Werner Senator, a leading German Zionist, once remarked that Zionism, for all its world Jewish nationalism, always politically assimilates to the countries within which it operates. No better proof of his remark exists than the political adaptation of the ZVfD to the theories and policies of the new Nazi regime. Believing that the ideological similarities between the two movements --their contempt for liberalism, their common volkish racism and, of course, their mutual conviction that Germany could never be the homeland of its Jews--could induce the Nazis to support them, the ZVfD solicited the patronage of Adolf Hitler, not once but repeatedly, after l933.
The goal of the ZVfD became an 'orderly retreat', that is, Nazi backing for emigration of at least the younger generation of Jews to Palestine, and they immediately sought contact with elements in the Nazi apparatus whom they thought would be interested in such an arrangement on the basis of a volkish appreciation of Zionism. Kurt Tuchler, a member of the ZVfD Executive, persuaded Baron Leopold Itz Edler von Mildenstein of the SS to write a pro-Zionist piece for the Nazi press. The Baron agreed on the condition that he visited Palestine first, and two months after Hitler came to power the two men and their wives went to Palestine; von Mildenstein stayed there for six months before he returned to write his articles.
Contact with a central figure in the new government came in March 1933, when Hermann Goering summoned the leaders of the major Jewish organisations. In early March, Julius Streicher, the editor of Der Steurmer, had declared that, as of 1 April, all Jewish stores and professionals would be boycotted; however, this campaign ran into an immediate snag. Hitler's capitalist backers were extremely worried by the announcement by rabbi Wise of a planned counter-demonstration to be held in New York on 27 March, if the Nazis went ahead with their boycott. Jews were prominent throughout the retail trade both in American and Europe and, fearing retaliation against their own companies, Hitler's wealthy patrons urged him to call off the action. But the Nazis could hardly do that without losing face, and they decided to use German Jewry to head off Wise; thus Hermann Goering called in the Jewish leaders.
German Zionism's influence in Weimar did not merit its leaders' participation, but because they conceived themselves as the only natural negotiating partner with the Nazis, they secured a late invitation. Martin Rosenbluth, a leading Zionist, later told of the incident in his post-war autobiography, Go Forth and Serve. Four Jews saw Goering: Julius Brodnitz for the CV, Heinrich Stahl for the Berlin Jewish community, Max Naumann, a pro-Nazi fanatic from the Verband nationaldeutscher Juden (VnJ), and Blumenfeld for the Zionists. Goering launched into a tirade: the foreign press was lying about atrocities against Jews; unless the lies stopped, he could not vouch for the safety of German Jewry. Most important, the New York rally had to be called off: 'Dr Wise is one of our most dangerous and unscrupulous enemies.' A delegation was to go to London to contact world Jewry.
The assimilationists declined, claiming that as Germans they had no influence with foreign Jews. This was false, but they hardly wanted to assist in their own destruction. Only Blumenfeld volunteered, but insisted he be allowed to speak truthfully about the Nazi treatment of Jews. Goering did not care what was said to get the rally called off; perhaps a description of the grim situation might make foreign Jews halt for fear of provoking worse. He did not care who went or what arguments were used as long as the deputation agreed to 'report regularly to the German embassy'.
The ZVfD finally sent Martin Rosenbluth and Richard Lichtheim. Fearing exclusive responsibility for the outcome of their strange mission, they prevailed upon the CV to let them take along Dr Ludwig Tietz. Although not a Zionist personally, the wealthy businessman was 'a good friend of ours'. The trio arrived in London on 27 March and immediately met forty Jewish leaders at a meeting chaired by Nahum Sokolow, then President of the WZO. They later met a battery of British officials. The delegates saw two tasks before them: to use the severity of the situation to promote Palestine as 'the logical place of refuge', and to head off all anti-Nazi efforts abroad. They called Wise in New York. Rosenbluth described the incident thus in his memoirs:
Mindful of Goering's charges... we conveyed the message... Getting the cryptic rest of our message across to him was somewhat more difficult, since it was necessary to speak in obscure terms in order to confound any possible monitors. Subsequent events proved we had made clear our hidden plea, and that Dr Wise had understood we wanted him to stand firm and under no circumstances cancel the meeting.
