Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Iyar 5761 - May 2, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Who Did the Rescuing During the Holocaust?

by Yisroel Spiegel

Part I

In the first months after the outbreak of World War II, some of the yeshivas that were located in Lithuanian Poland moved to Vilna. The reason for this move was that the Russians had taken over their territory because of the famous treaty between the Nazis and the Soviets. The Communist police made things difficult for the yeshivas, and for this reason they preferred to find themselves another place.

The choice of Vilna stemmed from the fact that according to the decision of Communist Russia, it had temporarily become the capital of a free and autonomous Lithuania. An additional reason was that in Vilna, of course, resided the patron of all yeshivas, Maran HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt'l, who encouraged them to come there and in his presence they felt safer.

HaRav Chaim Ozer zt'l was not satisfied with just the transfer. He worked day and night to save the yeshivas and maintain them. He called on American rabbis for support, and in Tishrei 5700, Rabbi Eliezer Silver zt'l, the chief rabbi of Cincinnati and a one-time talmid of HaRav Chaim Ozer, arranged several rabbinical meetings regarding the situation in Poland and the necessity to send aid.

A more comprehensive meeting took place on the 4th of Cheshvan 5700, when Poland had already been conquered by the Germans and when they knew more details about the situation in Vilna. Indeed, at that meeting they decided on the foundation of Vaad Hahatzala Be'ad Hayeshivos Vehorabonim Negu'ei Hamilchomoh (the Rescue Committee for Yeshivas and Rabbonim Affected by the War).

These details are included in a lengthy article by Mr. Joseph Friedenson, editor of Dos Yiddishe Vort, the Yiddish publication of Agudas Yisroel in the United States, which focused on the Holocaust and the Vaad Hahatzala's activities in the bitter period of World War II. Throughout those years he wrote tens of articles on the subject, even publishing two English books about the life and activities of the representatives of the Vaad Hahatzala, Mrs. Recha Sternbuch o'h and Mr. Yaakov Griffel z'l, European activists who were especially well known for their heroic work for saving Jews from danger, and this under the most impossible conditions.

Failing Leadership seeks Refuge in Slander

The full name Vaad Hahatzala Be'ad Hayeshivos Vehorabonim Negu'ei Hamilchomoh is of course known by almost no one. It was even a surprise to this writer, since everyone was and is familiar with the name Vaad Hahatzala. If we elaborate on it at this time, it is for a specific reason, that Mr. Friedenson did not know about last Nisan when he published that essay about the activities of Vaad Hahatzala.

He himself did not guess that two months later he would be forced to publish another article, also connected to Vaad Hahatzala. But this time it was not just a review of the committee's special activities in the war years and after, but in order to repel an attack on that Vaad Hahatzala. For this reason we present the full name of the Vaad, as we will explain later.

That attack fits well into the common phenomenon of pinning blame on chareidi Jews, particularly rabbis and admorim, for almost everything having to do with the destruction of the six million.

If some people think that these attacks against the chareidim are a reaction and defense against the serious, true charges of failure by the secular establishment during that disastrous era to take steps to save Jews when European Jewry was drowning in an ocean of blood, they are mistaken.

A Campaign of Defamation

The Zionist and secular propaganda systems took this step for entirely different reasons. They wanted to entrench in the masses the idea that the Holocaust was conclusive proof against the chareidi worldview and proof for the "realistic" approach, i.e. secularism, in ensuring Jewish continuity in such a cruel world.

This first step in their campaign was the "charge" that European Jewry went like sheep to the slaughter. The secular leadership ignored the fact that they had no means of defense, and there was no possibility in the world to stand up against the mighty Nazi war machine, the overwhelming enemy which, at the peak of its power, subjugated entire countries from when the war broke out until the beginning of its downfall in the marshy, Russian winter. In the methodical path of destruction of the Nazi war machine were whole populations. First and foremost of course, the six million Jews were murdered, but also tens of millions of people from other nationalities, including hundreds of thousands of prisoners, mainly Russians, who were killed brutally. Many Russians were commanded to dig holes which afterwards became mass graves, after they were shot down with machine guns. Not one of them rose up against his captors and murderers even though they were trained soldiers.

