The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 12
(Part 5 of 7)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. Do you wish to add anything about the influence of the political trends that developed between the two World Wars, on the process of equal rights, Jewish emancipation?

A. Yes, of course, if the Court pleases, I wanted to say that, in my opinion, the period between the Wars was, for the first time, a record period, the peak of Jewish emancipation, the liberation movement began with the American Revolution, with the French Revolution, in the eighteenth century, I wrote already long ago that there were precedents for this, that is to say, in the economic sense and in the spiritual sense the emancipation began a hundred or two hundred years earlier. But the main point is that it did not reach fruition until the period between the two Wars.

For as long as the Jews were not emancipated in one country, they were not free in any country. There were always movements through migration - to a substantial extent there was such a firm mutual relationship between the Jewish communities that if there was a lack of equal rights in one place, they did not enjoy them elsewhere. It would suffice for me to quote a simple example. If we recollect what happened fifty years ago, half of World Jewry was living in a Czarist Regime under most terrible conditions. There were also Jews in Rumania and in the Ottoman Empire which only afterwards underwent the revolution of the Young Turks. There were Jews in North Africa.

Two-thirds of the entire Jewish people lived under conditions of non-emancipation, of lack of freedom. And even in countries where there was liberty, such as the United States or France, or England, where the emancipation was long-established, if we nevertheless were to look at the Jewish populations at the beginning of the present century, we shall see that the majority, if not all, were born, and many of them were educated, in countries where they did not enjoy emancipation. It was only in the year 1917 with the Russian Revolution, in the year 1919 with the European Peace Treaty, that emancipation, at least on paper, began in principle for all countries. And one could have expected that this was already the final stage, the last step in a development of two or three hundred years.

If the Court will allow me, I should like to mention that by chance I had the opportunity, about three years ago, to lecture in this city at the Hebrew University, on new approaches to the question of emancipation. In my lecture which in the meantime appeared as an article in the UNESCO publication Diogene in French, and in Diogenes in English, I expressed the opinion that Jewish emancipation was even more essential to the modern state than it was to the Jews. In fact, among the Jews there were even a few who were opposed to it, that is to say who valued their previous way of life in the ghetto period above that of equal rights.

Naturally, most of the Jews, in an increasing majority, were in favour of equal rights. In fact they fought, they strove with all the means at their command to obtain equal rights. And in the period after the First World War, it was seen for the first time that Jews would actually enjoy equal rights in the whole world, and if such a thing would come to pass, then there would be full emancipation even in those countries which had already enjoyed it for a hundred years or more.

And precisely in that period, the Nazi movement began, precisely after the War, which had shown for the first time that what had then been progress, not a swift progress, but a steady progress throughout two hundred years, could possibly be reversed. For beforehand, only - as the world thought - only undeveloped countries, countries such as these...

Q. Backward countries?

A. Uncivilized countries in the full sense of the word "civilization" - only such counties refused to give Jews equal rights. This was only a question of a short time, a few decades, the time would pass and the whole world would acknowledge this equality as a fundamental matter, both for itself and also for the Jewish people.

And then the Nazis began by showing that precisely in a developed country, in a country steeped in culture which was one of the foremost in cultural development prior to the First World War, that precisely in that country it was possible to insist on a retreat, that it was possible to turn the clock back and to deprive the Jews of this equality which they had gained in the course of an historical development. And in this sense, what happened between the Wars in the countries of central Europe was of basic importance to the whole of world history.

Apart from that it should be added that the Jews felt, and rightly so, that formal equality of rights was sometimes insufficient. Precisely in the period between the two Wars, a special development came to a head, namely a demand for the rights of national minorities, over and above equal rights. "Minority Rights" now entered the scene of international law, for the first time by means of the Treaty drawn up at Versailles etc., where several states were told that they had to bestow on their citizens both equal rights and minority rights.

And once again I have to state that the Jews actually saw in this an exceptionally positive force, since they were amongst the leaders of this movement, to obtain not only equal rights but also minority rights for themselves and for several other minorities, in all the countries where they were living. This also meant a tremendous adjustment for the Jews. They had to revise their thinking, especially in Soviet Russia, for example, on which I shall also, possibly have an opportunity of speaking later.

