Zionism and the Holocaust
Haim Bresheeth, in RETURN, March 1989
The first point to note regarding the appropriation of the history of the Holocaust by Zionist propaganda is that Zionism without anti-Semitism is impossible. Zionism agrees with the basic tenet of anti-Semitism, namely that Jews cannot live with non-Jews.
The history and roots of the Holocaust go back a long way. While the industry of death and destruction did not operate before 1942, its roots were firmly placed in the 19th Century. Jewish aspirations for emancipation emerged out of the national struggles in Europe. When the hopes for liberation through bourgeois-democratic change were dashed, other alternatives for improving the lot of the Jews of Europe achieved prominence.
The socialist Bund, a mass movement with enormous following, had to contend with opposition from a new and small, almost insignificant opponent, the political Zionists. In outline these two offered diametrically opposed options for Jews in Europe. While the Bund was suggesting joining forces with the rest of Europe’s workers, the Zionists were proposing a new programme aimed at ridding Europe of its Jews by setting up some form of a Jewish state.
Historically, nothing is inevitable, all depends on the balance of forces involved in the struggle. History can be seen as an option tree: every time a certain option is chosen, other routes become barred. Because of that choice, movement backwards to the point before that choice was mad is impossible. While Zionism as an option was taken by many young Jews, it remained a minority position until the first days of the 3rd Reich. The Zionist Federation of Germany (ZVfD), an organisation representing a tiny minority of German Jews, was selected by the Nazis as the body to represent the Jews of the Reich. Its was the only flag of an international organisation allowed to fly in Berlin, and this was the only international organisation allowed to operate during this period. From a marginal position, the leaders of the Zionist Federation were propelled to a prominence and centrality that surprised even them. All of a sudden they attained political power, power based not on representation, but from being selected as the choice of the Nazi regime for dealing with the ‘Jewish problem’. Their position in negotiating with the Nazis agreements that affected the lives of many tens of thousands of the Jews in Germany transformed them from a utopian, marginal organisation in Germany (and some other countries in Europe) into a real option to be considered by German Jews.
The best example of this was the ‘Transfer Agreement’ of 1934. Immediately after the Nazi takeover in 1933, Jews all over the world supported or were organising a world wide boycott of German goods. This campaign hurt the Nazi regime and the German authorities searched frantically for a way disabling the boycott. It was clear that if Jews and Jewish organisations were to pull out, the campaign would collapse.
This problem was solved by the ZVfD. A letter sent to the Nazi party as early as 21.6.33, outlined the degree of agreement that existed between the two organisations on the questions of race, nation, and the nature of the ‘Jewish problem’, and it offered to collaborate with the new regime:
The realisation of Zionism could only be hurt by resentment of Jews abroad against the German development. Boycott propaganda – such as is currently being carried on against Germany in many ways – is in essence unZionist, because Zionism wants not to do battle but to convince and build…
In their eagerness to gain credence and the backing of the new regime, the Zionist organisation managed to undermine the boycott. The main public act was the signature of the ‘Transfer Agreement’ with the Nazi authorities during the Zionist Congress of 1934. In essence, the agreement was designed to get Germany’s Jews out of the country and into Mandate Palestine. It provided a possibility for Jews to take a sizeable part of their property out of the country, through a transfer of German goods to Palestine. This right was denied to Jews leaving for any other destination (emphasis – ED). The Zionist Organisation was the acting agent, through its financial organisations. This agreement operated on a number of fronts ‘helping’ Jews to leave the country, breaking the ring of the boycott, exporting German goods in large quantities to Palestine, and last but not least, enabling the regime to be seen as humane and reasonable even towards its avowed enemies, the Jews. After all, they argued, the Jews do not belong in Europe and now the Jews come and agree with them.
After news of the agreement broke, the boycott was doomed. If the Zionist Organisation found it possible and necessary to deal with the Nazis, and import their goods, who could argue for a boycott? This was not the first time that the interests of both movements were presented to the German public as complementary. Baron Von Mildenstein, the first head of the Jewish Department of the SS, later followed by Eichmann, was invited to travel to Palestine. This he did in early 1933, in the company of a Zionist leader, Kurt Tuchler. Having spent six months in Palestine, he wrote a series of favourable articles in Der Sturmer describing the ‘new Jew’ of Zionism, a Jew Nazis could accept and understand.
