The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 12
(Part 6 of 7)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Presiding Judge: Was this in Poland only?

Witness Baron: In Poland only, the number of teachers was 1,350 - that was in Tarbut and in CYSHO. Together these Jewish schools had almost 20 per cent (19.2%) of all the Jewish pupils of primary school age; about fifty per cent of all the pupils who went to secondary schools, and sixty per cent of the pupils who went to vocational schools.

Accordingly I say, to have rebuilt organizations such as these which were not in existence before at all, despite the fact that the country itself suffered greatly, economically and politically, and that it had become necessary to weld territories from various countries into one structure - this clearly shows us to what extent the Polish Jewish spirit was fruitful in its creativity.

The same thing could be found in other countries. Generally we do forget that even in assimilated France there were special Jewish schools. In Germany there were Jewish schools since the eighteenth century, such as the Freie Schule in Berlin, the Philantropim in Frankfurt, the Talmud Torah in Hamburg and others. All these in the twentieth century had been in existence for more than a hundred years and continued to exist. In Germany and all these countries it was at least possible to bring up a generation of orthodox Jews - if they so desired, or Zionists - if they believed in Zionism, and at the same time, also with an education steeped in German culture, for they all grew up on the basis of this great culture.

What is possibly most surprising is that, despite the fact that German culture influenced the Jewish spirit from the eighteenth century onwards, not only of the Jews of Germany but also of all the Jews in the European dispersion - despite this fact, the Jews in Germany endeavoured to develop their own education, the education of the young generation, whether in Jewish religion or in Jewish culture, in an exceptional way.

Even more so in new countries such as Lithuania, or Latvia, or Estonia. There, of course, the local culture was very young and there had been no appreciable assimilation of the Jews into the Lithuanian or Latvian culture. In fact, only 12 per cent of the Jewish children in Lithuania went to general schools at a time when Jewish schools were available. A large majority, 88 per cent, attended the Jewish schools which had not been in existence before the end of the first World War.

In Latvia the percentage of those attending Jewish schools, I believe, was 85 per cent. In Rumania there were various difficulties, for there the districts were separated from one another, and it was the government, despite the fact that it had taken upon itself, at the Treaty of Versailles, the obligation to give the Jews national minority rights, which nevertheless evaded this and tried by every means in its power to interfere with Jewish education. There were local reasons for this. Generally they wanted to influence all secondary schools with their national spirit; in particular they wanted to force all the minorities to teach everything in Rumanian, and even to put the instruction in the hands of Rumanian teachers. But in spite of all these difficulties, the Jews succeeded, even in Rumania, in setting up an admirable system of Jewish education.

All this was in force at the time when the conquerors arrived and destroyed it.

Attorney General: Professor Baron, please tell us of the Jewish cultural activity in the sphere of religion and culture.

Witness Baron: This aspect of the Jewish creative spirit maintained its greatness. In the early days the Jews endeavoured to develop their religious and cultural life as far as they could, and in this they succeeded. They succeeded in ancient times, in the Middle Ages, and also in the twenties and the thirties.

Perhaps I may be able to recount a personal experience. I happened to compile a Bibliography of Jewish Social Studies, 1938/39. This was a technical bibliography on what had appeared in the sphere of research into society, in the widest sense of the term, in those two years.

I did not know at that time that these two years would be so vital in the history of the Jewish people, that these would be the last years of the European age in the history of Jewry. And nevertheless I was amazed to see how productive the Jewish people were, despite these being such years of difficulty and tremendous crisis, before the last World War. I recall, that I myself, despite the fact that I was a Jew born in Europe, was astounded to see to what extent books, articles, and newspapers were printed, particularly in those two years, by Jews and on Jewish topics.

Naturally it was to be regretted that I also had to devote greater space than I would have liked to do, to the anti-Semitic literature of that time, and on the other hand to the apologetic literature, written both by Jews and non-Jews, in order to defend the Jews against these charges. But most of the book is full of bibliographic data applying to literature that had practically no connection with the situation of those days. It all appeared as if there were peace in the world, as if they were not confronted by impending destruction. They were engaged in the traditional culture and in the new culture.

