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January 21, 1983 - Image 69

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1983-01-21

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Friday, January 21, 1983


Mistakes of the Past
in Holocaust Inquiry


(Editor's note: Ben-Ami
is the author of "Years of
Wrath, Days of Glory.")
The dispute over the dis-
solution of a Jewish panel
studying the actions of U.S.
Jewish organizations dur-
ing the Holocaust deserves
some background comment.
Forty years ago, in De-
cember 1942, President
Roosevelt confirmed to a
group of prominent Ameri-
can Jews that Nazi Ger-
many had embarked on an
official policy of exterminat-
ing the Jewish people of
Europe. The terrible news
was neither a surprise nor
unforeseen. But the confir-
mation caused a breakdown
in Jewish leadership.
Instead of total dedication
to an all-out rescue effort
that was called for, Jewish
leadership became
traumatized, and collapsed.
Complex psychological
factors were responsible.
Non-Zionist Jews who
had reached positions of
importance in American
life could not accept Hit-
ler's declaration of an
all-out war against the
Jews as fact. The liquida-
tion of a people —
genocide — in the 20th
Century was inconceiva-
ble to them.
When they finally
realized that Jews were
being mass liquidated they
accepted the Allies' argu-
ment that the best hope for
those still alive was in the
ultimate success of the con-
duct of the war.
Their answer to the Nazi
declaration of war against
the Jewish people was to re-
gard it as another expres-
sion of traditional European
anti-Semitism and to ac-
tivate organizations that
would intercede in behalf of
and provide -relief for refu-
gees — food, clothing and a
handful of visas.
The second branch of
Jewish leadership came
from Zionist Jews. The
then-prevailing Zionist
ideology had two main
• Zionism was not in-
tended to solve the problem
of physical survival of the
Jewish Diaspora in Europe.
• To create in Palestine a
chosen society, a commu-
nity of "select Jews" who
would provide a light to go
out from Zion.
When it became appar-
ent that Hitler's Germany
was bent on annihilating
the Jews of Europe the
Zionists were
traumatized. They had
been robbed of their plat-
form. If they didn't con-
cern themselves with the
Jews of Europe, who
would? And where were
they to get a select society
from, with the Jewish
population of Europe
being killed?
Both branches of Jewish
leadership were thrown into
disarray. Fear clouded the
thinking of both groups:
Fear for the Jews of Europe
and an almost paralyzing
fear of "making waves" in

America, or England, and
thus antagonizing heads of
state and other political fig-
The non-Zionists contin-
ued their relief work, put-
ting all their energy into
this activity. And the
Zionists with a frenzy threw
themselves into planning
for post-war Palestine, with
the eventual creation of a
Jewish commonwealth.
Precious little was done to
save Jewish lives, except for
the creation of the War Ref-
ugee Board in 1944,
triggered by a dissident
group (Irgun delegation to
the U.S.).
The war by then was
nearing its end and the
Jewish people of Europe
were near extinction.
Now, 40 years later,
questions have begun to
be asked about this
period in history. A
young generation of
Jewish scholars — histo-
rians and academicians
— has arisen. They have
been reading reports and
found that the estab-
lished Jewish community
defends itself with these
three points:
• No one could have fore-
seen the terrible events of
the Holocaust.
• Once the leadership
learned the truth it did all it
could and all that was hu-
manly possible.
• Regardless of what
more they might have done,
nothing could have saved
the Jews of Europe.
These claims are being
challenged today — by
new historians, survivors
and the youth of Israel.
A natural outgrowth of
the inquiry was the estab-
lishment in early 1981 of a
commission to investigate
the situation. Former Sup-
reme Court Justice Arthur
Goldberg was named to
head it.
The purpose of the com-
mission was not self-
flagellation or laying
blame. It had one focus: to
understand the flaws in the
thinking that allowed the
Jewish leaders of the time to
become traumatized to the
point of inaction in the face
of annihilation.
The concern of the corn-
mission was not with the
culpability of Germany.
That ugly chapter in history
has been written and
sealed. Nor was its concern
the complicity of the allied
powers who closed not only
their eyes but their doors to
the masses of fleeing Jews
who had no home to receive
them at the time.
The concern of the com-
mission was to hold up the
past to the future so that
similar mistakes might
never be repeated again.

Emotion, whether of
ridicule, anger or sorrow,
whether raised at a puppet
show, a funeral or a battle,
is your grandest of levelers.
The man who would be al-
ways superior should be al-
ways apathetic.

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