51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis
Brenner, ed. Barricade Books, 2002, 342 pages $22.00
It’s no secret that Zionism embraced political expediency to advance the cause of carving Israel from the land of its native inhabitants. In his 1983 book, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators Brenner shows that 20th century Zionists observed shockingly few limits to that expediency. Not surprisingly, the book received little coverage in the American media. Now, in 51 Documents, Brenner has compiled a wide variety of letters, statements, articles, and—some of which appeared in his earlier book—by a broad array of activists and authors, that documents Zionist cooperation with the Nazis. On the face of it, the notion seems absurd. However, Brenner presents the case—made in many Zionists’ own words—that the Nazi agenda of expelling the Jews from Germany fit nicely with the Zionist plan for enticing those Jews into settling in Palestine and creating a new Jewish nation. In addition to introductory and concluding chapters, the book is organized into five sections which lead the reader through early, pre-Zionist documents; pre-Holocaust ideological factions; the Holocaust era itself; and a chapter on the Stern Gang and the Nazis. Readers should note that a few documents are not indicative of collaboration in and of themselves, but provide the background to others written in response. These latter do indicate levels of collaboration between Zionists and fascists, both the Nazis in Germany, and those in Mussolini’s Italy. Brenner’s brief explanatory notes at the beginning of each document are helpful, as are the glossary and index. 51 Documents assumes a certain knowledge of Zionist history, and requires a close reading and some deconstructive efforts on the part of the reader. Those willing to commit the time and effort, however, are rewarded with some stunning revelations.
The reason some Zionists eschewed the boycott against Hitler’s Germany, for instance, is that they had a financial deal with Germany allowing Jews to exchange their wealth for goods to be exported to Palestine at less of a loss, as an incentive to emigrate. Those wondering why Zionists today are so organized and experienced in their public relations efforts discover that these battles have been fought before. Moreover, the section on Nazi and Zionist understandings of “nationality” versus citizenship reveals how German and Israeli practices are based on the same concept.
51 Documents also sheds a whole new light on the term “Holocaust guilt,” frequently understood to mean Western, non-Jewish guilt for not acting against the Holocaust earlier. However, these documents make it clear that Holocaust guilt began with those Zionists who made the undoubtedly difficult, but politically expedient choice to place Israel at the top of their priorities, above the lives of their threatened European brethren.
From a Zionist Executive Meeting speech by Yitzhak Gruenbaum on February 18, 1943
And when some asked me: “Can’t you give money from Palestine to save Jews in the Diaspora?” I said: “No.” And again I say no....And, because of these things, people called me an anti-Semite, and concluded that I’m guilty, for the fact that we don’t give ourselves completely to rescue actions. (p. 211)
However difficult it may be, the reader must confront some rather disturbing conclusions. The most unsettling realization for this reviewer is that pre-Holocaust Zionists were able to politically align themselves with the Nazis because both groups fundamentally saw race as an important dividing line—and, moreover, were determined to keep it that way. From Vladimir Jabotinsky to Albert Einstein, “assimilation” of Jews into the societies in which they lived was not an acceptable option. Rather, Jewish nationalism required equality on a national level, not a personal one. As Jabotinsky explained, “It is impossible for a man to become assimilated with people whose blood is different from his own” p. 10); in Einstein’s words, “Palestine is first and foremost not a refuge for East European Jews, but the incarnation of a reawakening sense of national solidarity” p. 29). Finally, David Yisraeli, a member of the Stern Gang, wrote the following in late 1940, as part of a proposal to Hitler. It was delivered in 1941 to two German diplomats in Lebanon. The establishment of the historic Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis, bound by a treaty with the German Reich, would be in the interest of a maintained and strengthened future German position of power in the Near East. Such beliefs, of course, were not limited to Nazis and Zionists. Scientific and philosophical constructs of the day considered such differentiation legitimate, and ideas of racial difference—and, therefore, racial supremacy—were practiced around the world. Another disturbing conclusion a reader must inevitably face is that Zionists learned both tactical and political lessons from the Nazis and that, even today, these lessons are applied to further the Zionist cause. Although most likely known to potential readers of this book, another disturbing element is the cover-up of the less than savory roles of current Israeli leaders, including former prime ministers, in the terrorist Irgun and Stern Gang just before, during, and after the Holocaust. Likewise, the succumbing of various officials to Zionist pressure is a familiar, but distressing, story.
51 Documents seems to represent a renewed attempt by Brenner to bring information regarding Zionist collaboration with the Nazis to U.S. supporters of Israel, as well as to Jews and Muslims, in order to expand dialogue with knowledge, and save lives—both Palestinian and Israeli—in the process. Readers of 51 Documents will find it difficult not to remove the rose colored glasses that so many seem to wear when examining Zionism.