In those very two years, according to a list which I discovered, there also appeared in the context of the ancient literature of the people, books of responsa, books of Rabbinical exegesis, books of Kabbalah, Hassidic books, all these written in the traditional style. Books of this kind appeared in greater numbers than in any decade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,in that period of flourishing Rabbinical literature.

Sometimes these were large books of three hundred pages or more which appeared in three and four editions; that is to say there was a large market for them. And what was more important in my eyes, when I delved into these books, I saw that many of them were of great excellence, and if these Rabbis had lived five hundred years earlier they would have been regarded as being amongst the greatest of the first or the later generations of Rabbinical commentators. It was only by chance that they wrote at a time when the classical period, the golden age of Rabbinical literature, had already passed.

At that time there was also a secular culture, a Zionist culture, a socialist culture of various kinds. Perhaps I should also recall the contribution of the Jews of Poland to the general culture, and I shall mention only the press, if you will permit me. I have with me some facts about the Jewish newspapers which appeared at that time. Even the relatively small Jewish community in France supported no less than 96 Jewish newpapers, and amongst them two daily papers in Yiddish, 6 weeklies in French, 5 in Yiddish and one in Russian. In Holland there appeared 21 Jewish newspapers, in Austria 16; in Hungary 21, in Rumania 54, in Lithuania 15 and so on. In Germany, naturally, there appeared more. 113 Jewish newspapers appeared in Germany, and amongst them no less than 33 of what were called Gemeindeblaetter, which the Jewish communities published throughout Germany.

Presiding Judge: Are you referring to periodicals?

Witness Baron: Yes, in the thirties.

As far as Poland is concerned, it is almost impossible to believe that they published there the amazing number of 30 daily newspapers in Yiddish, 5 in Polish, in addition to 132 weeklies which appeared twice monthly, or once in three months and so forth.

The total number of Jewish newspapers recorded in one list which I saw, included 854 newspapers that appeared in Europe in the period before the Holocaust. Naturally the value of each paper depended upon the editors and the quality of the publication. But amongst these there were some very well- known papers. Perhaps it would be sufficient to recall, from Warsaw, the Hajnt in Yiddish or the Nasz Przeglad in Polish or Chwila in Lvov, which were first-rate daily newspapers, of which the Jewish people could well have been proud. Amongst the non-daily press, one can mention, for example, the periodical Hatekufah which appeared in Warsaw, and which was an excellent publication for Hebrew literary works.

At the same time, there appeared in Germany the important scientific monthly Monatsschrift fuer Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, which was founded in the year 1851 and continued to appear even during the Hitler period. In 1939 a volume still appeared which the Nazi authorities confiscated. It was a basic periodical for all Jewish studies. Similar to it was the periodical Hahashkafah , and in French, Revue des etudes Juives founded in 1881 and which continued to exist until the Second World War, and which had a beneficial influence on Jewish culture. There were basic publications in every country.

We must also recall, in the educational field, the Rabbinical College in Berlin, the Hochschule in Berlin, the Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin, the Rabbinical College in Breslau, which had been founded more than a hundred years previously and continued its existence until the Second World War.

The same applied in Budapest where the Rabbinical College had been founded by the Hungarian State, to a certain extent with funds confiscated from the Jewish communities. And the same applied to the Israelitische Theologische Lehranstalt in Vienna. All these were basic institutions which trained rabbis of various trends and teachers of various kinds, and even teachers of many universities, not only in Judaism, but also in the field of oriental languages and so forth. All these were the alumni of these schools, this press and the books which appeared without number.