There is no evidence that any effort was made to signal Wise to this effect. Through the research of an Israeli scholar, Shaul Esh, it is now known that the deputation tried to head off demonstrations in New York and Palestine. According to Esh, later that evening they sent cables:
not in their own name, but in the name of the Zionist Executive in London. The telegrams requested that the recipients immediately dispatch to the Chancellery of the Third Reich declarations to the effect that they do not condone an organised anti-German boycott... the Zionist Executive in London learned of this several hours later, they sent another cable to Jerusalem to delay the dispatch of an official declaration to Hitler.
Later, in his own autobiography, Challenging Years, Stephen Wise mentioned receiving their cable, but he did not record any cryptic message from the delegation. It is reasonable to assume that he would have recorded it, if he had thought any such attempt was made. In reality, Wise repeatedly raged at the ZVfD in the following years for persistently opposing every attempt by foreign Jews to struggle against the Hitler regime.
The London proceedings were typical of all further ZVfD behaviour. In 1937, after leaving Berlin for America, rabbi Joachim Prinz wrote of his experiences in Germany and alluded to a memorandum which, it is now known, was sent to the Nazi Party by the ZVfD on 21 June 1933. Prinz's article candidly describes the Zionist mood in the first months of 1933:
Everyone in Germany knew that only the Zionists could responsibly represent the Jews in dealings with the Nazi government. We all felt sure that one day the government would arrange a round table conference with the Jews, at which --after the riots and atrocities of the revolution had passed-- the new status of German Jewry could be considered. The government announced very solemnly that there was no country in the world which tried to solve the Jewish problem as seriously as did Germany. Solution of the Jewish question? It was our Zionist dream! We never denied the existence of the Jewish question! Dissimilation? It was our own appeal!... In a statement notable for its pride and dignity, we called for a conference.
The document remained buded until 1962, when it was finally printed, in German, in Israel. 'Pride' and 'dignity' are words open to interpretation but, it is safe to say, there was not one word that could be so construed today. This extraordinary memorandum demands extensive quotation. The Nazis were asked, very politely:
May we therefore be permitted to present our views, which, in our opinion, make possible a solution in keeping with the principles of the new German State of National Awakening and which at the same time might signify for Jews a new ordering of the conditions of their existence... Zionism has no illusions about the difficulty of the Jewish condition, which consists above all in an abnormal occupational pattern and in the fault of an intellectual and moral posture not rooted in one's own tradition...
... an answer to the Jewish question truly satisfying to the national state can be brought about only with the collaboration of the Jewish movement that aims at a social, cultural, and moral renewal of Jewry... a rebirth of national life, such as is occurring in German life through adhesion to Christian and national values, must also take place in the Jewish national group. For the Jew, too, origin, religion, community of fate and group consciousness must be of decisive significance in the shaping of his life...
On the foundation of the new state, which has established the principle of race, we wish so to fit our community into the total structure so that for us too, in the sphere assigned to us, fruitful activity for the Fathedand is possible... Our acknowledgement of Jewish nationality provides for a clear and sincere relationship to the German people and its national and racial realities. Precisely because we do not wish to falsify these fundamentals, because we, too, are against mixed marriage and are for maintaining the purity of the Jewish group...
... fidelity to their own kind and their own culture gives Jews the inner strength that prevents insult to the respect for the national sentiments and the imponderables of German nationality; and rootedness in one's own spirituality protects the Jew from becoming the rootless critic of the national foundations of German essence. The national distancing which the state desires would thus be brought about easily as the result of an organic development.
Thus, a self-conscious Jewry here described, in whose name we speak, can find a place in the structure of the German state, because it is inwardly unembarrassed, free from the resentment which assimilated Jews must feel at the determination that they belong to Jewry, to the Jewish race and past. We believe in the possibility of an honest relationship of loyalty between a group-conscious Jewry and the German state...
For its practical aims, Zionism hopes to be able to win the collaboration even of a government fundamentally hostile to Jews, because in dealing with the Jewish question no sentimentalities are involved but a real problem whose solution interests all peoples, and at the present moment especially the German people.
The realisation of Zionism could only be hurt by resentment of Jews abroad against the German development. Boycott propaganda --such as is currently being carried on against Germany in many ways-- is in essence un-Zionist, because Zionism wants not to do battle but to convince and to build... Our observations, presented herewith, rest on the conviction that, in solving the Jewish problem according to its own lights, the German Government will have full understanding for a candid and clear Jewish posture that harmonizes with the interests of the state.
