Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Tammuz 5764 - June 30, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Collaboration Between the Chareidim and the Zionists During the Holocaust

by Binyomin Y. Rabinowitz

When this article was published in the Hebrew paper about two months ago (in the issue of Acharei Mos-Kedoshim) it elicited a very large the largest reader response, since it deals with one of the lingering sore issues in Klal Yisroel: cooperation with the non-religious when life and death issues are at stake. This is certainly not the last word, but these are important documents in what is an ongoing discussion.

Quite frequently, questions sprout up on the way the chareidi Jews, led by the gedolim of the generation, relate to the devastating period of the Nazi destruction.

Recently, the Holocaust was discussed from a variety of angles: There were moving stories of gentiles who saved Jews; yet another survivor who opened his blocked heart and related the events of those harrowing times; and, most especially, report after report about the annual marches of Israeli students to the concentration camps, and the ceremonies held on the sites.

But there was one subject which was not in the general media's agenda, nor will it ever be: The intent of the then Zionist leaders (including members of the Mizrachi sector who were fully involved in the Action Committee set up by the Jewish Agency) to take the slightest action to save the Jews of Europe. As HaRav Zalman Sorotzkin, the Lutzker Rov, a member of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah and later head of the Vaad Hayeshivos, stated at a meeting of the Agudas Yisroel Executive Committee on Tu BeShevat, 5703 (Thursday, January 21, 1943):

"The Agency has no interest in anything except Palestine, and we have to consider whether, indeed, the time has not come to publicly condemn them and unmask their true colors."

"Politics Have to be Put Aside"

The two books written by Rabbi Tzvi Weinman, MiKattowitz ad 5 Iyar (From Kattowitz until the Fifth of Iyar) and VeDa Ma Shetoshiv (Know How to Answer), contain astonishing revelations in various spheres, quite a few concerning the Holocaust era. (VeDa Ma Shetoshiv is only available directly from the author.)

It is not easy to sit in Rabbi Weinman's office, packed with tens of thousands of documents, and read about the fate of chareidi Jews in recent generations. Some of the documents and research papers may be read only inside the office, for obvious reasons, and may not be copied or xeroxed.

Recently, we applied to Rabbi Weinman for information on any possible collaboration between the chareidi rabbis and activists and the secular Zionists regarding the rescue of the Jews in Europe. This is a subject to which Rabbi Weinman has been diligently applying himself in recent days.

Hardly had we opened the conversation before Rabbi Weinman had placed in front of us a rare and original document signed by HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, bearing the date Thursday, 18 Adar Sheini, 5700 (1940):

"In reverence to my dear and sublime friend, lover of Torah and mitzvos, deeply involved in the community as shaliach of Torah, Morenu HaRav Y. C. Eise, of Zurich . . . That which was written concerning HaRav Meir Karelitz in Eretz Yisroel I am not aware of, but it is clear that the yeshivos applied to Rabbi Herzog on account of the certificates, and they are of the opinion that he has some influence in this matter. I have also written to him and to the Agudah several times, since in a case of pikuach nefesh, politics must be put aside."

"I am Confident the Answer Will Be Accepted"

The last sentence, says Rabbi Weinman, is clearly decisive. However, together with this he cites an article published in the year 5723 (1963) under the title, "In Your Ways We Lived," written by one on the rosh yeshivas in Europe, in which the following words appeared:

"I recall the time when the rumors first came out about the proposed extermination of the Jews in Europe, Heaven forfend, and it was apparent that there was hope of rescuing another remnant, but only through collaboration with the Zionist Jewish Agency.

"One of the leading chareidi activists brought the sheilah to the Chazon Ish, and the Rov answered him as follows: `Are we not commanded to fight to rescue lives in order to fulfill the mitzvos of Hashem? If we are remiss in saving lives, will we not have to answer for this on the Day of Judgment? Yet when Judgment Day comes and you are asked, "Why did you not save lives?" and you reply, "Your Honor, it was because it could only be done by joining with the Zionists and that was out of the question," I am confident this answer will be accepted.' "

At the time of the publication of this article, says Rabbi Weinman, there was no mention of the name of the writer and the one who posed the sheilah to the Chazon Ish. However, in Tammuz of 5760 (2000), R' Elyokim Schlesinger, son-in- law of Rabbi Moshe Blau, the leader of Agudas Yisroel, and grandson of Morenu R' Yaakov Rosenheim, one of the founders of Agudas Yisroel, came out with a book, HaDor Vehatekufoh (The Generation and the Era). In the course of the book, which contains notes about the conduct of the Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rov, he reveals the name of the one posing the sheilah as being none other than Rabbi Moshe Blau (page 211):

"Towards the end of the war, when the reports reached Eretz Yisroel confirming the destruction of the Jews of Europe, and the activists wished to make a desperate attempt to rescue the survivors, my esteemed father- in-law, who was one of the major activists in hatzoloh matters, went to ask the following sheilah of the Chazon Ish: `Since all links with the Jews in the Diaspora are solely in the hands of the Zionist Agency, and it is almost impossible to take any action without them, is it permitted, on the grounds of pikuach nefesh to collaborate with them?'

