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6 Iyar, 5783 - April 27, 2023 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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"...For We Will Only Have The Land With Blood": Zionist Behavior During the Holocaust

By Sammy Kaufman

The artist Sigmund Forst discussing the work of HaRav Weissmandel

Part II

For Part I of this series click here.

For Part III of this series click here.

The first part of this series discussed the situation that prevailed in Slovakia at the beginning of the war, as the Germans began to ship Jews off to the death camps. Jews from all groups and backgrounds united against the common danger, forming the Working Group to save Jews. They found that Jewish lives could be bought fairly cheaply and they appealed to Jewish organizations all over for the funds. Some expressed concern about sending money that would aid the enemy. Others had more "ideological" grounds, as we will see in this part.

Writing after the war, Rav Weissmandel recalled the stunning response of Nathan Schwalb, the Zionist representative of the Hechalutz movement, who was sent to Europe to help his fellows. By "fellows" Schwalb only meant Zionists and the Zionist cause, as we will see herein.

A letter written by HaRav Weissmandel in 1944 asking to bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz

Schwalb's Reply

"At long last, salvation arrived. The messenger returned with a letter. Since he came to the home of Morenu HaRav Binyomin Shlomo (Stern) H'y, and as I was there, I opened the letter with trembling hands. There were only a few, bare lines there, written by Meyer.

"There was another letter in the envelope, written in a strange, mysterious language. At first, I couldn't make out what language it was, until, upon closer inspection I saw that it was composed of Hebrew words written in Latin characters. It was written to a group of Schwalb's friends in Pressburg. The letter was a page and a half long and to this day I can see it in front of me, as though I had read it over a hundred and one times. This was what it said.

He was taking the opportunity of the messenger's trip to write to his group of friends (the chevraya) to tell them that they should always remember the most important thing and bear it in mind at all times—ultimately, the Allies would triumph and when they would do so, they would divide the world anew just as they had done after the First World War. Then, they had paved the way for us to make the first step on the road to statehood. Now, after the present war, it would be up to us to do everything possible to see to it that Eretz Yisroel became the State of Israel. Important steps had already been taken in that direction.

As to the cries for help that emanated from our country, we were to realize that all the Allied nations were spilling plenty of their own blood. If we did not contribute our share of the victims, what right would we have to take a place at the negotiating table when the division of nations and territories would be conducted after the war? This being the case, it was ridiculous and even audacious to ask countries that were already suffering losses, to allow us to bring their money into their enemies' countries just for our own protection. For, he wrote, "Rak bedam tihiye lanu haaretz—we will only have the Land with blood." (He spelled it "Rak b'dam tijje lanu Haarez.")

So much for the general population, he continued. As for you, the group members, he advised, "atem tajlu" (literally, "go touring"). For that purpose he was sending money for them through some illegal channel, with the messenger who had brought the letter.

[Before we examine the letter and its implications, we will read a few lines further in Rav Weissmandel's account as he describes his reaction to the letter.]

"After I had become used to this strange writing, I was taken aback when I understood the first words that read in Hebrew, "rak b'dam tijje lanu haarez." Many days and weeks passed however, before I knew what the explanation of the last words was, until a certain incident led me to understand that they were to be read, "atem tajlu" for "tiyul, excursion" was their term for "escape." In other words, he was advising the fifteen or twenty members of his group to leave Slovakia and save their own skins.

"Meanwhile, with the blood of those who remain behind, the men and women, the old people and the tender babes and sucklings, Eretz Yisroel would be ours. It would therefore certainly be a crime to bring money into enemy territory just to save them... but for your excursion, my friends and beloved ones, I am sending you money even though illegally, [thus spoke Schwalb].

"I do not have these letters [any more, at the time of writing] in my possession because they remained there and were lost together with all the other victims who were killed there. However, having arrived at the house of Rav Binyomin Shlomo H'y, there were many others there, some of whom are still alive today. They remember very well what they saw and heard at that time, and the anger and shouting at what my eyes and theirs had seen written inside these astonishing letters.

Eichman ym"sh listening to testimony at his trial in Jerusalem

"Although Mrs. Fleischmann a'h and her friends were Zionist leaders, they were not fluent in Hebrew. However, some time later it happened that the members of the group grew angry with the Jewish lay leaders in the free countries on account of their lighthearted dismissal of our obligations towards the evil men who were holding our lives in their hands.

"I then remembered this letter and it was brought and I translated it for them. It acted like a flash of lightning in the pitch black darkness, revealing to them the deep chasm that lay beneath the entire matter. Now it was their turn to clap their hands in dismay at the collapse of their own ideology. Of course, it was true that it was impossible to acquire anything without paying a price. The price of land was indeed high but if the payment had to be in blood, then whose land would it be?

