Saturday, 14 September 2013

From Radio Islam: Hannah Arendt on Zionism

Radio Islam

Hannah Arendt on Zionism

In her book "Eichmann in Jerusalem", Dr. Hannah Arendt, who is neither left-wing nor pro-Palestinian, and who supports the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, touched on some of the questions involved, although she did not really hit the sore spots and did not directly accuse the Zionist movement of collaboration with Nazism.

Zionist Emigration and Gestapo Expulsion

Hannah Arendt wrote: 
During its first few years, Hitler's rise to power appeared to the Zionists chiefly as 'the decisive defeat of assimilationism'. Hence, the Zionists could, for a time, at least, engage in a certain amount of non-criminal cooperation with the Nazi authorities; the Zionists too believed that 'dissimilation', combined with the emigration to Palestine of Jewish youngsters and, they hoped, Jewish capitalists, could be a 'mutually fair solution'. At the time, many German officials held this opinion, and this kind of talk seems to have been quite common up to the end. A letter from a survivor of Theresienstadt, a German Jew, relates that all leading positions in the Nazi-appointed "Reichsvereiningung" were held by Zionists (whereas the authentic Jewish "Reichsvereiningung" had been composed of both Zionists and non-Zionists), because Zionists, according to the Nazis, were the 'decent' Jews since they too thought in 'national terms'. To be sure, no prominent Nazi ever spoke publicly in this vein; from beginning to end, Nazi propaganda was fiercely, unequivocally, uncompromisingly anti-Semitic, and eventually nothing counted but what people who were still without experience in the mysteries of totalitarian government dismissed as 'mere propaganda'. There existed in those first years a mutually highly satisfactory agreement between the Nazi authorities and the Jewish Agency for Palestine - a 'Ha'avara', or Transfer Agreement, which provided that an emigrant to Palestine could transfer his money there in German goods and exchange them for pounds upon arrival. It was soon the only legal way for a Jew to take his money with him (the alternative then being the establishment of a blocked account, which could be liquidated abroad only at a loss of between fifty and ninety-five per cent). The result was that in the thirties, when American Jewry took great pains to organize a boycott of German merchandise, Palestine, of all places, was swamped with all kinds of goods 'made in Germany'.
"Of Greater importance for Eichmann were the emissaries from Palestine, who would approach the Gestapo and the S.S. on their own initiative, without taking orders from either the German Zionists or the Jewish Agency for Palestine. They came in order to enlist the help for the illegal immigration of Jews into British-ruled Palestine, and both the Gestapo and the S.S: were helpful. They negotiated with Eichmann in Vienna, and they reported that he was 'polite', 'not the shouting type', and that he even provided them with farms and facilities for setting up vocational training camps for prospective immigrants. ('On one occasion, he expelled a group of nuns from a convent to provide a training farm for young Jews' and on another 'a special train was made available and Nazi officials accompanied' a group of emigrants, ostensibly headed for Zionist training farms in Yugoslavia, to see them safely across the border). According to the story told by Jon and David Kimche, with 'the full and generous cooperation of all the chief actors' (The Secret Roads: The 'Illegal' Migration of a People, 1938-1948, London, 1954), these Jews from Palestine spoke a language not totally different from that of Eichmann. They had been sent to Europe by the communal settlements in Palestine, and they were not interested in rescue operations: 'That was not their job'. They wanted to select 'suitable material', and their chief enemy, prior to the extermination program, was not those who made life impossible for Jews in the old countries, Germany or Austria, but those who barred access to the new homeland: that enemy was definitely Britain, not Germany. Indeed, they were in a position to deal with the Nazi authorities on a footing amounting to equality, which native Jews were not, since they enjoyed the protection of the mandatory power; they were probably among the first Jews to talk openly about mutual interests and were certainly the first to be given permission 'to pick young Jewish pioneers' from among the Jews in the concentration camps. Of course, they were unaware of the sinister implications of this deal, which still lay in the future; but they too somehow believed that if it was a question of selecting Jews for survival, the Jews should do the selecting themselves. It was this fundamental error in judgement that eventually led to a situation in which the non-selected majority of Jews inevitably found themselves confronted with two enemies - the Nazi authorities and the Jewish authorities".
(pp. 59-61)

