|PART II: INTO THE FURNACE
Apparently they consider us tzaddikim in Heaven, for we were chosen to atone for Klal Yisroel with our lives. If so, we must repent completely here and now . . . We must realize that our sacrifices will be more pleasing if accompanied by repentance, and we shall thereby save the lives of our brothers and sisters in America.
Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman before execution by Nazi forces,July 6, 1941.
EUROPE: THE KILLING GROUND
Topics of Interest
Kiddush Ha-shem: Sanctification of God's Name
Kiddush Ha-shem: Sanctification of God's Name
Judaism guides its adherents not only how to live according to halachah, but also how to take leave of this world. Martyrdom has its place in the Torah universe and observant Jews have always known of its significance. Every year on the Day of Atonement, Jews recite in their prayers the martyrdom of ten of their greatest sages. These ten were selected by the Romans because they were great spiritual leaders at a time when Rome sought to suppress observance of Judaism in Palestine. The foremost among these was Rebbi Akiva. He said: "Just as a fish cannot live outside water, so the Jewish people cannot live outside of Torah", and defiantly taught Torah to thousands. For this he was condemned to be flayed alive. 1
In The Holocaust and Halakhah (1976), Rosenbaum states that the Holocaust added a new dimension to the concept of the mitzvah of kiddush ha-shem- the sanctification of God's name--through martyrdom if necessary. Whereas in past persecutions the Jew had most often had the option of abandoning Judaism to escape execution, the victim of the Holocaust had no such option. For those who had sought refuge from anti-Semitism through assimilation, it was a most ironic denouement. The halachic implications were no less ironic, for it was the universal rabbinic opinion, as formulated by Rabbi Shimon Huberband of Warsaw that "a Jew who is killed, though this be for reasons other than conversion, but simply because he is a Jew, is called Kadosh" (holy) and has fulfilled the mitzvah of kiddush ha-shem. 2
The notion of "sanctification" unites both victims and survivors. Those leaders and scholars who survived, and rebuilt bastions of Jewish education in America were imbued with the same selfless zeal that characterized many of their martyred contemporaries. The spirit of those who succumbed and those who survived was the same: all sacrifice is not in vain for it is the essence of survival. In order to appreciate the successes of, for example, the Satmar, Lubavitch, and Bobov leaders in rebuilding Jewish life based on Hasidic educational philosophies after the war, we must know of the furnace they survived. In that furnace, there perished the elite of Jewry's leaders and educational guides.
Rosenbaum records that Rabbi Nehemya Alter, at a rabbinic meeting in Lodz, Poland, emphasized the importance of kiddush ha-shem, which may assume various forms. Central to this mitzvah is "not to degrade ourselves before the goyim [gentiles]." There are eyewitness accounts of the preparation for kiddush ha-shem of such Hasidic leaders as the Brezner, Grodzisker, and Zaloshizer rebbes. They reflect their "calming influence upon terrified Jews as they themselves faced death with dignity". Some confronted death with the "ecstasy appropriate to the fulfillment of the . . . ultimate mitzvah". The Grodzisker rebbe, prior to entering the gas chambers in Treblinka, urged Jews "to accept kiddush ha-shem with joy and led them in the singing of Ani Ma'amin ('I Believe')." The Spinker rebbe "danced and sang in the death wagons to Auschwitz, especially the prayer, Vetaher libenu . . .--('Purify our hearts so that we may serve you in truth')". The Piazesner rebbe observed:
He who is slaughtered in kiddush ha-shem does not suffer at all . . since in achieving a high degree of ecstasy, stimulated in anticipation of being killed for the sanctifying of His Name, blessed be He, he elevates all his senses to the realm of thought until the entire process is one of thought. He nullifies his senses and feelings, and his sense of the material dissolves of itself. Therefore he feels not pain but rather only joy of fulfilling the mitzvah. 3
Rosenbaum concludes this segment by saying that to achieve the heights of kavanah (proper intention) for the mitzvah of kiddush ha-shem as described by the Piazesner rebbe was perhaps beyond the power of most Jews. But many were able to die with dignity in the confident belief that theirs was the privilege of fulfilling this great commandment.
The meaning of these events for American Jewry is touched upon by Marshall Sklare in America's Jews (1971). He notes the difference in immigration of East European Jews after World War II. Some of the immigrants were concentration camp survivors, and they had very strong convictions about their Jewishness. The "Orthodox sectarians"' impact has been the most noticeable, and their example has created controversy within the minority community. "Frequently, they considered themselves to be brands plucked from the fire, miraculously saved so that the way of life hallowed by tradition might be preserved." 4
Sklare points out that these survivors were disinclined to expose their children to any substantial amount of secular education, much less to enroll them in public institutions. They thus proceeded to establish a network of yeshivahs, stimulated day school education, and profoundly influenced the Orthodoxy of the older East European group. American Jews were suddenly confronted with the fervour of the war's survivors, not quite clear what caused such "fanaticism." It was the fervour of a flame that refused to be quelled.
