German Jewry was deeply loyal to the Weimar Republic which had put an end to the discriminations of the Wilhelmine era. Germany's Jews, (0.9 per cent of the population) were generally prosperous: 60 per cent were businessmen or professionals; the rest artisans, clerks, students, with only insubstantial numbers of industrial workers. Most were for liberal capitalism, with 64 per cent voting for the Deutsche Demokratische Partei (DDP). About 28 per cent voted for the moderate Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD). Only 4 per cent voted for the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (KPD), and the rest were scattered rightists. Weimar looked safe to all of them as they saw the Nazi vote drop from 6.5 per cent in 1924 to a mere 2.6 per cent in 1 928. None thought horror lay ahead.
Until the late 1920s Hitler had wasted his time trying to recruit the working class into his National Socialist German Workers' Party, but few were interested: Hitler had been for the war, they had finally revolted against it; Hitler was against strikes, they were good trade unionists. When the Depression finally brought him a mass following it was the peasants, not the workers, who poured into his movement. Weimar had changed nothing for them; 27 per cent still tilled less than one hectare (2.471 acres), another 26 per cent worked less than 5 hectares (12.5 acres). In debt to the banks even before the crisis, these rural Christians were easily persuaded to focus on the Jews who, for centuries, had been identified with pawnbroking and usury. The Christian professional class, already steeped in sabre and beer volkism from their university days, and the small shopkeepers, resenting the superior competition from the large Jewish department stores, were the next to break away from the coalition that had ruled Weimar from its inception and join the Nazis. From a tiny 2.6 per cent in 1928 the Nazi vote soared to 18.3 per cent in the elections of 14 September 1930.
Religious Jewry turned to its traditional defence organisation, the Centralverein, the Central Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith; now, for the first time, the department-store owners, who had become a prime target for the attentions of the Nazi brownshirts, began to contribute to the CV's efforts. The CV's elderly leadership could not understand the collapse of capitalism. They were simply stunned when their party, the DDP, suddenly jack-knifed and turned itself into the moderately anti-Semitic Staatspartei. However, younger members of the CV pushed aside the old leadership and were able to get the CV to use the department-store money to subsidise the SDP's anti-Nazi propaganda. After the DDP's betrayal, the SPD picked up approximately 60 per cent of the Jewish vote. Only 8 per cent went Communist, and they received no CV largess for the stated grounds that they were militantly against God; the real concern was that they were equally militant against the CV's financial angles.
Each German Jewish association saw Hitler's ascent through its own special mirror. The young CV functionaries saw that the SPD's working-class base stayed loyal to it and that Jews continued to be integrated into the party at every level. What they did not realise was that the SPD was incapable of defeating Hitler. Before the First World War the SPD had been the largest socialist party in the world, the pride of the Socialist International. But it was no more than reformist and throughout the Weimar Republic it failed to establish the firm socialist base which would have allowed the German working class to resist the Nazis. The onset of the Depression found their own Hermann Muller as Chancellor. Soon their right-wing coalition partners decided the workers would have to bear the weight of the crisis and replaced him with Heinrich Bruning of the Catholic Zentrumspartei. The 'hunger chancellor', raised taxes on the lucky ones with jobs to pay ever-smaller benefits to the increasing millions of unemployed. The SPD leaders knew this was suicide but 'tolerated, Bruning, fearing he would bring Hitler into his coalition if they turned away from him. Therefore they did not fight against the cuts in the dole. Bruning had nothing to offer the desperate middle class and more of them put on brown shirts. The SDP's ranks, Jews and non-Jews alike, passively stood by and watched as their party succumbed.
The Communist KPD also defeated itself. Lenin's Bolshevism had degenerated into Stalin's 'Third Period' ultra-leftism, and Rosa Luxemburg's Spartakusbund into Ernst Thaelmann's Rote Front. To these sectarians everyone else was a Fascist. The Sozialdemokraten were now 'Sozial Faschisten' and no unity was possible with them.
