"...For We Will Only Have The Land With Blood": Zionist Behavior During the Holocaust
By Sammy Kaufman
HaRav Michoel Dov Weissmandl
For Part II of this series click here.
This long series of articles was originally published in print in 1994, exactly 29 years ago. It describes the approach and feeling of certain representatives of the Zionist movement during the Holocaust. Sammy Kaufman argues that their behavior was influenced by their political desires to achieve a Jewish state, and their assessment that Jewish sacrifices in the war will make achievement of that goal more likely.
On the twenty-eighth of Nisan, the State of Israel observed "Holocaust and Heroism Day." Fifty years later however, even the secular establishment have had to face the serious cracks in the facade of Zionist "heroism" of that period that have come to light.
The issue of the conduct of the Zionist leadership during the destruction of European Jewry has become the subject of intense public debate over the past few years as walls of silence have come tumbling down. Historian Sammy Kaufman has researched the subject thoroughly, examining documents, interviewing researchers and meeting those who took part in the fateful events. His journey into the bloodstained past also led him to a personal journey back to Yiddishkeit. He presents his findings in the following series of articles which were originally published by the Hebrew Yated.
Rav Michoel Dov Ber Weissmandel was assigned by Heaven to one of the most extraordinary roles that were filled in the Second World War. He was to become the instigator of one of the most daring rescue projects to be attempted during that period of the fearful destruction which overwhelmed the Jews of Europe.
During the part of the war that Rav Weissmandel spent in Slovakia, a man named Nathan Schwalb lived in nearby, neutral Switzerland. Schwalb was a member of Kibbutz Chulda in Israel. He was a devoted Zionist and belonged to Hechalutz, the Zionist youth movement. When Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Germans in March, 1939, Schwalb was sent to Prague as a representative of the Jewish institutions in Eretz Yisroel, to help the members of his movement.
Among his varied activities, Schwalb developed close ties with Adolf Eichmann. The two of them had to collaborate concerning the migration of the Jews from Europe. The nature of their relationship can be surmised from the following story, which Schwalb repeated to me himself in a conversation.
In his room, Eichmann had a large map upon which all the large cities that were then under German occupation were labelled, including those in Germany, Austria and the Lands of the Protectorate. Eichmann had some small flags which were colored white and blue. Every time he managed to "cleanse" a city of all its Jews, he stuck a flag next to it on the map, squeezed Mr. Schwalb's hand and the two would drink a toast together. He would say to him, "Zehen zie, Herr Schwalb, Ich denke Zionistiche!" —("You see, Mr. Schwalb, I think like a Zionist!")
After his arrival from Israel, Schwalb left Prague for the Zionist Congress in Switzerland where, together with all the other delegates, he heard of the outbreak of the war. He remained there for the war's duration.
In their ways of life, their outlooks and their mentalities, Rav Weissmandel and Nathan Schwalb had nothing in common whatsoever. To draw a comparison between them is rather like trying to compare a rosh yeshiva from Bnei Brak with the head of a seminary that trains teachers for the Kibbutz Movement. Events however, forged a connection between them. One of the salient points of this connection was a letter sent by Schwalb to his friends in Slovakia. That letter is the subject of this article and those that follow it.
The Key to Jewish History of the Last Century
Before we begin discussing the letter and the circumstances that led to it being written, we must clarify one very fundamental point. The fulcrum upon which Jewish history has revolved during the past century is the struggle between Zionism and Judaism. For the purpose of a historical appreciation, we permit ourselves to quote a prominent Zionist thinker: "From a historical point of view, aside from our own value judgment of the matter, the characteristic and definition of Judaism throughout all the years of its existence has been the halacha."
The struggle we refer to has been, from our side, the attempt to thwart the Zionist desire to change this eternal definition of Judaism in terms of Torah, into a Judaism defined nationally, politically and/or geographically.