At a later point in his work, Sklare asks how the rise of the Jewish day schools in America can be explained. The reply is that one significant influence was the character of Jewish immigration during and after the Second World War. The Orthodox Jews who arrived in America during this period were refugees rather than settlers because they came out of necessity rather than choice. "Their version of the American dream was that they should have the freedom to re-establish the way of life they had enjoyed before the Holocaust. Thus, without hesitation they proceeded to organize their own schools." Such that would "give primacy to Jewish culture and shield their children and others from the influence of the secularism of the public schools." 5
The killing in Europe shaped Jewish life in America. For example, prior to the war, Hasidic life was never established on American shores. The courts of the rebbes, the Hasidic leaders, remained in eastern Europe. The emergence of Hasidism during the Second World War and shortly thereafter in America, was made possible by the arrival of a number of Hasidic leaders together with small circles of their followers. 6 Thus, a new era of intense Judaism was ushered in to America. Like the biblical burning bush, the Jewish people endured in spite of the hellish flames that enveloped them in Europe. What was burnt there, would arise almost phoenix-like from the ashes, finding refuge and nestling in America.
In The Destruction of the European Jews (1973), Raul Hilberg states that the destruction process resulted in something more: It changed the lives of many who were not its victims. "It was felt throughout the world." He outlines crucial changes, showing that for the Jews, the destruction process engendered both physical and psychic upheavals.
Significantly, Jewry's physical dimensions and distributions underwent a permanent change:
1. World Jewry lost one-third of its number, losing six million of an all-time high of more than 16,000,000 before the war.
2. Before the rise of the Nazi regime, the bulk of Jewish population, wealth, and power was centred in Europe. When Germany was smashed, nearly half the world's Jews were living in the United States, and most of the Jewish wealth was located there. In America, too, were henceforth to be found many of the decisive voices in world Jewish affairs. 7
The task of surviving was no easy one. The Jews of Europe were the victims of Nazi genocide, Allied indifference, Arab machinations, and betrayal by elements inside and outside their own ranks. Those who escaped the brutality, the silence, and the treachery were literal cinders plucked from the flames of annihilation. For, as Hilberg states, the German annihilation, of the European Jews was the "world's first completed destruction process. For the first time in the history of Western Civilization the perpetrators had overcome all administrative and moral obstacles to a killing operation." 8
The process whereby the Germans killed millions of Jews did not come out of a void. An administrative undertaking of such dimensions must have had meaning to its perpetrators. "To Adolf Hitler and his followers the destruction of the Jews had meaning. To these men the act was worthwhile in itself. It could not be questioned. It had to be done." So much so, that the German destruction of the Jews was not interrupted: "That is its crucial, decisive characteristic." 9
The reaction pattern of the Jews was characterized by "almost complete lack of resistance". In marked contrast to German propaganda, the documentary evidence of Jewish resistance, overt or submerged, is very light. The Jews were not oriented toward resistance, and the fact remains that the Jewish resistance effort could not, and did not, seriously impede or retard the destructive operations. Another reaction of the Jews, was the attempt to avert the final force of the German destructive measures. One such method was the petition, or appeal, whereby Jews sought to transfer the struggle from a physical to an intellectual and moral plane. But, "everywhere the Jews pitted words against rifles, dialectics against force, and everywhere they lost." 10
A major fault in Hilberg's work is that there is a "blindness" to the concept of kiddush ha-shem. This is evident when examining the domain of Jewish education in Europe during the war. Multitudes of Jews continued to strengthen themselves, within the framework of traditional Jewish education, in observing the mitzvahs, which included the need for kiddush ha-shem. In a short illustrated work, The Unconquerable Spirit: Vignettes of the Jewish Religious Spirit The Nazis Could Not Destroy (1980), compiled by S. Zuker and edited by G. Hirschler, there is a chapter dedicated to "Study As a Way of Survival". Introducing the first vignette on "Study as a Life Preserver", the editor writes that before the war, Torah study had been a way of life for hundreds of thousands of Jews in Eastern Europe:
During the Holocaust years, it was to serve many of them as a way of survival. Skeptics have labeled this constant preoccupation with Talmudic studies as an attempt to escape from the harsh realities of life in the ghettoes and concentration camps. But they cannot deny that the unceasing study of Torah enabled countless Jews in the camps and ghettoes to go on living worthily until the end, and in some cases even to survive physically and spiritually until the day of liberation. 11
In the vignette "The Nazis and the Scholars", the editor reminds us that very early in the war, the Nazis realized that Torah study, and the scholars who taught the Torah, played a crucial role in the spiritual survival of their Jewish victims. "No wonder that they developed an almost fanatical hatred for scholars and students of the Law." There are many proven and documented examples of Nazi antipathy to the slightest trace of Jewish learning. "The Nazis regarded rabbis and Hasidic rebbes as potential ringleaders of ghetto revolts." Thus, in the Lodz ghetto, rabbis were among the first to be arrested and murdered. Illustrious rabbinic scholars toiled as simple labourers in an attempt to elude death. "After working all day at the most menial tasks imaginable, they would spend the evening hours teaching Torah and strengthening the morale of the other ghetto inmates. 12
In "Study as a Weapon", Zuker states that during the Holocaust, many Orthodox Jews believed that the evil in this world could not be defeated by physical warfare, because "the struggle between good and evil would eventually be decided not by human force but by Divine Providence." Most rabbis and scholars of the law were convinced that self-refinement through prayer and study was the only weapon which Jews could wield against the arch-enemy. It was in this spirit that Jews of all ages and walks of life sat together in ghetto basements and attics, immersing themselves in the study of the Law. Large and small Jewish communities saw Jews devoted to Torah study in the face of ever present dangers:
In Makow-Mazowiecki, where, according to an eyewitness report, "the situation in the ghetto was such that no one could be sure whether he would be dead a few moments hence", twenty boys hid out in a tiny, dark attic and devoted all their waking hours to the study of the Law. In Demblin Modzitz, Moshe Lichtenstein, one of the leaders of the Jewish community, a man of about 50, sat day and night over his holy books.
