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Zionism and the Third Reich 
Author:   politics3 <politics3@hotmail.com>
Date:   1999/02/03
Forum:   soc.culture.palestine

Zionism and the Third Reich

by Mark Weber

1

Early in 1935, a passenger ship bound for Haifa in Palestine left the
German port of Bremerhaven. Its stern bore the Hebrew letters for its
name, "Tel Aviv," while a swastika banner fluttered from the mast. And
although the ship was Zionist-owned, its captain was a National
Socialist Party member. Many years later a traveler aboard the ship
recalled this symbolic combination as a "metaphysical absurdity."1
Absurd or not, this is but one vignette from a little-known chapter of
history: The wide-ranging collaboration between Zionism and Hitler's
Third Reich.

Common Aims

Over the years, people in many different countries
have wrestled with
the "Jewish question": that is, what is the proper role of Jews in
non-Jewish society? During the 1930s, Jewish Zionists and German
National Socialists shared similar views on how to deal with this
perplexing issue. They agreed that Jews and Germans were distinctly
different nationalities, and that Jews did not belong in Germany. Jews
living in the Reich were therefore to be regarded not as "Germans of the
Jewish faith," but rather as members of a separate national community.
Zionism (Jewish nationalism) also implied an obligation by Zionist Jews
to resettle in Palestine, the "Jewish homeland." They could hardly
regard themselves as sincere Zionists and simultaneously claim equal
rights in Germany or any other "foreign" country.

Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), the founder of modern Zionism, maintained
that anti-Semitism is not an aberration, but a natural and completely
understandable response by non-Jews to alien Jewish behavior and
attitudes. The only solution, he argued, is for Jews to recognize
reality and live in a separate state of their own. "The Jewish question
exists wherever Jews live in noticeable numbers," he wrote in his most
influential work, The Jewish State. "Where it does not exist, it is
brought in by arriving Jews. . . . I believe I understand anti-Semitism,
which is a very complex phenomenon. I consider this development as a
Jew, without hate or fear." The Jewish question, he maintained, is not
social or religious. "It is a national question. To solve it we must,
above all, make it an international political issue. . . ." Regardless
of their citizenship, Herzl insisted, Jews constitute not merely a
religious community, but a nationality, a people, a Volk.

2

Zionism, wrote Herzl, offered the world a welcome "final solution of the
Jewish question."

3

Six months after Hitler came to power, the Zionist Federation of Germany
(by far the largest Zionist group in the country) submitted a detailed
memorandum to the new government that reviewed German-Jewish relations
and formally offered Zionist support in "solving" the vexing "Jewish
question." The first step, it suggested, had to be a frank recognition
of fundamental national differences:

4

"Zionism has no illusions about the difficulty of the Jewish condition,
which consists above all in an abnormal occupational pattern and in the
fault of an intellectual and moral posture not rooted in one's own
tradition. Zionism recognized decades ago that as a result of the
assimilationist trend, symptoms of deterioration were bound to appear .
. .

"Zionism believes that the rebirth of the national life of a people,
which is now occurring in Germany through the emphasis on its Christian
and national character, must also come about in the Jewish national
group. For the Jewish people, too, national origin, religion, common
destiny and a sense of its uniqueness must be of decisive importance in
the shaping of its existence. This means that the egotistical
individualism of the liberal era must be overcome and replaced with a
sense of community and collective responsibility . . .

"We believe it is precisely the new [National Socialist] Germany that
can, through bold resoluteness in the handling of the Jewish question,
take a decisive step toward overcoming a problem which, in truth, will
have to be dealt with by most European peoples . . .

"Our acknowledgment of Jewish nationality provides for a clear and
sincere relationship to the German people and its national and racial
realities. Precisely because we do not wish to falsify these
fundamentals, because we, too, are against mixed marriage and are for
maintaining the purity of the Jewish group and reject any trespasses in
the cultural domain, we - having been brought up in the German language
and German culture - can show an interest in the works and values of
German culture with admiration and internal sympathy . . .

"For its practical aims, Zionism hopes to be able to win the
collaboration of even a government fundamentally hostile to Jews,
because in dealing with the Jewish question not sentimentalities are
involved but a real problem whose solution interests all peoples and at
the present moment especially the German people . . .