The Jewish Councils

On collaboration by the Judenrat officials, Dr. Arendt wrote: 
To a Jew this role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter of the whole dark story. It had been known about before, but it has now been exposed for the first time in all its pathetic and sordid detail by Raul Hilberg, whose standard work *The Destruction of the European Jews* I mentioned before. In the matter of cooperation, there was no distinction between the highly assimilated Jewish communities of Central and Western Europe and the Yiddish-speaking masses of the East. In Amsterdam as in Warsaw, in Berlin as in Budapest, Jewish officials could be trusted to compile the lists of persons and of their property, to secure money from the deportees to defray the expenses of their deportation and extermination, to keep track of vacated apartments, to supply police forces to help seize Jews and get them on trains, until, as a last gesture, they handed over the assets of the Jewish community in good order for final confiscation. They distributed the Yellow Star badges, and sometimes, as in Warsaw, 'the sale of the armbands of cloth and fancy plastic armbands which were washable'. In the Nazi-inspired, but not Nazi-dictated, manifestos they issued, we still can sense how they enjoyed their new power - 'The Central Jewish Council has been granted the right of absolute disposal over all Jewish spiritual and material wealth and over all Jewish manpower', as the first announcement of the Budapest Council phrased it. We know how the Jewish officials felt when they became instruments of murder - like captains 'whose ships were about to sink and who succeeded in bringing them safe to port by casting overboard a great part of their precious cargo'; like saviors who 'with a hundred victims save a thousand people, with a thousand ten thousand'. The truth was even more gruesome. Dr. Kastner, in Hungary, for instance, saved exactly 1,684 people with approximately 476,000 victims. In order not to leave the selection to 'blind fate', 'truly holy principles' were needed 'as the guiding force of the weak human hand which puts down on paper the name of the unknown person and with this decides his life or death'. And whom did these 'holy principles' single out for salvation? Those 'who had worked all their lives for the 'zibur' (community)' - i.e. the functionaries - and the 'most prominent Jews', as Kastner says in his report.
"No one bothered to swear the Jewish officials to secrecy; they were voluntary 'bearers of secrets', either in order to assure quiet and prevent panic, as in Dr. Kastner's case, or out of 'humane' considerations, such as that 'living in the expectation of death by gassing would only be the harder', as in the case of Dr. Leo Baeck, former Chief Rabbi of Berlin. During the Eichmann trial, one witness pointed out the unfortunate consequences of this kind of 'humanity' - people volunteered for deportation from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz and denounced those who tried to tell them the truth as being 'not sane'. We know the physiognomies of the Jewish leaders during the Nazi period very well: they ranged all the way from Chaim Rumkowski, eldest of the Jews in Lodz, called Chaim I, who issued currency notes bearing his signature and postage stamps engraved with his portrait, and who rode around in a broken-down horse-drawn carriage; through Leo Baeck, scholarly, mild-mannered, highly educated, who believed Jewish policemen would be 'more gentle and helpful' and would 'make the ordeal easier' (whereas in fact they were, of course, more brutal and less corruptible, since so much more was at stake for them); to, finally, a Jew who committed suicide - like Adam Czerniakow, chairman of the Warsaw Jewish Council, who was not a rabbi but an unbeliever, a Polish-speaking Jewish engineer, but who must still have remembered the rabbinical saying: 'Let them kill you, but don't cross the line'." (pp. 117-119)

Dr. Arendt's conclusion was that without this collaboration, many lives could have been saved: 
But the whole truth was that there existed Jewish community organizations and Jewish party and welfare organizations on both the local and the international level. Wherever Jews lived, there were recognized Jewish leaders and this leadership, almost without exception, cooperated in one way or another, for one reason or another, with the Nazis. The whole truth was that if the Jewish people had really been unorganized and leaderless, there would have been chaos and plenty of misery but the total number of victims would hardly have been between four and half and six million people". (p.125).