This document, a treason to the Jews of Germany, was written in standard Zionist cliches: 'abnormal occupational pattern', 'rootless intellectuals greatly in need of moral regeneration', etc. In it the German Zionists offered calculated collaboration between Zionism and Nazism, hallowed by the goal of a Jewish state: we shall wage no battle against thee, only against those that would resist thee.
Obsessed with their strange mission, the ZVfD's leaders lost all sense of international Jewish perspective and even tried to get the WZO to call off its World Congress, scheduled for August 1933. They sent their world leadership a letter: 'It will have to express sharp protests,, their lives could be at stake at a time when 'our legal existence has enabled us to organise thousands and to transfer large sums of money to Palestine' The Congress did take place as we shall see, but the ZVfD had nothing to worry about as the Nazis chose to use the occasion to announce that they had made a deal with world Zionism.
'Seeking its own National Idealism in the Nazi Spirit'
The Jewish public knew nothing about von Mildenstein's journey to Palestine in the company of a member of the Zionist Executive, nor about Rosenbluth and Lichtheim's trip to London; nor did they know about the memorandum, nor the request to call off the Zionist Congress. However, they could not miss what was appearing in the Rundschau, where assimilationalist German Jewry was roundly attacked. The CV complained bitterly of Zionist 'siegesfanfaren' as the Rundschau rushed to condemn the guilty Jews.The editor, Robert Weltsch, took the occasion of the 1 April boycott to assail the Jews of Germany in an editorial: 'Wear the Yellow Badge with Pride':
At times of crisis throughout its history, the Jewish people has faced the question of its own guilt. Our most important prayer says, 'We were expelled from our country because of our sins'... Jewry bears a great guilt because it failed to heed Theodor Herzl's call... Because the Jews did not display their Jewishness with pride, because they wanted to shirk the Jewish question, they must share the blame for the degradation of Jewry.
Even as the Nazis were in the process of throwing the left into concentration camps, Weltsch attacked the left-wing Jewish journalists:
If today the National Socialist and German patriotic newspapers frequently refer to the type of the Jewish scribbler and the so-called Jewish press... it must be pointed out... Upright Jews have always been indignant at the raillery and the caricature directed by Jewish buffoons against Jews to the same extent, or even a greater extent, than they aimed them at Germans and others.
Although the left-wing press had been under attack from the day the Nazis came to power, the Jewish newspapers were still legal. Naturally they were censored; if a journal printed something untoward, it would be closed down, temporarily at least. However, the Nazis did not force the Zionists to denounce their fellow Jews.
After the Holocaust Weltsch was quite contrite about the editorial, saying that he should have told the Jews to flee for their lives, but he never claimed that the Nazis made him write the piece. Weltsch was not a Fascist, but he was too much the Zionist sectarian to have really thought through his ideas about the world at large. As were most of the leaders of the ZVfD, he was quite convinced that 'egotistical liberalism' and parliamentary democracy were dead at least in Germany. Internationally, they were still for the British in Palestine, but the Rundschau's correspondent in Italy, Kurt Kornicker, was quite openly pro-Fascist. The ZVfD's leaders became convinced that Fascism was the wave of the future, certainly in Central Europe, and within that framework they counterposed the 'good' Fascism of Mussolini to the 'excesses' of Hitlerism, which they thought would diminish, with their assistance, as time went by.
Racism was now triumphant and the ZVfD ran with the winner. The talk of blut began to take hold with a statement by Blumenfeld in April 1933 that the Jews had previously been masking their natural blood-sanctioned apartness from the real Germans, but it reached Wagnerian proportions in the 4 August Rundschau with a long essay, 'Rasse als Kulturfaktor', which pondered on the intellectual implications for Jews of the Nazi victory. It argued that Jews should not merely accept silently the dictates of their new masters; they, too, had to realise that race separation was wholly to the good:
We who live here as a 'foreign race' have to respect racial consciousness and the racial interest of the German people absolutely. This however does not preclude a peaceful living together of people of different racial membership. The smaller the possibility of an undesirable mixture, so much less is there need for 'racial protection'... There are differentiations that in the last analysis have their root in ancestry. Only rationalist newspapers who have lost feeling for the deeper reasons and profundities of the soul, and for the origins of communal consciousness, could put aside ancestry as simply in the realm of 'natural history'.