They had to create a new structure in a certain sense. But nevertheless they were sufficiently strong and alert in order to start afresh, even in this large movement. And I must say as an historian looking back in retrospect, that despite all the set-backs this movement for minority rights underwent, much as a result of the extermination of the Jews in Europe, through the changes in national minorities, it is nevertheless a principle of international law which I believe still holds out hope in the future to rescue many countries from the deep embarrassment involved in disputes between a majority and a minority or several minorities in any country.

Q. Professor Baron, would you be able to tell us something about the organization of the Jewish communities in those countries which Hitler seized?

A. Your Honours, here too, we see a special ability to adjust. The countries in Europe differed a great deal in their communal structure, as they differed in their general economic and political life. For instance, a country like France had a Jewish organization which had existed for about a hundred years, from the days of Napoleon, something we call the Consistorial Organization, which was part of a governmental organization or arrangement. Despite the substantial changes that came about in the hundred years after Napoleon - the Bourbon Restoration, after that the Second Empire, thereafter the Third Republic - and each time the Jews adapted themselves to the new structure of the State. Even when separation between Church and State came about in 1908, the Jews retained this important organization, even though they had a fresh opportunity to set up new organizations for themselves. In particular the immigrants who entered France between the Wars organized new congregations, Hassidic prayer-groups, for example, Bundist organizations, organizations of all sorts. In all this it was possible to see once again the positive and creative force of the Jewish people.

In nearby Italy, on the other hand, it was different. There, in the liberal period before the First World War, freedom was absolute - excessively so - and in the end, when the Concordat, or the Lateran Treaty, between Mussolini and the Pope, the Jewish community was also favourably mentioned, and was re-organized under a "Union" management for all the Italian communities. In the thirties, this community, tiny as it was, was enjoying a good life, as had been the case in the early times of glory in the history of the Jews in Italy.

In Germany, the community organization was recognized by the government. It had the right to collect taxes - not merely gifts and donations - from Jews. And precisely in the years between the Wars, roof organizations were established for the first time, such as the Preussischer Landesverband, the Bayrischer Landesverband. In other words, they brought all the communities into one organization so that they could cooperate for cultural and educational functions. In Bonn and in Wuerttemberg there were organizations of this kind a hundred years old and more. In Austria the community was organized in 1891, and this continued to operate in a most intensive way, despite the fact that Austria-Hungary was divided into several states, and each state began afresh, both in Czechoslovakia and in Galicia which belonged to Poland, as well as in parts of Hungary; everywhere the Jewish community flourished also in the organizational sense.

In Hungary, for example, since the nineteenth century the community was divided into the Orthodox and the Reformists. There were two communities. There were also communities which were described as "status quo," namely communities which combined Orthodox and Reform, with their innovations. And in all the countries, the community developed many organizations and it was a lively and flourishing body. This also applied to Poland, where three million Jews and more constituted strong communities of all kinds. These communities were partly religious, dominated by the Orthodox, but there were also communities of whom the majority were Zionist-secular, and also others where the Bund and the other socialist parties were the largest. And even if there were differences between Orthodox or Zionists of various factions, all of them worked together and cooperated for the development of Jewish culture and education which possessed a truly vital force.

Perhaps the greatest revolution came about in the Soviet Union. There, after all, life had begun again in many occupations from the year 1917. There, perhaps, the most interesting thing was that Lenin, who prior to the First World War did not believe in the reality of a Jewish nationality, that same Lenin changed his mind and when he rose to power granted the Jews, as the other national groups in the Soviet Union, what I have previously described as minority rights.

Perhaps you will permit me to read a paragraph from Iskra, which I believe was a periodical, which in 1903 contained an article attacking the Jewish Socialist Bund. It stated:

The idea of Jewish nationalism undoubtedly has a reactionary character, not only because the Zionists who are its strongest exponents, profess it, but also because of its Bundist form, which attempts to attach it to the idea of socialist democracy. This idea is fundamentally opposed to the needs of the Jewish proletariat, since it creates, directly or indirectly, a hostile attitude to assimilation, that is to say the philosophy of the ghetto.
These were Lenin's words in 1903. In 1917 he included the Jews amongst the national minorities given the right to establish Soviets of their own. The number of such Soviets in the Ukraine was more than one hundred, in White Russia twenty-four, and I believe that in the Crimea there was a certain number of Soviets which had the right to use Yiddish in all administrative regulations.