In Kotzk, as a survivor reports, "men--old men in particular--sat and studied the Torah, which they searched for allegories and numerological hints to show that the end of Hitler and his cohorts was at hand. They sought to hasten deliverance by tears, by study and by prayer. " 13
The tears, studies, and prayers of those Jews might very well have produced the results they longed for were it not for the indifference of the Allies to the plight of European Jewry and the misguided policies of secular Jewish leaders. Herbert Druks in The Failure To Rescue (1977), concludes after thorough research that "Roosevelt and the British acted in such a manner as to prevent the rescue of European Jewry. Their policies enabled the Nazi Germans and their European collaborators to slaughter six million Jewish men, women and children." 14
Another interest group that wished to see the Jews of Europe annihilated were certain Arab leaders. On the Allied side, for example, King Saud met with President Roosevelt on February 14, 1945, not long before the latter's death. Roosevelt asked Saud for advice regarding the Jews. Saud is reported to have told Roosevelt that the Jews should be granted "living space" in the Axis countries which had oppressed them. Roosevelt agreed: "The Germans appear to have killed three million Polish Jews, by which count there should be space in Poland for the resettlement of many homeless Jews." Furthermore, he reassured Saud that " he would do nothing to assist the Jews against the Arabs and would make no move hostile to the Arab people." When Saud proposed to send an Arab mission to America to present the case of the Arabs and Palestine, Roosevelt said it would be "a very good idea because he thought many people in America and England are misinformed." 15
On the Axis side, various works have documented the significant influence of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin el Hussein, in urging the Nazis to exterminate more Jews. For example, Hilberg records that Marshal Antonescu of Romania wanted to allow 75,000 to 80,000 Jews to emigrate to Palestine in return for payment of 200,000 lei, equivalent to $1336, for each emigrant. ". . . Although the Jews could not buy their way out, any possibility of mass emigration was frustrated by two major obstacles: the lack of shipping and the lack of a destination. Neither Axis nor Allied shipping was available for the transport of the Jews." When the Grand Mufti discovered that 4000 Jewish children accompanied by 500 adults had somehow managed to reach Palestine he wrote to the German Foreign Office on May 13, 1943 asking the German Foreign Minister "to do his utmost (das Ausserste zu tun) to prevent further emigrations from Bulgaria, Roumania, and Hungary." 16
In "'Holocaust'-A Study of the Term, and the Epoch it is Meant to Describe" (1977), Rabbi Isaac Hutner states that the Mufti was serving his own "perverted fears, which were the influx of millions of Jews into Palestine, and the destruction-of the Mufti's personal empire". Yet, there can be no doubt, based on historical research of the facts, that Hitler and the Mufti each helped the other accomplish his own evil goal. The Nazis, represented by Eichman, simply wanted to kill Jews; the Mufti wanted to make sure that they never reached Palestine:
In the end, the "final solution" was the same. At one point, Eichman even seemed to blame the Mufti for the entire extermination plan, when he declared, "I am a personal friend of the Grand Mufti. We have promised that no European Jew would enter Palestine any more." 17
Druks proves the assertion, proven by other researchers as well, that from 1933 to 1945 nearly one third of Jewry was exterminated by European Nazidom and its collaborators, and that "a portion of the six million could have been saved if only refuge had been established. But it did not happen that way." He states furthermore that most of the world's statesmen and international politicians did not care as to what would happen to the Jews, and Jewish leadership in the "free world" of Britain and America proved unwilling or unable to act on behalf of European Jewry. He indicts the Jewish leaders who were too badly divided and frightened of anti-Semitism to do anything, and those American Jews "who did not want their fellow Jews to come to America because they were afraid that their own position might in some way be hampered, perhaps, by the growth of anti-Semitism." 18
In "Fortress Europe" itself, the dark schisms between the followers of haskalah and those that followed halachah came into the open in macabre ways. One is reluctant to assume the role of prosecutor and apportion blame for acts carried out under the most appalling conditions. "Judge not your friend until you too stand in his place" is an ancient Jewish teaching which any observer should bear in mind when judging others under stress. However, there are certain writers who feel compelled to write, and indict, those whom they feel failed the test of history. In The Holocaust Victims Accuse: Documents and Testimony on Jewish War Criminals, Part 1, (1977), the author Moshe Shonfeld, quotes Y. Efroiken, who is described as "a standard bearer of secularism whom the holocaust brought to the gates of repentance", and who in his book Sanctity and Valor of the Jews wrote:
From where did the thousands of Jewish police (Kapos), who served the Germans in the concentration camps and the ghettos, come? From which circles was this infamous army recruited? The survivors of the holocaust all concur that they originated from the underworld and from the 'maskilim'--the very people who denounced their 'unenlightened' brethren for their traditional garb. Did not these maskilim harbor the identical feelings of scorn and even hatred of their masters and officers, the Nazis? 19
The questions are chilling, and Shonfeld provides some shocking examples of depravity amongst Jews divided by a kulturkampf. It highlights the ugliness of the struggle between halachah and haskalah under the aegis of the Germans. It was perhaps the nadir of the Jewish experience during the war. It was unquestionably a "fall" for Jewry fighting for its survival. The hope of survival appeared to be slim for the victims, and spiritually dim for those on the outside. Within the walls of festering "Festung Europa" it was Orthodox, religious, Jewry that felt the extent of the "fall" as its teachers and scholars were killed, and as thousands upon thousands who had survived assimilation succumbed to the sword. The behavior of frummer yidden--religious Jews-under inhumane conditions appears to have remained noble and noteworthy:
Torah-true Jewry--Jews wearing traditional rabbinical or chassidic garb--never held positions in the Jewish police force, which administered ghetto Jewry, and never served as Kapos or officers. Even Gentiles sympathetic to our people who sought to describe outstanding personalities or singular heroism in the camps, could only find such examples from amongst Torah observant Jews, who never meted out beatings, who starved, rather than defile themselves with 'trefos', who shared their last crust with the weak and the sick. 20
Thus, surrounded by enemies within and without, the trapped Jews of Europe became an easy prey. The elite of Jewry became a spoil. A thousand years of Jewish life in Europe was wiped out by a "Twelve Year Reich". Whole Kehillahs--traditional communities in cities and shtetles (small towns and villages), famous schools of learning, yeshivahs and chedorim, together with their teachers were burnt to ashes. And throughout this Gotterdammerung the heroes are not the followers of the Nordic gods.