"Boycott propaganda - such as is currently being carried on against
Germany in many ways - is in essence un-Zionist, because Zionism wants
not to do battle but to convince and to build . . .

"We are not blind to the fact that a Jewish question exists and will
continue to exist. From the abnormal situation of the Jews severe
disadvantages result for them, but also scarcely tolerable conditions
for other peoples."

The Federation's paper, the Jüdische Rundschau ("Jewish Review"),
proclaimed the same message: "Zionism recognizes the existence of a
Jewish problem and desires a far-reaching and constructive solution. For
this purpose Zionism wishes to obtain the assistance of all peoples,
whether pro- or anti-Jewish, because, in its view, we are dealing here
with a concrete rather than a sentimental problem, the solution of which
all peoples are interested."

5

A young Berlin rabbi, Joachim Prinz, who later settled in the United
States and became head of the American Jewish Congress, wrote in his
1934 book, Wir Juden ("We Jews"), that the National Socialist revolution
in Germany meant "Jewry for the Jews." He explained: "No subterfuge can
save us now. In place of assimilation we desire a new concept:
recognition of the Jewish nation and Jewish race."

6

Active Collaboration

On this basis of their similar ideologies about ethnicity and
nationhood, National Socialists and Zionists worked together for what
each group believed was in its own national interest. As a result, the
Hitler government vigorously supported Zionism and Jewish emigration to
Palestine from 1933 until 1940-1941, when the Second World War prevented
extensive collaboration.

Even as the Third Reich became more entrenched, many German Jews,
probably a majority, continued to regard themselves, often with
considerable pride, as Germans first. Few were enthusiastic about
pulling up roots to begin a new life in far-away Palestine.
Nevertheless, more and more German Jews turned to Zionism during this
period. Until late 1938, the Zionist movement flourished in Germany
under Hitler. The circulation of the Zionist Federation's bi-weekly
J_dische Rundschau grew enormously. Numerous Zionist books were
published. "Zionist work was in full swing" in Germany during those
years, the Encyclopaedia Judaica notes. A Zionist convention held in
Berlin in 1936 reflected "in its composition the vigorous party life of
German Zionists."

7

The SS was particularly enthusiastic in its support for Zionism. An
internal June 1934 SS position paper urged active and wide-ranging
support for Zionism by the government and the Party as the best way to
encourage emigration of Germany's Jews to Palestine. This would require
increased Jewish self-awareness. Jewish schools, Jewish sports leagues,
Jewish cultural organizations - in short, everything that would
encourage this new consciousness and self-awareness - should be
promoted, the paper recommended.

8

SS officer Leopold von Mildenstein and Zionist Federation official Kurt
Tuchler toured Palestine together for six months to assess Zionist
development there. Based on his firsthand observations, von Mildenstein
wrote a series of twelve illustrated articles for the important Berlin
daily Der Angriff that appeared in late 1934 under the heading "A Nazi
Travels to Palestine." The series expressed great admiration for the
pioneering spirit and achievements of the Jewish settlers. Zionist
self-development, von Mildenstein wrote, had produced a new kind of Jew.
He praised Zionism as a great benefit for both the Jewish people and the
entire world. A Jewish homeland in Palestine, he wrote in his concluding
article, "pointed the way to curing a centuries-long wound on the body
of the world: the Jewish question." Der Angriff issued a special medal,
with a Swastika on one side and a Star of David on the other, to
commemorate the joint SS-Zionist visit. A few months after the articles
appeared, von Mildenstein was promoted to head the Jewish affairs
department of the SS security service in order to support Zionist
migration and development more effectively.

9

The official SS newspaper, Das Schwarze Korps, proclaimed its support
for Zionism in a May 1935 front-page editorial: "The time may not be too
far off when Palestine will again be able to receive its sons who have
been lost to it for more than a thousand years. Our good wishes,
together with official goodwill, go with them."

