The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. Can you tell us something, Professor Baron, about the national movement and the movements of the Jewish youth?

A. These years between the two World Wars were indeed flourishing years, both of the Zionist movement and the other communal movements within the Jewish community. And most of them were actually maintained by the young people, the Jewish youth, whether in the high schools or beyond.

As is known, the Zionist movement had already been established at the end of the nineteenth century. But it was actually in the period after the Balfour Declaration that it acquired international status, and most of its ideologies took on a definite shape. To this day, when we speak of the General Zionists, of Mapai, Mapam, the Mizrachi or other movements, all these movements, all of them, without exception, Herut, Revisionists, all of them were in existence already in the period between the two World Wars.

This was a period of great productivity, a period of exceptional creativity, of Jewish national thought. Perhaps it was this very fermentation which came after the War, the splitting up of Europe into a number of new states, of which eighteen were set up between the World Wars, in each of which the Jews had a new role, a new difficulty, new stumbling blocks. To become adjusted to them, one had to give thought. And consequently there were those who put forward new ideas, in the sphere of general and Jewish culture or in the sphere of Jewish politics. It would be sufficient for me to recall that this was a period of the rise of Buber, of Rosenzweig, two Jewish scholars who were great philosophers in the general human sense as well, but who were nurtured in the Jewish tradition and found for themselves answers to the great spiritual challenges which confronted the Jewish people at that period.

This was the time of Weizmann and Sokolow, this was the time when, here in Israel, the great statesmen, so well-known to us, were active: Ben-Zvi, Ben-Gurion, and many others. For everything progressive that we now witness in the Zionist and the general Jewish world has its roots in the period between the two World Wars. When I was speaking before of great writers or great men of science and I mentioned names - that was almost nothing compared to acquaintance with these personalities.

Only a person who had the special privilege, such as I had, to be associated from time to time with a man like Bialik could assess the magnitude of this genius who left his mark not only in poetry, his many immortal poems, but also in the gems of wisdom and learning that countlessly issued from his lips from time to time, and one can only regret that only towards the end of his days did his pupils arise and compile a book on this "oral law" of his, this enlivening fund of wisdom.

Only a person who knew Weizmann, for example, personally and intimately, could understand this development, so unique, of scientific genius together with prophetic vision, of wisdom and understanding, together with exceptional humour. One had to know the man in order to understand him.

I knew Albert Einstein, I had this privilege. It was possible to witness in this man the special concentration of mathematical genius together with his naive personality - almost childlike - in an outstanding way. I mention only these; one could mention tens of others who, only when taken together, present a picture of this essential creative force, which was to be found within the Jewish people between the two World Wars.

Besides these men of genius, there were many scores of outstanding persons whose memory is not recorded in documents. When Jewish folklore speaks of the "Lamed Vav Tzaddikim" (the 36 righteous men*) {* The minimal number of righteous men who, according to Jewish tradition, must live in every generation for the world to continue to exist.} atoning for the generation - I am able to state that I found in my lifetime more than 36 righteous men, exceptional Jews, in fact, abounding in their holy purity, both in the religious sense and the secular sense, who were prepared to sacrifice themselves for the common benefit.

Presiding Judge: They are hidden.

Witness Baron: They are hidden. They are unknown. They are not mentioned in documents, their memory has vanished, and only persons who knew them face to face can talk about them. Amongst these great creative forces there were, in particular, the youth whether organized or unorganized. There were those great and well-known youth movements such as Blau-Weiss in Germany, the Hashomer and the other organizations in Poland, there was that Hehalutz which was formed in the days of the First War but which developed principally in Poland and the countries adjacent to it, in the period between the two World Wars.

One had to be acquainted with these young people in order to know and to observe to what extent their idealism prevailed over any personal or collective difficulty. People who were ready to abandon higher studies in some of the most famous universities, and to go to the Land of Israel and become farmers, or road-workers, to be builders - builders of this country. This pioneering spirit (Halutziut) has scarcely any parallel in the history of the Jewish people and there are very few such examples in the history of the world.

If I may be permitted to refer to a personal recollection: three years ago I was in South Africa and there it was those very people who want to separate the races who said to me that they must learn from Israel how a white race was able to leave the higher strata of life for simple labour.

Perhaps I should mention another thing here: if I said beforehand that the Jews endeavoured to enter all the productive occupations and to become farmers or builders, instead of being engineers or experts in economics, science and so forth - this indeed changed somewhat in the subsequent years. We Jews did not know, and the rest of the world did not know, that a movement had already begun at that time, a "white-collar" movement which was steadily taking precedence over manual labour.

There were already, in fact, statistics in the thirties; in the United States it was noticed that in each decade the number of manual labourers declined and, interestingly enough, the number of people in the arts multiplied. In Germany proper, from 1907 until 1925 the number of manual labourers decreased by four per cent, but the professionals, the men in skilled occupations etc. rose by fifty per cent in the same years.

