism and that they represented a dire threat to the safety of German Jews.

The Zionist attitude to Nazi anti-Semitism was that of Herzl. Anti-Semitism ‘will not harm the Jews…. It represents the education of a group by the masses… Education is accomplished by hard knocks.[xvii]

There can be no doubt that the Zionist willingly and voluntarily proposed collaborating with the Nazis. On 21 June 1933, the ZVfD sent a memo to Hitler which was never answered. It read:

On the foundation of the new state, which has established the principle of race… fruitful activity for the fatherland is possible. Our acknowledgement of Jewish nationality provides for a clear and sincere relationship to the German people and its national and racial realities…. because we too are against mixed marriages and are for maintaining the purity of the Jewish group… The realisation of Zionism could only be hurt by resentment of Jews abroad against the German development. Boycott propaganda… is in essence fundamentally unZionist, because Zionism wants not to do battle but to convince and to build.’[xviii] (my emphasis)

Chaim Weizmann – Israel’s first President

Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first President warned his personal secretary, Lewis Namier, a Jewish anti-Semite, who was writing the Introduction to Arthur Ruppin’s Jews in the Modern World

‘not to be so open in expressing their common toleration of Nazism’ because ‘the louts will say, the Jews themselves think that it will be all for the good, etc.’ (my emphasis)[xix]

Bloom commented that ‘Ruppin’s attitude towards the Nazis, then, reflects the general reaction of many Zionists, including “liberals” like Weizmann.’ [xx] Ruppin was subscribed to the racial sciences.

The Zionist national poet Chaim Nachman Bialik volunteered that ‘Hitler has perhaps saved German Jewry, which was being assimilated into annihilation.[xxi]

Emil Ludwig, the world famous biographer, ‘expressed the general attitude of the Zionist movement:’ when he wrote that:

‘Hitler will be forgotten in a few years, but he will have a beautiful monument in Palestine. You know, the coming of the Nazis was rather a welcome thing. … Thousands who seemed to be completely lost to Judaism were brought back to the fold by Hitler, and for that I am personally very grateful to him.’ [xxii]

Francis Nicosia described how ‘so positive’ was its assessment of the situation that the ZVfD announced its determination to take advantage of the crisis to win over German Jewry to Zionism.[xxiii]

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister

David Ben Gurion, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency and Israel’s first Prime Minister is quoted as saying that

‘Disaster is strength if channeled to a productive course. The whole trick of Zionism is that it knows how to channel our disaster, not into despondency or degradation, as is the case in the Diaspora, but into a source of creativity and exploitation.’ [xxiv]

Ben Gurion’s view was widely shared. The Zionist movement was determined to take advantage of the rise of the Nazis in order to build their ‘Jewish’ state.

Rabbi Prinz, the President of the ZVfD and later deputy President of the World Jewish Congress described the Nazi assumption of power as the ‘beginning of the Jew’s return to his Judaism.’ The main Jewish German body, the Centralverein talked about German Zionism having inflicted ‘a stab in the back’ to the struggle against Hitler.[xxv]

Berl Katznelson, a founder of Mapai, and Ben Gurion’s effective deputy, saw the rise of Hitler as “an opportunity to build and flourish like none we have ever had or ever will have” [xxvi]

Ben Gurion was even more optimistic. ‘The Nazis victory would become “a fertile force for Zionism.”[xxvii]

Exploiting the Holocaust for a Jewish Palestine

Noah Lucas, a critical Zionist historian, wrote about how, as the European holocaust erupted,

Ben Gurion saw it as a decisive opportunity for Zionism… In conditions of peace,… Zionism could not move the masses of world Jewry. The forces unleashed by Hitler in all their horror must be harnessed to the advantage of Zionism. … By the end of 1942… the struggle for a Jewish state became the primary concern of the movement.’[xxviii]

The desire to rescue Europe’s Jews “was conveniently structured by the Zionist programme in a way that involved only helping Jews to reach Palestine.”[xxix] Dina Porat, Yad Vashem’s chief historian agreed.