10 Four months later, a similar article appeared in the SS paper:

11

The recognition of Jewry as a racial community based on blood and not on
religion leads the German government to guarantee without reservation
the racial separateness of this community. The government finds itself
in complete agreement with the great spiritual movement within Jewry,
the so-called Zionism, with its recognition of the solidarity of Jewry
around the world and its rejection of all assimilationist notions. On
this basis, Germany undertakes measures that will surely play a
significant role in the future in the handling of the Jewish problem
around the world.

A leading German shipping line began direct passenger liner service from
Hamburg to Haifa, Palestine, in October 1933 providing "strictly kosher
food on its ships, under the supervision of the Hamburg rabbinate."

12

With official backing, Zionists worked tirelessly to "reeducate"
Germany's Jews. As American historian Francis Nicosia put it in his 1985
survey, The Third Reich and the Palestine Question: "Zionists were
encouraged to take their message to the Jewish community, to collect
money, to show films on Palestine and generally to educate German Jews
about Palestine. There was considerable pressure to teach Jews in
Germany to cease identifying themselves as Germans and to awaken a new
Jewish national identity in them."

13

In an interview after the war, the former head of the Zionist Federation
of Germany, Dr. Hans Friedenthal, summed up the situation: "The Gestapo
did everything in those days to promote emigration, particularly to
Palestine. We often received their help when we required anything from
other authorities regarding preparations for emigration."

14

At the September 1935 National Socialist Party Congress, the Reichstag
adopted the so-called "Nuremberg laws" that prohibited marriages and
sexual relations between Jews and Germans and, in effect, proclaimed the
Jews an alien minority nationality. A few days later the Zionist
J_dische Rundschau editorially welcomed the new measures:

15

"Germany . . . is meeting the demands of the World Zionist Congress when
it declares the Jews now living in Germany to be a national minority.
Once the Jews have been stamped a national minority it is again possible
to establish normal relations between the German nation and Jewry. The
new laws give the Jewish minority in Germany its own cultural life, its
own national life. In future it will be able to shape its own schools,
its own theatre, and its own sports associations. In short, it can
create its own future in all aspects of national life . . .

"Germany has given the Jewish minority the opportunity to live for
itself, and is offering state protection for this separate life of the
Jewish minority: Jewry's process of growth into a nation will thereby be
encouraged and a contribution will be made to the establishment of more
tolerable relations between the two nations."

Georg Kareski, the head of both the "Revisionist" Zionist State
Organization and the Jewish Cultural League, and former head of the
Berlin Jewish Community, declared in an interview with the Berlin daily
Der Angriff at the end of 1935:

16

"For many years I have regarded a complete separation of the cultural
affairs of the two peoples [Jews and Germans] as a pre-condition for
living together without conflict. . . . I have long supported such a
separation, provided it is founded on respect for the alien nationality.
The Nuremberg Laws . . . seem to me, apart from their legal provisions,
to conform entirely with this desire for a separate life based on mutual
respect. . . . This interruption of the process of dissolution in many
Jewish communities, which had been promoted through mixed marriages, is
therefore, from a Jewish point of view, entirely welcome."

Zionist leaders in other countries echoed these views. Stephen S. Wise,
president of the American Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress,
told a New York rally in June 1938: "I am not an American citizen of the
Jewish faith, I am a Jew. . . . Hitler was right in one thing. He calls
the Jewish people a race and we are a race."

17

The Interior Ministry's Jewish affairs specialist, Dr. Bernhard L_sener,
expressed support for Zionism in an article that appeared in a November
1935 issue of the official Reichsverwaltungsblatt:

18

"If the Jews already had their own state in which the majority of them
were settled, then the Jewish question could be regarded as completely
resolved today, also for the Jews themselves. The least amount of
opposition to the ideas underlying the Nuremberg Laws have been shown by
the Zionists, because they realize at once that these laws represent the
only correct solution for the Jewish people as well. For each nation
must have its own state as the outward expression of its particular
nationhood."

In cooperation with the German authorities, Zionist groups organized a
network of some forty camps and agricultural centers throughout Germany
where prospective settlers were trained for their new lives in
Palestine. Although the Nuremberg Laws forbid Jews from displaying the
German flag, Jews were specifically guaranteed the right to display the
blue and white Jewish national banner. The flag that would one day be
adopted by Israel was flown at the Zionist camps and centers in Hitler's
Germany.