If we ask ourselves what would have happened to the Jewish people, I would say that the same Halutziut would have been required. It would have equated the Jews more closely to the structure of the rest of the nations, but nevertheless the other nations would have become equated to the Jews. Twenty years later we clearly know that if the Jews in Europe had been able to continue living as before, Jews would have flourished - if one may say so in a paradoxical sense - seeing that the economical fabric of the nation was becoming more Jewish, even without the Jews changing externally. In short: these youth movements mentioned here, one of whose principal attitudes was to equate the Jewish people to the nations of the world, operated in an outstanding manner. This led to the flourishing development of this country.

The State of Israel would not have been established without these Halutzim. These Halutzim influenced all the countries of the Diaspora with their spirit. I am an American. It is impossible to imagine to what extent the United States suffered loss from the fact that the Jews of Europe were destroyed. It is sufficient to mention but one example: in 1938 there appeared in New York a pamphlet listing three thousand Landsmannschaften - organizations of Jews originating from various eastern and central European towns. Each such Landsmannschaft kept in direct and mutual contact with the place of its origin. There were even a few Landsmannschaften which had more members than the number of Jews remaining in the place of their birth. And this mutual relationship was so strong, that one could say that the Jews of New York, or the Jews of the United States or of Canada, or South Africa or Argentina drew essential inspiration from the Zionist, from the socialist movements, from those same European youth movements, and this influence continued until the outbreak of the Second World War.

Q. If we were to sum up and wished to receive a broad cross- section showing a view of European Jewry on the eve of the Second World War - if you wish to summarize your remarks in a few sentences - would you please do so?

A. Subsequently, we see that in the thirties the Jews of Europe, the same 9,800,000, were living a difficult life. They had to become adjusted to unprecedented conditions, completely new. They were living in new countries which themselves were struggling for their existence. They were living in countries wherein the nationalist spirit was increasing more and more and becoming more extreme, and thus greatly opposed to the Jews. Chauvinism existed. It was a period of economic crisis, as I mentioned previously, on the basis of which each country tried to be more autarkic, supplying its own needs. And these Jews there stood in the middle, since they were members of the middle-class, and it was precisely this class that built up the new countries, and found that the Jews stood in its way.

Anti-Semitism was on the increase. It increased in Poland, in Rumania, but very much more so when it received a stimulus in Germany which had an evil influence on all its surroundings, even on the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, despite all these obstacles, in spite of this entire problem, the Jews who realized that they would not be able to leave Europe, as perhaps they might have continued to leave in the period prior to the war, found a way of adapting themselves.

It is most remarkable to notice that despite the large emigration of Jews from Europe, nevertheless their number went on increasing from year to year, from decade to decade. Proportionately, possibly in relation to the remaining inhabitants, they might have gone down by one per cent owing to the fact that their emigration, especially before the World War, was so enormous but, notwithstanding, they increased further; they increased in numbers and they increased in the concentration of their strength.

When I mentioned that one quarter of the Jewish people dwelt in cities with a population of one million or more, it is worth remembering that in Europe itself, for example, while the Jews, who lived in Russia beyond the pale of settlements, were allowed to reside in Moscow and in Leningrad, only two to three thousand actually resided there. In 1939 the Jewish population of Moscow rose to 400,000 and in Leningrad to 250,000.

Presiding Judge: The purpose at this stage was to sum up the chapter that you have been talking about.

Witness Baron: The increase in population was substantial. Despite this difficulty and because of it, there came an economic adaptation. The Jews went into agriculture and into industrial work to an increasing extent. But, as I have mentioned, this was in contrast to the external trend, the world trend, since the Jews had a great influence on modern economic developments and would have continued to exert influence particularly in the usual spheres and not in these new ones - in agriculture or in industrial production. In the political field, and possibly this is even more important - they received for the first time in history and in a way acknowledged by the countries of the world, the rights of a national minority, at least in certain countries, despite the fact that many of them did not fulfil their obligations. At least two did fulfil them - Czechoslovakia and Estonia.

Simultaneously they received the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate which opened very great possibilities for the Jews of Europe, both for emigration, and also for building a new culture and a new community of their own. But seeing that the Mandate did not give them sufficient freedom - they were obliged actually to build up their existence in the countries of Europe, and in their communities - they became adjusted to a new life, continuing to, work in the usual professions of religion and culture.

And despite this, they created completely new institutions for themselves, innumerable new schools and even new developments in education, in pedagogy, both in Hebrew and in Yiddish. At the same time they continued to yield a great cultural production, whether in Jewish religious or secular culture, or in poetry or art. In the end they were able, nevertheless, to make an exceptional contribution, much greater than in proportion to their numbers, to the general European culture.

In short, in these years, and even in the mid-thirties, the Jews in Europe were still a living and flourishing people, adapted to all the conditions, and revealing an essential power and an exceptional creative power that was almost without equal in other peoples.

Attorney General: Were there distinctions between the attitudes of the Nazis to the Jews and the forms of anti- Semitism known to us previously?