"To which the Chazon Ish responded: `Why does the rav have to get involved in hatzoloh matters? After 120 years, when the rav comes before the Heavenly Court and they argue that he could have saved Jews and why did he not, and he replies that the only way he could have saved them was through an alliance with the Agency and with the Zionists, I will be the guarantor that they will accept this answer.' "

A Huge Distinction

Now the question arises of whether there was perhaps a machlokes between the gedolim on the issue of collaboration with the Zionists for the purpose of rescuing the European Jews. Rabbi Weinman is certain that, for all intents and purposes, there was none.

"HaRav Chaim Ozer's letter referred to a cooperation with Rabbi Herzog who was a religious Jew, while the sheilah that Rabbi Moshe Blau asked the Chazon Ish concerned the irreligious Zionist Jewish Agency. There is a huge distinction between the two."

The widely accepted opinion throughout the years has been that the Zionists wanted no part in the rescue of the Jews in Europe, while from these documents we see that they did get involved, since the question revolved around whether or not to join forces with them?

Rabbi Weinman: The answer to that is unequivocal: the Zionists did not make the slightest move to save the Jews of Europe. In my book VeDa Ma Shetoshiv I demonstrate clearly and distinctly that, even after the establishment of the State, they prevented chareidi Jews from immigrating to Eretz Yisroel and there are documents and solid evidence to prove it.

However, if we revert to that pre-State period following the Holocaust, a detailed document exists on this affair, dated Tammuz-Av 5705 (1945). It was dispatched to all the Agudas Yisroel branches worldwide, including the one that existed in Kobe. It describes the relationship between the Zionists and the various groups, whether religious or secular, concerning the issue of hatzoloh.

This fascinating document reads as follows: "Hatzoloh - - here the World Executive Committee of Agudas Yisroel invested a huge and extensive effort throughout the whole period of the war. Rescue was the foremost priority on the list of the activities and goals of the Executive Committee.

"The Committee maintained links with all the Hatzoloh headquarters of Agudas Yisroel in London, Zurich, New York and Bucharest. It stirred a public outcry in Eretz Yisroel about the atrocities being perpetrated in Poland. As a result of its initiative and fierce demands, the Yishuv Vaad LeHatzoloh was founded in Eretz Yisroel, composed of all the various groups, with the complete collaboration of, and with full rights of, Agudas Yisroel.

"Our representatives on the presidium of the Vaad LeHatzoloh, Rabbi M. Levin and his aide Mr. Binyomin Mintz, performed wonderful feats, and had a major impact on the Vaad LeHatzoloh. They managed to attain budgetary provisions and considerable sums of money to aid our brethren suffering in the lands of the inferno. The World Executive Committee worked tirelessly to send out parcels and aid to the refugees in Russia.

"To our great anguish, the extermination was unspeakably devastating, and successes were pitifully meager in proportion to the extent of the calamity. However, the Executive Committee did not neglect a single opportunity to send aid and rescue, both in terms of its resources, and its willingness to join forces with other and more powerful elements. It did whatever was in its power to rescue our brethren, dispatching massive sums for this purpose."

"The Hatzoloh Committees Were a Joke"

The sense of that letter is that the Zionists were involved in the rescue of the Jews of Europe?

Rabbi Weinman: It appears from this description that a proper collaboration with hatzoloh activists did exist. Yet let us take as an example the protocol of the Agudah Executive Committee meeting of the 15th of Shevat, 5703 (1943) in Jerusalem (we only will look at those sentences relevant to our topic).

Present at that meeting were: HaRav Z. Sorotzkin, Chairman of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, of the Vaad Hayeshivos, and of the Chinuch Atzmai administration, HaRav M. Karelitz, HaRav Y.H. Sankowitz (rosh yeshiva of Sefas Emes), Rabbi Y.M. Levin, Rabbi Rephoel Katzenelenbogen, Rabbi Doctor Yitzchok Breuer, Rabbi M. Levin, Rabbi Avraham Sirkis, Dr. Schlesinger and the secretary Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Mozes.

The first item on the meeting's agenda was "European Jewry."