Jewish education of the deepest and profoundest kind suffered mortal blows. The famous yeshivah of Slobodka in Lithuania with its students and mashgiach (supervisor) Rabbi Avrahom Grodzensky, typify the ignominous demise of the greatest seats of Jewish learning in the modern era. But typical too was the selflessness of Slobodka's teachers and students as they prepared to pay the highest price for kiddush ha-shem:
After the ghetto of Slobodka was established, the students of the yeshiva and the kollel became forced laborers. During all the years of the ghetto, he (Rav Grodzensky) did not cease to speak and reflect on the fear of the Almighty. . . .
The ghetto years were intense, constant preparations for sanctifying the Almighty's Name . . . . Rav Elchanan Wasserman had found refuge in the home of Rav Grodzensky. . . . He asked him to prepare a lesson on the timely topic of sanctifying the Almighty's Name. The righteous scholar did not refuse, and in a few hours came out of his room and spoke on this subject. Rav Grodzensky concluded with a deep, stimulating talk on behavioral attitudes on the same topic . . . .
The last days of the Slobodka ghetto came about. Rav Grodzensky was cruelly beaten when the Germans discovered the bunker where he hid together with several yeshiva students. He was brought to the ghetto hospital. It was known that the Germans were going to burn down the hospital, with all of the patients inside. He said to the last of his students who visited him that he would lovingly receive the judgment of Heaven, but his heart trembled within him over the image of the Almighty--which would be desecrated by these evil people. 21
Such was the fate of those who did not survive. The life histories of those who did survive show the inter-woven links between the victims, events in Europe, and the nature of Jewish life and education in America as it emerged after the war. The case of the survival of the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum (1887-1979), shows how the combination of circumstances, bizarre beyond belief, in Europe, allowed for the rescue and survival of a significant figure in the restructuring of Jewish life in America.
There exists much muddled thinking and much more misinformation, concerning the antipathy of the Satmar Rebbe and the Satmar Hasidim towards modernism, Zionism, and the process of Americanization. Herman Dicker, in Piety and Perseverance: Jews from the Carpathian Mountains (1981), describes the series of events that eventually brought Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum to America. In 1934, Rabbi Teitelbaum established himself in Szatm'ar (Satmar) in Northern Transylvania in Roumania. In 1940, Transylvania was annexed by Hungary. On March 19, 1944, Hungary was occupied by German troops who began deportations of Jews to Auschwitz. In May, Rabbi Teitelbaum tried to escape to Roumania, but was caught and thrown into the ghetto at Cluj, and deported to Bergen-Belsen. In December 1944, "as a result of financial arrangements with the Nazis carried out by Rudolf Kasztner with the cooperation of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, Rabbi Teitelbaum and 1,368 other Jews from Hungary were then shipped to neutral Switzerland, where they arrived on December 7, 1944." From there he went to Palestine, and in 1946 came to the United States, deliberately settling in Williamsburg, part of Brooklyn, New York City. 22
The plot is much thicker. Only in his notes to the chapter at the end of the section., does Dicker see fit to make two crucial observations: 1. Kasztner's activities were aired before the Jerusalem District Court in 1955, where Judge Benjamin Levy found him guilty of cooperation with the Nazis. In 1958 the Israel Supreme Court cleared Kasztner of this verdict, but he had been shot to death on March 3, 1957. 2. It is an ironic twist of history that the anti-Zionist rabbi should have been rescued by the Zionist Kasztner. 23
Indeed, the entire case has become a notorious cause celebre amongst close observers of the fate of European Jewry during the war. Could more have been done to save them? Could more have been saved? Could military or diplomatic action been taken by the Allies that would have hampered or stopped the destruction process? The answers would appear to be in the affirmative. The various Axis governments were at least open to bribes and secret diplomacy let alone military strikes against concentration camps or railway routes to the death camps. Arthur D. Morse in While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy (1968), sums up the efforts of the Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg in Hungary. Recruited by the American War Refugee Board representative in Stockholm, Wallenberg was given full diplomatic accreditation as third secretary of the Swedish legation in Budapest. He was assigned to organize a special department responsible for the protection and relief of Jews. There was no overt American involvement, but it was the War Refugee Board that financed the project, even providing Wallenberg with a list of corrupt Hungarian passport officials, undercover anti-Nazis, and others who could be of assistance. Wallenberg arrived in Budapest early in July, 1944, undertaking what Morse calls "the most dramatic life-saving operation of the war". 24 It is a graphic example of what could have been done given the will and interest.