19

Himmler's security service cooperated with the Haganah, the Zionist
underground military organization in Palestine. The SS agency paid
Haganah official Feivel Polkes for information about the situation in
Palestine and for help in directing Jewish emigration to that country.
Meanwhile, the Haganah was kept well informed about German plans by a
spy it managed to plant in the Berlin headquarters of the SS.

20 Haganah-SS collaboration even included secret deliveries of German
weapons to Jewish settlers for use in clashes with Palestinian Arabs.

21

In the aftermath of the November 1938 "Kristallnacht" outburst of
violence and destruction, the SS quickly helped the Zionist organization
to get back on its feet and continue its work in Germany, although now
under more restricted supervision.

22

Official Reservations

German support for Zionism was not unlimited. Government and Party
officials were very mindful of the continuing campaign by powerful
Jewish communities in the United States, Britain and other countries to
mobilize "their" governments and fellow citizens against Germany. As
long as world Jewry remained implacably hostile towards National
Socialist Germany, and as long as the great majority of Jews around the
world showed little eagerness to resettle in the Zionist "promised
land," a sovereign Jewish state in Palestine would not really "solve"
the international Jewish question. Instead, German officials reasoned,
it would immeasurably strengthen this dangerous anti-German campaign.
German backing for Zionism was therefore limited to support for a Jewish
homeland in Palestine under British control, not a sovereign Jewish
state.

23

A Jewish state in Palestine, the Foreign Minister informed diplomats in
June 1937, would not be in Germany's interest because it would not be
able to absorb all Jews around the world, but would only serve as an
additional power base for international Jewry, in much the same way as
Moscow served as a base for international Communism.

24

Reflecting something of a shift in official policy, the German press
expressed much greater sympathy in 1937 for Palestinian Arab resistance
to Zionist ambitions, at a time when tension and conflict between Jews
and Arabs in Palestine was sharply increasing.

25

A Foreign Office circular bulletin of June 22, 1937, cautioned that in
spite of support for Jewish settlement in Palestine, "it would
nevertheless be a mistake to assume that Germany supports the formation
of a state structure in Palestine under some form of Jewish control. In
view of the anti-German agitation of international Jewry, Germany cannot
agree that the formation of a Palestine Jewish state would help the
peaceful development of the nations of the world."

26

"The proclamation of a Jewish state or a Jewish-administrated
Palestine," warned an internal memorandum by the Jewish affairs section
of the SS, "would create for Germany a new enemy, one that would have a
deep influence on developments in the Near East." Another SS agency
predicted that a Jewish state "would work to bring special minority
protection to Jews in every country, therefore giving legal protection
to the exploitation activity of world Jewry."

27

In January 1939, Hitler's new Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop,
likewise warned in another circular bulletin that "Germany must regard
the formation of a Jewish state as dangerous" because it "would bring an
international increase in power to world Jewry."

28

Hitler himself personally reviewed this entire issue in early 1938 and,
in spite of his long-standing skepticism of Zionist ambitions and
misgivings that his policies might contribute to the formation of a
Jewish state, decided to support Jewish migration to Palestine even more
vigorously. The prospect of ridding Germany of its Jews, he concluded,
outweighed the possible dangers.

29

Meanwhile, the British government imposed ever more drastic restrictions
on Jewish immigration into Palestine in 1937, 1938 and 1939. In
response, the SS security service concluded a secret alliance with the
clandestine Zionist agency Mossad le-Aliya Bet to smuggle Jews illegally
into Palestine. As a result of this intensive collaboration, several
convoys of ships succeeded in reaching Palestine past British gunboats.
Jewish migration, both legal and illegal, from Germany (including
Austria) to Palestine increased dramatically in 1938 and 1939. Another
10,000 Jews were scheduled to depart in October 1939, but the outbreak
of war in September brought the effort to an end. All the same, German
authorities continued to promote indirect Jewish emigration to Palestine
during 1940 and 1941.

30 Even as late as March 1942, at least one officially authorized
Zionist "kibbutz" training camp for potential emigrants continued to
operate in Hitler's Germany.