The mocking, contemptuous complaint against holy Jews of walking like sheep to the slaughterer, was aimed at glorifying the mythological "sabra," a Zionist, secular creation, fearless, and promising "No more!" meaning that after the Jewish state, the Zionist vision, nothing like this will ever happen again.

A few years ago, when Ehud Barak was the commander-in-chief of the army, he said in his speech in Poland at the annual March of the Living program, that the State of Israel had arisen late, and maybe if it had been set up before the Holocaust it would have been prevented, meaning to say that the State would ensure the reality that "this will not happen again."

After the Athletes' Murder in Munich, They Began to Understand!

With time, secular propaganda stopped using this mocking, insulting tone when they mentioned the six million Holocaust victims. Several incidents caused this, including the horrible murder of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich 28 years ago, when they were killed, unfortunately, in the same way, "like sheep to the slaughter." Neither their Zionism, their Israeli- ism, nor their physical and military training helped them.

This also happened in a bus near the Country Club intersection in Tel Aviv, when terrorists took control of a bus and murdered its Israeli passengers, including sabras of the classic type. It suddenly became clear to everyone that there really are situations in which it is impossible to defend oneself and to stand up to bloodthirsty murderers. We must mention here also the Yom Kippur War, which destroyed many myths that Zionist propaganda had created, and after which the blind faith in the invincibility of the classical sabra began to wane. The accumulating military failures of the IDF brought an end to the myth of its infinite ability.

But later, something else happened as a result of an argument about Zionist failures to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. This argument underwent various changes, one of which was that it was not possible to save Jews from the jaws of the Nazi murderers, a claim that was intended to remove all blame from Zionist leaders.

However, this point includes the most problematic aspects of the entire issue. Enthusiastic supporters of this claim were prepared to completely minimize the international institutions of Zionism and their power to accomplish something.

There is something very puzzling here: This is the very movement that fought and won for itself recognition from the entire world as the only representative of the Jewish nation as a whole, managing to shunt all others (including chareidi Judaism and the historical Agudas Yisroel) aside, branding them as sectorial organizations that cannot speak for the entire Jewish people.

This is the movement whose followers took credit for acquiring international consent to establish a Jewish state and for the formation, development, and settlement in Eretz Yisroel.

If this was such a powerful and successful movement, how did it come to be so weak and worthless regarding the rescue of Jews from the Nazi fires? If this was such a powerless movement, how could it found kibbutzim and yishuvim, dry up marshes and cultivate desert, set up underground movements in Eretz Yisroel, enlist hundreds and maybe thousands for the Jewish brigade in the framework of the British army, and finally--the deciding feat--the establishment of the Jewish State?

If these were all historical truths, it would just be a matter of settling the difficulties and contradictions that sprout up almost on their own, but in fact we are talking about tendentious, false propaganda, occasionally changed according to the needs at that particular time.

When it was found necessary to glorify the idea of power and conquering, they belittled the millions of Jews who were in the hands of the enemy and only someone who could take the credit for an act of "rebellion" or an "uprising," real or imaginary, beneficial or harmful, earned acclaim. Only they died a "hero's death" in the ghettos, while all the others, as they say, "went like sheep to the slaughter," which had, for them, the worst connotations. We will not repeat here the insulting expressions that the official propaganda, inspired by Zionist leaders, attached to the kedoshim and tehorim Hy'd.

Pointed Questions that Sprouted from "Inside"

But then the really touchy questions started coming up: Where were you, really, at that time? Why didn't you do what you could, when you still could have saved lives?

Honesty compels us to say that the question did not come only from the outside (such as from chareidi circles or others opposed to them) in the form of "Where were you?" but they also began to ask themselves, "Where were we? What did we do? Why did we disappear?"