Most of the discussion in the Yishuv focused on immigration to Palestine as a solution,… Little attention was given to the actual plight of the Jews of Europe. [xxx]

Christopher Sykes observed that ‘from the very beginning of the Nazi disaster, the Zionist leadership determined to wrest political advantage from the tragedy.’[xxxi] Lucas, reached similar conclusions:

‘While hopes and efforts for the rescue of Europe’s Jews continued, the struggle for a Jewish state became the primary concern of the (Zionist) movement.’[xxxii]

Ben-Gurion’s biographer, Shabtai Teveth, described how Ben-Gurion

‘concentrated all his efforts on the [Zionist] program, not to the tragedy of European Jewry. He maintained a puzzling silence about what was going on in Europe and Riegner’s telegram.’ [xxxiii]

Teveth described how

‘In spite of the certainty that genocide was being carried out, the JAE did not deviate appreciably from its routine.’ [xxxiv]

Dina Porat admitted in respect of Ben Gurion’s attitude that ‘these questions are hard to answer’ because ‘Ben-Gurion’s concentration on post-war goals shifted attention away from the present plight of Europe’s Jews.[xxxv]

To Ben Gurion the war was ‘a rare opportunity to achieve the “Zionist solution… to the problem of the Jewish people.’[xxxvi]

‘all the significant steps in the progress of Zionism were always related to the intensification of Jewish distress.’ [xxxvii]

Shabtai Teveth concluded that

‘if there was a line in Ben Gurion’s mind between the beneficial disaster and an all-destroying catastrophe, it must have been a very fine one.’ [xxxviii]

In October 1941 Ben Gurion saw the catastrophe, ‘in its pre-holocaust sense, as a source of strength and momentum’ [xxxix] He wrote that

‘to the disaster of German Jewry we must offer a Zionist response, namely we must convert the disaster into a source for the upbuilding of Palestine’ [xl]


In the wake of Kristallnacht, the state organised pogrom against Germany’s Jews, there was a wave of sympathy for the plight of Germany’s Jews. In Britain the government agreed to the kindertransport, admitting 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children from Germany.

The Zionists were extremely hostile to this offer. They wanted to use the children as a battering ram to open the gates of Palestine to Jewish immigration. Ben Gurion expressed his hostility to the proposal in a shocking speech to Mapai’s Central Committee on 9 December 1938:

‘If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children, but also the history of the People of Israel.’ [xli]

Malcolm MacDonald, the Colonial Secretary, recalled:

‘I remember at the time that Weizmann’s attitude shocked me. He insisted on the children going to Palestine. As far as he was concerned it was Palestine or nowhere.’ [xlii]

The Zionist leadership’s great fear was that

the future and destiny of Palestine and the plight of European Jewry would be considered as two separate problems. As a result, efforts would be made to solve the problem of European Jewry without using Palestine as a refuge.[xliii]

The Zionists were determined to use the plight of Europe’s Jews to build their state. They vehemently opposed ‘refugeeism’ – the rescue of Jews to anywhere that would have them. If the Jews were to be saved it had to be to Palestine. Ben Gurion explained that:

‘Zionism… is not primarily engaged in saving individuals. If along the way it saves a few thousand, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of individuals, so much the better.’ But in the event of a conflict of interest between saving individual Jews and the good of the Zionist enterprise, we shall say the enterprise comes first.’[xliv]

Ben Gurion was also clear that the task of rescuing Jews from the Nazi hell was not one for Zionism. Zionism turned its back on the Jews trapped in Nazi occupied Europe. Ben Gurion insisted that:

The tasks of assistance, of saving one more Jew , of doing all to prevent deportations, are very important… and must be assumed by another organisation, to be set up and funded from other sources.’ JAE funds could only be used for rescue to Palestine [xlv]

For Ben-Gurion ‘It is the job of Zionism not to save the remnant of Israel in Europe but rather to save the land of Israel for the Jewish people.’[xlvi]Zionism was at no time concerned with Jews as individuals but as a collective, a people/race.

Saul Friedlander, himself a holocaust survivor, concluded that

‘rescue of the Jews in Europe was not at the top of the Yishuv leaders’ list of priorities. For them, the most important thing was the effort to establish the state’.[xlvii]

Friedlander described the Zionist attitude as ‘perplexing’: ‘no concrete assistance or rescue plans emerged from the Yishuv throughout most of 1941’. The Jewish Agency [xlviii]hardly paid attention to the situation in Europe…’ [xlix]

Abba Hillel-Silver, the President of the Zionist Organisation of America, worried that:

It is possible for the Diaspora to undermine the Jewish state, because the urgency of the rescue issue could lead the world to accept a temporary solution. We should place increased emphasis on fundamental Zionist ideology.[l]