31

The Transfer Agreement

The centerpiece of German-Zionist cooperation during the Hitler era was
the Transfer Agreement, a pact that enabled tens of thousands of German
Jews to migrate to Palestine with their wealth. The Agreement, also
known as the Ha'avara (Hebrew for "transfer"), was concluded in August
1933 following talks between German officials and Chaim Arlosoroff,
Political Secretary of the Jewish Agency, the Palestine center of the
World Zionist Organization.

32

Through this unusual arrangement, each Jew bound for Palestine deposited
money in a special account in Germany. The money was used to purchase
German-made agricultural tools, building materials, pumps, fertilizer,
and so forth, which were exported to Palestine and sold there by the
Jewish-owned Ha'avara company in Tel-Aviv. Money from the sales was
given to the Jewish emigrant upon his arrival in Palestine in an amount
corresponding to his deposit in Germany. German goods poured into
Palestine through the Ha'avara, which was supplemented a short time
later with a barter agreement by which Palestine oranges were exchanged
for German timber, automobiles, agricultural machinery, and other goods.
The Agreement thus served the Zionist aim of bringing Jewish settlers
and development capital to Palestine, while simultaneously serving the
German goal of freeing the country of an unwanted alien group.

Delegates at the 1933 Zionist Congress in Prague vigorously debated the
merits of the Agreement. Some feared that the pact would undermine the
international Jewish economic boycott against Germany. But Zionist
officials reassured the Congress. Sam Cohen, a key figure behind the
Ha'avara arrangement, stressed that the Agreement was not economically
advantageous to Germany. Arthur Ruppin, a Zionist Organization
emigration specialist who had helped negotiate the pact, pointed out
that "the Transfer Agreement in no way interfered with the boycott
movement, since no new currency will flow into Germany as a result of
the agreement. . . ."

33 The 1935 Zionist Congress, meeting in Switzerland, overwhelmingly
endorsed the pact. In 1936, the Jewish Agency (the Zionist "shadow
government" in Palestine) took over direct control of the Ha'avara,
which remained in effect until the Second World War forced its
abandonment.

Some German officials opposed the arrangement. Germany's Consul General
in Jerusalem, Hans D_hle, for example, sharply criticized the Agreement
on several occasions during 1937. He pointed out that it cost Germany
the foreign exchange that the products exported to Palestine through the
pact would bring if sold elsewhere. The Ha'avara monopoly sale of German
goods to Palestine through a Jewish agency naturally angered German
businessmen and Arabs there. Official German support for Zionism could
lead to a loss of German markets throughout the Arab world. The British
government also resented the arrangement.

34 A June 1937 German Foreign Office internal bulletin referred to the
"foreign exchange sacrifices" that resulted from the Ha'avara.

35

A December 1937 internal memorandum by the German Interior Ministry
reviewed the impact of the Transfer Agreement: "There is no doubt that
the Ha'avara arrangement has contributed most significantly to the very
rapid development of Palestine since 1933. The Agreement provided not
only the largest source of money (from Germany!), but also the most
intelligent group of immigrants, and finally it brought to the country
the machines and industrial products essential for development." The
main advantage of the pact, the memo reported, was the emigration of
large numbers of Jews to Palestine, the most desirable target country as
far as Germany was concerned. But the paper also noted the important
drawbacks pointed out by Consul D_hle and others. The Interior Minister,
it went on, had concluded that the disadvantages of the agreement now
outweighed the advantages and that, therefore, it should be terminated.

36

Only one man could resolve the controversy. Hitler personally reviewed
the policy in July and September 1937, and again in January 1938, and
each time decided to maintain the Ha'avara arrangement. The goal of
removing Jews from Germany, he concluded, justified the drawbacks.

37

The Reich Economics Ministry helped to organize another transfer
company, the International Trade and Investment Agency, or Intria,
through which Jews in foreign countries could help German Jews emigrate
to Palestine. Almost $900,000 was eventually channeled through the
Intria to German Jews in Palestine.

38 Other European countries eager to encourage Jewish emigration
concluded agreements with the Zionists modeled after the Ha'avara. In
1937 Poland authorized the Halifin (Hebrew for "exchange") transfer
company. By late summer 1939, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary and Italy
had signed similar arrangements. The outbreak of war in September 1939,
however, prevented large-scale implementation of these agreements.

