To the Editor:
I awaited your review of Ben Hecht’s Perfidy [March] with some eagerness because I had hoped for the kind of responsible, detailed treatment for which COMMENTARY is justly famed. I was disappointed in Lucy Dawidowicz’s piece, but perhaps, in the nature of the case, not much more could be done.
I am indebted to your reviewer for telling us of Weizmann’s attempt to get the British to bomb Auschwitz and of the follow-up on Eichmann’s proposal to trade trucks for lives.
I agree with your reviewer that Hecht was guilty of savage personal defamation. I agree, now that the facts are fully known, that no one, neither the Zionists nor the Jews, nor the Allies, nor the nations who failed to give the Jews refuge, did enough, and that we all share the guilt; but, that to equate our guilt with that of the Germans is to make moral judgment meaningless.
Having said all this, I maintain that no one did more than the Jews of the Yishuv and the Zionist movement to bring the plight of the Jews before the world and to save Jewish lives. Were it not for them, the Jews now alive in Israel would be dead.
I fail to see how the efforts of Zionists to get Jews into Palestine in any way precluded an effort to get them admitted into the United States. There were enough Jews to go around. There is absolutely no basis in fact for the indictment: “It might perhaps be more accurate to say that, gambling for a Jewish state, the Zionists gambled away one chance to save the Jews.”
I do not know whether any effort by American Jews would have saved the Jews of Europe; undoubtedly the effort was inhibited, as your reviewer suggests, by those who were “fearful, for themselves and for the good name of American Jews.” I do think it is wrong for those same fearful Jews to attempt to shift their guilt to the shoulders of the Zionist Movement and the Jews of the Yishuv who by their courage plucked the brand from the fire and redeemed our name in history’s most tragic hour.
(Rabbi) David Greenberg
The Scarsdale Synagogue
Scarsdale, New York
Mrs. Dawidowicz writes:
Rhetoric makes an unconvincing argument. Recently, Dr. Solomon Schonfeld, Presiding Rabbi of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations of Britain and the Commonwealth, wrote about his experiences in 1942—43, as Executive Director of the Chief Rabbi’s Religious Emergency Council, helping Jewish victims of Nazism. He said a Parliamentary rescue committee had effected the issuance of several hundred immigration permits by the British to Mauritius and other places. But the Zionists dissented, asking “Why not Palestine?” Rabbi Schonfeld wrote: “The obvious answers—that the matter was humanitarian and not political and that the Middle East situation was too delicate—were of no avail.” Because the Zionists considered rescue only in terms of Palestine, they thwarted other possibilities of rescue. A motion placed before Parliament asking the British government, in consultation with the Indian government, to find “temporary refuge in its own territories or those under its control for those able to leave Nazi-occupied countries,” was dropped, its promoters complaining that “if the Jews cannot agree among themselves, how can we help?”
After the war, working among Jews in displaced persons camps in occupied Germany, I myself saw how pressure was exerted against immigration to places other than Palestine. The Zionists believed that the end justified the means, political goals prevailing over humanitarian needs.