Of course, throughout the generations there were many who rebelled against the halacha and the dictates it imposes on living. Ultimately, it matters little whether those rebellions were conducted by individuals acting for themselves or whether groups of people banded together under one banner or another. What they all had in common was the wish to cast off the burden of keeping the mitzvos. They sought freedom from the covenant that was imposed upon Bnei Yisroel at Har Sinai. The price they were asked to pay for the privilege of being "a treasure of a nation" seemed to them to be too high.
In truth, commenting on the posuk's description of the writing on the luchos, Chazal say, "Do not read chorus, engraved, rather, cheirus, free." Only by accepting the yoke of Divine rule can true freedom be gained.
The hard work that must be invested in order to achieve this longed-for spiritual freedom seemed however, to some, to be too rigorous. Wherever they looked, they saw the temptations of this world winking at them enticingly. "A slave is comfortable with abandonment," say chazal. These individuals and groups were prepared to trade true freedom for abandonment, or, as they would have it, liberty.
Mesillas Yeshorim begins however, by telling us that, "the foundation of piety and the root of perfect service is that a man have a clear and truthful realization of his obligation in his world." Throwing off the yoke of Torah and mitzvos goes hand in hand with the loss of the awareness of the necessity for making progress in one's personal obligations. This leads to a society that is based not on moral obligations but on personal rights. Such a society lives for the moment rather then the future.
Early Forerunners of Zionist Sins
When Bnei Yisroel were in the desert, around Mount Sinai, after Moshe Rabbenu had given them the Ten Commandments and ascended to receive the full Torah, we are told that when "the people saw that Moshe was delayed in coming down from the mountain," they had no more patience to wait. They demanded a leader without any further delay. Ever since then, this impatience has found an echo through the centuries, in the individuals and groups who found fault with Toras Yisroel. The result has always been the rallying call, "These are your gods, Yisroel!" Their gods have taken whatever form and fashion has suited the age.
The real reason for this impatience was also revealed to us by the Torah in the episode of the eigel hazahav: "And the people sat down to eat and they arose to play ...the calf and the circles of dancers." Playing and dancing—what they really wanted is to live for the moment, to live for today.
The posuk records how Jews came to the prophet Yechezkel two and a half thousand years ago voicing the demand, "let us be like the nations, like the families of the earth." As far as this ambition is concerned, there was also nothing new in the Zionist Movement. There was no new ideology, just the same old specter dressed in different garb.
The desire for freedom was the same except that this time it took the form of the wish to be "a free people in our land"—freedom, meaning "freedom from the mitzvos" and being able to behave like all the other nations. The enticements of ancient Babylon were essentially no different from the winking lights of modern Paris, London and Berlin, which they wanted to transplant to the Holy Nation.
The events which took place in Europe between 1939 and 1945 should also be understood in this context: they were exploited as an integral part of Zionism's struggle against authentic Judaism. Our remarks are a necessary preface to forming a correct evaluation of the supposedly-objective academic research into the events of the Holocaust, which has been conducted by scholars who are sponsored by the State of Israel.
[Note: The quotes and information used by the author are either from Rav Weissmandel's memoir, Min Hameitzar or from Dr. Abraham Fuchs' book, Karasi Ve'ein Oneh, published in English by ArtScroll as The Unheeded Cry. Any additional sources are indicated in the course of the article.]
An Eye Witness
Rav Weissmandel witnessed the first transport of Slovakian Jews to Auschwitz. Here is his description of the scenes he saw.
"Around Pesach 5702, (1942) the edict for the complete expulsion of the Jews was issued in wicked Slovakia. The Jews were to be given over to the Germans, with the exceptions of apostates and those who were necessary to the country's economy. By Pesach 5702, (around the beginning of April '42) they had already started the destruction, driving out entire communities, may Hashem avenge their blood. The community of Tyrnau hy'd was the first to suffer this bitter exile. That was the community where our teacher zy'a, [HaRav Shmuel Dovid Ungar, who had earlier moved to Nitra] lived.