This little-known episode established quite clearly the relationship during the early days of Nazism, between the new regime and the ZVfD, a relationship that was echoed later in a number of key instances, even after the nature of the Final Solution became clear. In many cases this meant a silencing of reports about the horrors of the exterminations. A book concentrating on this aspect of the Zionist reaction to the Holocaust is Post-Ugandan Zionism in the Crucible of the Holocaust, by S.B. Beth-Zvi.
In the case of the Kastner episode, around which Jim Allen’s play PERDITION is based, even the normal excuse of lack of knowledge of the real nature of events does not exist. It occurred near the end of the war. The USSR had advanced almost up to Germany. Italy and the African bases had been lost. The Nazis were on the run, with a number of key countries, such as Rumania, leaving the Axis. A second front was a matter of months away, as the western Allies prepared their forces. In the midst of all this we find Eichmann, the master bureaucrat of industrial murder, setting up is HQ in occupied Budapest, after the German takeover of the country in April 1944. His first act was to have a conference with the Jewish leadership, and to appoint Zionist Federation members, headed by Kastner, as the agent and clearing house for all Jews in their relationship with the SS and Nazi authorities. Why they did this is not difficult to see. As opposed to Poland, where its three and half million Jews lived in ghettoes and were visible different from the rest of the Polish population, the Hungarian Jews were in integrated part of the community. The middle class was mainly Jewish, the Jews were mainly middle class. They enjoyed freedom of travel, served in the Hungarian (fascist) army in frontline units, as officers and soldiers, their names were Hungarian – how was Eichmann to find them if they were to be exterminated ? The task was not easy, there were a million Jews in Hungary, most of them resident, the rest being refugees from other countries. Many had heard about the fate of Jews elsewhere, and were unlikely to believe any statements by Nazi officials.
Like elsewhere, the only people who had the information and the ear of the frightened Jewish population were the Judenrat. In this case the Judenrat comprised mainly the Zionist Federation members. Without their help the SS, with 19 officers and less than 90 men, plus a few hundred Hungarian police, could not have collected and controlled a million Jews, when they did not even know their whereabouts. Kastner and the others were left under no illusions. Eichmann told Joel Brand, one of the members of Kastner’s committee, that he intended to send all Hungary’s Jews to Auschwitz, before he even started the expulsions! He told them clearly that all these Jews will die, 12,000 a day, unless certain conditions were met.
The Committee faced a simple choice – to tell the Jews of Hungary about their fate, (with neutral Rumania, where many could escape, being in most cases a few hours away) or to collaborate with the Nazis by assisting in the concentration process. What would not have been believed when coming from the SS, sounded quite plausible when coming from the mouths of the Zionist leadership. Thus it is, that most of the Hungarian Jews went quietly to their death, assured by their leadership that they were sent to work camps.
To be sure, there are thirty pieces of silver in this narrative of destruction: the trains of ‘prominents’ which Eichmann promised to Kastner – a promise he kept to the last detail. For Eichmann it was a bargain: allowing 1,680 Jews to survive, as the price paid for the silent collaboration over the death of almost a million Jews.
There was no way in which the Jews of Hungary could even be located, not to say murdered, without the full collaboration of Kastner and his few friends. No doubt the SS would hunt a few Jews here and there, but the scale of the operation would have been minuscule compared to the half million who died in Auschwitz.
It is important to realise that Kastner was not an aberration, like say Rumkovky in Lodz. Kastner acted as a result of his strongly held Zionist convictions. His actions were a logical outcome of earlier positions. This is instanced when he exposed to the Gestapo the existence of a British cell of saboteurs, Palgi and Senesh, and persuaded them to give themselves up, so as not to disrupt his operations. At no point during his trial or elsewhere, did Kastner deny that he knew exactly what was to happen to those Jews.
To conclude, the role played by Zionists in this period, was connected to another role they could, and should have played, that of alarming the whole world to what was happening in Europe. They had the information, but politically it was contrary to their priorities. The priorities were, and still are, quite simple: All that furthers the Zionist enterprise in Palestine is followed, whatever the price. The lives of individuals, Jews and non-Jews, are secondary. If this process requires dealing with fascists, Nazis and other assorted dictatorial regimes across the world, so be it.