In regard to books, it is worth mentioning the list of Jewish publishers issued after the War, relating to the thirties. There is a complete pamphlet of many, many pages, a large pamphlet which I do not have at the moment. In it were recorded the Jewish publishers in a number of countries who were robbed of the substantial property they had accumulated in the course of time. The Jewish books such as I mentioned previously in the Bibliography were many-sided. There were Bible scholars, Talmudic scholars of the first rank and outstanding historians. It would be sufficient for me to mention here - if you will permit me - some of the names from Hebrew literature. In Hebrew literature we do not have greater names than those of Bialik and Tchernichowsky. Although they were forced to leave Europe immediately after the First World War they had many followers who continued their work in Hebrew literature.

Amongst the well-known classical writers the greatest were Shalom Aleichem, Peretz and others. But even in the period between the two World Wars, there were men such as Avraham Reizin and Sholem Asch and others who were among the best known in all Europe, and not only amongst Jews. Even in the Ladino literature Jewish writers emerged. There arose a Ladino press. There were four newspapers in Salonika, which testified that a renaissance had come at that period actually to the Sepharadim throughout the world. The new Sephardic movement began in the twenties of this century. That same Salonika, which was the centre of this movement, was laid waste afterwards by the conquerors.

It is not enough merely to mention these names or to know about the literature or the political activity. It is worth dwelling on the exceptional quality of this spiritual creation in all its aspects. But. of course, we do not have the time for that. I shall talk at length about this on other occasions.

Attorney General: And what was the contribution of the Jews to the culture of Europe and how did it express itself?

Witness Baron: Yes, yes, one can still be amazed that after the less of such outstanding work in the field of Jewish culture, the Jews of Europe still had a sufficient reservoir of energy to be able to make an outstanding contribution to the general culture of Europe. Here the field was so broad that it is almost impossible to mention more than a few names. Perhaps it would be sufficient to say this: it is one of the most difficult things for a national minority, not dwelling on its own soil, to penetrate into the soul of the nation which constitutes the majority.

For example, take the case of Poland. The Jews lived there for hundreds of years, but they lived a life so much set apart from the Polish majority, and it was difficult to expect that a Polish Jewish poet of the highest order would emerge. Notwithstanding, in the thirties men like Tuwin, Antoni Slonimski arose, who were well-known even in the circles of Polish anti-Semites as being among the greatest of Poland's poets. In Germany it is sufficient to mention the very well- known names of outstanding writers such as Wassermann, Feuchtwanger, Kafka, Werfel and Brod. It is hardly necessary to mention these names, since everyone knows to what extent they had a cultural influence on the German literature of the period between the two World Wars. They enriched the whole of the German literature with their spirit.

There were important Jewish writers in France like Catulle Mendes, Andre Spire, and half-Jews, whose father or mother was Jewish, such as Marcel Proust, and in Germany Rainer Maria Rilke and Hugo von Hofmannsthal - people of world-wide fame. All these were Jews, or according to the Nazi tenets, complete Jews, but actually only half-Jews. And all these took part in the development of European culture to the highest degree.

Insofar as science is concerned, there would be no limit to the names that can be mentioned. Certainly we did not have greater men of science throughout the world than Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, whose influence is felt all over the world today, and will be felt for many generations. But there were others in various fields, philosophers such as Hermann Cohen or Durteheim or Lewy-Bruehl, each one of whom was a great person in his profession, of the very greatest. On occasion one pauses to think what would have happened to men of ability in Poland, to the children who grew up in Poland, if they had had the opportunity to leave for one of the Western countries whence the culture of the world was influenced, and they would have acquired an exceptional reputation. Somebody once said that Emile Meyerson, the famous French philosopher, would certainly not have been that same famous philosopher had he remained in Lublin where he was born.

Of course, there were also Jews of great accomplishment who assimilated to such an extent that many of them changed their religion. And here it would be perhaps worthwhile to read the writings of Henri Bergson, actually one of the most famous of men. Henry Bergson in his will of 1937 acknowledged that the Catholic religion had a very strong attraction for him. But he said that he saw - and I quote - for many years how the threatening flood of anti-Semitism was about to burst and how it had in its power to destroy the whole world. "I therefore decided to remain amongst those who were going to be the persecuted of tomorrow." He was only one. But many persons felt this way, so that, because of the anti-Semitism which was continuing to increase, they actually decided to remain within the Jewish community.