"Some weeks after this meeting, those in charge of the deportations in Slovakia raised the specter of another transport, as they were wont to do from time to time, striking fear in the hearts of the Jews in order to rake some more blood money into their pockets. In our panic, we sent off a letter of alarm to Zurich.

"I wrote whatever I wrote and Mrs. Fleischmann Hy'd could still see the stinging words of her friend Nathan dancing before her eyes. From the height of his impudence, he wrote to his friends suffering in the depths of their imprisonment to inform them of the most important thing for them to remember and bear in mind at all times... Mrs. Fleischmann Hy'd wrote saying, "We are not merely asking for money which is spent but which comes back again. We are asking for human life which, once it is lost, never returns. I therefore close with Nathan's lesson, `Do not forget the most important thing.'

[Rav Weissmandel continues,]

"How could we have dreamt that a Zionist-Nationalist from the Jewish Agency would come along and say, `Certainly these are serious times but it is not you out there in the Diaspora who must be taken seriously, neither your blood, nor your tears. There is something far more serious at stake—"building the Land." Of course, some things are more serious and some are less so— your blood is of less consequence. Go on, spill it happily, it doesn't matter. With it, we'll be able to acquire what we need to "have the Land." '

Forty Three Years Later

At the end of January, 1987, a thin, seventy-eight year old man of average height, walking with a slight limp, entered the British Embassy in Tel Aviv where he delivered a statement under oath. The man was now called Natan Dror, though he had previously been known as Nathan Schwalb.

Part of his statement reads, "I declare that I did not write this letter," referring to the letter that is the subject of our discussion.

Schwalb's statement at the British Embassy goes on to say that the letter's contents were in opposition to the policy of the leadership of the yishuv during the Second World War. He writes, "The reason for this statement is that the letter that is attributed to me is harming me as a Jewish and a Zionist leader."

What was the immediate cause for the issue of this statement? What "harm" was Schwalb referring to?

The secular Israeli newspaper Davar (the official newspaper of the Israel Labor Party) published the following story, written by one of its correspondents, on the sixteenth of January 1987.

"A new play about the Holocaust which is to be staged this month in London claims that Jews, and particularly Zionists, cooperated with the Nazis. They did so, according to the play, in the belief that the slaughter of their coreligionists was a political necessity which would strengthen their chances of gaining a State in the postwar negotiations.

Perdition, which is to be performed at the Royal Court, is Jim Allen's first drama. The play maintains that Jewish and Zionist leaders in Hungary served as Eichmann's Trojan Horse—the Zionist knife in the Nazi fist. According to one of the play's principle characters, the Jews of Hungary, half a million of whom were murdered in Auschwitz, were the victims not only of the Nazis but also of the "calculated treachery of Jewish leaders."

"Jim Allen admits that in writing the play, he made extensive use of the book, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, by the Jewish anti-Zionist historian, Lenny Brenner. The attorney Scott, one of the characters in Perdition, quotes a letter by a Swiss Zionist named Nathan Schwalb which is cited in Lenny Brenner's book.

"Schwalb wrote to the Slovakian Jews that the forces of the Allies were suffering great losses and that if we did not bring our own sacrifices to the negotiating table, how would we have the right to participate in the division of nations and territories after the war? "We will only have the Land through blood."

"In Allen's drama, these ideas constitute "the essence of the Zionist ideology." The spilling of Jewish blood in the Diaspora is vital to the demand for the establishment of a Jewish State. Allen's personal opinions are in consonance with what he has written. `Schwalb's letter says it all,' he commented."

The play was to be staged at London's prestigious Royal Court Theater on the twenty-second of January, 1987. The following item, written by Yochanan Lahav, appeared in Yediot Acharonot on the twenty-sixth of January.

"An uproar arose... on Wednesday afternoon, one day before the premiere performance. While the representatives of the Anglo-Jewish community held a press conference to attack the play, the decision was taken that Perdition would not go on stage. The playwright's reaction was swift in coming. "The Zionist Lobby has conspired with the theater to stifle my freedom of expression," he said."

Here is an article that appeared in Ma'ariv on the fifteenth of January, 1987. "Jewish organizations in London are planning to fight against the staging of the play Perdition, which equates Nazism and Zionism. The play, which is to be staged at the Royal Court Theater at the end of the month, was written by Jim Allen. In a television interview yesterday, the stage manager said that his writing was based on the book Zionism in the Age of the Dictators by the Jewish anti-Zionist Lenny Brenner.