The Zionist Response to Arendt

Initially, Dr. Arendt's book received a sympathetic reaction from the Israeli press, but almost immediately the Zionist propaganda machine was turned on full blast to attack it because the 'concept about Jewish participation in the Nazi holocaust ...may plague Jews for years to come' (Hannah Arendt: The Jew as Pariah, Grove Press, New York, 1978). 
On 11 March 1963 the B'nai Brith Anti-Defamation League issued a 'summary' recommended to 'book reviewers and others when the volume appears' which accused Hannah Arendt of saying, among other things: 
That Europe's Jewish organisations in the main, played a 'disastrous role' by cooperating with the Nazi extermination machine. As a result the Jews, themselves, bear a large share of the blame" (emphasis added) (ibid.) 

As Hannah Arendt commented in the New York Review of Books, 20 January 1966: 
In other words, as everybody soon knew and repeated, my 'thesis' was that the Jews had murdered themselves 
This line was repeated by almost every reviewer of Arendt's book, as though, in Mary McCarthy's telling phrase, they came out of a 'mimeographing machine', which in fact they did. 
Eichmann's prosecutor Gideon Hausner, even announced in the New York Daily News (20 May, 1963): 
The author would have you believe that Eichmann really wasn't a Nazi, that the Gestapo aided Jews, that Eichmann actually was unaware of Hitler's evil plans...

This sort of response is fairly typical of the Zionist reaction when questions about Nazi collaboration are raised. Although the first attacks on Hannah Arendt's book described it as an 'otherwise masterly report' and said that 'Dr. Arendt is a recognized scholar' and 'a person of eminent respectability', by the end of the campaign they had to prove that the 'evil book' was written by an 'evil person'. 
Whole books were written by various 'experts' to refute her (see, for example Jacob Robinson's And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight: The Eichmann Trial, the Jewish Catastrophe and Hannah Arendt's Narrative', Macmillan, New York, 1965. This is a vitriolic page-by-page attempted rebuttal but is, however, a disjointed apologia as far as the facts are concerned). 
In 'The Jew as a Pariah', she describes the campaign against her: 
No one will doubt the effectiveness of modern image-making and no one acquainted with Jewish organisations and their countless channels of communication outside their immediate range will underestimate their possibilities in influencing public opinion. For greater than their direct power of control is the voluntary outside help upon which they can draw from Jews who, though they may not be at all interested in Jewish affairs, will flock home, as it were, out of age-old fears (no longer justified, let us hope, but still very much alive) when their people or its leaders are criticized. What I had done according to their lights was the crime of crimes. I had told 'the truth in a hostile environment,' as an Israeli official told me, and what the A.D.C. and all the other organizations did was to hoist the danger signal..." (p.275).

The campaign backfires

According to Dr. Arendt, the campaign 'was of course a farce, but it was effective': 
Or was it? After all, the denunciation of book and author, with which they achieved great, though by no means total, success, was not their goal. It was only the means with which to prevent the discussion of an issue 'which may plague Jews for years to come'. And as far as this goal was concerned, they achieved the precise opposite. If they had left well enough alone, this issue, which I had touched upon only marginally, would not have been trumpeted all over the world. In their efforts to prevent people from reading what I had written, or, in case such misfortune had already happened, to provide the necessary reading glasses, they blew it up out of all proportion, not only with reference to my book but with reference to what had actually happened. They forgot that they were mass organisations, using all the means of mass communication, so that every issue they touched at all, pro or contra, was liable to attract the attention of masses whom they then no longer could control. So what happened after a while in these meaningless and mindless debates was that people began to think that all the nonsense the image-makers had made me say was the actual historical truth. Thus, with the unerring precision with which a bicyclist on his first ride will collide with the obstacle he is most afraid of, Mr. Robinson's formidable supporters have put their whole power at the service of propagating what they were most anxious to avoid. So that now, as a result of their folly, literally everybody feels the need for a 'major work' on Jewish conduct in the face of catastrophe (ibid.)