In the past, the paper continued, it had been hard to get Jews to have an objective evaluation of racism. But now was the time, indeed past time, for a bit of 'quiet evaluation': 'Race is undoubtedly a very important, yes, decisive momentum. Out of "blood and soil" really is determined the being of a people and their achievements.' Jews would have to make good for 'the last generations when Jewish racial consciousness was largely neglected. The article warned against 'bagatellised' race, and also against the CV, who were beginning to abandon their traditional assimilationist ideology in the wake of the disaster, but 'without changing basically'.
Challenging the racist bona fides of their rivals was not enough. To prove that the 'Jewish Renaissance Movement' had always been racist, the Rundschau reprinted two pre-1914 articles under the title 'Voices of the Blood'. 'Das singende Blut' by Stefan Zweig and 'Lied des Blutes' by Hugo Salus rhapsodised about how 'the modern Jew... recognizes his Jewishness... through an inner experience which teaches him the special language of his blood in a mystical manner'.
But although these mimics of the Nazis were confirmed racists, they were not chauvinists. They did not think they were racially superior to the Arabs. The Zionists were even going to uplift their benighted Semitic cousins. Their volkism was only a warped answer to their own 'personality problem', as they put it: it allowed them to reconcile themselves to the existence of anti-Semitism in Germany without fighting it. They hastened to reassure their readers that many modern nations and states were racially mixed and yet the races could live in harmony. Jews were warned: now that they were to become racists, they should not become chauvinists: 'above race is humanity'.
Although racism permeated through the ZVfD's literature, foreign Jewish observers always saw Joachim Prinz as its most strident propagandist. A Social Democratic voter before 1933, Prinz became rabidly volkist in the first years of the Third Reich. Some of the violent hostility towards Jews in his book Wir Juden could have been inserted directly into the Nazis' own propaganda. To Prinz the Jew was made up of 'misplacement, of queerness, of exhibitionism, inferiority, arrogance, self-deceit, sophisticated love of truth, hate, sickly, patriotism and rootless cosmopolitanism... a psychopathological arsenal of rare abundance'.
Prinz was deeply contemptuous of the rational and liberal traditions which had been the common basis of all progressive thought since the American Revolution. For him the harm that liberalism had done was compensated for only by the fact that it was dying:
Parliament and democracy are increasingly shattered. The exaggerated harmful emphasis on the value of the individual is recognised to be mistaken; the concept and reality of the nation and the volk is gaining, to our happiness, more and more ground.
Prinz believed that an accommodation between Nazis and Jews was possible, but only on the basis of a Zionist-Nazi accord: 'A state which is constructed on the principle of the purity of nation and race can only have respect for those Jews who see themselves in the same way.
After he came to the United States Prinz realised that nothing he had been saying in Germany sounded rational in a democratic context and he abandoned his bizarre notions, further proof that the German Zionists had simply adapted ideologically to Nazism. But perhaps the best illustration of the Zionists' Nazification was the curious statement by one of the Rundschau's editors, Arnold Zweig, made in his Insulted and Exiled, naturally written abroad and published in 1937:
of all the newspapers published in German, the most independent, the most courageous, and the ablest was the Judische Rundschau, the official organ of the Zionist Union of Germany. Although it sometimes went too far in its approval of the Nationalist State (seeking its own national idealism in the Nazi spirit), there, nevertheless, issued from it a stream of energy, tranquility, warmth, and confidence of which the German Jews and Jewry the world over stood in urgent need.
'The Exclusive Control of German Jewish Life'
Not even the Nuremberg Laws of 15 September 1935 challenged the basic German Zionist belief in an ultimate modus vivendi with the Nazis. The HeChalutz (Pioneer) Centre, in charge of training youth for the kibbutz move ment, concluded that the promulgation of laws making mixed marriage a crime was a suitable occasion for a new approach to the regime. The Pioneers came up with a plan for the emigration of the entire Jewish community over a period of 15-25 years. Abraham Margaliot, a scholar at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Institute, has explained the thinking at the Centre in that fateful year:
The HeChalutz leaders assumed that this underlying goal would prove so alluring to the German authorities that they would agree to extend aid towards further emigration abroad by liberalizing the laws governing the transfer of foreign currency abroad, by providing opportunities for vocational training and by 'political means'.
