Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn & Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
The daughter of a man responsible for saving more Jews during the Holocaust than anyone else writes about leaders of the Jews:
It is uncomfortable for us to tell the stories of [the rescuers], because that would require us to come to grips with those people and organizations that did not act, or that did too little. But sooner or later, such a stock-taking will bring about a serious discussion of the crisis that afflicted the Zionist and Jewish leadership of the free world during the Jewish people's darkest hour.
Again, for the record, Chabad-Lubavitch opposed the efforts of Hillel Kook. The then-rebbe of Lubavitch Y.Y. Schneersohn felt that a messiah campaign was more important than rescue, a truly sick theology.
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Last update - 01:46 15/02/2005
Stop blaming the non-Jews alone
By Becky Kook
January 17 marked the 60th anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg's disappearance. The Knesset marked it with a state ceremony, the first of its kind, an event dignified and restrained. The speakers seemed pleased with the event and with themselves. Wallenberg was praised, while the Russians and the rest of the world, which abandoned Wallenberg in his hour of need, were vilified. The conclusion: The time has come to educate our children about his heroic deeds.
Why were children not taught about Wallenberg until now? The special ceremony passed without one word of self-criticism, not a hint of doubt about the way we deal with the memory of the Holocaust, not a breath of soul-searching.
Power and sovereignty are apparently the right and proper answer to the Holocaust. There is virtually no disagreement about this today. But power necessitates soul-searching. And the greater the power, the more penetrating the soul-searching needs to be. The story of "the abandonment of the Jews" bears within it another story, no less important in its ramifications for our national identity. And that is the story of international Jewish leaders in general, and American Jewish leaders in particular, during the Holocaust: the worthy deeds done by some, and the embarrassing neglect of others.
At the ceremony, speakers mentioned Haim Hecht's film about the American government's lack of action during the Holocaust ("One Flight for Us"), which was recently shown on Channel 2. Hecht relies on the familiar, comfortable narrative: The non-Jews' anti-Semitism and evil crosses, borders and oceans and reaches everywhere, even the United States. And it is true that the Americans did not do what they could have done to try to stop the mass murder of the Jews of Europe. Saving the Jews was not defined as an Allied war aim, so anything that could have been done to rescue Jews was seen as hampering, rather than advancing, the goals of the war against the Nazis.
It is true that the U.S. State Department contained many anti-Semites, who thwarted attempts to rescue Jews from Europe out of fear that they would end up coming to the U.S. But what has been forgotten is that the vast majority of the leaders of American Jewry, the largest Jewish community in the free world, applied very little pressure on the American government to engage in rescue operations. They accepted the Roosevelt government's claim that the only way to save the Jews was to win the war with great civility.
The fact is that from 1943 on, the chief financial backers of the free world's Jewish community decided that the main effort must be directed at opening the gates of the Land of Israel in order to ensure Jewish sovereignty there after the war. In their view, the main effort had to be directed at the future, since the present - and the millions of Jews remaining in Europe - was already lost.
Community leaders were undoubtedly greatly anguished by the destruction of their European counterparts, who were often their relatives. There were also organizations, such as the Orthodox Vaad Hatzalah ("Rescue Committee"), that did try to rescue Jews. Major leaders such as Abba Hillel Silver also tried to arouse the American government's compassion for the distress of European Jewry. But these protest efforts were, in the main, quiet and polite.
No establishment American Jewish leader went on a hunger strike, raised a vocal protest or tore his clothes in sorrow over the destruction of European Jewry. Moreover, many of these leaders worked energetically to foil efforts by other Jews (and non-Jews), since these raised a storm and disturbed the quiet. Thus they worked against Hillel Kook, my father, and against the committee he established, the Committee for the Rescue of European Jewry. He and the committee exerted vocal and incessant pressure on the American government and the American public via large advertisements in hundreds of newspapers; a protest of 400 rabbis in Washington; the staging of huge events in major U.S. cities; the enlistment of hundreds of congressmen and dozens of celebrities, such as Marlon Brando, Kurt Weill and Dorothy Parker, in support of the committee and its aims; and finally, by demanding that the government set up a special agency to deal with rescue efforts, the War Refugee Board. That agency was, inter alia, responsible for sending Wallenberg to Budapest.
The big question that is never asked is this: If the American Jewish leadership did not raise an outcry in favor of rescue operations, why should non-Jews have raised an outcry and taken action?
Just as the Holocaust revealed ultimate evil, it also revealed ultimate good: nobility, self-sacrifice and the capacity to resist - to resist not only evil, but also the apathy of establishments such as the U.S. State Department and, unpleasant though it is to acknowledge, the World Zionist Organization and the American Jewish Committee.
The Israeli people do not rear their children on stories of heroism and resistance by great men in the U.S. and Europe, such as Wallenberg, and thereby lose a historic opportunity to educate succeeding generations to responsibility, individualism and resourcefulness - all the qualities essential to the battle against evil.
It is uncomfortable for us to tell the stories of these people, because that would require us to come to grips with those people and organizations that did not act, or that did too little. But sooner or later, such a stock-taking will bring about a serious discussion of the crisis that afflicted the Zionist and Jewish leadership of the free world during the Jewish people's darkest hour.
The writer is a lecturer in politics and government at Ben-Gurion University.