These questions have begun coming to the surface with great frequency. Amongst the questioners were also investigators and historians who did not tire of going through archives, newspapers of that time and protocols of Zionist institutions, and their findings formed a horrifying picture: the intentional silence of the Holocaust, criminal apathy, preference for the establishment of Israeli settlement and the position that "the State in process" stands above and beyond all cries for help.

A New Propaganda Approach

Then a new period began for the propaganda of the establishment. Suddenly it was decided that the stature of the institutions that had seen themselves as "a government in formation" before the establishment of the State, and as official and representative leadership of the Jewish nation in the world, were to be minimized. Suddenly, they began claiming that essentially the victims were themselves guilty because they had not listened to warnings of the foreseen and they did not hurry to leave the Valley of Tears and make aliya, which would have served them as a "safe harbor." They were "blameworthy," and particularly the rabbonim and admorim were chosen as the most guilty because, according to them, they had forbidden their numerous followers from going to Eretz Yisroel.

What did they want? For us to break through the fortified walls of the Nazis in order to save them? Were we qualified for this? But if they had come to Eretz Yisroel, they now speculated, they would have been saved -- exactly as the half a million Jews who lived there before the outbreak of war were safe!

The Answers

Lie follows falsehood and confrontation follows confrontation. Much has already been written about this. For one thing, that in occupied Europe besides chareidi Jews (whose number was large even though they were still only a minority amongst all Jews) millions of non-chareidi Jews lived: Zionists, secularists, religious, Bundists, Communists and so forth, who were far from heeding the voice of rabbis and admorim. Why didn't they make aliya in order to be saved?

Also a lot has been written about the fact that the still- small Jewish settlement in Israel was rescued from Nazi persecution and dangers of destruction, R"l, only through an obvious miracle, because the Nazi advance came to little more than a step outside of the borders of Eretz Yisroel. It was only Hitler's craziness that drove him to launch a surprise attack against Russia that enticed him to shift his resources away from the Middle Eastern front at the last minute -- and that is how salvation came to Eretz Yisroel and its Jewish settlement

An additional significant historical fact is that the gates of Eretz Yisroel were really closed to Jews. Only a few, and only at certain times, were given aliya permits ("certificates"). Even that small amount of aliya permits was under the firm control of the Zionist movement and the Jewish Agency, who restricted the chareidi population to only six percent of these immigration certificates. How could chareidi Jews have made aliya and saved themselves?

But there is another fraud in the claim that there was a sweeping, universal issur that rabbonim and admorim imposed on aliya. It is true that there were those who forbade it because of the genuine concern (whose truth was later proven) that aliya would mean the end of Torah life and mitzvos. But in any case, this did not stop those chareidi Jews whose leaders did permit them to escape, because the worst obstacle was the fact that the gates to Israel were locked to them, limited by the scant amount of aliya permits that they received. In fact, for each available permit tens of Jews gathered outside the Agudas Yisroel offices in Warsaw and other Polish cities. The vast majority of requests were refused, for the simple reason that the supply of permits was small and virtually insignificant compared to the demand.

Trying to Darken One Bright Point

As investigators into rescue failures (who in many cases found actions that bordered on real crimes) are tightening the noose around the guilty Zionist leaders of that period, the latter are finding a new way out, namely phony charges against chareidi Judaism.

If "like sheep to the slaughter" no longer works, and if there is no longer any credibility to the claim of "the rabbis' and Rebbes' fault" by prohibiting mass immigration that "caused" masses of Jews to go to their death, and if there is no real logic to claim that Eretz Yisroel was a guaranteed "safe harbor," so they try to turn in a completely different direction. This claim is absolutely astonishing in its impudence.

It happens to be that in the mass of the grim and depressing story of the efforts to save Jews from the Holocaust horrors, one bright point, which is impossible to invalidate or shake because of its validity, always shines through. It is the series of amazing Jewish rescue efforts planned and carried out by chareidi Jews, such as Vaad Hahatzala in the United States, led by HaRav Eliezer Silver zt'l, whose story we opened the article with, and Tzeirei Agudas Yisroel in the States (together with whom some people from the Revisionist movement worked), and individual Swiss activists, who were also chareidi, above whom hovered with heroic strength, Rav Weissmandel zt'l, who accomplished what he did within occupied Europe.