But even those who changed their religion, of course did so to no avail towards the racial anti-Semites, who considered them to be Jews.

The number of Jews in medicine, at the bar, in law, in all the other disciplines of social sciences, economics and so forth, was so large that the listing of their names would take more time than can be allocated to me.

I should like to end this topic, perhaps, with another aspect. Occasionally I am asked: How did this come about, how were the Jews able to have such an influence on world culture - did I believe that the Jewish race was so talented, very much more than others,that with their small numbers they were able to affect culture so profoundly? For me there was always a simple answer to this. Whoever believed with complete faith in the "Chosen People" - well, that was a religious belief - one either believed in it or did not believe in it. But no secular historian can explain this phenomenon so simply.

I always used to see Jewish history, especially in the time of the dispersion, as a unique history. I acknowledge, and I would not be ashamed to admit, that in my opinion it would be worthwhile to rewrite Jewish history, the story of the Halutzic theme therein, the pioneering theme, in other words to illustrate how, in generation after generation, the Jews were compelled, whether they wanted to or not, whether willingly or not, to find new openings for themselves.

This is not a simple matter: where a minority enters a country and settles in it, it invariably discovers that all the permanent positions have already been taken, somebody is occupying them, and this minority was obliged to find some new ways for itself, to discover them, even to find in its economic life the possibility of remaining alive. Therefore this pioneering spirit, this Halutziut, was a constant feat in the history of the Jews, both in economics and in social affairs, and also, especially in culture, from the days of the Babylonian exile to the present day. I have spoken of this from time to time.

With regard to the European culture, it was obvious, time and again, that the Jews were obliged to excel in order to find a place for themselves. In a certain sense I used to say occasionally that it was precisely the anti-Semites who complained of the Jewish "domination" in many cultural professions, it was precisely they who contributed to this. For it was this discrimination between Jews and non-Jews that forced the Jewish student , the Jewish artist, the Jewish writer to excel more than his colleagues, for if he were only equal to his colleagues, there would be a preference in favour of the colleagues against him. Accordingly they were in this way stimulating the Jews to become greater pioneers and to try and develop matters for themselves, and incidentally also for the benefit of the entire world civilization, and obviously also for the Jewish culture.

If I may, possibly, be permitted to add a word, it would, perhaps, be worthwhile mentioning that, both in Jewish and general culture, the Jews in the course of generations amassed for themselves exceptional cultural treasures. In one list that had been completed, under my supervision by Dr. Arendt and her colleagues, which was entitled Tentative List of Cultural Treasures in Axis-occupied Countries, we discovered that there were about 430 special Jewish institutions, archives, libraries and museums in the countries which had been over-run by the Nazis. And these institutions were amongst the most famous.

These things it is impossible to replace since they develop over generations, in the course of centuries. It is impossible to establish a national library even here despite the fact that you have worked wonders in building up a library. But libraries develop in the course of decades, in the course of generations, throughout hundreds of years.

And apart from these large libraries, there were also smaller institutions, for example, a city like Worms, in Germany, possessed its own archives and library, which had, for example, a wonderful Hebrew Festival Prayer-Book dating from the thirteenth century. It possessed things which it is impossible to purchase. Even if someone were to come forward with millions in his pocket, he would not be able to restore these treasures to the Jewish people.

Apart from this there were also Jewish art treasures in the general libraries and museums. And furthermore, every synagogue, every Rabbinical college, at times every primary and secondary school, had its own small library, and sometimes a large one, and this is apart from private individuals; there were excellent private libraries, for instance that of David Kaufman in Budapest which is now part of the Academy, that of David Simonson in Copenhagen, which is part of the National Library. Or that of Baron Gunzburg which is now part of the Lenin Library. These were libraries of great value with rare manuscripts which had not even been published. We do not know to this day what they contained of the history of Jewish culture throughout all the generations. All this was cut short by the occupation of the forties.

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