"According to Allen, Zionism and Nazism share the common idea of consecrating land and blood. He maintains that Zionism saw the extermination as an impetus for the establishment of a Jewish State. Allen claims that Zionists did not work to save Jews who did not want to emigrate to Palestine and that they collaborated with the Nazis who saw them as a favored type of Jew due to the similarities between their ideologies."

In the wake of the play's withdrawal, a wealthy English publisher named David Walton published the play in book form, with the addition of two appendices. One of these was written by Lenny Brenner and contained the full text of Schwalb's letter. As a result of Schwalb's statement, a libel suit was filed against Allen and Walton. In a compromise settlement reached in a British Court, it was agreed that future editions of the book would omit Schwalb's letter until such time as the publisher could prove its authenticity.

It must be noted that all those concerned with the staging of the play, including the playwright and the publisher, identify with the extreme Left and even with Trotskyites. A group of Israelis who joined them and gave them help, are members of the Matspen group, people like Uri Davis, Akiva Nir and Shimon Tsabar. Schwalb is now talking advantage of their affiliations to portray his cause as an honorable fight to save the Jewish nation from its Palestinian-loving Jewish enemies. It is clear at any rate that these people are not acting out of ahavas Yisroel. For this reason, I refused Mr. Walton's request to testify in the Court in London.

A Shocking Denial

When I read in the papers about the storm that raged in London over the staging of the play, I was dumbfounded, primarily by one aspect of the story, namely, Schwalb's denial of the letter that Rav Weissmandel attributes to him in Min Hameitzar.

HaRav Weissmandel's book was published in 1960 and despite the fact that it did not enjoy wide popularity in the general public on account of its difficult, lyrical Hebrew style, it was well-known to everyone engaged in Holocaust research. It was certainly also known to all those who themselves were involved in Holocaust work during the war. Here are a few examples of publications which quoted the letter.

Shabtai Bet-Tzvi's book, Ha'Tzionut Ha'Post Ugandit Bemashber Ha'Shoah, was published in Tel Aviv in 5737 (1977). On page 345, Bet-Tzvi describes Rav Weissmandel's attempts at bribing Wisliceny and writes, "It was close to the end of the seven week waiting period. Hochberg was sent to Wisliceny to tell him that the messenger bringing the money from Switzerland had been injured in a road accident and had broken both legs and that he would only arrive in three or four weeks' time. Wisliceny was asked, and agreed, to extend the waiting period accordingly. A second messenger was despatched to Switzerland with more letters. This time, he came back with two letters, from Sally Meyer and Nathan Schwalb. The second letter from Nathan Schwalb was in Hebrew, written in Latin characters. It engraved itself deep in Rav Weissmandel's memory..."

Bet-Tzvi then quotes the letter and comments, "This letter, in which the reader can discern echoes of Joseph Tannenbaum's speeches against sending parcels to the ghettos and the philosophy of the defense of [a particular faction] in the meeting of the Central Committee of Mapai...the director of the Hechalutz department in Geneva, (i.e. Schwalb) was no different from his fellows in this respect... The letter should serve as an example and a source of pain."

In Dr. Abraham Fuch's book, The Unheeded Cry, which describes the life and work of Rav Weissmandel, we find the following: "However, the members of the Working Group were even more shocked by Nathan Schwalb's reply to his friends in the Slovakian Zionist movement. This letter was also written down by Rav Weissmandel from memory..." Dr. Fuchs goes on to quote the letter as it appears in Rav Weissmandel's book.

The letter has also appeared in other articles and papers which have been published on this subject, for example, Chava Wegman-Eshkoli's article, Ha'manhigut Be'Eretz Yisrael Le'hatzalas Yehudei Eiropah, which appeared in Moreshet, #25, 1977. In her appraisal of the Allies declaration of the seventeenth of December, 1942, concerning the destruction of the Jews of Europe she writes,

"In the yishuv, the statement was received with mixed feelings. The chairman of the Jewish Agency, David Ben Gurion, derived moral gratification from the fact that at last, the Jewish cry of anguish had been heard. `It appears to me that one cannot ask for more than this,' he said. Dr. Joseph, Head of the Agency's Political Department was of the same opinion.

"But why [writes Wegman-Eshkoli] was it not possible to ask for more? Apparently, the very modest expectations which Ben Gurion and Joseph's comments reflect are a sign of ambivalence in the attitude of the Agency's leadership to the whole issue of rescue, an attitude which will be explained as we go on.

"It seems that they accepted the Allies central argument in their defense that the main reaction to the Nazis' crimes had to be concentration of the war effort and achieving a swift victory over the Axis powers. The leadership of the Jewish Agency apparently wanted to be partners when the cake would be divided after the Allied victory. They found themselves unable to trouble the Allies at a time when they too were suffering losses on the battlefields."

