To the Editor:
Poliakov’s article “Human Morality and the Nazi Terror” (August) asserts that the Jewish councils that executed the orders of the Nazis, and, to save their own lives, ran the machinery that sent their fellow Jews to Belsen and Auschwitz, had no principles to go by; there was no tradition, either Jewish or Western European, and no categorical imperative, applicable.
With regard to Jewish tradition this is not correct. It is explicitly stated (Yorei Dea 157) that Jews who, under threat of death, are asked to hand over for execution fellow Jews are not allowed to do so. There is only one exception, when they are asked to hand over a certain named individual, guilty of a crime. It seems, therefore, that the request to these councils to hand over innocent people was covered by this tradition, forbidding one to comply even under threat of death.
Rabbi Ph. L. Biberfeld
New York City
[Rabbi Abram Vossen Goodman of Temple Emanuel, Davenport, Iowa, has written to us making the same point of Jewish law, and quoting another supporting text, from Tractate Pesachim.]