An aerial view of Auschwitz
The holy community of Tyrnau was the first to go up in flames at Auschwitz. They were the ones who, by Divine decree, inaugurated the succession of fearsome sacrifices of thousands of holy communities and millions of holy Jewish souls, who ascended that dreadful altar. Not only was it decreed that the members of the Tyrnau community hy'd be the first on the altar, it was decreed that they build it as well. When the transport from Tyrnau arrived at Auschwitz, the evildoers gave them the job of improving the execution chambers and ovens. They put them in charge of the accursed building where transports were received.
When the rumor reached us that the evil decree had fallen on Tyrnau, on account of our sins, I smuggled my mother and sisters hy'd to nearby Nitra in order to gain time. On Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shemini, (the eleventh of April 1942) the band of murderous Slovakians who were conducting the expulsion and their German overseers had already reached Nitra from Tyrnau.
Alas! They led the holy community of Nitra to the transport, like sheep going to the slaughter. Where are they to be found now? — Men of flesh and blood who were completely spiritual, great talmidei chachamim who were perfect tzadikim. Ordinary men and women, perfect in their fear of Heaven. Where are those fathers, mothers and children? The fathers embarked on their exile with nothing in their hands save their tallis and their tefillin, a volume of Chok Leyisroel and a masechteh of gemora. The mothers took nothing with them except for a Shabbos lamp, a packet of candles and a few scraps of food for the children...and their children, their pure children who went after them, lying in their laps on this murderous journey.
Who in the world is going to believe us tomorrow? Who will listen to the story of their holy lives and their fearsome deaths, if we ourselves forget about them today? Who will know how they were surrounded by a great throng, celebrating and exulting in their Catholic faith... thousands of men and women who fall on their knees at the mere sight of a priest or a nun... how they rejoiced and danced over the plunder that awaited them from the property of these wretches, the neighbors with whom they had lived side by side for their entire lives. Who will know how they laughed and made merry at the sight of babes and sucklings in their mother's arms, ripe for destruction. And how all their homes were filled with joy in the knowledge that annihilation now awaited the Jewish community that had existed with them in Nitra for almost a thousand years and that had maintained peace and justice throughout that time.
Where is the writer that can describe, or the artist who can sketch the image of that beast of prey which cloaks itself in the garb of divine worship, of the multitude whose bloodstained fingers make the sign of the cross over their breasts that are full of murder, while their foul mouths repeat, "we are righteous, we have done no wrong like those sinful Jews have done." Before their eyes, at their orders and under the power of their blows, the entire, holy Jewish community falls upon its knees. Suddenly, the lamenting shriek of a broken old man causes the Jews to beat their breasts as well with, lehavdil, a very different kind of gesture. Their holy mouths are filled with a completely different cry... "We are not so brazen-faced or stiff-necked as to maintain before You, Hashem Elokeinu the Elokim of our fathers, that we are righteous and have not sinned... for we have sinned, we are guilty, we have dealt treacherously..."
One of those present was a poverty stricken Jew, who sustained himself by raising chickens—he was also a first rate, well known talmid chochom, Morenu HaRav Eisik Rosensweig hy'd. He was screaming out and begging from the window of the murder truck to those who were beating him, while they laughed loudly and spat in his face. How could those tender hearted creatures understand the plea of this cruel Jew who, surrounded by his wife and children, was begging his oppressors, "Please go to my house and give the chickens food and drink. They haven't eaten or drunk for a whole day!" Reb Eisik went on begging them like this until he saw his friend Morenu HaRav Moshe Yehuda Zils, hy'd who at that time was still outside the transport and was standing some distance away. At the top of his voice he called out to him, "Tzaar ba'alei chaim is forbidden by the Torah. Give the chickens water and food!"
...And they are righteous while we are the sinners. They are the merciful ones who forbade the shechita of animals and birds practiced by the cruel Jews... They are the ones about whom the prophet says, "those who slaughter people kiss calves."
How few were those who had pity on the Jews. One such woman wept when she saw how the tender young children were dragged away in the night together with their parents, the neighboring family, belonging to the G-d fearing Morenu HaRav Moshe Aron Herman, hy'd. Her neighbor, a man of perfect fear of Hashem who toiled long and hard to earn his difficult livelihood, stood tall and said to her, "It is you, whose faith has reached the stage of doing this to us, who are in need of the tears. We should be proud that Hashem has not given us any portion in this cruel faith of yours."