In a note, (#36) Wegman-Eshkoli writes, "This way of thinking found tragic expression in the reply of the Hechalutz representative in Geneva, Nathan Schwalb, to the suggestion made by the Slovakian Rabbis. See Min Hameitzar page 92."

Another example:

In his article (in Moreshet, #35, 1983) describing Menachem Bader's mission to Istanbul [Bader was the representative of Hashomer Hatzair on the Rescue Committee in Istanbul] and the contacts between Hashomer Hatzair and Jewry in occupied Europe, Ariel Horowitz writes the following.

"Additional factors influenced the stand taken by the Zionist leadership, as can be seen in the case of Yitzhak Gruenbaum, whom we quoted earlier. This is what he [Gruenbaum] said, `They accepted viewpoint of Zionist policy, in addition to Ben Gurion's views on certain specific matters in his article in Knesset 5702. In solving the international Jewish Question, he sees the establishment of a Jewish confederation in Eretz Yisroel as an inescapable fact of life. The survival of the refugees and their struggle are what gives the Jewish nation the right and the power to demand a state for itself. It is the Jewish victims of this war that have brought us to a fitting conjuncture for Am Yisrael... it is clear therefore, that Am Yisrael must make sacrifices in this war... it is therefore preferable to describe the given situation as a battle in which the decrees and terror power the Jews' offensive. There can be no offensive without victims.'

"Furthermore [Gruenbaum wrote], `These victims will never cease— they must never cease, whatever numbers are demanded from us. This is our true battlefront—our national battle upon whose results depend our fate and our future.'

"It should be mentioned [writes Horowitz] that to a degree, Gruenbaum's words are reminiscent of the thoughts attributed by the late Rabbi Weissmandel to Nathan Schwalb in Switzerland..."

Having all these (and more) references to Schwalb's letter in front of me, I wondered how it could possibly be that only now, in 1987, did Schwalb remember the letter and bring a libel suit against a gentile playwright who quoted it. His letter had been public knowledge for years! I therefore called Schwalb, who lives in North Tel Aviv, and asked him if I could meet him.

We met in a coffee house in Tel Aviv and held a discussion that went on for two hours. (I quoted part of our talk earlier, concerning Schwalb's relationship with Eichmann.) I introduced myself and told him that I was writing an article about Rav Weissmandel and his rescue efforts during the Second World War. For an hour-and-a-half, Schwalb told me about his own activities during the war. Then I put the question to him.

"Look, your letter, as quoted by Rav Weissmandel, has been publicized for decades in Israel in various books. Why have you only remembered to file a libel suit now, against an English gentile playwright, claiming that your reputation and good name have been harmed by the letter? Why didn't you take the same action against all the authors of the books and articles that have been quoting your letter until now? What's more, why didn't you take the publishers of Rav Weissmandel's book themselves to court?"

Schwalb's reply was, "I had no idea that such a letter was being attributed to me."

I asked him, "Didn't you know that Weissmandel wrote a book?"

Schwalb: "No."

I: "If so, then when did you first find out about Weissmandel's book?"

Schwalb: "Abraham Fuchs told me about it."

I: "When was that?"

Schwalb: "After the storm over the play in England, that is, in 1987."

I: And haven't you read Shabtai Bet-Tzvi's book Ha'Tzionut Ha'Post Ugandit?"

Schwalb: "I'm unaware of the existence of such a person."

I: "Do you know Chava Wegman-Eshkoli?"

Schwalb (falteringly and after some hesitation): "Yes."

I: "And didn't you know about the article she published in which you are mentioned?"

Schwalb: "No."

Our discussion took place on a Thursday. The next day, when I returned to Haifa, I called Avraham Fuchs, the author of The Unheeded Cry. I told him about my talk with Schwalb and he said, "I met Schwalb just once. That was three years ago [i.e. well before the incident concerning the play]."

According to what Fuchs says, I surmise that Schwalb lied to me. It wasn't Dr. Fuchs who told him about Weissmandel's book.

I called Shabtai Bet-Tzvi and told him about my meeting with Schwalb. He told me, "I met Nathan Schwalb eight years ago for a discussion. I wrote him a letter asking to speak to him in order to interview him for the book I was writing. I received no reply. I sent him a letter to Switzerland by registered mail and received a receipt signed by him, indicating that he had received my letter. As a result, we met for a discussion." Again, it seems that Schwalb lied.

I called Chava Wegman-Eshkoli and asked her if she had met Schwalb. She told me that she met him in 1973 and asked him about his letter to Weissmandel in which he'd written that "we will only have the Land through blood." Schwalb had angrily repudiated it. To be succinct, my conclusion is that Schwalb lied to me brazenly.

Continued ...


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