In 1930 the two working-class parties combined outpolled Hitler 37.6 per cent to 18.3 per cent. He could have been stopped; it was their failure to unite on a militant programme of joint physical defence against the brownshirts and in defence against the government's onslaught against the standard of living of the masses that let Hitler come to power. Since the Second World War Western scholars have tended to see the KPD 'betraying' the SPD through Stalin's fanaticism. In the Stalinist camp the roles are reversed; the SPD is blamed for leaning on a broken reed like Bruning. But both parties must share the responsibility for the debacle.
'It is Right, therefore, that They should Fight against Us'
If the SPD and the KPD must bear their full measure of guilt for Hitler's triumph, so too must the Zionistische Vereinigung fuer Deutschland (the Zionist Federation of Germany). Although conventional wisdom has always assumed that the Zionists, with their dire view of anti-Semitism, warned the Jews of the Nazi menace, this is in fact not true. In 1969, Joachim Prinz, the former President of the American Jewish Congress-in his youth a fire-eating Zionist rabbi in Berlin -still insisted that:
Since the assassination of Walther Rathenau in 1922, there was no doubt in our minds that the German development would be toward an anti-Semitic totalitarian regime. When Hitler began to arouse, and as he put it 'awaken' the German nation to racial consciousness and racial superiority, we had no doubt that this man would sooner or later become the leader of the German nation.
Yet a diligent search of the pages of the Juedische Rundschau, the weekly organ of the ZVfD, will not reveal such prophecies. When a Jew was killed and several hundred Jewish stores looted in a November 1923 hunger riot in Berlin, Kurt Blumenfeld, the Secretary (later President) of the ZVfD, consciously played down the incident:
There would be a very cheap and effective kind of reaction, and we ... decisively reject it. One could incite deep anxiety among German Jewry. One could use the excitement to enlist the vacillating. One could represent Palestine and Zionism as a refuge for the homeless. We do not wish to do that . We do not wish to carry off by demagoguery those who have stood apart from Jewish life out of indifference. But we wish to make clear to them through [our] sincere conviction where the basic error of Jewish galuth [exile] existence lies. We wish to awaken their national self-awareness. We wish ... through patient and earnest educational work [to] prepare them to participate in the upbuilding of Palestine.
The historian Stephen Poppel, certainly no enemy of the ZVfD, categorically states in his book, Zionism in Germany 1897-1933, that after 1923 the Rundschau 'did not begin to take systematic, detailed notice of anti-Jewish agitation and violence until 1931'. Far from warning and defending the Jews, prominent Zionists opposed antiNazi activity.
It had been the German Zionists who had most fully elaborated the ideology of the WZO before 1914 and in the 1920s they developed the argument to its logical conclusion: Judaism in the Diaspora was hopeless. There was no possible defence against anti-Semitism and there was no purpose in trying to develop Jewish cultural and community institutions in Germany. The ZVfD turned away from the society in which they lived. There were only two Zionist tasks: instilling nationalist consciousness in as many Jews as would listen and training youths for occupations useful in the economic development of Palestine. Anything else was useless and palliative.
In 1925 the most vehement protagonist of total abstentionism, Jacob Klatzkin, the co-editor of the massive Encyclopedia Judaica, laid down the full implications of the Zionist approach to anti-Semitism.
If we do not admit the rightfulness of antisemitism, we deny the rightfulness of our own nationalism. If our people is deserving and willing to live its own national life, then it is an alien body thrust into the nations among whom it lives, an alien body that insists on its own distinctive identity, reducing the domain of their life. It is right, therefore, that they should fight against us for their national integrity Instead of establishing societies for defense against the antisemites, who want to reduce our rights, we should establish societies for defense against our friends who desire to defend our rights.
German Zionism was distinctive in the WZO, in that the ZVfD leaders opposed taking any part in local politics. To Blumenfeld, Grenzuberschreitung (overstepping the borders) was the dreaded sin. Blumenfeld completely accepted the anti-Semitic line that Germany belonged to the Aryan race and that for a Jew to hold an office in the land of his birth was nothing more than an intrusion into the affairs of another volk. In theory the ZVfD insisted that every single one of its members should eventually emigrate to Palestine, but of course this was completely unrealistic. Some 2,000 settlers went from Germany to Palestine between 1897 and 1933, but many of these were Russians stranded there after the revolution. In 1930 the ZVfD had 9,059 paidup members, but the dues were nominal and in no way a sign of deep commitment . For all Blumenfeld's enthusiasm, Zionism was not an important element in the Weimar Republic.