Wallenberg's reward? On January 17, 1945, Wallenberg drove off to meet with Marshal Rodion Malinovsky of the Soviet Army that was besieging Budapest. "I don't know whether I'm going as a prisoner or a guest", he said, and has not been seen since:
Whatever his actual fate, Wallenberg left a rich legacy--the lives of more than a hundred thousand Jews. His gallantry bridged the chasm between the pretense and performance of the forces of international morality. All those who had thrown up their hands in despair could no longer plead the impossibility of rescue, for Raoul Wallenberg provided daily proof of its feasibility. The War Refugee Board gave him the resources to do the job but his actions gave meaning to the very existence of the board. 25
Hungarian Jewry represents the best case of lost opportunities because its Jewish community came under direct German control relatively late, when the tide of the war was going against the Axis. Germany would lose, it was only a question of when. This made many leading figures in the Third Reich open to warnings, and amenable to deals that would save their necks at war's end, or perhaps even gain them money.
In April 1944, Dr. Rudolf Kastner of the Vaadat Ezra v'Hazalah, a Zionist assistance and rescue committee, and its underground rescue expert Joel Brand, established contact with Hauptsturmfuhrer Wisliceny of the SS in Hungary under Eichman's command. Hilberg states that there are two versions of the ensuing discussions. According to Kastner, the SS promised that for 6.5 million pengo, about $1,600,000, 600 Jews would be permitted to leave for Palestine. When the money was raised, the Germans then raised the number of prospective emigrants by a thousand. According to Eichman, Kastner had agreed to keep the Jews from resisting deportation in return for the freedom of a few hundred Jews, who would emigrate illegally to Palestine. "It was a good bargain", said Eichman. 26 The deal went through, and amongst those selected to live was Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum of Satmar. It was a most ironic gain for religious Jewry, derived from Kastner's Faust-like deal with his Mephistopheles.
On May 8, 1944, one week before the deportation of Jews to the death camps was to start, Eichman called Joel Brand to discuss a new proposition. Eichman, acting upon Himmler's direct orders, proposed a scheme whereby the lives of the Hungarian Jews could be saved for a price, to be paid in goods. "The following quantities were mentioned: 200 tons of tea, 200 tons of coffee, 2,000,000 cases of soap, 10,000 trucks for the Waffen-SS to be used on the eastern front, and unspecified quantities of tungsten and other war materials. The SS would be most interested in the trucks." Thus began a sad saga. To procure these items, Brand was to leave for Istanbul to contact the Allies. "The Jews, in the meantime, would be sent to Auschwitz to be gassed until such time as a favorable reply was received." 27
The whole scheme came to nothing because of the machinations of the British and members of the Jewish Agency of Palestine. Ben Hecht, in his horrifying book Perfidy (1961) deals with the failure of the Brand mission and those responsible. In his key chapter "Perfidy in Israel", Hecht states that "it is known now (1961) that Eichman's offer of a million Jewish lives for a few thousand trucks was not an Eichman whim. It was a plan hatched by Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Becher, Goering, and all the leading German thinkers of 1944. The execution of the plan was assigned to Colonel Eichman." Hecht maintains that the fact that Brand was chosen, and not Kastner, may be proof of their hope to be taken seriously. "An honest Jew was needed to bring the offer to the Jewry of the world--a Jew with no known taint of German-love in him. Brand was such a man, the Germans decided. And he was." 28
Hecht provides three possible reasons for the Nazi offer: First, the Eichman offer of "Jewish Blood for Trucks" was a separate peace overture toward the West. The trucks, said the Germans, would not be used against the Western Allies. They would be used only against the Russians. Second, sparing the lives of the last million Jews might "brighten the world's opinion of the fallen Third Reich", winning for it and its leaders a kindlier postwar judgment. Third, the "most obvious, and the most German" reason, was that should it turn out that the Allies did "not give a hoot about saving a million Jews", and that they regard the offer with contempt and derision, then the Germans would win a psychological victory. Let Brand's mission fail, and "Germany will have proved its case against the Jews--nobody likes them. Or, more practically, will have established the fact that Germany's deliberate torture and murder of six million defenseless and unmenacing humans (Jews) did not make it an outcast from Western civilization." 29
Hilberg has written that on May 17, 1944, Brand, accompanied by a Jew Grosz, who had worked for the Canaris office, moved out of Budapest. However, in Istanbul, they were "caught by British agents, transported to Cairo, to be held in solitary confinement by Deputy Minister of State Lord Moyne." 30 Hilberg glosses over how it was that Brand was tapped and who were those responsible for the failure of the mission. Hecht on the other hand, details the events and offers an over-view of what transpired and its significance. It is not pleasant reading:
The Jewish Agency continued to function as a Jewish collaborator and a Jewish front for British policy in Palestine. . . .
. . . .When British policy required silence and inaction toward the extermination of Hungary's Jews, the Jewish Agency and its now world famous factotums upheld its policy. . . .
When he is arrested and marched to British headquarters, Brand's feverish dream seems to be coming true. . . . Moshe Sharett is there to hear his wild tale of Eichman's Blood for Cargo offer.
