by Tony Greenstein
My father was a rabbi and my family were, like most Jews, Zionists. Unfortunately the conclusion that most Jews drew from the Holocaust was that a Jewish state was necessary to safeguard Jews from a repetition of the Nazi extermination.
I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust. The first book I read was Lord Russell of Liverpool’s Scourge of the Swastika. The conclusions I drew as a child were that racism, against any group, was wrong. Naturally I accepted the Zionist narrative that the Arabs, through some irrational hatred, had rejected the establishment of a Jewish state and had voluntarily left in order to allow the Arab armies to invade, despite entreaties from the Zionists to stay.
The myth of the Palestinians having voluntarily left was a powerful one that explained the refugee problem. It wasn’t until many years later that I was to learn the truth of what happened. No one mentioned the Nakba, Deir Yassin or ethnic cleansing.
I can remember reading something as a child that the Zionists in America had opposed the entry of Jewish refugees during the war which struck me as kind of odd. All discussion in the Jewish community of Jewish refugees from the Nazis had always focussed on the British refusal to allow them into Palestine, not the refusal of America and Britain to lower their immigration barriers.
Because of my upbringing in working class communities I identified as a socialist in my teens and the first political activity I engaged in, which eventually led to my expulsion from the Jewish King David school in Liverpool, was taking part in demonstrations against the Springboks South Africa rugby tour in 1970. The previous year I had gone on a Zionist Federation tour to Israel which had opened my eyes to the racism prevalent in Israel.
But it was in my university years from 1974 onwards that I became involved in Palestine solidarity work. I began to read and understand the history of Zionism and to realise that Zionism, far from having opposed anti-Semitism had welcomed it and seen it as an ally in their struggle for a Jewish state, which anti-Semites were all in favour of. That situation is still true today. It is anti-Semites, from Donald Trump to Viktor Orban, Steve Bannon to Tommy Robinson and Richard Spencer, who are most enthusiastic supporters of Zionism.
Alone among Jews, the Zionist movement had welcomed the rise of the Nazis and seen it as a ‘golden opportunity’ to achieve Jewish statehood. It was from that fact that flowed their collaboration with the Nazis. They saw the assumption of office by the Nazis as a vindication of their analysis that Jews had no place outside Palestine in the Jewish diaspora.
Along with this the Zionist movement had total contempt, bordering on hatred of the Jewish diaspora itself, which they termed ‘galut’ (exile). It was called the ‘Negation of the Diaspora’. You see, unlike most Jews the Zionists ‘understood’ anti-Semitism and knew that its cause was the presence of Jews, strangers, in other peoples’ countries. The Zionists drew the conclusion that anti-Semitism was inherent in the non-Jew and it couldn’t be fought. In a famous passage in his Diaries the founder of Political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, wrote that
‘In Paris I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all, I recognise the emptiness and futility of trying to 'combat' anti-Semitism.
The Zionists had contempt for Jews who fought anti-Semitism, including the Nazis. As far as they were concerned they were engaged in a wholly futile battle against the inevitable. Which is why, when the Bolsheviks achieved power and abolished anti-Semitism at a stroke, the socialist Zionist groups melted into support for the Bolsheviks and abandoned Palestine as a goal, which was now seen as irrelevant.
Indeed the situation in Germany, Britain and elsewhere was that the Zionists saw their enemies, not in the anti-Semites but those who opposed them. As Israeli historian Yigal Elam wrote:
Zionism did not consider anti-Semitism an abnormal, absurd, perverse or marginal phenomenon. Zionism considered anti-Semitism a fact of nature, a standard constant, the norm in the relationship of the non-Jews to the presence of Jews in their midst… a normal, almost rational reaction of the gentiles to the abnormal, absurd and perverse situation of the Jewish people in the Diaspora.
The first book which covered this area of history was Lenni Brenner’s Zionism in the Age of the Dictators which provided a blow by blow account of what had happened. Although it left a lot to be desired analytically the evidence was clear. Zionism had never fought Hitlerism. Not only that but the perverse ‘logic’ of Zionism led it to oppose Jews fleeing from the Nazis if their destination was not Palestine. This was called ‘refugeeism’.
The Zionist ‘logic’ being that if other countries could provide a refuge for Jews escaping anti-Semitism, what need was there for a Jewish state. There were quite determined efforts by the Zionist leadership to close off all avenues of escape that didn’t lead to Palestine. In addition, according to their theories, all the Jewish refugees would achieve would be to recreate anti-Semitism where they had fled to.
Yet the amazing thing is that no historians were willing to go near the subject. It is as if there are some no go areas for historians. Just one mainstream historian, Francis Nicosia, has researched the relationship of the Zionist movement to the Nazis in any depth. There are many books which touch though on the subject, the most important being the Seventh Million by Tom Segev.
A two volume book by an ardent Zionist and dissident historian, Shabtai Beit Zvi, Post-Ugandan Zionism On Trial A Study of the Factors that Caused the Mistakes Made by the Zionist Movement during the Holocaust provides the most comprehensive account of the Zionist record during the Holocaust. Beit Zvi’s analysis though is a Zionist one. He believed that the problem was not ideological congruity or a shared outlook between the Zionists and anti-Semites but the opposition of Zionists to Herzl’s proposal for a temporary ‘night shelter’, the Uganda Project, which divided the 6th Zionist Congress in 1903. Beit-Zvi believed that the old opposition to the ‘territorialism’ of Israel Zangwill was the problem.
