When the Zionist Movement was eager to work with the Nazis
My eye was caught by this interesting article that appeared on Ynet, the on-line version of Israel’s largest newspaper, Yediot Aharanot, on 21st January 2018.
When History Today published, in January 1980 a front page article, ‘A Nazi Travels to Palestine’ there was uproar from the Zionists in Britain. The last thing these people wanted was a reminder of the days when Zionists and Nazis were the best of friends.
This particular episode concerns the visit that the head of the Jewish desk at the SS, Baron von Mildenstein paid to Jewish Palestine in the company of Kurt Tuchler of the German Zionist Federation together with their wives.
After the ascent of Hitler to power the Zionist Federation of Germany [ZVfD] had focussed on winning over the Nazis to the Zionist cause.
On 21st June 1933 the ZfVD sent a memo to Hitler explaining that there was an ideological congruity between Nazi and Zionist ideology. Although they don’t like to admit it now, the fact is that there was little disagreement between the Nazis who argued that Jews were not part of the German Volk (people) and the Zionists who agreed that the Jews formed a separate people.
In their memorandum the ZVfD wrote:
On the foundation of the new state, which has established the principle of race, we wish so to fit our community into the total structure so that for us too, in the sphere assigned to us, fruitful activity for the Fatherland is possible... Our acknowledgement 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...
|Cartoon in the Zionist Press concerning Ha’avara — ‘don’t worry Hitler, the Jews of Palestine are helping you.’|
. . . fidelity to their own kind and their own culture gives Jews the inner strength that prevents insult to the respect for the national sentiments and the imponderables of German nationality; and rootedness in one's own spirituality protects the Jew from becoming the rootless critic of the national foundations of German essence. The national distancing which the state desires would thus be brought about easily as the result of an organic development.
Thus, a self-conscious Jewry here described, in whose name we speak, can find a place in the structure of the German state, because it is inwardly unembarrassed, free from the resentment which assimilated Jews must feel at the determination that they belong to Jewry, to the Jewish race and past. We believe in the possibility of an honest relationship of loyalty between a group - conscious Jewry and the German state...
|John Mann the boorish MP who hectored Ken Livingstone for mentioning Nazi support for the Zionists|
|The Nazi state and the Zionist Jewish Agency struck a deal to destroy the Jewish boycott of Nazi Germany - when Ken Livingstone referred to this he was called an antisemite|
For its practical aims, Zionism hopes to be able to win the collaboration even of a government fundamentally hostile to Jews, because in dealing with the Jewish question no sentimentalities are involved but a real problem whose solution interests all peoples, and at the present moment especially the German people.
The realisation of Zionism could only be hurt by resentment of Jews abroad against the German development. 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... Our observations, presented herewith, rest on the conviction that, in solving the Jewish problem according to its own lights, the German Government will have full understanding for a candid and clear Jewish posture that harmonizes with the interests of the state.’
The full memo can be found in Lucy Dawidowicz’s Holocaust Reader pp. 150-153.
Rabbi Prinz, one of the leaders of the German Zionists, wrote a book Wir Juden in 1934 when he explained their attitude when Hitler came to power. At the time the vast majority of Jews reacted wit horror to the rise to power of the Nazis. Almost immediately an international Jewish boycott of Nazi Germany took hold and began to be organised. The main element in the Jewish community opposed to this boycott, apart from the bourgeois Jewish leaders, were the Zionists. They wanted to make deals with Nazi Germany not fight it which is why at the Zionist Congress of 1933 in Prague there was no resolution condemning the Nazis. Prinz wrote:
‘(The Jews) have been drawn out of the last recesses of christening and mixed marriages. We are not unhappy about it... The theory of assimilation has collapsed. We are no longer hidden in secret recesses. We want to replace assimilation by something new: the declaration of belonging to the Jewish nation and the Jewish race. A state, built according to the principles of purity of the nation and race can only be honoured and respected by a Jew who declares his belonging to his own kind.’
Prinz admitted that:
“It was morally disturbing to seem to be considered as the favoured children of the Nazi Government, particularly when it dissolved the anti-Zionist youth groups, and seemed in other ways to prefer the Zionists. The Nazis asked for a 'more Zionist behaviour.” [Joachim Prinz, Zionism under the Nazi Government, Young Zionist (London, November 1937), p.18]
Berl Katznelson, a founder of Mapai and editor of its paper Davar second only to Ben Gurion, saw the rise of Hitler as “an opportunity to build and flourish like none we have ever had or ever will have”. [Francis Nicosia, Zionism and Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany, p.91. Tom Segev, The 7th Million p.18 attributes this quote to a report by Moshe Beilinson, a cofounder of Davar, to Katznelson.