1938 Evian Conference

The Evian Conference (July 6-15, 1938) was a face-saving exercise. It was called by Roosevelt on the basis that countries were not expected to change their existing refugee policies. Roosevelt was only prepared to admit refugees outside of America’s quotas at the end of 1941 when 2,000 statesmen, artists and scientists, who had been trapped in Vichy France were allowed entry. Only in the years 1938-1940 did the USA admit more than half the miserly quotas allotted to Germany and Austria.[li]

The JAE first discussed Evian on 26 June 1938. Yitzhak Gruenbaum feared

‘immense dangers loom from the Evian conference. It could mark the end of Palestine as a land of immigration…. they will find some new territory to which they will want to direct Jewish emigration. We must defend our principle – that Jewish settlement can succeed only in Eretz-Israel, and therefore no other [place of] settlement can be considered.’[lii]:

It seemed to Ben-Gurion that the Zionists’ main task was

‘to reduce the damage, the danger and the disaster that can be expected from the Evian Conference…It could remove Palestine from the international agenda as a factor in the solution of the Jewish question. Because at this time Palestine is not serving as a haven for masses of immigrants. The haverim who propose to highlight at Evian the question of the Jewish people are making a mistake. That question needs no more “highlighting.” the more we highlight the terrible distress of the Jewish masses in Germany, Poland and Romania, the more damage we will do at this time to the negotiations [with Britain].’ [liii]

What Ben Gurion feared was that since Palestine was unable to solve the refugee question, it would inevitably mean looking for other places of refuge. Zionism would be redundant. A meeting of the JAE on June 26, 1938 decided to:

‘belittle the [Evian] Conference as far as possible and to cause it to decide nothing…. We are particularly worried that it would move Jewish organizations to collect large sums of money for aid to Jewish refugees, and these collections could interfere with our collection efforts’ [liv]

The Zionists Sabotage Other Places of Refuge

The only positive outcome from Evian was the offer from Gen. Trujillo of San Domingo to accept 100,000 Jewish refugees. Brazil’s representative, Helio Lobo, indicated that Brazil could accept 40,000 emigrants a year, though nothing like this number were admitted.[lv] It is estimated that more German Jewish refugees found refuge in Latin America than Palestine during the 1930s.[lvi]

The JA was unremitting in their hostility to Trujillo’s offer and did its best to destroy it. Trujillo was a maverick dictator as well as a racist. He supported the Republicans in Spain, giving shelter to thousands following Franco’s victory. This and the offer to accept 100,000 Jews stemmed from his desire to “whiten” Dominican society.[lvii]

The Zionist Yiddisher Kempfer attacked the project in a fit of hypocritical anti-racist rhetoric. The settlement originated ‘in the curse and disgrace of his racist hatred for the Negroes of Haiti.’ Only the support of Roosevelt caused the America’s Zionist leaders to restrain their opposition.[lviii]

When US Interior Secretary Harold Ickes raised the idea of admitting 10,000 Jewish refugees a year to Alaska, which was not subject to America’s strict immigration quotas, Stephen Wise, the American Zionist leader, rejected the idea. His pretext was that the territory was “too cold” for Europeans. Auschwitz was no doubt warmer.

Wise’s real reasons were spelt out in a private letter to Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter (19.10.39). It would ‘make(s) a wrong and hurtful impression to have it appear that Jews are taking over some part of the country for settlement.’ [lix] Unlike Palestine of course!

Other areas of settlement that were proposed included Kimberley and the Northern Territories in Australia, British Guiana and Mindanao (in the Philippines). When Neville Chamberlain suggested the former German colony of Tanganyika, Wise exploded:

I would rather have my fellow Jews die in Germany than live somehow, anyhow, in the lands which bear the imprint of yesterday’s occupation by Germany’.

Pressurising the Gestapo

Not only did the Zionist leaders oppose “refugeeism” but they lobbied the Gestapo to ensure that German refugees could only go to Palestine. The Gestapo ‘did everything in those days to promote emigration, particularly to Palestine.’[lx]

Feivel Polkes – Hagannah Agent

Haganah agent Feivel Polkes spearheaded these efforts. SS files show that in return for information from Polkes on attempts to kill Hitler, the Gestapo agreed that pressure

will be exerted on the Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland [the Jewish representative body] to oblige Jews who emigrate from Germany to go exclusively to Palestine, and not to other countries.[lxi]

Tom Segev says that it is hard to ascertain what position Polkes had within Haganah.[lxii] Israel has refused to release its files on Polkes.

