Palestine: Part 7 – The Holocaust
Palestine: Part 6 – The White Paper
The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 effectively revoked the citizenship of the 500,000 Jews of Germany, making them refugees in their own country. In March 1938 Hitler annexed Austria making its 200,000 Jews stateless refugees. In September the British agreed to Nazi annexation of the Sudetenland making a further 100,000 Jews refugees.
During the Holocaust, Europe’s Jews were cut off from and disowned by the outside world. Jews were systematically impoverished, starved and murdered. Where Jews did try to fight Nazis, Zionists were prominent in the resistance. However those fighting never had a real chance of success, and were always bloodily suppressed by the Nazis. Nazi allies Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Croatia (mainly Romania) were responsible for the deaths of at least 10% of the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust. Axis governments, local police forces and local volunteers across Europe played a critical role in rounding up or executing Jews for the Nazis.
It has been argued that Zionist leaders did not do enough in publicizing and trying to stop the Holocaust. While they could have probably succeeded in saving thousands of Jews if rescuing Jews had been their top priority rather than state creation, they truly had no power to “stop” the Holocaust. Efforts were made to offer the Nazis money for the release of Jews; however, these efforts were systematically and often cynically destroyed by the British.
In Palestine, the Zionist leadership instructed all able-bodied Jews to volunteer for the British Army. In addition there was an effort to parachute fighters into Europe, though little came of this. Fearing a Nazi invasion, the Jewish community prepared for a final stand to be made against the Nazis.
The 1942 Zionist conference could not be held because of World War II. Instead, 600 Jewish leaders (not just Zionists) met at the Biltmore Hotel in New York and adopted a statement known as the Biltmore Program where they agreed that the Zionist movement would seek the creation of a Jewish state after the war and that all Jewish organizations would fight to ensure free Jewish migration into Palestine.
In December 1942, when extermination of the Jews became public knowledge, there were 34,000 immigration certificates remaining to Palestine. In February 1943, the British government announced that the remaining certificates could be used as soon as practicable to rescue Jewish children from southeastern Europe, particularly Bulgaria. This plan was partly successful but many people who received certificates were not able to emigrate (those in Bulgaria survived). In July, it was announced that any Jewish refugee who reached a neutral country in transit would be given clearance for Palestine. During 1943 about half the remaining certificates were distributed, and by the end of the war there were 3,000 certificates left
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of January and April 1943 (act of Jewish resistance that arose within the Warsaw Ghetto in German-occupied Poland during World War II, and which opposed Nazi Germany’s final effort to transport the remaining Ghetto population to Treblinka extermination camp) included the participation of both right- and left-leaning Zionist organizations. Its commander was a Socialist-Zionist and Zionists of all political spectra played a leading role in the struggle. The uprising’s left-leaning survivors eventually made their way to Palestine.
The Nazi-inspired genocide in Europe had grave consequences for the Zionists. A large section of the membership was wiped out. The damage was particularly great in Poland where about a third of the Zionist members had lived (the Russian membership had been lost to communism). Also, those Jews who were not killed lost their possessions which severely reduced the ability of the Zionist movement to raise money in Europe.
The Holocaust led to important changes in Jewish and Zionist politics. Many Jews were desperate to leave Europe and were willing to take grave risks for that purpose. Virtually all Jews agreed on the need for a Jewish state where Jews could live free of the fear of persecution and which would provide a haven in times of persecution. Jews of the USA became the dominant force in global Jewish politics. more Jews were prepared to mobilize on behalf of their brethren; and Britain was now weakened and less able to resist international pressure.
Palestine: Part 8 – Partition and Civil War