The attitude to the Nazis by the Zionists was businesslike throughout the war. In particular the Zionists opposed any place of safety for German Jews if that place was not Palestine. Ben Gurion summed up this attitude after Krystalnacht, when the British offered 10,000 places for German Jewish children in what becamse known as the Kindertransport. The Zionists were opposed to this. Why can’t they be taken to Palestine was their cry, knowing full well that the Arabs were opposed to the horrors in Germany being used as a pretext for building up the Zionist settlement in Palestine.
|David Ben-Gurion, Chair of the Jewish Agency and first Prime Minister of Israel - placed the 'history of the People of Israel' above the rescue of Jewish children from the Holocaust|
In a speech to Mapai’s Central Committee on 9th December 1938, Ben Gurion said:
‘If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children, but also the history of the People of Israel.’ [Yoav Gelber, Zionist policy and the fate of European Jewry 1939-42, Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 12.]
|Anti-semitic cartoon in Goebbel's Der Angriff which accompanied the articles by Mildenstein|
Baron von Mildenstein was particularly favourable to Zionism, seeing it as the solution to the ‘Jewish problem.’ The consequence of the visit and the favourable impression he had gained of these nationalist Jews was that he penned a series of 12 articles in Goebbel’s paper, Der Angriff in 1934. The Nazis were so pleased by the visit that they struck a coin to commemorate the visit with a Star of David on one side and a swastika on the other.
The unique, juxtaposing coin, sold in a recent Israeli auction, contains the remarkable story about an unlikely friendship between two Germans—a Jew and a Nazi—and about the forgotten moment in history when it might have still been possible to save the Jews of Europe from extermination.
Itay Ilnai, 21 January 2018
The auction organized by Israeli collectors’ house CollecTodo several days ago was unusual. On the occasion of the 10th of Tevet fast day, which was selected by the Chief Rabbinate as the general Kaddish day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, a number of historic relics from that period were offered for sale.
They included an oil painting created at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, a prayer for the Jews of Europe composed by then-Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog, and documents related to the murder of Rudolf Israel Kastner.
The most unique item, however, was a small brass coin—just 3.5 centimeters in diameter. One side of the coin features a Star of David surrounded by a caption in German. The other side is engraved with a swastika, the Nazi party’s symbol.
|The coin the Nazis struck One side features a Star of David, the other side is engraved with a swastika|
At the end of a bidding battle, the unique coin was sold for $850 to a Jewish American collector, whose identity was kept secret.
“The people who competed for the medallion didn’t do it for financial reasons,” says Anat Katz-Harari, the owner of the collectors’ house, who organized the online auction. “But they did seem very insistent, unwilling to give up, and kept raising the price. In my opinion, it’s completely emotional. They wanted the medallion because they feel connected to its story.”
The news about the coin with the spine-tingling combination between a Star of David and a swastika stirred a row in certain circles. Jewish American blogger Richard Silverstein, for example, implied on Facebook that the coin was proof of the cooperation between Zionism and Nazism, which he said was being silenced and denied. Others saw it as blasphemy.
The real story behind this unbelievable collector’s item, however, seems to be a reflection of a forgotten moment in history when it might have still been possible to save the Jews of Europe from extermination. It’s also a story about a government mouthpiece, which was backed by one of the most successful propagandists in history, Joseph Goebbels. Above all, it’s a story about a brave friendship between two Germans—a Jew and a Nazi.
In a car from Germany to Palestine
It may be slightly difficult to understand today, but in the beginning of the Nazi rule in Germany, way before anyone could have imagined the horrors that would be committed by the German people, there were some Zionist Jews who saw Hitler’s political doctrine as an advantage. The Nazis didn’t conceal their desire to get rid of Germany’s Jews, and some Zionists saw it as an opportunity to boost the rate of Jewish immigration from Germany to the British Mandate of Palestine. One of them was Dr. Kurt Tuchler, a German Jewish judge and an active member of the Zionist Federation of Germany.