Zionist Indifference to the Holocaust

It almost seems counter intuitive when Israel takes thousands of students to Auschwitz each year and the holocaust forms such a major component of Zionist propaganda, to learn that during the holocaust itself, the Zionist movement went to great lengths to ignore the subject altogether, even denying that there was a holocaust.

For example Gerhard Riegner of the World Jewish Congress in Geneva received confirmation at the end of July 1942 that Europe’s Jews were being exterminated. On 8th August he sent cables to the US and British consulates confirming the Final Solution. Stephen Wise received this on 28th August and agreed, at the State Department’s request, to keep quiet. It was not until November 23rd that the Jewish Agency finally issued a statement to the world confirming that the extermination of the Jews was taking place.

In a letter to Roosevelt of 2nd December 1942 Wise admitted that:

‘… it is indisputable that as many as two million civilian Jews have been slain. I have had cables and underground advices for some months, telling of these things. I succeeded, together with the heads of other Jewish organizations, in keeping these out of the press.’[lxiii] (my emphasis)

Yet even after issuing their statement the Jewish Agency continued to play down or even deny that the holocaust was taking place.

On 27 December 1942 the Agency issued a statement informing the Yishuv that the holocaust had come to an end in Poland. This was based on the Official Gazette of the Nazi General Government in Poland which stated that 53 Jewish ghettos had been set up.[lxiv]

On 23 March 1943 Davar, the Histadrut newspaper, was reprimanded by Yosef Gravitzky, of the Jewish Agency’s Palcor news agency, for copying from a Nazi paper, Ostland, a “report” that 2m Jews remained in Poland, after the paper had reported one day earlier that no more than 200,000 Jews were still alive.[lxv] In fact by this time Polish Jewry had been almost completely decimated.Numerous “reports” and false information concocted by the Propaganda Ministry in Berlin found an echo in the Palestine press.[lxvi]

When Bernard Joseph. the director of the JA political department, was told that the Journalists’ Union had requested its colleagues abroad to give widespread prominence to the reports from Europe, Dov Joseph urged caution in ‘exaggerating the number of Jewish victims’.

‘if we announce that millions of Jews have been slaughtered by the Nazis, we will justifiably be asked where the millions of Jews are, for whom we claim that we shall need to provide a home in Eretz Israel after the war ends.’[lxvii]

Beit-Zvi observed that

‘Probably not even Goebbels in his wildest plans could have elicited the kind of treatment the Hebrew press accorded to information about the holocaust.[lxviii]

In the Kasztner trial it was reported by HaBoker that Moshe Sharett, when head of the Political Department of the JA had ‘deliberately concealed information about the annihilation’. Menachem Begin of Herut, the future Prime Minister of Israel, alleged that ‘the Jewish Agency covered up the news of the mass annihilation.[lxix]

Rudolf Kasztner and Rudolf Vrba

Rudolf Kasztner was the leader of Hungarian Zionism during the war. In 1953 a libel case was brought against Malchiel Gruenwald, a 69-year-old Hungarian Jew who alleged that Kasztner had collaborated with the Nazis in the deportation of Hungary’s Jews. He depicted the JA as ‘the Judenrat of Palestine’[lxx] and accused them of complicity in the murder of thousands of Hungarian Jews.

The trial began on 1 January 1954. Kasztner was a Mapai candidate in the forthcoming Knesset elections.[lxxi] Attorney General Haim Cohen had insisted that Kasztner sue Gruenwald and the state would finance the action. Cohen unwittingly opened up a can of worms.

Rudolf Kasztner

Hungarian holocaust survivors testified that if they had known the truth then they would have tried to escape.[lxxii] Wiesel told how

‘We were taken just two weeks before D-Day, and we did not know that Auschwitz existed… everyone knew except the victims.’[lxxiii]

When he arrived at Auschwitz a Sonderkommando berated them: ‘Didn’t you know what was in store for you here in Auschwitz?’ Wiesel admitted ‘True. We didn’t know. Nobody had told us. He couldn’t believe his ears…’ [lxxiv] Yehuda Bauer and the Zionist stable of holocaust historians maintain that Hungary’s Jews knew.