. . . . .Says Leader Sharett, “I’m very sorry, Mr. Brand, I have been given to understand that you will have to travel southwards (to British Cairo) and not go back at this time to Budapest." . . .
But no Jews rescue Joel Brand. He arrives at his British prison. Sharett, Weizmann, Ben-Gurion have kept Brand, his mission, and his imprisonment, a secret. During all this time the Hungarian Jews have been burning--12,000 a day. Soon there will be no further danger of Jews disturbing the White Paper by trying to pry their way into Palestine. . . .
. . . .After four and a half months, Joel Brand is released. . . .
. . . .Nobody feels too happy about the Joel Brand business. On the other hand, nobody feels too unhappy. Political objectives exonerate leaders from feeling guilt. They regard their actions, however cruel and vicious their results, as impersonal deeds dictated by national demands.
Thus it comes to pass that thought there are six million Jews murdered, there is no guilt. Neither German, Briton, American, nor Jew feels guilty. 31
From the foregoing, the position of the Satmar Hasidim and their world-view are placed in better perspective. As the survivors of Hungarian Jewry they have an acute perception of the treachery that befell them. They know that they are heirs to a long chain of Jewish tradition. Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, as the leader of Satmar, proceeded to base his re-born community and its educational system on historical precedent and clear-cut principles.
It has been acknowledged that Rabbi Teitelbaum's arrival in the United States signaled the beginning of a remarkable career, which was more a continuation of one that had shown signs of greatness in Europe. Dicker writes that it is amazing that Rabbi Teitelbaum managed to overcome the bitter experiences of the Holocaust and rebuild a large following with a wide ranging chain of religious, educational, and social institutions. 32
Thus, survival in the most nightmarish ways, from Hitler's purgatory, translated into the emergence of a strengthened Jewish education in America, of an intensity never before witnessed in the New World.
1 Grayzel, History of the Jews, pp. 184-185
2 Rosenbaum, Holocaust and Halakhah, p. 61.
3 Ibid., pp. 62-63.
4 Marshall Sklare, America’s Jews (New York: Random House, 1971), pp. 24-25.
5 Ibid., p. 170.
6 Ibid., p. 24.
7 Hilberg, Destruction of the European Jews, p. 670.
8 Ibid., p. 669
9 Ibid., p. 639.
10 Ibid., pp. 663-664.
11 Simon Zuker, comp., and Gertrude Hirschler, ed., The Unconquerable Spirit: Vignettes of the Jewish Religious Spirit the Nazis Could Not Destroy (New York: Zachor Institute, 1980), p. 107.
12 Ibid., pp. 111-112.
13 Ibid., pp. 117-118.
14 Herbert Druks, The Failure to Rescue (New York: Robert Speller & Sons, 1977), p. 98.
15 Ibid., p. 97.
16 Hilberg, Destruction of the European Jews, p. 504.
17 Hutner, " 'Holocaust'--A Study of the Term, and the Epoch it is Meant to Describe", p. 8.
18 Druks, Failure to Rescue, Introduction.
19 Moshe Shonfeld, The Holocaust Victims Accuse: Documents and Testimony on Jewish War Criminals, Part 1 (New York: Bnei Yeshivos, 1977), pp. 20-21.
20 Y. Efroiken in ibid.
21 From Toras Avraham in ibid., pp. 95-97.
22 Hermah Dicker, Piety and Perseverance: Jews from the Carpathian Mountains (New York: Sepher-Herman Press, 1981), pp. 109-110.
23 Ibid., p. 145.
24 Arthur D. Morse, While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy (New York: Ace Publishing Corporation, 1967), p. 292
25 Ibid., p. 297-299.
26 Hilberg, Destruction of the European Jews, pp. 542-543.
27 Ibid., p. 544.
28 Ben Hecht, Perfidy (New York: Julian Messner, Inc., 1961), pp. 229-230.
29 Ibid., pp. 230-231.
30 Hilberg, Destruction of the European Jews, p. 544.
31 Hecht, Perfidy, pp. 234-243.
32 Dicker, Piety and Perseverance, p. 110.
AMERICA: LAND OF CONSTERNATION AND HOPE
Topics of Interest
Distorted Images of Jewish History
Supplication and Consternation
Determined Rays of Hope
Distorted Images of Jewish History
The destruction of European Jewry and its significance for American Jewry has elicited some rather strange responses from popular historians. Irving Howe, in World of our Fathers (1976), a descriptive work about "the journey of East European Jews to America and the life they found and made", concludes a short note on: "The Holocaust and After", with:
Memories of the Holocaust pressed deep into the consciousness of Jews, all, or almost all, making them feel that whatever being a Jew meant, it required of them that they try to remain Jews. This was in part a matter of fear, somewhat more, a matter of need; but most of all, a matter of honor. Beyond that, any pretense of explaining the Holocaust, any theory as to its causes, was bound to crumble into inconsequence, a mere trifling with categories in face of the unspeakable. There was nothing to do but remember, and that was best done in silence, alone. 1
But the "silence" is thunderous and to stand "alone" in the face of the terror is impossible. Howe asks what the Holocaust could mean for ordinary Jews who had but recently improved their life in America. He replies that "they did not speak much about it". Again the silence, as he perceives it to be. Even though he admits that many wanted to survive so that Hitler be denied posthumous victories, he makes no mention of the revitalization of Orthodox life after the war. Indeed, his work is a sad lament to the fall of Orthodoxy in pre-war America. The world of Orthodox Jewish education is far removed from Howe's American Jews.