Perhaps I may recall a personal experience: In 1937 I sat for a whole day in a court in Kiev, where throughout the day everything spoken was in Yiddish. And this was a totally new structure created by the Jewish people in observing the great revolution that had occurred in the lives of all the peoples of the Soviet Union. But even within the Jewish people, within the structure of the community itself, in the changes that occurred between the two World Wars, the Jews succeeded in adapting themselves to the most difficult roles in the new states, to continue solely with their traditions of religion, language and so forth. In the Soviet Union, for example, the difficulty was extremely great since the foundations of the Jewish community, the Jewish religion, the Hebrew language, the Zionist, Messianic ideal - were objected to by the new rulers and they were obliged to fill, with Yiddish, the vacuum that remained as a result of this fundamental change.

Nevertheless, and despite it all, it was possible for the Jews to supply to their people a new culture of their own creation in the twenties and the thirties.

Attorney General: What functions did the Jewish communal organs fulfil in these countries?

A. The functions were very, very many, and naturally somewhat different from country to country. But everywhere the educational and cultural influence of the Jews on their own people was tremendous. Firstly, of course, came the religious activities in the synagogue. Here the position was very interesting. The synagogue had been protected by public law ever since ancient times. Already in the ancient Roman Empire, pagan and polytheistic as it was, it was provided in the law that anyone laying hands on a synagogue was guilty of committing sacrilege.

Presiding Judge: Where was this laid down?

Witness Baron: This comes from the Codex Theodosianus and from the other Codes. Even when the State became Christian, after Constantine, it still protected the synagogue with all the means at its command. Perhaps it is worthwhile mentioning possibly the first case which occurred, of a conflict between State and Church, - this was between Theodosius the Great and Ambrose the Holy, in Milan. This happened when a mob burst into a synagogue in a small town in Asia Minor, and the Emperor wanted to force the local community and the local bishop under the law to rebuild the synagogue or at least to pay compensation to the Jewish community. Ambrose the Holy, the Archbishop of Milan, objected to this, but the Emperor insisted upon it, demonstrating that the State prevailed over the Church. This was one of the most famous controversies in the history of these relationships.

This state of affairs continuously repeated itself throughout the Middle Ages and the modern period, when country after country protected the synagogues. Possibly the greatest departure of all was "Crystal Night" in 1938, when 101 synagogues were destroyed and 76 additional synagogues were damaged, in a way in which the government itself, instead of protecting the synagogues, caused their destruction. This was an unusual step, since there had been nothing like it throughout the history of the darkest Middle Ages and throughout modern times.

The same thing applied to cemeteries. At all times there were sadists of various kinds who wanted to wreak vengeance on the Jews, on dead Jews, where they could not take revenge on living Jews. The Popes, for example, generation after generation, in the constitutions they gave to the Jews of Rome, repeatedly decreed that it was forbidden to touch a Jewish graveyard, a Jewish cemetery. Once again, already in the period between the two Wars, there were numerous desecrations and destruction of holy tombstones in Jewish cemeteries, and here again Germany was in the lead and committed vandalism in Jewish cemeteries.

But here too, the Jews stood up for themselves, and in every case where someone desecrated a cemetery, they came and restored it. Ancient cemeteries are to be found in all the countries of Europe which Jewish communities preserved with all the means at their command. This was an important function. In a particular way it was possible to utilize cemeteries for social purposes. That is to say, sometimes, when somebody was to be buried who was known not to have been philanthropic in his lifetime, a rich man who had not given sufficiently for public needs, the community took advantage of this opportunity to exact a contribution to public causes more than was customary in order to compensate for what he had not done in his lifetime.