Rabbi Y.M. Levin opened the meeting as follows: "The Chairman is submitting a detailed report on the steps taken by the Executive Committee to aid in the rescue of the Jewish survivors in Europe. We were present at the meeting of the Jewish Agency's Action Committee, and nothing positive has yet been accomplished . . . We received information from Mr. Zilbersheich, who has arrived in the country, that the situation in occupied Europe has seriously deteriorated, and that radical countermeasures are called for.

"Nothing concrete has emerged from the meetings of the Jewish Agency Action Committee. What is beyond comprehension is that even the proposal to drop pamphlets from the air over the occupied countries was not implemented. The whole matter of the Action Committee is a joke (chucho vetelulo). I had a sharp confrontation with Mr. Greenbaum, in which I demanded more action and energy.

"An appeal for 50,000 Eretz Yisroel Pounds (EYP) for a rescue campaign would allow us to send representatives to Constantinople to work there for our unfortunate brethren. The Israeli Histadrut in Constantinople has a staff of five people working there day and night [on their business], while we have to scrape together all of our resources just to send a sole representative to work there on the spot. We discovered that by bribing the Gestapo we can get the murders converted to forced labor, and that we could save a few Jews from Rumania and Hungary. A great deal can be done with the sum of 50,000 EYP."

Rabbi Y.H. Sankowitz: "Can we rely on the Jewish Agency Executive Committee when they are doing nothing at all? We must decide on our own how to proceed now. On the issue of protests, it is clear that the situation is deteriorating from day to day. As the defeats of that evil person loom larger, he unleashes his anger on the Jews.

"We must organize large demonstrations all over the country, and in the synagogues and in street gatherings, with a general plea to the democratic countries to rescue our suffering brethren and do whatever is in their power to turn around public opinion there. Also, Rabbi Blau must make every effort to attain a visa and go to Constantinople. For the Hatzoloh campaign, we will be able to amass the financial means."

Dr. Breuer: "The demonstrations must to be turned towards the Jewish people, which is not united in a massive and united effort to rescue those who are drowning in a sea of tragedy in the Diaspora. It is correct that without the financial resources nothing can be accomplished. We have to demand that the Action Committee stop all its other fundraising campaigns and set up one single Rescue Appeal."

"The Jewish Agency is Interested Solely in Palestine"

HaRav Sorotzkin: "We have to again create a huge stir in Eretz Yisroel and the democratic countries. The organization Al Domi ("Do not Be Silent") came to me recently, saying that they are convinced that only a convention of rabbis can shake up the people. I suggest convening a second convention of the Eretz Yisroel rabbonim and a protest march from all the cities of Eretz Yisroel to Jerusalem. The Jewish Agency is interested solely in Palestine, and we have to consider whether it is not time to publicly condemn the Agency and unmask them."

Sirkis: "The Jewish Agency won't do a single substantive thing; it will just keep the public anesthetized. Every concrete suggestion on our part meets only resistance from them, and we must disregard their entirely inhuman opinion altogether. The general public really wants action, but they put up obstacles in our path at every turn. Therefore, we have to make sure they don't hinder us. We have to think of a plan to stir a public outcry in Eretz Yisroel."

Dr. Breuer: "We must unmask the Agency and demand the establishment of a fund of 50,000 EYP for activities in Palestine. Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants action from us, not demonstrations, and we have to get down to action and organize the Torah community in Eretz Yisroel, and all this time we haven't even taken the slightest step . . . "

HaRav R. Katzenelenbogen: "I join HaRav Z. Sorotzkin of Lutsk's program. We must organize speeches in all the shuls."

Dr. Schlesinger: "Although mass demonstrations and a new protest response by the Yishuv is a good idea, we have to exercise caution in relation to the Nazis so as not to worsen the situation [in Europe]. In particular, the demand should be directed more towards the democracies to open their gates [rather than against the crimes themselves], but even that is very complicated. I support Dr. Breuer's motion. We have to push for the formation of a 50,000 EYP fund from the Jewish Agency, and if they won't do it, we should not continue to sit with them."

HaRav Meir Karelitz: "I am in favor of HaRav Sorotzkin's motion for a second mass gathering: a) The kinus will turn over the fate of Israel to the Heavens (yimsor din Yisroel LaShomayim). b) The kinus will again arouse us to an internal awakening. c) The kinus will bring the Yishuv's cry for help to the nations. d) This second kinus along these lines will be much stronger than the first. Therefore, details of the program have to be carefully worked on."