39

Achievements of Ha'avara

Between 1933 and 1941, some 60,000 German Jews emigrated to Palestine
through the Ha'avara and other German-Zionist arrangements, or about ten
percent of Germany's 1933 Jewish population. (These German Jews made up
about 15 percent of Palestine's 1939 Jewish population.) Some Ha'avara
emigrants transferred considerable personal wealth from Germany to
Palestine.
As Jewish historian Edwin Black has noted: "Many of these
people, especially in the late 1930s, were allowed to transfer actual
replicas of their homes and factories - indeed rough replicas of their
very existence."

40

The total amount transferred from Germany to Palestine through the
Ha'avara between August 1933 and the end of 1939 was 8.1 million pounds
or 139.57 million German marks (then equivalent to more than $40
million). This amount included 33.9 million German marks ($13.8 million)
provided by the Reichsbank in connection with the Agreement.

41

Historian Black has estimated that an additional $70 million may have
flowed into Palestine through corollary German commercial agreements and
special international banking transactions. The German funds had a major
impact on a country as underdeveloped as Palestine was in the 1930s, he
pointed out. Several major industrial enterprises were built with the
capital from Germany, including the Mekoroth waterworks and the Lodzia
textile firm. The influx of Ha'avara goods and capital, concluded Black,
"produced an economic explosion in Jewish Palestine" and was "an
indispensable factor in the creation of the State of Israel."

42

The Ha'avara agreement greatly contributed to Jewish development in
Palestine and thus, indirectly, to the foundation of the Israeli state.
A January 1939 German Foreign Office circular bulletin reported, with
some misgiving, that "the transfer of Jewish property out of Germany
[through the Ha'avara agreement] contributed to no small extent to the
building of a Jewish state in Palestine."

43

Former officials of the Ha'avara company in Palestine confirmed this
view in a detailed study of the Transfer Agreement published in 1972:
"The economic activity made possible by the influx German capital and
the Haavara transfers to the private and public sectors were of greatest
importance for the country's development. Many new industries and
commercial enterprises were established in Jewish Palestine, and
numerous companies that are enormously important even today in the
economy of the State of Israel owe their existence to the Haavara."

44 Dr. Ludwig Pinner, a Ha'avara company official in Tel Aviv during the
1930s, later commented that the exceptionally competent Ha'avara
immigrants "decisively contributed" to the economic, social, cultural
and educational development of Palestine's Jewish community.

45

The Transfer Agreement was the most far-reaching example of cooperation
between Hitler's Germany and international Zionism. Through this pact,
Hitler's Third Reich did more than any other government during the 1930s
to support Jewish development in Palestine.

Zionists Offer a Military Alliance With Hitler

In early January 1941 a small but important Zionist organization
submitted a formal proposal to German diplomats in Beirut for a
military-political alliance with wartime Germany. The offer was made by
the radical underground "Fighters for the Freedom of Israel," better
known as the Lehi or Stern Gang. Its leader, Avraham Stern, had recently
broken with the radical nationalist "National Military Organization"
(Irgun Zvai Leumi) over the group's attitude toward Britain, which had
effectively banned further Jewish settlement of Palestine. Stern
regarded Britain as the main enemy of Zionism.

This remarkable Zionist proposal "for the solution of the Jewish
question in Europe and the active participation of the NMO [Lehi] in the
war on the side of Germany" is worth quoting at some length:

46

"In their speeches and statements, the leading statesmen of National
Socialist Germany have often emphasized that a New Order in Europe
requires as a prerequisite a radical solution of the Jewish question by
evacuation. ("Jew-free Europe")

"The evacuation of the Jewish masses from Europe is a precondition for
solving the Jewish question. However, the only way this can be totally
achieved is through settlement of these masses in the homeland of the
Jewish people, Palestine, and by the establishment of a Jewish state in
its historical boundaries.

"The goal of the political activity and the years of struggle by the
Israel Freedom Movement, the National Military Organization in Palestine
(Irgun Zvai Leumi), is to solve the Jewish problem in this way and thus
completely liberate the Jewish people forever."

 

 

***