1947: Discrimination Against Shoah Survivors, and the Need for Zionism

J-Vault logo

Today we remember between five and six million Jews whom the Nazis murdered, and look to the survivors still among us to bear witness to what they saw.

Of course, concentration camp survivors (and others who ended up in DP camps following the war) were not always accorded such honor and reverence as they often are today. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the image of the DP in sectors of the American public was too often an image of the pitiful victim, the uncivilized wretch, or the sneaky criminal. Today's installment of the J-Vault provides a glimpse into this larger topic, among numerous others.

Special J-Vault for Yom HaShoah: The Psychology of Jewish Displaced Persons (1947)

The title to this article is a bit deceptive. Its primary resonances today are less in relation to the human psyche, and more in relation to group issues of socioeconomic classes, race relations, and the need for Zionism.

American Jewry today has little or no understanding of the Jewish Displaced Person. By and large, our ideas of the Jewish "D.P." are built up entirely on descriptions of horror and hunger portrayed by fund raising appeals or on the contrasting stories of "black marketeering," "continual demanding," and "unwillingness to work" in blanket generalizations by newspapermen who often have interviewed some official who himself has little understanding of the Jewish Displaced Person or of what makes him act as he does.

It is easy to understand the point of view of the American, British or French army or UNRRA official who condemns the Jewish Displaced Person. Usually that official is an ordinary citizen who is part of the stream of thought and philosophy of his country, and he measures those he meets by the standards of this background... He tends to forget the fact that some people were more discriminated against than others, and being more deprived, may exhibit the results of the more difficult lives they have experienced, in behavior which will not make for peaceful living, quiet, and cleanliness. It is difficult for such an official to understand (and emotionally accept the idea) that those who exhibit such negative behavior are those who need the most patience and help. More often, instead, the Jewish Displaced Person is characterized as ungrateful, unclean, lazy or unambitious...

It must be understood that that which may have helped a person survive concentration camp does not necessarily help him in his future adjustments after liberation. By and large, these abilities may retard his after liberation adjustment. The Jewish group attitude, except in occasional instances, was opposed to the "law and order" of the Nazis. "Law and order"—after liberation—continued for many to be something to oppose. It is difficult, for example, for the Jewish Displaced-Person who is so close to hunger, to realize that it was good for him to black market and do anything else that would oppose authority (under the Nazis) but that now, under an Allied power, he is to accept freely whatever limitations they see fit to set on him...

Another aspect of the Jewish ex-concentration camp inmate's attitude is his resentment of the general population in the nearby and surrounding towns in Germany and Austria. Most of the general population represent to the Jews their oppressors and supporters of the oppression against them. That they should be treated theoretically on an equal plane with the general population after their years of suffering only adds to their resentment of the authority which imposes this policy. It is difficult for them to see why people who have had full rations, their families complete, their household furnishings, their positions and comparative security, should be given equal treatment with those who have lost everything. That the Jews should be restricted in movement when the non-Jews are not is also a basis for resentment. In general, the Jews from concentration camps do not look to the Allied or local authorities with any great degree of acceptance...

The British point of view is the most difficult for the Jew to understand. His attitude of treating all persons alike (an antithesis of the Nazi philosophy) has often been referred to by Jewish intellectuals as "pseudo liberalism." The Jews feel that it is naive to treat emaciated, harassed victims with the same amounts of food, clothing and other materials as their oppressors. The British attitude is reminiscent of the Abraham Lincoln story of the wife who came upon the scene of her husband in life and death struggle with a huge bear. The wife, feeling she had to do something, said "Go it husband! Go it bear!" The Jew and anti-Nazi similarly want to know on whose side Britain is — the former Nazis or those who were their victims...

The longer Jews have to remain in lands where they can plan no future, the sooner will all Jewish behavior in these lands become more uniformly aggressive and difficult to work with. As time goes on without a bold and decisive plan, more and more insecurity will develop, and with it can be expected hostilities between native residents and Jews, selfishness, rivalry, suspicion and all the behavior expected in cases of severe dependency. With these, and aggravating these conditions, will be the daily increase of ill health, unsanitary conditions, ignorance due to lack of educational facilities, and unemployment with all its depressive characteristics...

Actually, even if all of the possible facilities for social adjustment of Jewish Displaced Persons were available in the occupied zones, (and this would be difficult to secure so long as Allied political aims dictate the general national internal policies), adjustment of the group in the occupied zones would be doomed to failure. There the D.P. is unwanted by the populace, and he faces daily risks of having physical harm done him, when and if the Allied forces are withdrawn. There he daily faces open and veiled discrimination in finding a job, getting a place to live, getting a business license, or even a telephone. Few, if any, of even the highest authorities are interested in seeing that he gets equal opportunity to build an individual economic and social existence. The recent measures of leniency to Nazis, loans to Germany and Austria, and granting of greater autonomy to local governments by the Allies are pretty clear indications of the future of the Jew in these countries...