When the warning signs of the Nazi surge appeared in the June 1930 elections in Saxony, where they obtained 14.4 per cent of the vote, the Berlin Jewish community put pressure on the ZVfD to join a Reichstag Election Committee in conjunction with the CV and other assimilationists. But the ZVfD,s adherence was strictly nominal; the assimilationists complained that the Zionists put barely any time or money into it, and it dissolved immediately after the election. A Rundschau article by Siegfried Moses, later Blumenfeld's successor as head of the federation, demonstrated the Zionists, indifference to the construction of a strenuous defence:
We have always believed the defense against anti-Semitism to be a task which concerns all Jews and have clearly stated the methods of which we approve and those which we consider irrelevant or ineffective. But it is true that the defense against antiSemitism is not our main task, it does not concern us to the same extent and is not of the same importance for us as is the work for Palestine and, in a somewhat different sense, the work of the Jewish communities.
Even after the election in September 1930 the Zionists argued against the notion of creating an effective front against the Nazis. A.W. Rom insisted in the Rundschau that any defence could only be a waste of time. To him 'The most important lesson we have learned from this election is that it is much more important to strengthen the Jewish community in Germany from within than to conduct an external fight.'
The ZVfD leaders could never effectively unite with the assimilationists on defence work. They were total abstentionists politically, and they were volkists; they did not believe in the CV's fundamental premiss that the Jews were Germans. Their concern was that the Jews should emphasise their Jewishness. They reasoned that if Jews started to consider themselves a separate national minority, and stopped interfering in "Aryan" affairs, it would be possible to get the anti-Semites to tolerate them on a basis of a "dignified" coexistence. The assimilationists would have none of this; to them the Zionist position was just an echo of the Nazi line. There is no doubt that the assimilationists were correct. But even if the Zionists had convinced every Jew to support their stance, it would not have helped. Hitler did not care what the Jews thought of themselves; he wanted them out of Germany and, preferably, dead. The Zionist solution was no solution. There was nothing the Jews could have done to mollify anti-Semitism. Only the defeat of Nazism could have helped the Jews, and that could only have happened if they had united with the anti-Nazi working class on a programme of militant resistance. But this was anathema to the ZVfD leadership who, in 1932, when Hitler was gaining strength by the day, chose to organise anti-Communist meetings to warn Jewish youth against 'red assimilation'.
The Zionist Minorities
As Hitler rose to power, minorities within the ZVfD increasingly ignored Blumenfeld's strictures against political action and either worked with the CV or looked to the other political elements for their salvation. Georg Kareski, a banker, had long been in disagreement with Blumenfeld over the ZVfD President's basic indifference to intemal Jewish community politics, and in 1919 he had established a Juedische Volkspartei to run in the Berlin Jewish community elections on a programme with greater emphasis on Jewish schooling. In 1930 Kareski surfaced in the larger German political arena as a candidate for the Reichstag on the Catholic Centre ticket (he lost) and an 'Organisation of Jewish Centre Party Voters' was set up by his co-thinkers. The spectacle amused a Social Democratic wag:
The homeless Jewish bourgeoisie has in great part sought shelter with the Center Party - Christ and the first Pope were Jews, so why not? Wretched individuals who do violence to their ideas and purposes out of anxiety over 'Socialist expropriation'. What Hitler is to the Christians, the Center Party is to the Jews.
