Monday, November 21, 2011

Laying Siege to German Jews

The following paragraph, from a feature article in the Weekend Australian, conceals a much more nuanced story:

"Questioning the way history is presented is one of [Albrecht] Dumling's chief preoccupations. He was in Canberra to sift through the National Archives, looking into what really happened to [German] Jewish musicians whose flight from Nazi terror brought them to Australia. Today, it is tempting to imagine Australia as a safe haven, where the unjustly persecuted could begin again. The reality was different. Australia was not eager to accept Jewish immigrants. At the Evian Conference of 1938, Australia's trade and customs minister Thomas White, pleading against large-scale Jewish immigration, declared that 'as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one'." (Musicians who kept it quiet, Shirley Apthorp, 19/11/11)

The awful truth of the matter, however, is that it wasn't just the redneckery of hicks like Thomas White which helped seal the fate of German Jewry, as the Wikipedia entry on the Evian Conference shows:

"The Evian Conference was convened at the initiative of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in July 1938 to discuss the issue of increasing numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution... The Jews of Austria and Germany were very hopeful, believing that this international conference would provide a safe haven... With both the US and Britain refusing to take in substantial numbers of Jews, the conference was ultimately seen as a failure by Jews and their sympathizers... Zionist organisations did not take part in the conference. One hisorian describes their attitude as one of 'hostile indifference' since any positive outcome would reduce the numbers of people wishing to migrate to settle in Palestine."

Come again? Zionist organisations boycotted an international conference convened to rescue German Jewry from escalating Nazi brutality because channeling Jews into Palestine for the coming stoush with its indigenous inhabitants took priority? Who would have thought? Let's take a closer look:

Arising out of the Evian Conference, an Intergovernmental Committee for Political Refugees was set up to negotiate with the Nazis an exit strategy for besieged German Jewry. It was headed by Americans Myron Taylor, the Evian Conference chairman, and George Rublee, a friend of President Roosevelt. By January 1939, Rublee had managed to negotiate a plan which would have resulted in Jews under 45 being released from concentration camps on condition they emigrated, with the rest being allowed to remain undisturbed in Germany. This was not, however, to the liking of the Zionist movement, because emigration to Palestine was not an integral part of the deal, and their virulent opposition to the plan was sufficient to ensure that it remained largely on the drawing board until overtaken by the outbreak of World War II.

Israeli scholar S.B. Beit Zvi delivers this measured, but damning, assessment of political Zionism's attitude towards the plight of German Jews:

"In assessing what Zionism did to German Jewry at this stage, we will once more refrain from accusing the Zionists of abandoning the German Jews to a violent death. Even then, in the Spring and Summer of 1939, no one was thinking along the lines of total destruction. Nonetheless, it is no exaggeration to describe what was done as laying siege to a Jewish group which was in terrible distress. The situation of German Jews was thoroughly known from the accounts of visitors and of refugees who managed to get out of the country. The Jewish Agency Executive heard an updated report from Eliahu Dobkin who had just visited Germany and Austria. According to Dobkin, less than 1% of the wage earners were in fact earning a living, and over half of them were employed in community and Zionist institutions. Two-thirds of Austrian Jews and one-third of German Jews were living on charity. Many had been able to manage only by selling jewelry and other valuables... Every Jew in Germany and Austria was thinking about escape. The Nazi authorities were not talking about the liquidation of the Jews within 3 years - their intention was that the majority should leave within one year. Not even Dobkin's shocking account impelled the Jewish Agency leadership to budge from its position. The chairman of the session, Yitzhak Gruenbaum, thanked Dobkin 'for his excellent and exhaustive talk', and that was the end of the matter. Concurrent with its war on the Rublee Plan, the World Zionist Organization pursued the Haavarah deal. Its representatives also made useful deals with the Gestapo in Berlin and Vienna aimed at bringing about the immigration to Palestine of Zionist pioneers, the establishment of training facilities for the pioneers, and the liberation of potential Palestine settlers from concentration camps. When it came to aliyah, deals with the Nazis were not unconscionable and the Jews were not compelled to wait until the collapse of the regime." (Post-Ugandan Zionism On Trial: A Study of the Factors that Caused the Mistakes Made by the Zionist movement during the Holocaust, 1991, pp 198-199)

In sum, writes Beit Zvi:

"These events... exemplify a bitter and persistent truth which is deeply interwoven in the episode of the Rublee Plan. That fact - which cannot be expunged or obliterated from the annals of the Jewish people - is that for nearly a year a group of American non-Jews headed by Myron Taylor under the active auspices of President Roosevelt engaged in considerable efforts to extricate the Jews of Germany. The dedicated activity of the Americans had the vacillating aid of British representatives and, to a lesser degree, of other countries. Throughout this entire period the attitude of the Jewish organizations swung between total opposition on the part of the overwhelming majority and constrained and reluctant cooperation on the part of a few functionaries whose true motivation was opposition to rival Jewish organisations. And on the issue that is of primary concern to us: the Zionist movement vigorously opposed the Rublee Plan and did all it could to thwart its implementation." (p 206)


Anonymous said...

yes, and what stopped Britain from allowing Jewish refugees into Palestine? What stopped any of them from allowing more Jewish refugees into Britain and the US? Finally, why didn't the Allies bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz? The answer is they all silently colluded with the Nazis on the "Jewish question". The fact is the "Zionists" would have taken in every single persecuted Jew if they could have. I doubt you will allow this comment, but it is true.

MERC said...

The problem, my friend, is that you confuse Judaism with Zionism. The Zionist movement, it should be clear from the evidence in this post, always put the stacking of Palestine with Jews first, and the welfare of Jews generally second. It could have prioritised the salvation of European Jewry but chose to focus instead on the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The fate of Europe's Jews under the Nazis was always a secondary consideration, if a consideration at all, for the likes of Ben-Gurion. Check out some of my other posts under the label Zionism/Holocaust.