From Pesach until Tammuz, 5702, (April till July, 1942) Jewish families were taken from their beds during the night to be dragged away to suffer from hunger, pestilence and the sword. Night after night, the destroyers fell upon every home in the towns and villages across the country as well as upon every shack and tent in the Carpathian mountains, in the hope of discovering a Jewish soul trying to hide. How glad they were whenever they found what they were looking for, whether it was an old man of a hundred or an hour-old baby, a woman in labor or someone in their death throes—they dragged and hauled people away, murdering more and more, without any end.
The transports departed twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Each transport consisted of forty wagons, each of which held seventy-five people. The weeping of the deported was drowned out by the crashing din of the endlessly rolling wheels.
It happened one Erev Shabbos in 5702, as I stood in the corridor next to Hochberg's room. (Hochberg was a Jew who cooperated with the Nazis.) All the surrounding rooms were full of people, all crowding together, each one shouting louder than the other as they begged, cajoled, wept and yelled for the removal of their relatives from the transport.
Suddenly, Hochberg's voice could be heard, calling out over the telephone to his boss, Wisliceny, "Herr Hauptsturmfurer, Ich mlade gehonzemeste, I humbly inform you that the transport has left, with seven hundred and twenty-seven men, six hundred and thirty-four women and one thousand six hundred and sixty-seven children, a total of three thousand and twenty-eight."
That number struck me and I will never forget it. At that moment, I felt the full impact of the tragedy of sixteen hundred children. I met Dr. Abeles at the market, who told me that a certain Jew had escaped the transport and gained his freedom through the intervention of Wisliceny himself, through the agency of one of the Volksdeutsche (local) Germans in Pressburg and the payment of some articles worth money—but not such a terribly great sum. I said to myself, "If he'll accept a bribe for one individual, why shouldn't he do the same for a large number of people?"
This is how Rav Weissmandel describes his decision to take the initiative and try to bribe Wisliceny. His plan worked. Rav Weissmandel called Hochberg and sent him to Wisliceny. Hochberg returned with the message that the Germans agreed and in return for fifty thousand dollars, the transports would be stopped. These were the conditions:
1) The German would display his ability and good will in keeping to the agreement so that he would be trusted. Without any payment, the next three transports, which were that Friday's transport and those of the next Tuesday and Friday, would not leave. Each transport contained about three thousand souls, as we have mentioned.
2) On the following Friday, twenty-five thousand dollars must be paid.
3) The suspension of the transports would then be prolonged for a further seven weeks.
4) After seven weeks, the remaining twenty-five thousand dollars had to be paid and then the transports would stop completely.
5) We have to try to ensure that the Slovaks refrain, during the coming weeks, from asking the Germans to continue the expulsion.
6) The money must come from abroad and we must furnish some proof that this is the case.
Our calculations of the dates are based upon the reckoning of Dr. Abraham Fuchs, "According to Rav Weissmandel, the time set for the second payment was at the end of Av, which was the thirteenth of August, 1942."
At that time, there were less than thirty thousand Jews remaining in Slovakia. The rest had been deported to Auschwitz or other camps. This means that less than one and a half dollars was being asked to save each of these Jewish lives from the journey to death. For negotiating with the Germans and Slovaks, Rav Weissmandel set up what was later known as "The Working Party."
At Rav Weissmandel's suggestion, the Working Party was headed by Gisi Fleischmann who was the representative of the American Joint Distribution Committee (the "Joint") and the chairman of Wizo. She had connections with some of the delegates to the World Jewish Congress. Other members of the Working Party included Slovakian Jews from every part of the political spectrum, Neologs (Reform), Zionists and Assimmilationists. In these adverse circumstances, they were united in their efforts to save all the Jews they could. This was a completely unique phenomenon for the period of the Second World War and it was undoubtedly only possible thanks to the incredible personality of Rav Weissmandel, who succeeded in uniting them all for the holy task of saving Jews.