Bismark's Kulturkampf against the Catholic Church had made the German Catholic hierarchy very distrustful of anti-Semitism; they feared it would pave the way for further attacks on the Catholic minority as well. In addition, individual bishops, mindful that Jesus was a Jew and that therefore racial anti-Semitism was incompatible with Christianity, had even refused communion to Nazi members. But there had always been anti-Semites among the leaders of the Centre, and after the 1929 Lateran accord with Mussolini there was growing pressure from the Vatican for a Centre-Nazi accommodation in the name of a fight against Communism. However, Kareski could not see the direction in which class interest was pushing the Catholic upper class, and he completely misjudged Franz von Papen, who took over as a Centre Chancellor after Bruning. Kareski reassured his rich Jewish friends that 'the Papen government has written the protection of the Jews on the flag'.In reality von Papen had always been an anti-Semite and in the end, after he had lost the chancellorship, he was part of the camarilla that convinced President Hindenburg to summon Hitler to power.
On the Zionist left the German branch of the Poale Zion backed the incompetent leadership of the SPD. Before 1914 the SPD refused to associate with Zionism, which it saw as separating the Jews from other workers, and only those elements on the far right of the SPD that supported German imperialism in Africa patronised the Labour Zionists, whom they saw as fellow socialist-colonisers. The Socialist International only established friendly relations with Poale Zion during and after the First World War, when the left-wing anti-colonialist forces joined the Communist International. The Labour Zionists joined the SPD with one central purpose: to gain support for Zionism. As long as the leaders of the SPD had good things to say about Zionism, they, in turn, replied with similar endearments. By 1931 the Labour Zionist leaders in Palestine began to envision a victorious Hitler, but they had no alternative stratagems for the SPD and there is no record of the Poale Zion leaders in Palestine ever publicly quarrelling with their erstwhile comrades in the SPD leadership.
'Germans of the Mosaic Faith are an Undesirable, Demoralizing Phenomena'
The basic Zionist attitude toward the Nazis was that nothing could really be done to stop them, but they felt obliged to do something. The Encyclopaedia of Zionism and Israel tells us, very vaguely, that the German Zionists tried to persuade Chancellor Bruning to issue a strong declaration against Nazi anti- Semitism by 'stressing the influence of Zionists upon the governments of various nations'. Bruning never replied, 'nor were the Zionists successful in their attempts to obtain governmental support of emigration to Palestine as a constructive outlet for internal pressure'.
Any such statement from Bruning would have been meaningless, unless he had been prepared to crush the Nazis. Any announcement that the government was aiding Jews to leave would have been counterproductive in encouraging the Nazis to increase their efforts in the certainty that the regime was weakening in its defence of Jewish rights. However, Bruning did nothing because the Zionists were bluffing that they had any influence upon 'the governments of various nations,, especially Britain.
Weizmann, the prestigious scientist and President of the WZO, who was well connected in London, did next to nothing for German Jewry. He had never liked them, nor did he have any sympathy for their defence efforts against anti-Semitism. As early as 18 March 1912 he had actually been brazen enough to tell a Berlin audience that 'each country can absorb only a limited number of Jews, if she doesn't want disorders in her stomach. Germany already has too many Jews.' In his chat with Balfour, in 1914, he went further, telling him that 'we too are in agreement with the cultural anti-Semites, in so far as we believed that Germans of the Mosaic faith are an undesirable, demoralizing phenomena'. He visited Germany several times in the last years of Weimar. His friends there told him that they did not even want Jews elsewhere to demonstrate on their behalf. Rather, he should get British Conservatives to let it be known that Hitler would discredit himself with them by anti-Semitic actions. Weizmann approached Robert Boothby, a Conservative MP, who told him that quite frankly most Tories saw Hitler as saving Germany from Communism and were far less concerned about his anti-Semitism. By January 1932 Weizmann concluded that emigration of some of Germany's Jews lay ahead. Although he had lost the support of the World Zionist Congress in 1931, had stepped down as President of the organisation and was thus unburdened by office, he did nothing further to mobilise the world or Jewry against Hitler.