Rudolf Vrba

Wiesel accused Kasztner of failing to warn Jews of the danger, concentrating instead on secret negotiations with the SS.

‘Many of us could have, would have found hiding places with Christian friends or in the surrounding mountains.’ [lxxv]

If the Jews had been warned what deportation meant then thousands could have escaped across the border to Romania, which was now a place of refuge for Jews, or hidden in Hungary.[lxxvi] It is estimated that 4,000-4,500 Jews escaped across the Romanian border in any event and many more escaped to Slovakia and neighbouring countries.[lxxvii]

Kasztner and Vaada dissuaded the Jews of Kolosvar and elsewhere from escaping over the border.[lxxviii] Joseph Katz, a lawyer from Nodvarod, four miles from the Romanian border, testified that its 20,000 Jews knew nothing of Auschwitz.

Rudolf Vrba was one of 2 Jews who escaped from Auschwitz on 10 April 1944. Vrba and Alfred Wetzler reached Slovakia after a perilous journey, on 24 April. The next day they wrote the Auschwitz Report or Protocols, which revealed to the world the secrets of Auschwitz and its gas chambers. This testimony was the first eye witness evidence that Auschwitz was an extermination not a labour camp. The Report was given to Kasztner on or around the 27th April. However Kasztner decided to suppress the Report. Vrba later wrote:

I am a Jew. In spite of that – indeed because of that “I accuse certain Jewish leaders of one of the most ghastly deeds of the war. This small group of quislings knew what was happening to their brethren in Hitler’s gas chambers and bought their own lives with the price of silence. Among them was Dr Kasztner.” … I was able to give Hungarian Zionist leaders three weeks notice that Eichmann planned to send a million of their Jews to his gas chambers… Kasztner went to Eichmann and told him, ‘I know of your plans; spare some Jews of my choice and I shall keep quiet.’ [lxxix]

When Israeli Professor Jacob Talman criticised Hannah Arendt, for mentioning Zionist collaboration with the Nazis, Vrba asked:

‘Did the Judenrat (or the Judenverrat) in Hungary tell their Jews what was awaiting them? No, they remained silent and for this silence some of their leaders – for example Dr R Kasztner – bartered their own lives and the lives of 1684 other ‘prominent’ Jews directly from Eichmann.’[lxxx]

‘If there was a line in Ben-Gurion’s mind between the beneficial disaster and an all-destroying catastrophe, it must have been a very fine one.’ Shabtai Teveth, official biographer of David Ben Gurion [lxxxi]

Guilty consciences

The Zionists knew what they were doing in giving preference to building a Jewish state even to the extent of blocking rescue. Unsurprisingly they had a guilty conscience. Chaim Weizmann wrote:

‘unless some radical measures are taken fairly soon, we Zionists may stand charged, when history come to be written, with criminal indifference in the face of the greatest trial to which Jewry has been subjected in modern times.’ [lxxxii]

Joachim Prinz wrote about how

“It was morally disturbing to seem to be considered as the favoured children of the Nazi Government, particularly when it dissolved the anti-Zionist youth groups, and seemed in other ways to prefer the Zionists. The Nazis asked for a ‘more Zionist behaviour.” [lxxxiii]

Noah Lucas wrote of

‘… a gnawing sense of guilt’ among Israel’s leaders, asking: ‘Did the Jewish Agency and other organisations do all that had been possible to save the Jews of Europe from extermination. Were the various wartime negotiations with the Nazi executives of death morally impeccable? … Did the concentration on attaining statehood itself impede rescue? Did Zionist statecraft contribute to the toll of Jewish life? These and other questions… were submerged in the unconscious mind of the nation… From time to time they came to the surface demanding precise elucidation in the courts of law, as in the Kasztner case.’

Even as devoted a Zionist historian as Walter Lacquer spoke of how, after the war ‘the question was asked whether enough had been done to help them’, the Jews living in Nazi occupied Europe. Lacquer referred to ‘an uneasy conscience.’ [lxxxiv]

This is just a snapshot of a much larger topic. If you are interested tune in tomorrow night to my talk on ‘Zionism During the Holocaust’ at 6.00 p.m.

You can register here

[i]         Texts Concerning Zionism: “The Iron Wall”, Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotisnky (November 4, 1923), Jewish Virtual Library,

[ii]           Complete Diaries, pp. 83/84.

[iii]           JC, 8.11.01.