The first twenty-five thousand dollars was paid on time. It was raised by the well known Pressburg lay leader, Binyomin Shlomo Stern, a friend of Rav Weissmandel's. There was now a breathing space of seven weeks during which time the second payment had to be raised in order to stop the deportations entirely. Although Rav Weissmandel was convinced that there would be no problem in finding the money, he was wrong. The members of the Working Party turned to all the Jewish institutions and organizations they knew—the "Joint," the Zionist Congress and the Jewish Agency—in order to get the money, but their pleas were refused.
The money did not arrive and the Nazis grew impatient. Between erev Shabbos Shuvah (the nineteenth of September, 1942) and Yom Kippur, another three thousand Jews were kidnapped and sent to their deaths. On Yom Kippur night, Rav Weissmandel went to the post office and despatched three telegrams to Hungary, containing the following message, "Our master summons you to appear tomorrow before the Beis Din Hagodol."
Indeed, the day after Yom Kippur, a messenger from Budapest named Naftoli Treutel arrived at the home of the Nitra Rov, bearing twenty-five thousand dollars. Rav Weissmandel ran to take the money to Hochberg so that he could give it to Wisliceny but it was already too late. The three thousand Jews had already been sent off.
At any rate, with the payment of the second amount, further deportations from Slovakia were stopped. They did not start again until two years later, when the Partisan Uprising broke out in Slovakia in the autumn of 1944.
During those fateful weeks, when the lives of thirty thousand Jews hung in the balance, as the members of the Working Group anxiously awaited the receipt of the twenty-five thousand dollars, the letter which is the subject of our inquiry makes its appearance. As shocking as its contents are, in and of themselves, the tragedy of the revelation of an entire policy and the attitude of the movement which espouses it, is of far greater seriousness. It is a letter which shows the world the darker side of the Zionist Movement, with the utmost clarity and ruthlessness. We continue to quote Rav Weissmandel's account.
"Fifteen years have passed since that day in Tammuz, 5702 and my pen still refuses to write what happened. The truth is so bitter and fearsome. It is bitter and fearsome because of the blood—the lifeblood—that was spilt on account of money. The blood was Jewish blood and the money was Jewish money. The truth is bitter and fearful because throughout that long and dreadful period, the oppressors of Yisroel laughed from their elevated positions at the screams ascending from the bloody abyss, of the Jewish servants. The truth is bitter and fearful because of the screams for mercy from the bloody depths that ascended right to the bloody heights—in vain.
From that day in Tammuz, day after day for almost a thousand days, until the first day of Succos, 5705, each day's price was the blood of several thousand Jewish souls and the price of each soul was a few coins of Jewish money. I know all this today but I did not know it on that day in Tammuz, 5702. When the first scream went up from the dungeon of captivity to the heights of desire—from the recesses of the Nitra Yeshiva in the land of blood to all the places of high office in other countries, in Zurich, London, New York, Istanbul, all the way to Tel Aviv and Yerushalaim—then I did not know it.
On that day in Tammuz, 5702, the first scream arose from the hiding places in the Nitra Yeshiva for the sake of thirty thousand souls, begging for their ransom. Those thirty thousand, for whom we also screamed the last scream on the first day of Succos, 5705, at the hands of the murderers in the camp at Sered because the deal had not been concluded.
[After the receipt of the second payment, just after Yom Kippur, 5703, Wisliceny halted all deportations of Slovakian Jews, in accordance with the agreement he had made with the Working Party. The deportations were renewed some two years later in Tishrei, 5705. This was "the last scream" referred to here by Rav Weissmandel.]
Between that day in Tammuz and that day in Tishrei, the blood of thousands upon thousands of Jews all over Europe, was up for sale: from the beginning of 5703 until the middle of that summer, also, the blood of five hundred thousand Jews was for sale in wicked Hungary in the spring of 5704. In response to the cry for the price of this blood, there was nobody to listen or to help, nobody to rescue or save the Jewish blood and the Jewish money—Jewish blood was for sale but nobody was buying it with Jewish money. Indeed, the truth is bitter and fearful.