In Germany itself the ZVfD never tried to bring the Jews out into the streets, but the Rundschau felt free to threaten that the Jews would come out-in New York. In reality, not one demonstration against Hitler was organised in America by the Zionists before he came to power. Rabbi Wise, leader of the American Jewish Congress, did get together with the assimilationists of the American Jewish Committee to ask the leaders of German Jewry how they could help. The German Jewish bourgeoisie merely thanked them for the gesture and assured the Americans that they would be contacted if things got worse. Wise wanted to try for a statement from President Hoover but even that was too radical for the American Jewish Committee, and Wise dropped the matter. Wise and Nahum Goldmann did organise a World Jewish Conference in Geneva in the summer of 1932, but Goldmann, extremely committed, was unwilling to work with assimilationists. Zionism was a minority movement in Jewry at that time; the conference did little more than preach to the converted, and only a minority of the converted at that, since neither Weizmann nor Nahum Sokolow, who had succeeded him as President of the WZO, attended. Nothing came of the meeting and indeed neither Wise nor Goldmann appreciated the full seriousness of the situation. Goldmann, always a believer in the influence of the Great Powers, told the l932 ZVfD convention that Britain and France, and Russia, would never let Hitler come to power. Stephen Wise retreated even further into that world where perhaps things would not be 'as bad as we dreaded'. On hearing of Hitler's coming to power, he felt the only real danger lay in Hitler's failing to keep his other promises. Then 'he may finally decide that he must yield to his fellow Nazis in the matter of anti-Semitism'.
'Liberalism is the Enemy; It is also the Enemy for Nazism'
Given that the German Zionists agreed with two fundamental elements in Nazi ideology-that the Jews would never be part of the German volk and, therefore, they did not belong on German soil - it was inevitable that some Zionists would believe an accommodation possible. If Wise could delude himself that Hitler was the moderate in the Nazis, ranks, why could not others talk themselves into believing that there were elements in the NSDAP who might restrain Hitler? Stephen Poppel has touched on this debate within the ZVfD:
Some Zionists thought that there might be respectable and moderate elements within the Nazi movement who would serve to restrain it from within ... These elements might serve as suitable negotiating partners for reaching some kind of German-Jewish accommodation. There was serious division over this possibility, with Weltsch [editor of the Rundschau ], for example, arguing in its behalf and Blumenfeld sharply opposing it.
Nor was Robert Weltsch alone. Gustav Krojanker, an editor at the Judischer Verlag, the oldest Zionist publishing house in Europe, also saw the two movements' common roots in volkist irrationalism, and drew the conclusion that Zionists should look positively at the nationalist aspects of Nazism. A benign approach toward their fellow volkists, he naively reasoned, would perhaps bring forth an equivalent benevolence toward Zionism on the part of the Nazis. As far as Krojanker and many other Zionists were concerned, democracy's day was over. Harry Sacher, a Briton, one of the leaders of the WZO in the period, explained Krojanker's theories in a review of Krojanker's book, Zum Problem des Neuen Deutschen Nationalismus:
For Zionists, Liberalism is the enemy; it is also the enemy for Nazism; ergo, Zionism should have much sympathy and understanding for Nazism, of which anti-Semitism is probably a fleeting accident.
No Zionist wanted Hitler to come to power, no Zionist voted for him and neither Weltsch nor Krojanker collaborated with the Nazis prior to 30 January 1933. Collaboration only emerged later. But these notions were the logical result of decades of Zionist justification for anti-Semitism and failure to resist it. It cannot be argued in their defence that the Zionist leaders did not know what was going to happen when Hitler came to power. He had said more than enough to guarantee that, at the very least, the Jews would be reduced to secondclass citizenship. In addition, they knew that Hitler was an admirer of Mussolini and that ten years of Fascism in Italy had meant terror, torture and dictatorship. But in their hostility to liberalism and its commitment to Jewish assimilation, and as opponents of Jews utilising their full democratic rights within the parliamentary system, the Fascist aspect of Nazism never unduly disturbed the leaders of the ZVfD. It never occurred to these sectarians that they had a duty to democracy to mobilise in its defence. The grave implications of another Fascist regime, this time with an avowed anti-Jewish position, in the very heart of Europe, completely eluded them.
Dante has false diviners walking backwards, their faces reversed on their necks, tears pouring from their eyes. For ever. So it is for all who misunderstood Hitler.