It is a brilliant historical fact that is, of course, like a bone stuck in the throat of all the proponents of Zionist propaganda. Besides what it teaches -- that even then there were Jews who put aside any calculations, put themselves in terrible danger by transgressing laws, paying bribes, forging documents, everything possible for the higher purpose of saving Jews -- it topples the whole house of cards upon which they based their revised, false history. Yes, real rescue was carried out, unfortunately, only at the margins. One must not think that it was possible to save six million Jews, when there were around 10 million Jews in the range of danger. No, this was such a huge matter that no one could say that it was possible to deal with the whole thing or even with most of it.

But nonetheless, the claim that practically it was impossible to do anything, is thereby negated. This excuse is an outright lie formulated only after the fact, when it had already become undeniably clear that there had been criminal apathy and shocking disregard for what was happening. The fact that in spite of the strong, unbreakable wall that the German Satan managed to surround oppressed European Jewry with, Jews found ways to circumvent it (however small compared to the size of the catastrophe) puts a very dark shadow on the Zionists. Therefore, they want, at any price, to belittle, to shrink, to deny and to even blemish the rescue activities that were done and that did succeed, albeit in small measure. The success could have been greater (it is difficult to measure how much) if it had not been disturbed by the intentional stumbling blocks of the antisemitic Jew- haters. More painful and disgraceful is that there was significant opposition from within Jewry, but due to space limitations we will not get into this point.

The efforts to darken the one bright light of the chareidi rescue movement's total dedication have been developing lately. Even in the past they tried to tarnish the image, of Rav Weissmandel (who worked for part of the time together with the Zionist activist, Mrs. Gisi Fleishman, Hy'd). They tried to downplay his actual success in halting the destruction of Slovakian Jewry for a significant amount of time, via a bribe he gave to senior Nazis. They tried to deny his personal testimony about a letter he received from a Zionist worker which included the sentence "because the land will be ours through blood," when learned professors accused him of having made up this phrase himself, all because he was an Agudist and anti-Zionist!

End of Part I; Next week: about a recent book and the Aguda's policy on emigration to Israel before the war

Yishuv Leaders Expected Nazi Occupation In Israel

One month in 5740 (1980) a long report by Tom Segev was published entitled: "Settlement During World War II--Between Anxiety and Tranquility." The main content of the comprehensive discussion between the writer and Dr. Yoav Gelber, grandson of N.M. Gelber, Polish Jewish historian and son of a budding officer in the army, a native of Petach Tikva, lieutenant colonel in the reserves, previously one of the commanders of the Military Academy, and one of the scientific assistants of the Agranat Committee.

The cause of the discussion was the publication of the research book of Dr. Gelber, called Volunteerism and its Place in Zionist and Settlement Policy--1939-42, and published by the Organization of Liberated Soldiers and Yad Ben-Tzvi.

Below are selected sections of that conversation between the interviewer and the author:

"World War II is not a shining period for the yishuv," says Gelber, with typical understatement. "The greatest tragedy in Jewish history was taking place and the Zionist movement (which really foresaw this tragedy) did not understand what was happening and did not know how to respond to it. There was a feeling of being in the avant- garde in the yishuv in Eretz Yisrael, which was based to a considerable degree on rebellion against the Diaspora, denying it, and on the burning of all bridges to it. This feeling grew stronger due to the events in Israel. There was a sense that what was occurring in Europe was a side effect of the war, a feeling that the war in Europe was not the fight of Eretz Yisroel, and the destruction of European Jewry was not the destruction of the yishuv in Eretz Yisroel. There was a feeling of helplessness, but there was also animosity and derision and a feeling that if the Jews had not remained in the exile with their fleshpots, this would not have happened. There was bitterness and expressions of real hatred, that Jews went to their deaths like sheep to the slaughter. This was the period when they began to use this expression."