[iv]           Nicosia, TRPQ, p.25 citing Die Spur 1920 p.153.

[v]           Nicosia, TRPQ, pp. 25-26.  See also Black p. 173.

[vi]           Saul Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews, p.72, Vol. 1 ‘The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939’ Harper Collins. New York, 1997

[vii]          Niewyk, The Jews in Weimar Germany’, p. 139, Manchester University Press, 1980.

[viii]         J B Agus ‘Meaning of Jewish History’, New York, 1963 Vol 2 p.447.

[ix]           The Observer, Quoted in the Jewish Chronicle 31.3.33.

[x]           Hava Eshkoli-Wagman, Yishuv Zionism, p.25

[xi]           Yf’aat Weiss, p.24. The Transfer Agreement and the Boycott Movement.

[xii]          The Transfer Agreement and the Boycott Movement, p.20. Yf’aat Weiss.

[xiii]         Edwin Black, pp. 257-258.

[xiv]         Segev p.44 citing Werner Senator to the Palestine office in Berlin, 30.1.35, CZA S/ 7 142.

[xv]          Review, The Land That Broke Its Promise : THE SEVENTH MILLION: The Israelis and the holocaust,

[xvi]         Lenni Brenner, pp. 92-93, 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis’, Barricade Books, 1972.

[xvii]         Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, p. 10.

[xviii]        Lucy Dawidowicz, A holocaust Reader, p.150-153.

[xix]         Etan Bloom, Ph.D. thesis p. 416 citing Weizmann to Lewis Namier, 1.10.33. in: The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, vol. XVI, p. 54). 1968-1980, Weisgal and Litvinoff (eds.).

[xx]          Bloom, Arthur Ruppin and the Production of the Modern Hebrew Culture, p. 416.

[xxi]         Etan Bloom, Arthur Ruppin and the Production of the Modern Hebrew Culture, pp. 415, 417.

[xxii]         Etan Bloom, Arthur Ruppin and Modern Hebrew Culture, p.417 see also

[xxiii]        Nicosia, ZANG p.146.

[xxiv]        Shabtai Teveth, The Burning Ground 1886-1948, p. 853.

[xxv]         Klaus Polkehn, The Secret Contacts, p. 57.

[xxvi]        Nicosia, ZANG, p.91. Segev, p.18 attributes this quote to a report by Moshe Beilinson, a cofounder of Davar, to Katznelson.

[xxvii]       Segev, The Seventh Million, p.18.

[xxviii]       Lucas. pp.187/8.

[xxix]        Lucas p.189.

[xxx]         Dina Porat, p.9.

[xxxi]        Sykes p.137.

[xxxii]       Lucas p.188, ‘A Modern History of Israel ‘pp.326-327, Weidenfield ‘ & Nicholson, 1975.

[xxxiii]       Teveth p.842.

[xxxiv]       Teveth, p.848.

[xxxv]       Porat, pp. 10-11, 18.

[xxxvi]       Yechiam Weitz, Jewish Refugees and Zionist Policy during the holocaust, p.355.

[xxxvii]      Shabtai Beit Zvi -Ugandan Zionism on Trial, p.115

[xxxviii]     Shabtai Teveth, The Burning Ground 1886-1948, p. 851.

[xxxix]       Shabtai Teveth, The Burning Ground 1886-1948, p. 853

[xl]           Shabtai Teveth, The Burning Ground 1886-1948, p. 854.

[xli]          Yoav Gelber, ‘Zionist policy and the Fate of European Jewry, Yad Vashem Studies (1939-42) p.199, see also Segev, p.28, Teveth, p.855, Piterberg, p.99. 

[xlii]         The Palestine Triangle, p. 52. Nicholas Bethell, Andre Deutsch, London, 1979.

[xliii]         Yechiam Weitz, Jewish Refugees and Zionist Policy, p.352.

[xliv]         Teveth, p. 855, speech to the Mapai Council 1933.

[xlv]             Teveth, p. 858, speech to the Mapai Council 1933.

[xlvi]         Segev, 129.

[xlvii]        Tom Segev, p. 467.

[xlviii]       The JA was responsible for the internal administration of Palestinian Jewry. Albert Hyamson, Palestine Under the Mandate, p.96..

[xlix]         Saul Friedlander, p. 275.

[l]            Peter Novick, p. 43.

[li]           S Beit Zvi, p.178.

