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  • Yishuv Zionism: Its Attitude to Nazism and the Third Reich Reconsidered*
  • Hava Eshkoli-Wagman (bio)

Zionist policy and attitude on the question of German Jewry [in the Third Reich’s early stages] constitute a critical test case whose results raise the historian’s hackles. Not only are the cynical nature of Zionist collaboration with the Nazis and Zionist equanimity to the fate of non-Zionist Jews fully revealed, the interdependent nature of these two phenomena is also exposed. It is one thing if the purpose of collaboration is to save lives. But to collaborate in order to save Yishuv Zionism by abandoning a large Jewish public—how is such a thing possible?! 1

Zimmerman’s critique enunciates a view often voiced by adherents of the so-called post-Zionist school of historians. It is, however, by no means new, essentially reiterating arguments voiced from the 1930s by Zionists and non-Zionists alike: the Revisionists on the one hand, and Agudat Israel and the Bund on the other. Although addressed primarily to German Zionism, Zimmerman’s denunciation does not spare the Yishuv’s Zionist establishment. As we shall see, others have also made the latter the target for their accusations.

Briefly, the accusations against Yishuv Zionists may be enumerated as follows: (1) ideological identification with Nazism; (2) active contact with the Nazis; (3) the avoidance of a militant stance against Nazism until the late stages of World War II; (4) the abandonment of German Jewry due to a narrow Zionist perspective with its Yishuv-centric emphasis on the “state-in-the-making.” This article focuses primarily on the first two allegations. It attempts to demonstrate that the portrayal of Zionist-Nazi cooperation in the 1930s as a collaboration grounded in a shared ideological framework and Palestinocentric egocentrism is based [End Page 21] on marginal examples and specious arguments. The attitude of Yishuv Zionists to German Nazism is considered against the background of milestones in the history of the Third Reich: the pre-Nazi period; the Nazi rise to power—1933; the Nuremberg Laws—1935; and “the fateful year”—1938.

Ideological Sympathies

The sweeping accusation of Zionist ideological agreement with Nazism is largely grounded in the sympathetic attitude evinced by the Revisionist Right for Mussolini’s fascism during the period preceding and immediately following the Nazi rise to power. In the early 1930s, sporadic examples of expression of admiration for Hitler’s Nazism, with the exception of its antisemitism, are evident. An oft-cited example is Gustav Krojanker’s Zum Problem des neuen deutschen Nationalismus—eine zionistische Orientierung gegenüber den nationalistischen Strömungen unserer Zeit (Berlin, 1932), first published in Germany prior to the rise of Nazism, and subsequently published serially in Ha-Aretz following his aliyah to Palestine. Krojanker evinced a favorable attitude towards Nazism—“the new German nationalism” in his words—which he viewed as a historical necessity; at the same time, he adduced similarities between Zionisn and Nazism as national movements. In the above-cited review article, Zimmerman denounces this essay as “a terrible treatise,” albeit ignoring the fact that Krojanker coupled his disturbing comparison with sharp criticism of the darker elements of German nationalism, warning of its danger to Jews. In the final analysis, Zimmerman finds Krojanker’s essay “unrepresentative.” 2

It is the Betar movement, with its adopted fascist ideas and displays, that forms the prime target for allegations of Zionist ideological sympathy for Nazism. Signs of Zionism’s Nazi-fascist sympathies are adduced from the actions and statements of some of its leading figures. For example, in 1928, Abba Ahimeir, a leading member of the far-right wing of the Revisionist movement, wrote a regular column in Do’ar ha-Yom titled “Mi-Pinkaso shel Fashistan” (From a fascist’s notebook). In 1931 he played a central role in the founding of Berit ha-Biryonim, an underground group devoted to opposing British policy in Palestine. At the trial of members of this organization, who disrupted a speech delivered by Berit Shalom leader Norman Bentwich at Hebrew University in early 1932, their lawyer declared: “yes, we Revisionists have a great admiration for Hitler. Hitler has saved Germany. . . . And if he had given up his antisemitism we...

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