A significant sentence from Gelber, "There was also a recoiling because of the emphasis on the Jewish disaster, while in fact all the European nations suffered. Dov Yosef once warned about the emphasis on the large number of Jews murdered by the Nazis, for if there were a few million fewer Jews, how could the yishuv in Israel justify its claim for a State? In general, the Holocaust was never in first place in the order of the yishuv's interests and priorities. This is the real problem: lack of interest, not lack of ability to do anything.

"`At some stage, around 1949, the way they related to Holocaust survivors changed. But that happened,' Yoav Gelber says, `when they began to realize that the future of Zionism depends on the last survivors making aliya. Only then did they begin to take an interest in European Jewry -- not because they were worried about their fate, but because they worried about our fate, here in Eretz Yisroel.'

"Yoav Gelber thinks that Yitzhak Sadeh and the other yishuv leaders needed a myth about their own heroism when they met face-to-face with the Holocaust survivors and especially with the fighting partisans such as Rozke Korczak, Aba Kovner, Lubatkin, Yitzhak Antik, Zuckerman and others. These people demanded to know what the yishuv did in Eretz Yisroel while they were fighting the Nazis. This question was very painful, because throughout the whole war, they did not think here that this war was a war of Eretz Yisroel but a war of the Golah, this Golah that they looked down at with scorn and hostility. When Holocaust survivors came to Israel, those here did not have anything to say to them, so someone recalled the North Plan, even though it was never anything more than an abstract idea, nothing serious, absolutely imaginary, they developed into a myth of heroism: Stalingrad of Eretz Yisroel, our ghetto." [Note: The "North Plan" was a contingency plan of the Zionist leaders to retreat to Haifa in the face of a German onslaught and to make a last stand around there.]

Below is the opening line in the discussion between Segev and Gelber about the great lie, as if "they knew" or "believed" that Eretz Yisroel would rescue people from the Holocaust. From the section below it is proven clearly that the yishuv was very scared of Nazi invasion, and they even made plans for this by fleeing Israel and with the appointment of Judenrat.

"On May 23, 1941, someone laid a working paper on the desk of Moshe Shertok. It had been prepared by a man who hid his identity behind the name "Shalom." This document arouses deep disgust. Among other things, it proposed that just before the Nazi invasion of Eretz Yisroel, there would be an "exit plan" from Israel for all the important people that needed to continue their Zionist work without disturbance from any enemy! Instead of these `important people,' the leadership would be handed over to what Dr. Gelber describes as a Judenrat, Israel style: "People whose task would be to represent the yishuv before the ruling (Nazi) power. Immediate assignment of these people to official positions in the national committee or other institutions was necessary. The immediate appointment of these people is important to give them authority later in the eyes of the invaders and also to prevent the possibility that these people would be considered by those on the yishuv and abroad as Quislings. Yoav Gelber, who discovered the document in the Zionist Archive, says that he has an idea of who the "Shalom," who wrote it is, but he can't identify him with certainty."

Only Agudas Yisroel Stood Defiant

Author of the book Post-Ugandan Zionism in the Holocaust Crisis, Shabtai Beit-Tzvi, a chiloni member of the Labor movement, was asked in an interview following his book's publication:

"Are you arguing that the Zionist movement was alienated from the Jewish victims of the Nazis?"

He replied, "There were several outstanding cases. One of them is the ban of food packages to Polish Jews. This is what happened: In July 1941 [Note: This was before the U.S. entered the war.] the Embargo Council on Germany positioned guards next to the Agudas Yisroel offices in the United States. The cause of this extreme action [was] the Aguda's refusal to stop sending food packages to the Jews of occupied Poland. They thought that the supply of food violates the embargo that England, as a combatant, had placed on Nazi Germany.

"With this argument the Embargo Council had succeeded in putting an end to the packages sent by all the other American public organizations. Only Agudas Yisroel stood strong in its defiance. This was a sad episode, which they made efforts to cover up afterwards."


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