The Rundschau published excerpts from a speech in which Hitler announced that his government still hoped to find a basis for 'a better attitude towards the Jews'. The paper published a statement by A.I. Brandt, the head of the Nazis' press association, which informed a doubtlessly somewhat surprised world that the laws were:
both beneficial and regenerative for Judaism as well. By giving the Jewish minority an opportunity to lead its own life and assuring governmental support for this independent existence, Germany is helping Judaism to strengthen its national character and is making a contribution towards improving relations between the two peoples.
The goal of the ZVfD became 'national autonomy'. They wanted Hitler to give Jews the right to an economic existence, protection from attacks on their honour, and training to prepare them for migration. The ZVfD became absorbed in trying to utilise the segregated Jewish institutions to develop a Jewish national spirit. The tighter the Nazis turned the screw on the Jews, the more convinced they became that a deal with the Nazis was possible. After all, they reasoned, the more the Nazis excluded the Jews from every aspect of German life, the more they would have need of Zionism to help them get rid of the Jews. By 15 January 1936 the Palestine Post had to make the startling report that: 'A bold demand that the German Zionist Federation be given recognition by the government as the only instrument for the exclusive control of German Jewish life was made by the executive of that body in a proclamation today.'
German Zionist hopes for an arrangement faded only in the face of the ever-mounting intimidation and terror. Even then there was no sign of any attempts at anti-Nazi activity on the part of the ZVfD leaders. Throughout the entire pre-war period there was only a tiny Zionist involvement in the anti-Nazi underground. Although the HeChalutz and Hashomer youth movements talked socialism, the Nazis were not concerned. Yechiel Greenberg of Hashomer admitted in 1938 that 'our socialism was considered merely a philosophy for export'. But almost from the beginning of the dictatorship the underground KPD, always looking for new recruits, sent some of their Jewish cadre into the youth movements and, according to Arnold Paucker--now the editor of London's Leo Baeck Institute Year Book-- some Zionist youth became involved with the resistance at least to the extent of some illegal postering in the early years of the regime. How much of this was due to the influence of the Communist infiltrators, and how much was spontaneous is impossible to estimate. However, the Zionist bureaucracy vigorously attacked the KPD. As in Italy, so in Germany: the Zionist leadership sought the support of the regime for Zionism and resisted Communism; in neither country could it be thought of as part of the anti-Fascist resistance.
The interrelationship between the ZVfD and the WZO will be described below. Suffice to say for now, that the WZO leaders approved of the general line of their German affiliate. However, within the ranks of the world movement there were many who refused to remain silent while their German branch not only accepted second-class citizenship as no more than the Jews had a right to expect but, even worse, denounced foreign Jews for boycotting Germany. Boris Smolar, the chief European correspondent for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Zionist wire service, spoke for all these when he wrote angrily, in 1935:
One can understand that a Jewish newspaper which appears in Germany may not be in a position fully to support the demands of World Jewry with regard to the full restoration of Jewish rights. This, however, doesn't justify any official organ to come out and practically agree to the anti-Jewish limitations which exist in Germany. This last is exactly what the Judische Rundschau has done.
Prior to the Nazis, German Zionism was no more than an isolated bourgeois political cult. While the leftists were trying to fight the brownshirts in the streets, the Zionists were busy collecting money for trees in Palestine. Suddenly in 1933 this small group conceived of itself as properly anointed by history to negotiate secretly with the Nazis, to oppose the vast mass of world Jewry who wanted to resist Hitler, all in the hope of obtaining the support of the enemy of their people for the building of their state in Palestine. Smolar and their other Zionist critics saw the ZVfD as merely cowardly, but they were quite wrong. Any surrender theory explains nothing of the pre-Hitler evolution of Zionist racism, nor does it go far in explaining the WZO's endorsement of their stance. The truth is sadder than cowardice. The plain fact is that Germany's Zionists did not see themselves as surrendering but, rather, as would-be partners in a most statesmanlike pact. They were wholly deluded. No Jews triumphed over other Jews in Nazi Germany. No modus vivendi was ever even remotely possible between Hitler and the Jews. Once Hitler had triumphed inside Germany, the position of the Jews was hopeless; all that was left for them was to go into exile and continue the fight from there. Many did, but the Zionists continued to dream of winning the patronage of Adolf Hitler for themselves. They did not fight Hitler before he came to power, when there was still a chance to beat him, not out of any degree of cowardice, but out of their deepest conviction, which they had inherited from Herzl, that anti-Semitism could not be fought. Given their failure to resist during Weimar, and given their race theories, it was inevitable that they would end up as the ideological jackals of Nazism.