Rabbi Levin: "Whenever I participate in the Action Committee, I protest and raise a storm about why they are doing nothing for rescue . . . "

"Joint Gatherings with the Nonreligious are a Dangerous Game"

Towards the end of the meeting on this subject, a committee was chosen to implement the motion, and when the subject came up of a possible alliance with the secular elements over the arrangements for the kinus, Rabbi Levin stated: "Joint gatherings with the nonreligious are a dangerous game. At any rate, we will discuss this matter further."

Rabbi Weinman concludes, based on this detailed protocol, that the Zionists did not take the slightest action to rescue the Jews in Europe, and all the rallies and marches to protest this issue fell to deaf ears. As if that were not enough, they even sabotaged actions that others attempted or proposed carrying out.

Rabbi Weinman also quotes the position of the Admor, HaRav Aharon Roth author of Shomer Emunim, on the subject of collaboration and requests for aid from the Zionists, as brought down in Rabbi Eliyahu Steinberg's book on the Admor, Uvda DeAharon (page 263).

"I Will Not Ask Favors from a Mizrachist"

This is a quote from the book:

In the middle of the World War, when the dreadful rumors started coming in from overseas about the great calamities and mass murders and our Rov wanted to save his family and relatives from the field of slaughter, he needed eleven Certificates [of Immigration to the British Protectorate in Palestine].

Now there was a certain person who came and told our Rov that he could get the Certificates for him, on condition that the Rov would apply to Moshe Shapira (head of the Aliyah Department in the Jewish Agency) to ask for his aid. The person in question was the son of a chossid, but he had become affiliated with the Mizrachi party. Our Rov refused, saying, "I would never ask a favor of any Mizrachist, Heaven forbid. It would be a chilul Hashem."

This person then suggested that our Rov not go himself, but write a note to Shapira detailing his request and that would be sufficient to get the Certificates. Our Rov also vetoed this, saying he would never consent to such a thing for it, too, was a chilul Hashem.

But the person persisted, and asked: "Was it not a case of pikuach nefesh to save someone from certain death?"

To which our Rov responded: "I am sure that if they asked my brother-in-law, the tzaddik Rav Shmuel, if he would want to be saved through a chillul Hashem, he would answer that he is ready to burn in the fires al kiddush Hashem, but not to cause a chillul Hashem."

The same person then asked our Rov to pay a visit to an elderly Admor, descendant of a distinguished family, who had affiliated himself with the Mizrachi party. The Admor had influence over Shapira which would undoubtedly help in acquiring the Certificates. This, too, our Rov refused.

Finally, when the man suggested that two talmidim go and ask for the certificates from Shapira, our Rov did not object but only remarked: "I don't believe he will merit such a great mitzvah, to rescue the tzaddikim, my brothers- in-law, from death."

Indeed, his words came true. Shapira gave the Certificates, but they did not help to save his family.

"The Protocol is Shocking and Speaks for Itself"

Once again, we asked Rabbi Weinman the same question: Why was no action taken to condemn the Zionists for their refusal to give aid, and even for their sabotaging other efforts to save the Jews of Europe?

To which he responded: "But that's exactly my point. The motions raised during that meeting for a public condemnation of the Zionists never materialized."

Could not the Agudas Yisroel Have Worked Independently to Rescue the Jews?

Rabbi Weinman: One has to face the facts. It was immensely difficult to work on our own because, after all, the big money was in the hands of the secular, and not in ours. If we look carefully at the report that was dispatched after the war, it was camouflaged to make it seem as if there was some cooperation. However, at the time of the war itself, we have only to look at the protocol to see how shocking the situation was. It speaks for itself, does it not? Not only did the secular people do nothing, they even prevented us from doing anything.

You are dealing with history. But today, since the reality is different in terms of saving Jews, won't the dilemma of whether to act together with the Zionists or without them remain a hypothetical one?

Rabbi Weinman: On this matter I refer you to my book, VeDa Ma Shetoshiv (page 87, clause 8): "The policy that began with Max Nordau even prior to the Sixth Zionist Congress -- i.e., there is no need to be concerned about those who do not wish to return to Palestine -- continues and follows throughout the period as a scarlet thread. It can be seen in the libels of Weizmann, who prevented the abridgment of World War I, in the secular Zionists' behavior during the Holocaust, and in the behavior of the secular Israelis today.

"Let us refer to the newspaper Ha'aretz, of 9.18.92: `A few weeks ago Uri Gordon defended the thesis that the function of the State of Israel and the Jewish Agency is only to be involved in the rescue of Jews in distress if they are willing to make aliyah to Israel. Gordon, head of the Aliyah and Absorption Department in the Jewish Agency, was expressing the same stance as that taken by the Jewish Agency during the period of the Holocaust.' "

"He Holds by the Principle that Rescue is Aliyah"

Rabbi Weinman stresses that Gordon's statement came as a response to the complaint by the leader of the Jewish community in Sarajevo during that period (the year 5752, during the harsh civil war in Kossova), that Israel was only willing to rescue Jews who aimed to make aliyah, while the rest it disregarded. To that, Gordon responded by stating that he, as an Israeli, a sabra and a Zionist, held by the principle that `Rescue means aliyah.'