Witness Baron: Yes, certainly. There were very great differences. The most outstanding difference was, of course, racial anti-Semitism. Throughout the ages when Jews suffered from anti-Jewish hatred, there was always one possibility left to them: to convert to Christianity. In the darkest Middle-Ages, if a Jew or sectarian Christian, or a witch or anyone else repented - as the Christians term it - when they became Christians, when they changed their religion, they remained alive. Not only did they remain alive, but, for example, according to the law in Lithuania, a Jew who converted to Christianity immediately became a member of the aristocracy.

Racial anti-Semitism created out of this situation of the Jews something biological, a law of nature which could not be altered, and they even revealed in respect of a person who did not know this himself, years afterwards that one of his parents or grandparents was a Jew, that was sufficient to turn him into a Jew for ever, and that he had not changed at all. Of course, in previous generations as well, there were Jews who preserved their faith and publicly blessed the Heavenly name. But at least the Jews of lesser faith had an alternative - now they no longer had that alternative. The law became one of nature instead of a law of history and society.

Other differences were less striking. Many people, even those who were not Nazis, repeatedly said that the Nazis were actually restoring the conditions which prevailed in the Middle Ages - setting up ghettoes, demanding a special "badge of shame," forbidding intermarriages, forbidding sexual relations between Jews and Christians - these things evidently existed in the Middle-Ages and all was in order. And there were also some who said: At last the Jews - they lived for a thousand years a life apart and did not suffer; despite this they were able to develop this beautiful culture of the Middle Ages which we have inherited.

What these people forget here is one basic fact, that the Middle Ages were indeed a period of order, of internal order according to the outlook of those times, it was a period of a certain amount of justice, namely, there were corporations; every individual country was divided into various societies, the aristocracy separately, the clergy separately, the Bourbon nobles separately - there were even differences between corporation and corporation, and between guild and guild, guilds of merchants and guilds of craftsmen. Each one of them had its own system of law, special rights and special obligations.

The Jews were, within the framework of such a society, a little unusual, but in the main a society possessing special rights and having special obligations.

Now there came an innovation. After the Nuremberg period, for example in 1935, Germans were equal to one another - they still used the principle of equal rights. Only one per cent was distinguished as a corporation, outside the German people, having very few rights, but many obligations. This was a total innovation which mislead some people at that time. Already in 1935, I myself when asked to write an article for the Independence Journal of Columbia University about the Nuremberg Laws said the same thing, that one could not compare the Nuremberg Laws to the position in the Middle Ages. This was something exceptional.

It is sufficient to compare, for example, the rights which the European rulers Heinrich IV, Friedrich I and Friedrich II issued, and to compare them to the period of the Nuremberg Laws. Thus it would be possible to see the differences and that it was not merely a return to the Middle Ages.

Another aspect which distinguishes Nazi anti-Semitism as contrasted with the Middle Ages was this: there were violent disturbances in the Middle Ages, many disturbances, and Jewish blood was shed, and this was very frequent. But on no occasion was it possible to bring evidence to the effect that some government or other, whether of a King, Emperor or Cardinal or one of the Elders of the city, a member of the ruling authority organized the disturbances, these pogroms. The "Crystal Night" was perhaps the first time, apart from precedents in Czarist Russia, where the government itself organized the disturbances against the Jews. And again, this was not a return to the Middle Ages, but a complete innovation.

Again, perhaps it is worthwhile mentioning that Hitler and others kept on saying that this was not a persecution of the Jewish religion - that there was no religious persecution at all in the Nazi ideology. It is perhaps worth recalling that already in 1934, Mussolini wrote explicitly "All human history from the days of Diocletian to Bismarck shows that when a State attacks religion, it is always the State that loses out." And even Hitler himself said in Mein Kampf that whoever wanted to fight religion would have to be a religious reformer and not a political leader. Nevertheless, he himself said, also in Mein Kampf that the Nazi ideology was not merely a party matter but a Weltanschauung - a new world outlook, and as a world outlook it was unable to compromise - no compromise was possible on a world outlook.

In fact it is not true that there was no war on religion, on the Catholic religion and on the Protestant religion, and much more so on the Jewish religion. And perhaps you will permit me to quote from Pope Pius the Eleventh who said the following in 1937 in his address to his Council of Cardinals on Christmas: "Surely there is a real persecution of religion in Germany. People say, and they have been saying this for some time, that this is untrue. But we know that, to the contrary, there is a terrible persecution. Only on a few occasions in history has there been such a terrible persecution, so frightful, so deep and so sorrowful in its far-reaching consequences." And what the Pope said here in relation to the persecution of the Christian religion was true to a far greater extent in relation to the persecution of the Jewish religion, since it is an obvious fact that the Jewish religion cannot exist without Jews.

To the Jewish religion, unlike other faiths, there is a need for believers, since the Jewish people is so organic a part of the Jewish religion that whoever destroys the people simultaneously destroys the religion. And everything that caused the destruction of synagogues was that which emphasized extraordinary religious persecution.

In conclusion I want to say that the Nazi movement not only did not turn the clock back, that is to say the clock of modern development which prided itself in more emancipation, in more freedom and more equality, but it brought to the world new elements which had no precedent but which were distinct from the whole history of anti-Semitism of two thousand years and more.

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