In contrast to Howe's bland equilibrium, there is Max I. Dimont's The Jews in America: The Roots, History, and Destiny of American Jews (1978), which unfortunately caricatures and even belittles all aspects of serious traditional Torah Judaism. In a sense, Jewish life in America, as it existed amongst the broad masses could at best be described as a poor caricature of time-honoured Jewish practice. This makes the rise of Orthodoxy even more remarkable. The successful attempts at restructuring Jewish educational and communal life after the war, vindicate the viability of the traditional models.
In discussing Jewish education after World War II, Dimont declares that even though enrollment increased by over fifty percent in Jewish secondary schools, "results declined" and "Jewish education failed to keep Jewish youth Jewish." This is in keeping with his theme of the inevitability of the decline of meaningful Orthodoxy in America. He claims that "purist Orthodoxy in America is in an untenable position." He scorns "the Jewish educational establishment" for "trying to hammer" into the grandchildren of the two million "David Levinskys" who "abandoned Orthodoxy without forsaking Judaism" the "articles of faith" their grandparents and parents abandoned. His view is that "a Jewish youth may dislike Orthodox ways yet love Judaism just as an Amish youth may dislike Amish ways yet love Christianity". For Dimont "it often seems as if Orthodoxy goes out of its way to prove that Judaism is a burden by adding more unnecessary burdens--a sort of Jewish mortification of the mind."
And what of those who happily thrive on a diet of Orthodox Judaism? Dimont relegates them to "the lunatic fringe", portraying them as crackpots:
The second faction, under various leaders, espouses different and mutually hostile paths to God's grace. Adherents number barely 25,000 to 50,000. Several Hasidic sects have captured the imagination of some young American Jews, some formerly mixed-up adolescents, drug addicts, and left-wingers. In this new Hasidism, they have found the escape they previously sought in asocial activities. 2
Notwithstanding his inaccuracies, and distortions of Orthodox life, Dimont reveals his gross misjudgment of the dynamic and appealing qualities of Orthodoxy. He commits the classical blunder of mistaking signs of life for death throes. He gloats over the death of large-scale Orthodox life, when in spite of all opposition, Orthodoxy rises. The serious scholar of Judaism will find little merit in Dimont's works.
An attempt at a more scholarly and balanced approach is to be found in A History of Judaism: Volume II: Europe and the New World (1974), wherein the author, Bernard Martin, states that while after World War II the older "European Orthodoxy" continued "quixotically" to battle against the corrosive influences of the American environment, it obtained a certain accession of strength with the settlement of a number of Hasidic groups in New York; most notably the Lubavich Hasidim. The"charismatic leader" of Lubavich, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn (1880-1950) came to America in 1940, and soon established a strong center which, in the postwar era, organized intensive missionary activity and a network of day schools throughout the country. 3
Even though Martin is patronizing in his descriptions of Orthodoxy he sketches a picture of vitality. There is no doubt that "the immediate postwar years also witnessed a great upsurge in religious life in the American-Jewish Community." National religious institutions encouraged this growth by rapidly expanding their programs, and "the various Orthodox yeshivot, such as the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of New York, the Hebrew Theological College of Chicago, the Telshe Yeshivah of Cleveland, and Ner Israel of Baltimore" were proof that "Orthodoxy itself displayed renewed vigor". Echoing a familiar theme, Martin states that many Jews affirmed Judaism out of genuine, even if "frequently inchoate and unarticulated" religious yearnings. In response to "the trauma of the Holocaust", many Jews were determined not to give Hitler ultimate victory by neglecting Judaism. 4
Rabbi Joseph Elias in an article "Dealing with 'Churban Europa"' (1977), has commented that Holocaust studies are often an abuse of the events themselves. The political, social, and psychological concepts of the modern thinker lack the means to fully comprehend the tragedy of 1939-1945. "It is not surprising that in most of the books . . . there remains . . . the inability to penetrate below the surface of what happened. We are left with a riddle which challenges man's very ability to function." Nevertheless, Elias admits that there are "sparks of the truth" in almost every place, which should help us understand what the era "may have been meant to teach us". 5
Elias notes that, for example, in works such as New Lives (1976) in which D. Rabinowitz studies survivors of the Holocaust, living in America, and G. Sereny's Into That Darkness, the multiplicity of feelings, uncertainties, and confusion of goals of survivors are reflected. Not being rooted in Jewish tradition, their tendency is towards fatalism and dejection. In contrast however:
Anybody familiar with the Orthodox communities created by Holocaust survivors in this country will readily agree that, however traumatic their war experiences were, they do not suffer from the same lack of purpose or uncertainty about the meaningfulness of their life. 6
There are thus divergent ways of viewing the history of Jewish education in America, often diametrically opposed. This is revealed by the historiography of the era itself.
Supplication and Consternation
A serious study of the period is presented in The Silver Era in American Orthodoxy: Rabbi Eliezer Silver and his Generation (1981), by Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, describing the impact of Rabbi Eliezer Silver (1881-1968) on the development of Orthodoxy in America. In August 1937 Silver represented American Jewry at the Agudath Israel's third Kenesiyyah ha-Gedolah--Great Assembly--in Marienbad, Austria, where he saw the last massive gathering of European Orthodoxy before the Holocaust. In a public address to this gathering, Silver demanded that the Torah leaders of European Jewry extend greater spiritual guidance to their American brethren:
. . . Let each of the Torah leaders visit us once not to raise funds, but rather to intensify American Torah life.