Even before Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor, the Federation decided to contact Nazi Party officials who they thought might support the Zionist goal. Tuchler turned to Leopold von Mildenstein, who was in charge of the Jewish Desk at the in the security service of the SS and was known for his journalistic writing.
“In those years, Mildenstein became famous for his travel stories,” says filmmaker Arnon Goldfinger, Tuchler’s grandson.
|Joseph Goebbels, the Reich's minister of propaganda (Photo: Getty Images)|
Tuchler sought to join Mildenstein on a trip to the Land of Israel, which was still under British rule at the time, in a bid to suggest the place as an attractive destination for Jews. “He wanted to keep him company and influence him to write his travel story from a Zionist perspective,” Goldfinger explains. “He saw it as a mission.”
And so in the spring of 1933, Tuchler and Mildenstein got in a car with their wives (who were both called Gerda) and embarked on a journey from Germany to the Land of Israel.
Mildenstein returned from Palestine excited by what he saw. In his writings, he described how Jews were working the land, drying up swamps and fulfilling the Zionist idea, and praised Zionism for benefiting both the Jews and the world.
The Reich’s minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, was also very keen about the narrative presented by Mildenstein. As horrible and unbelievable as it may seem from our perspective, the story Mildenstein brought from Palestine matched not only the Zionist stance but also the Nazi one. The bottom line of his articles was clear: Zionism is a way of solving Germany’s “Jewish problem.”
Goebbels used Nazi mouthpiece Der Angriff ("The Attack" in English), which he had set up in 1927, to convey this insight to the Germans. In 1934, the newspaper published a series of 12 articles by Mildenstein titled “A Nazi travels to Palestine.” Goebbels likely saw the series as his newspaper’s flagship project, using it as a means of advertising.
As part of the project, the Nazi Party produced a series of small brass coins. One side of the coins featured a Star of David with the caption “A Nazi travels to Palestine,” and the other side featured a swastika with the newspaper’s name, Angriff. These coins, used to promote the “Zionist” articles from the Land of Israel, were given as a free gift to anyone who purchased a subscription for the mouthpiece. “A sort of sales promotion,” Goldfinger explains.
|Image from Arnon Goldfinger's film 'The Flat.' A Nazi newspaper in grandmother's house|
It’s unclear how many of these coins were produced, but today we know that only few of them survived. Goldfinger himself, who dealt with the Tuchler-Mildenstein story in his award-winning feature documentary film “The Flat,” has one of the coins. The film was born after Goldfinger’s grandmother, Greda Tuchler, died and her family was surprised to find a Nazi newspaper in her apartment—the same newspaper that had published Mildenstein’s articles. Gildfinger’s research revealed that his grandparents had kept in touch with the Mildensteins, even after the Holocaust.
A missed opportunity
“It’s very hard for us to understand, because we know history,” Goldfinger explains. “But my grandfather and Mildenstein were both Germans from a pretty close socioeconomic class, they were both open minded, and after their journey together they became good friends. They developed a shared language, largely thanks to their wives, and remained good friends.'
Goldfinger is one of the few people in the world who owns the “A Nazi travels to Palestine” coin. “I was shocked by the existence of such a medallion, and then I ended up buying one myself in an online auction,” he says, refusing to reveal how much he paid for it.
|Prof. Shaul Ladany. ‘The Nazis wanted to encourage the Jews to leave Germany’ (Photo ;Tal Shahar)|
Another person who owns one of these coins is Professor Shaul Ladany, a Holocaust survivor, racewalker and two-time Olympian who survived the Munich massacre. Ladany, a passionate collector of medallions related to the Land of Israel, says he searched for years for the specific medallion combining a Star of David and a swastika.
“It’s a very rare medallion. For years, I used to visit Germany on different occasions, walk into stores for coin and medal collectors and inquire about this medallion. Everyone was surprised to learn that such a medallion even existed. None of the merchants had heard about it. I searched for it in Canada, Australia and the United States too.”
Ladany believes the coin represents a missed opportunity. “Mildenstein’s series of articles described the Jewish Yishuv in bright colors. He wrote about the establishment of Jewish life here, about the institutions being built, etc. The Nazis wanted to encourage the Jews to leave Germany. In the beginning, they didn’t necessarily want to get rid of the Jews through extermination, as they did later on. Today we know that if more Jews had immigrated from Germany at the time, the majority of German Jews may have survived.”