Apart from this, there were other duties amongst the various functions of the community. There were the duties of providing Kosher meat - and this was not only a religious matter, but even more so possibly, a matter of education and general culture. For the community - whether it was a secular community in the Soviet Union or a religious community which also had an ethnic nature, if not specifically national - in the countries of Western Europe, in all these countries, the general community was not only entitled but was obliged to assist the Jews in that particular town to develop their public institutions. I must refer now to questions of charity. The Jews, from ancient times, used to pride themselves in the fact that they were "merciful, sons of the merciful." This was their pride, and justifiably so. Whoever looks at Europe of the twenties to the thirties would be amazed at the multiplicity of charitable institutions, institutions of public charity.

Attorney General: Public welfare.

A. Public welfare, social welfare for all its members. And not only for its own members. There were Jewish hospitals in all the countries of Europe. They served not only as hospitals for Jews, but often also accepted non-Jewish patients. There were also research centres, and all the citizens in the world benefited from the results of their medical research. In some way there was social justice in this in the sense that Jewish physicians who had sometimes suffered from discrimination in general hospitals, were able to develop their talents in their own Jewish hospitals. There were orphanages, old-age homes of various kinds, already before the modern state began to set them up - there were several countries in the thirties that had already public welfare - but for hundreds of years the Jewish community used to provide every assistance to its members. Even in the twenties and the thirties, in the days of the depression, it had to support many of its members.

Another thing is worthwhile mentioning - matters of banking and charity - banks without interest. Funds for mutual help of all kinds. They had these in all the countries in Eastern Europe. For example, in Poland itself, there were, in the thirties, I believe 224 funds with a capital of more than two million, specifically for giving aid to owners of workshops, or small traders or also to farmers, for lending them, in time of need, money without interest to start a new occupation or to enable them to cope for a time with a particular difficulty.

The Jews established all these things by themselves throughout many generations, and created new forms of organizations. I had the occasion, as I have already mentioned to the Court, to write a special book on the history of the Jewish community, and there it was clearly evident to me to what extent the Jewish community, whether in the eighteenth century or in the twentieth century, was one of the most advanced, one of the most pioneering in a certain sense in all matters of public life between man and his neighbour, and of course also between man and his Creator.

Attorney General: Would you be able to tell us about the Jewish educational structure during these years and in these countries?

Witness Baron: Jewish education was close to the hearts of Jewish leaders in ancient times. Judaism truly took pride in the fact that it was the first to establish the public school. This happened in the first century of the Christian era, 1,700 years or more before they did so in Europe. This was in the first century when the great Roman and Greek world, with its famous civilization, supplied education to only a small minority of its children.

And with this pride of achievement they continued all the time. The Rabbis still taught then in the twentieth century that "study of the Law took precedence over everything else" - that is to say over all other precepts. They recalled the Rambam, that famous doctor, sage and philosopher who said to them "Try to work for your living only three hours a day, and study the Torah for nine hours or more." This was an ancient tradition which constantly remained amongst Jews of all classes, and in this respect there was hardly a difference between the strictly observant and the secular, between the Zionists or the Orthodox or the socialists. Each one of them greatly appreciated study whether actually Jewish learning or general studies - there was no difference. For this reason there is no wonder that the communal framework was built to a large extent on the schools they established.

I have with me some statistical data which are worth-while mentioning. For example, Polish Jewry after the First World War, found that the whole communal fabric had changed. There were in Poland territories that had been annexed from what was formerly Russia; other regions which originated from Congress Poland; there was Galicia taken from Austria, there was Posnan from Germany and so forth; and each one of those regions had a different structure and also a different kind of school. And then they began to build a magnificent educational system which it would really be difficult to describe at present - how they managed to achieve this in such a short time. For instance, apart from thousands of "Heder" schools for the old-type education, there were 18,000 young Jews in the Yeshivot in 1930.

There were two organizations, one in Yiddish and one in Hebrew, which came out with new slogans for Jewish education. There was the Yiddish CYSHO (Central Yiddish School Organization), backed by the Bund and by the left Poalei Zion, which had, in the years 1934-1935, no less than 86 schools providing instruction to 9,936 children, especially in the district which had been taken from the former Russia. At the same time, the central organization of Hebrew Schools, called Tarbut provided a complete modern Hebrew education and Zionist ideology. In the year 1938 Tarbut itself supported 70 schools together with their buildings. Amongst them were 75 kindergartens, 104 primary schools and 9 secondary schools. Altogether 42,241 pupils studied there.

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