To further elucidate this point, Rabbi Weinman refers us to a dreadful comment of Ben-Gurion made some time after Kristallnacht (December 7, '38), when he spoke of the 10,000 Jewish children from Austria and Germany whose parents had been slaughtered or expelled. The British would not allow them to enter Palestine, and therefore the suggestion was raised to send them to Britain. Ben- Gurion, as a member of the headquarters of the Israeli Labor Council, responded:

"If I would know that it is possible to save all the German children by transferring them to England, or only half of them by transferring them to Palestine, I would choose the latter option -- because our calculation does not only concern these children's lives, it is a historical calculation for the Jewish nation."

"The Blood of the Orphans Shrieks to the Heavens!"

This attitude of the Zionists that "Rescue is aliyah" has far- reaching implications in terms of the rescue of Torah- observant Jews. In Rabbi Weinman's book (VeDa Ma Shetoshiv, page 65, clause 7), he quotes a letter published in Rumania in the year 5706 (1946):

"With heartfelt anguish and deep regret, we turn to you in connection with the appalling outrage which makes us all rend our clothes, what our brethren did to us during the last aliyah to our Holy Land.

"Our sons and daughters, survivors of murder and captivity, young boys and girls snatched from the furnaces of Auschwitz, pitiful young orphan girls and boys, were denied entrance to the country, and driven from the ship on the grounds of their being faithful to the Torah of Hashem, and observing Shabbos and kashrus . . . the blood of these orphans shrieks up to the Heavens!

"It shrieks to us to wake up and to stand up for our very lives against those who have lost all vestiges of their humanity, cruelly blocking out a tribe of Israel, depriving these little children and orphans, survivors of the sword and the gola, of their rights."

(The letter refers to a ship of displaced persons that left Europe after the War for Eretz Yisroel.)

Not only did such incidents occur prior to the founding of the State, but they continued long after it, as chareidi Jews were prevented from making aliyah. On the 29th of Iyar, 5710, then Knesset member of Agudas Yisroel, Rabbi Meir Dovid Levenstein, submitted the following parliamentary question to the Minister of Absorption:

"My friends in the Agudas Yisroel in England are complaining about the Eretz Yisroel office in London, because it refuses to give aliyah permits to Israel on the grounds that the applicants are not members of the Zionist Organization . . . In the annual report that the Eretz Yisroel office presented to the Zionist Executive Committee on April 19, 1950, the following was stated, among other things:

"Fifteen requests for aliyah were presented in London last week and only a third of them were approved. The reason for such a small number of approvals had to do with the fact that the majority of the applicants were not Zionists, and not willing, from a spiritual perspective, to live in the Land of Israel, nor did they speak Hebrew . . . "


Finally, we will bring up another related question, which is often raised: Why do chareidi Jews not commemorate Yom HaShoa? Though they obviously cannot mark it the way the leaders of the State of Israel are accustomed to, surely there are numerous Jewish-Torah ways to respond to this day. Upon investigation, we discovered that even Torah personalities and major senior public figures in chareidi Judaism thought so.

Furthermore, they went as far as to present detailed proposals on the subject. On another occasion, we dealt with this matter more extensively, but here in an accompanying box, we will introduce just a few quotes from the words of the Israeli gedolim, as brought by Rabbi Zvi Weinman in his book, VeDa Ma Shetoshiv.

Question to, and Reply from, HaRav Chaim Kanievsky

To the Gaon Hagodol HaRav Chaim Kanievsky shlita,

Recently an article was published in Yated Ne'eman [Note: This refers to the earlier Hebrew article] which quoted the opinion of the Chazon Ish in connection with saving European Jewry during the Holocaust through cooperation with the Jewish Agency. The material was taken from the book of R' Elyokim Schlesinger of London who quoted his father-in-law Rabbi Moshe Blau as follows. [The letter cites the quote that appears in the article.]

After the material appeared in print, some questioned whether the Chazon Ish really said this. I would like to know if HaRav Chaim Kanievsky knows if this was in fact the opinion of the Chazon Ish in these matters.

Yeyasheir kochacho,

Tzvi Weinman

HaRav Chaim Kanievsky replied (with his characteristic brevity, reprinted here in its entirety):

I do not know about this but it is reasonable.


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