[This reference to the two years between 5703 and 5705 concerns "the Europe Plan" which the members of the Working Group pursued after the successful conclusion of their negotiations to stop deportations from Slovakia. Contacts with the Germans concerning this plan, which involved ransoming the remaining Jews in Europe for large sums of money and other commodities, were maintained until 1944 when the Germans broke them off due to lack of response from international Jewry.]
The saving of lives was postponed for two and a half years because of arguments over money. Wrangling over a few thousand Jewish coins took precedence over several thousand Jewish lives—and this took place amongst Jews, for whom the commandment of saving life takes precedence over all the other commandments of the holy Torah. All their gold and silver are not worth as much as this commandment, which is so deeply rooted in their natures that they can be recognized anywhere in the world, at any time by this trait. How very great then, is the sin that has placed blind men in positions of leadership over the Jewish people. To their unseeing eyes, all the blood of Yisroel in this present exile is not worth a penny.
Today I know all this—and more—but then, at the time when one moment brought the desperation of almost certain death and the next moment brought hope of salvation, followed by desperation and then by hope, again and again... then I would have said that anyone who told me that those salaried trustees of charitable funds would have refrained, in order to save Jewish money, from saving Jewish lives—that they, in their happy abodes, with honor and the ability to gratify their every desire, far away from the raging ocean of blood, would have refused to build a barrier of gold in order to contain the storm—I would have said that anyone who told me that was lying.
On that night in Tammuz when we wrote the first letter in Nitra about the blood money, we had not yet cried out to those honorable gentlemen. We weighed each and every word in that first letter, which was written in loshon hakodesh. It was addressed to the community at large and especially to the rabbonim. I was innocent enough to imagine that just as everyone had banded together here in the face of the danger, there would at present be no other considerations before those in other places except how to save Jews. I thought that all their various groups would also have banded together. Besides, I was living with the imaginary notion held by European Jews that the Joint is full of elder rabbonim all conferring with each other and that at the very least, it would certainly be so at such a time of suffering, if it wasn't usually. We thought that none of them would understand the German writing of Mrs. Fleischmann a'h. I thought that in the last resort, the rabbonim would put themselves out more than the others, so I wrote in the customary rabbinical style.
I arrived in Pressburg where Mrs. Fleischmann a'h was about to start writing. She spent many hours typing letters which she phrased in a very respectful and humble tone to Solly Meyer, the Joint's representative, and to the Swiss branch of the Jewish Agency. She also wrote a private letter to an individual named Nathan Schwalb, praising his swift responses and great reliability.
Several days later, the messenger returned empty-handed. He didn't even bear a letter. All he brought was a verbal message that at present, they had no time to consider our plea and that they would write when they had another messenger at hand. We were thunderstruck. We felt as thought the building had caved in on us. Mrs. Fleischmann said that since "Uncle" Solly Meyer was an older, cautious man, we would have to write again to him and also send a copy to Silberschein, the Congress official. She expected that the jealousy that existed between Meyer and Silberschein would bring about some practical results. She also said that we should rely more on the Agency and particularly on Schwalb. It was also possible that owing to the matter's significance, someone had travelled immediately to America, England or perhaps Eretz Yisroel.
I wrote an alarmed letter to the rabbonim and we sent one messenger after another with crying, pleading letters. In the meantime, the period of seven weeks ran out. We sent a message to Hochberg to tell Wisliceny that an accident had befallen our messenger on his travels, breaking both his legs and that he was now hospitalized in Switzerland and they had told us he would recover in three or four weeks. Wisliceny gave us more time.
The next part of Sammy Kaufman's essay describes the shocking attitude of the Zionists about the meaning of the slaughter of Jews in Europe and its importance for their cause. The scene then moves forty-five years ahead to 1987, when the author interviewed some of the survivors.
End of Part I