Israel and the Holocaust: Some Reflections on Israel's 60th Anniversary

By Berenbaum, Michael | Midstream, July-August 2008 | Go to article overview

Israel and the Holocaust: Some Reflections on Israel's 60th Anniversary


Berenbaum, Michael, Midstream


* Speaking to a gathering of American Jewish leaders, Israel's distinguished Ambassador to the United Nations said: "If only there was the State of Israel in 1939, the Holocaust would not have happened."

* In conjunction with a visit by Israel-Defense-Forces Chief of Staff, Israel-Air-Force Bombers took off from Tel Aviv, flew to Auschwitz and returned safely to their base. The symbolic implication is clear: Had Israel existed, Auschwitz, would have been bombed.

* Both Benjamin Netanyahu and Abba Eban z"l have said: "A retreat to the borders of 1967 is a retreat to the borders of Auschwitz."

* I received the following two email messages in a buildup to the Annapolis Conference:

   In 1938, the world was silent while 6,000,000 Jews were
   systematically brutally murdered. More than 20,000,000
   men, women, handicapped, aged, sick, prisoners of war,
   forced laborers, camp inmates, critics, homosexuals,
   Slavs, Serbs, Germans, Czechs, Italians, Poles, French,
   Ukrainians, and many others were murdered along with
   the Jews. Among them 1,000,000 were children under
   eighteen years of age.

   Hitler told Himmler that it was not enough for the Jews
   simply to die; they must die in agony.--Robert
   Payne, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler

* The implications to the author were clear; the world is being silent as Israel is now on the verge of extinction and Jews are facing an agonizing death.

* Help prevent another Holocaust. Please email the following 6 Israeli legislators ...

What unites all of these statements is both the juxtaposition of Israel and the Holocaust; what also unites these statements is how profoundly wrong they are.

Israel's distinguished Ambassador condensed two very different observations, both true and both important--to make a statement that could not be true.

The Yishuv--the Jewish settlement in pre-state Israel--was one of the few places on earth willing to receive refugees as it did throughout the 1930s. The British White Paper of 1939 limited Jewish immigration to 15,000 a year, precisely at the moment when getting Jews out of Europe was literally a matter of life and death.

We know that some two out of three Jews in Europe were killed. Another way of reading that statistic is that somewhat over 80% of the Jews in lands occupied by Germany and its allies who did not escape Europe or did not escape to the Soviet Union were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.

Israel today might have the ability to respond to a major threat to Jews in the Diaspora as it did time and again in the last quarter of the 20th century. But one cannot compare Israel today with the small and relatively defenseless Yishuv of 1939-1944. The Jewish population was then approximately 400,000. From 1944-1948 the Jewish population increased by fully 50% due to the influx of illegal refugees. The Yishuv of 1939-1942 would have had few means of defense against a serious German invasion. A visibly present Jewish people on their own land as defenseless as they then were would have certainly warranted an attack by Hitler's forces.

We now know that on June 11, 1944 Ben-Gurion and his Cabinet voted not to request that Auschwitz be bombed. Their reasoning is reflected in the minutes of the Jewish Agency Executive Committee meeting:

Mr. Ben-Gurion: We do not know the truth concerning the entire situation in Poland, and it seems that we will be unable to propose anything concerning this matter.

Rabbi Fishman: Concurs with Ben-Gurion on this point.

Dr. Schmorak: ... It is forbidden for us to take responsibility for a bombing that could very well cause the death of even one Jew.

Dr. Yosef: Also opposes the proposal to request that the Americans bomb the camps and thus cause the murder of Jews.

Only after the arrival in Palestine and London of the Auschwitz Protocols, the Vr'ba Wetzler report by two escapees from Auschwitz and the vital information as to what was happening in Auschwitz did officials of the Zionist movement in London request the bombing of Auschwitz. …

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