[lii]           S Beit Zvi, pp.155-156.

[liii]             S Beit Zvi, p. 156.

[liv]             Boas Evron, “Jewish State or Israeli Nation?”

[lv]           S Beit Zvi, p.170. 3,000 Jews were admitted to Brazil in 1940 after an appeal by Anglican Bishops, Herbert Strauss, p. 374.

[lvi]          Herbert A Strauss, Jewish Emigration from Germany, p. 363.

[lvii]         Leveraging American Security Policy in the Caribbean: Rafael Trujillo, the Axis Threat, and Jewish Refugees from Europe in the 1930’s, Morris Mottale, S Beit Zvi, p.214.

[lviii]         S Beit Zvi, p.219.

[lix]          Medoff, p. 445, Conflicts between American Jewish leaders and dissidents.

[lx]           Nicosia, TRPQ, p.57.

[lxi]          Nicosia, TFPQ pp. 62-63, 245 fn 65. Polkes’s file in the Haganah Archives in Tel Aviv remains closed to researchers.

[lxii]         Segev, The Seventh Million, fn. p.31.  Segev calls him ‘Folkes’.

[lxiii]         Lacquer, The Terrible Secret, p.160, 2.12.42. Stephen Wise Papers, Brandeis University.

[lxiv]         S Beit Zvi, p.79.  Other reports suggest that it was in January 1943 that Gruenbaum told his colleagues that the final solution had ended and that the Jews of Poland had been concentrated in 55 ghettos.  Hatzofeh, December 28, 1942.  Porat, p.42. 

[lxv]         S. Beit-Zvi, p. 78.

[lxvi]         S. Beit Zvi, pp. 48-49

[lxvii]        Yoav Gelber, ‘Zionist Policy and the Fate of European Jewry (1939-42) p.195.

[lxviii]       S Beit Zvi, p. 45.

[lxix]         Yechiam Weitz, The Herut Movement, pp.359, 368. See for example ‘A Resounding Response to Moshe Sharett – the Jewish Agency Knowingly Silenced Information Regarding the holocaust’ Herut, 15.7.1955.

[lxx]         Segev. 271.

[lxxi]         Noah Lucas, The Modern History of Israel, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1975, p. 327.

[lxxii]        Porter pp. 420-1.

[lxxiii]       The Nazis’ Last Victims: The holocaust in Hungary, Eds. Braham, Miller, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 2002, Braham accused Bauer of using ‘questionable psychological arguments’ when suggesting that Hungary’s Jews had been informed about the holocaust without having internalized it. Bauer ‘cites selectively the recollections of survivors, including some young Zionist couriers and local community leaders who were allegedly involved in “rescue and warning activities.” The problem was that the survivors were not only ‘left in the dark about the secrets of Auschwitz, but in fact were misinformed while most of the leaders escaped…’ ‘Braham, Rescue Operations in Hungary, p.27. 

[lxxiv]       Elie Wiesel, Night, p. 30, Penguin Books, London, 1985.

[lxxv]        Istvan Deak, Review of the holocaust in Hungary, Sixty Years Later, Braham and Brewster.

[lxxvi]       Lob p.80.

[lxxvii]       Bauer, p. 160.  According to a report of Bertrand Jacobson, Bucharest representative of the welfare organisation HIAS-HICEM, some 1,500 Jews crossed the border.  Braham, ‘Rescue Operations in Hungary p.57. Kasztner also estimated that 1,500 escaped to Romania. Kasztner Report, p.110.

[lxxviii]      Bogdanor, pp. 50-56. Kasztner was sent by Wisliceny to Kolosvar, near the border with Romania, to warn the Jews that the guard had been increased and that it was too risky to cross.

[lxxix]       B. Hecht, Perfidy, p.261, fn 68. citing the Daily Herald February 1961

[lxxx]        Observer, 22.9.63., strictly speaking Kasztner was not a member of the Judenrat.

[lxxxi]       Shabtai Teveth, Ben Gurion – The Burning Ground, p.851.

[lxxxii]       David Silberklang, Jewish Politics and Rescue: p.337. Letter to Simon Marks 15.12.35.

[lxxxiii]      Joachim Prinz, Zionism under the Nazi Government, Young Zionist (London, November 1937), p.18 cited in Lenni Brenner, 51 Documents, p. 101.

[lxxxiv]      Lacquer, A History of Zionism, p.561.

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