Although I have conducted some original research, not least in the archives of the Jewish Chronicle, my task was piecing together fragments of information from a multitude of sources such as Perfidy, a book by the Revisionist Zionist Ben Hecht, a famous screenwriter in the United States about the Kasztner Trial. The Kasztner trial, a libel case in which a Nazi collaborator sued his detractors and which turned into a trial of the accuser, was never once mentioned in my childhood. It had disappeared down the Zionist memory hole.
Perfidy was resurrected 25 years ago when Ken Loach produced a play Perdition by Jim Allen, a famous socialist playwright. Together with the British Establishment the Zionists waged a fierce campaign to prevent it being staged at the Royal Court Upstairs. In that they succeeded but they lost the war. It provoke massive publicity for the very thing they wanted to keep under wraps. There was correspondence in the Guardian letters columns for 2 months. It featured in a debate on Channel 4 between Brenner, Marion Woolfson and Jim Allen against three Zionists, which the Zionists comprehensively lost.
Another book which disappeared down the Zionist memory hole was Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem. The Eichmann Trial was the Zionist answer to the Kasztner Trial. They wanted to regain control of the Holocaust narrative. They created a myth that the Zionists had been the only opposition to the Nazis. Arendt, a non-Zionist refugee from a Germany, in a series of articles for the New Yorker, had resurrected the Kasztner trial and described all the controversies surrounding the Zionists’ problematic record. There was a vicious Zionist campaign against the book and Arendt was of course accused of ‘anti-Semitism’ and indeed of being a holocaust denier.
The Holocaust is perhaps the single most effective propaganda prop of Zionism today. We have Holocaust museums, Holocaust memorial days and Holocaust narratives all of which have one purpose – to legitimise the Israeli state. Zionism has rewritten the history of the Holocaust erasing the memory of the anti-Zionist fighters like Rudolf Vrba, a Jewish escapee from Auschwitz and Marek Edelman, the last commander of the Warsaw Ghetto. The Bund has been written out of Zionist Holocaust history.
You might think that the death in 2009 of Marek Edelman would have been marked by these Holocaust memorial institutions and museums writing obituaries, articles and paying their respect to someone who had led the Resistance against the Nazis in Warsaw. You might have imagined that the Israeli Prime Minister and President would attend the Polish state funeral for Edelman in Warsaw.
Over 2,000 people including the President of Poland attended Edelman’s funeral. He was sent off with a 15 gun salute. Marek Edelman was a Polish hero. But to the Zionists it was as if he was already dead. Not even the lowliest clerk at the Israeli Embassy attended.
Why? Because Edelman was inconvenient to the myth of Zionist resistance to the Nazis. In fact, as I later discovered, the Zionist leaders in the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine, instructed the Zionist fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto not to take part in the fighting but to escape. Their place was in Palestine not the Diaspora. To their credit they refused to listen to this advice and asserted their loyalty to the Jewish diaspora not to Zionism and its Jewish state-in-the making.
One of the points I make about these and other Zionist fighters against the Nazis was that their resistance was not because of their Zionist allegiances but in spite of it. In this I disagree with John Rose of the SWP who is incapable of understanding that people can take part in a struggle even though their formal political allegiances dictate otherwise. Marxists call this a divided or fragmented consciousness. For example Ricky Tomlinson was a member of the National Front but he was active in the 1973 Builders’ Strike and gaoled as part of the Shrewsbury 3. It soon dawned on him that racism and fascism were not compatible with trade union militancy and class struggle.
What I also attempt to do is to provide a backdrop and context to what the Zionists said and did. That backdrop is the Holocaust itself and I therefore try to provide an introduction to the Holocaust and how it progressed in each country. Many people in the Palestine solidarity movement have experience of being accused of being holocaust deniers yet they also possess little information about the Holocaust other than what is handed down by the BBC and mainstream history.
The book also introduces the reader to some of the debates around the Holocaust such as the role of anti-Semitism in Germany and the rise of the Nazis and questions such as whether the Nazis intended to exterminate the Jews and other groups from the outset or whether the Holocaust was the product of war imperialism and fascism.
I also look at the historiography of the Holocaust and how the history of the Holocaust has been moulded and shaped to accord with prevailing imperialist narratives. The war is portrayed in the West as a fight against fascism rather than as an inter-imperialist war between the Allies and the Axis.
Zionist historians have been particularly assiduous in writing Jewish opponents of Zionism, such as Rudolf Vrba and Marek Edelman out of the history of the Holocaust, in order to portray themselves as the sole heroes of the resistance. At the same time they have tried to protect the reputation of the Judenrate, (Jewish Councils) two-thirds of whose members were Zionists, which the Nazis created in order to best implement the Holocaust.
Zionist historians such Dina Porat, Yehuda Bauer and Gila Fatran have fought against drawing any anti-racist or anti-fascist lessons from the Holocaust. In this they accord with mainstream bourgeois historians who also avoid drawing political conclusions from the war. Instead Zionist historians attribute the Nazis’ main motive as hatred of the Jews, anti-Semitism. The anti-communism is simply ignored.
The Zionist historians have been particularly active in reserving the Holocaust for Jews only. To them the Holocaust is unique unlike all other genocides. The extermination of the Gypsies, Disabled and Slavs is ignored.
There are many revelations which will shock you in my book and I don’t want to give away too many secrets except to say it should be out in early August and I hope you buy it and read it.