Why have you deserted almost a third of your people?. . .
We have sowed and planted yeshivot and other Torah institutions. We have fought for Kashrut and Family Purity. However, we are now weak. Come and implant a new spirit within us. Nevertheless, only send us Torah leaders steeped in learning and fear of God. Only such geonim can be influential in the United States. With such an approach you will repay us for what we have done for you over the years. 7
Silver's wish for the need of geonim--geniuses of Talmudic learning and masters of Jewish Law--who would mold, guide, and establish a vibrant Jewish life as it ought to be, was to be answered providentially. The cost was astronomical in terms of Jewish blood. The war-time darkness that descended on Europe meant that a few surviving geonim would indeed "turn-on" the "light of Torah" in America.
Upon his return to America, Silver attempted to alert the American rabbinate to what loomed before them. In an open letter of November 18, 1937, Silver asked: "How much longer will we separate ourselves from these leaders of the Torah? How can we continue to stand apart as our masters are opposed and censured by those outside the Agudah camp? Can it be that we do not choose to be with Rav Hayyim Ozer, Rav Menahem Zemba, and the Gurer Rebbe?" 8 Silver followed this up by formally organizing the American branch of Agudath Israel in 1939. He drafted its platform, which amongst other things, declared that the founding of Agudath Israel "is no longer subject to negotiations or debate, but is rather an accomplished fact". And, of significance from our perspective, he stated that the initial acts of the movement "will be to spread Torah knowledge and fear of God. The study of Torah will be encouraged among both young and old." Furthermore, every attempt was to be made "to enhance the prestige of Torah and its sages in the United States, Eretz Israel, and all the other countries of our dispersion." 9
Rothkoff writes that with the continued influx of European Orthodox refugees, Agudath Israel expanded its American activities. The unsettled pre-war years that were in fact the "road to war" of the 1930s "brought thousands of committed Jews to America from the threatened lands of Europe". The progress of the Agudath Israel in America during the l930s "was slow, but significant". For,
It represented the transition from groups of young men interested in spiritual growth to an organization that could gain access to the levers of power. The growth of the American Agudah coincided with the intensification of Nazi Germany's war against the Jews. 10
The third convention of the American Agudath Israel took place in August of 1941 in Baltimore. The personalities present, made clear the passing of the Torah centers of intense Jewish learning from Europe to America. Leading European roshei yeshivah who succeeded in reaching the United States were present: Rabbis Aharon Kotler of the Kletsk Yeshivah, Reuven Grozovsky of the Kaminetz Yeshivah, Mendel Zaks of the Radun Yeshivah, Elijah Meyer Bloch and Hayyim Mordechai Katz of the Telz Yeshivah, as well as Jacob Rosenheim, president of Agudath Israel. Silver summed up the state of affairs when he declared:
The leading geonim and disseminators of Torah knowledge in the world are now in the United States. We must build centers of Torah and fear of God in this country.
. . . We shall succeed in turning America into a holy place due to the merit of the Torah. In the past, great saints and sages were called upon to establish Torah life in new countries. Today this task falls upon us, although we are spiritually weak and inadequate. Nevertheless, we shall succeed due to the virtues of Torah observance. We must cease to despair of progress, Instead, we should organize, build and achieve our purpose. 11
In August of 1942 Silver organized a "Special Conference for the Strengthening of the Jewish Religion" at Belmar, New Jersey. He declared in somewhat ironical terms:
In opening this special conference of the Agudat Israel we are fully conscious of the frightful Holocaust that has enveloped the world and realize the special grave danger that threatens the whole of our people at the hand of the demon loosened upon the earth. In this fateful and most crucial hour we turn to the Creator in supplication for succor.
Our approach to the Almighty is similar to the manner which we appealed to the State Department, when about two years ago a delegation of venerable Talmudists and patriarchal hassidic rabbis came to Washington to secure special visas for our great leaders and teachers whom we were anxious to rescue from the hell of Eastern Europe. At that time we addressed the heads of our State Department as follows: "We come to you not as great orators nor as astute politicians; not as leaders of wordly influence nor as great lawyers with shrewd arguments. We come to you with millions of bleeding Jewish hearts, with the totality of Israel's great catastrophe, with hands outstretched in silent appeal from hundreds and thousands of our great Talmudic scholars and present day sages, representing the very flower and nobility of traditional Jewish learning and wisdom, who plead for rescue. Our own limited power of speech prevents us from putting this plea in words, nor are we able to put it in writing on paper. We beseech you to receive this silent plea as if it were uttered in words coming from your own hearts. 12
Obviously, the cause of Jewish education in America would have been strengthened even more had those thousands of European scholars and laymen steeped in Judaism been brought over in time. However, pleading with the State Department on their behalf was a matter of great consternation. This was part of a world-wide problem, for as Walter Laqueur has stated: "Neither the United States Government, nor Britain, nor Stalin showed any pronounced interest in the fate of the Jews", even though they were kept informed through Jewish organizations and through their own channels. In the work: The Terrible Secret: Suppression of the Truth about Hitler's "Final Solution" (1980), Laqueur writes that: How, during all the war years, "the Allied intelligence services should have not known (or ignored) the truth about the Hitlerite extermination camps which extended over many square kilometers and in which millions of people had been incarcerated", is a "legitimate question". 13