Redeeming the Captive (3 cents)

At last night’s Seder, the host chose, as the topic of the evening, the concept of redemption, pointing out that the are four separate words which appear in the Hebrew in the standard Haggadah, each of which is translated as ‘redemption’ in English, leading to the conclusion that this is a term with many meanings.

One of the meanings of redemption, of course, relates to the “redemption of captives”, something that ranks quite high in written Jewish tradition. If someone is captured, you redeem him if you can, and older Jewish communities were many times impoverished by the cost of redeeming captured community members.

During the twelve years of the ‘thousand year reich’, most European Jews were, one way or another, held captive. Few were ‘redeemed’. Yet the possibility of redemption was there – during the early years when Germany seemed only to want to get rid of Jews, not exterminate them, and during the last years of the war, when a desperate Germany expressed a willingness to release Hungarian Jews in return for war materiel, and when the German-allied Romanian government appeared willing to sell its Jews into freedom. Hundreds of thousands, if not more, could possibly have been saved.

But they weren’t. Why not?

I just finished reading Louis Rapaport’s “Shake Heaven and Earth”, which deals with this subject. In fact, it is the third such book I have read, the first being David Wyman’s “The Abandonment of the Jews” and the second was Rafael Medoff’s “The Deafening Silence”.

These books focus on the failure of the American (and even more so, the British) government to seriously attempt to rescue Jews during this period of time, even after word of the “Final Solution” had come out and been corroborated. There were of course reasons for this: they didn’t want to divert the total war effort; it would foment anti-semitism at home; there were high ranking government officials who were clearly anti-Jewish; it would provoke the Arabs who might not have been cooperating actively with the Allied war effort, but who at least were not actively opposing it.

But as these books point out, there was another factor, and that was the general opposition of Zionist leaders, in America and in Palestine, to rescue efforts, and to any efforts of those not within their inner circles to garner support for an independent agenda. And, as the strongest advocate of, first, a Jewish army, second, the recognition of the “Hebrew” nation (not on a religious basis), and, third, the rescue of European Jewry, was Peter Bergson (born Hillel Kook), a young “radical”, follower of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, opponent of the David Ben-Gurion form of Labor Zionism, and target of mainstream Jewish movements.

Rapaport’s book (and the others) talk about all of these issues – but for the purpose of the discussion begun at last night’s Seder, the question is: what takes priority: the rescue (read: redemption) of the captive (read: Jews of Europe), or the post-war planning for a new state in Palestine.
It is true that large scale, serious attempts to rescue the Jews might have met with no success whatsoever. It is true that it might have affected the military campaign or military planning. It is true (unfortunately, unbelievable, but factually) that there was no nation on earth willing to take in displaced Jews in any significant number.

But is it also true that the world wide normative Zionist movement did not want to see 1,000,000+ Jews descend on Palestine, both out of fear that the country could not support this kind of population, and out of concern that some of those coming in might wind up to social parasites, or worse? And that they, both in Palestine and in the U.S. fought the proposals, and anything done by young Bergson, tooth and nail? And the fact that so many European Jews would die was only ‘too bad’?

If redeeming the captive is so important, why was it deemed so unnecessary?


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