In work with most of the small handful of immigrants who have already arrived in the United States, the same problems which displaced persons have exhibited in Europe have been found, but in aggravated form. The same techniques which they developed in the process of self-preservation in the concentration camps are often their main "standbys" of behavior in the new environment. Since these techniques have little or no application to life in America, they become useless appendages which do not help to "make friends and influence people."... His seething hostility against a Nazi government (tied up with a general resentment based on his deprivations) is transferred to the new world about him. The Americans, in turn, cannot understand him. They are indifferent to the problems of Nazism, which they prefer to consider distant and of the past...

America and other lands are reluctant to open their doors to such a group. To sit idly by and philosophize on the sensibility or justice of this or that plan is only to draw out the daily growing problem. The greatest number of the group have expressed the wish to be resettled in Palestine. They have learned of the failure of colonization projects in forgotten and little populated parts of the world. They fear the growing anti-Semitism of lands such as Argentina.

Their behavior continually voices the question, "whom can we trust?" They have been able to trust few in the past, except for people who have seen and understood the meaning of their experiences. They want to be among their own, and instinctively express the feeling that only in Palestine will they have people to come to, who will receive them and want them and give them security. In Palestine, the readjustment of the Jew is within the realm of possibility. In the occupied zones, it is not. Here the Jewish Displaced Person can build and work for the future and feel that it is permanent. In the cooperative farms and groups, he gains a feeling of group belonging, so akin to the need for family life and security. Here, he can find understanding of the problems and experiences he has faced, because many of the Jews of Palestine are themselves refugees from the concentration camps and seek the adjustment of the new refugees as an ideological goal...  Here too, he can work out his need for authoritarian leadership learned in the concentration camp, and gradually learn participation and democratic methods within the working group...

Never before in the history of social work has it been necessary to plan for so large a group of disturbed people. Only by introduction of wholesome group life can any progress be expected. As it stands now, every day away from such a therapeutic atmosphere is a day of further regression. Eventually, and not too far in the future, it will be too late.

More information...

Download directly...

J-Vault logo

Special J-Vault for Yom HaShoah

J-Vault logo

This Monday, May 2, marks Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. In honor of this important occasion of communal memory, we have prepared a special installment of our J-Vault series, which highlights historical materials in BJPA's holdings.

The publications below, written by American Jewish communal professionals in 1937 - 1939, offer a fascinating (and sometimes chilling) glimpse into American Jewish perceptions of the situation of Europe's Jews during a time when Nazi antisemitic persecutions had begun to unfold, but had not yet nearly reached their horrific apogee. They are all from the journal Jewish Social Service Quarterly, which is now the Journal of Jewish Communal Service.

This week from the J-Vault: Publications from the late 1930s

Jewish Morale in the Present Situation (September 1937)
Distressed by the oppression of German Jews, Morris D. Waldman nonetheless held out hope for the project of emancipation and Jewish integration into Diaspora societies. He saw in certain Jewish and Zionist perspectives echoes of the Nazi "theories that the Jews are a distinct race, alien, unadaptable in the western world". "Despite intolerable provocation," he wrote, "...we must place our faith in the substantial values of civilization and submit to the restraints of civilized people."

Jewish Problems and Activities Overseas (September 1937)
Joseph C. Hyman described the coordination of Jewish relief efforts abroad. "The tragedy that is today taking place in Germany," he wrote, is "symptomatic of almost world-wide anti-Jewish activity."

Race and Race Prejudice (December 1937)
Franz Boas endeavored to "show the absurdity of the whole race-theory which is the basis of Nazi political theory." He also discussed prejudice in America: "Unfortunately, we are not free of tendencies that point in the same direction. Prejudice against the Negro is the most striking and probably most dangerous one."

Problems of Minority Groups (September 1938)
 Oscar I. Janowsky described in depth the situation of Jews and other vulnerable minorities in the Europe of 1938. "The Jew is attacked first because he is the weakest and safest enemy," he wrote. But "Behind the smokescreen of anti-Semitism, the liberties of all are destroyed... So long as Nazism and Fascism prevail, there will be no peace for the true Christian, for the true scholar, for the true proponent of a better world, any more than for the Jew."

 The Social Pathology of the Refugee Problem (March 1939)
Melvin M. Fagen examined the web of causes he perceived to be behind the crisis facing Jews. "Though our course is not clear," he declared, "and the future uncertain, there is one thing we can do, one duty we owe to ourselves and to posterity. It is to know why these wars have come about, why the refugee problem or the Jewish problem or the problem of Fascism arises."

Jewish Ideology in the Present Crisis(March 1939)
"[S]ince 1933, millions of Jews have been deprived of either their lives or the means to their livelihood," wrote Ira Eisenstein. "Political rights and economic opportunities have been ruthlessly taken from them and, at the present writing, it appears that no less than four million Jews in Central Europe alone will be compelled to migrate from the lands in which they and their ancestors have lived for centuries." Unaware that the immediate future would yield events far more monstrous than these, Eisenstein nonetheless realized that the happenings of his day would necessitate a reconsideration of the "various alternatives, which Jewish thinkers contemplated as the solution to the so-called Jewish problem during the whole post-emancipation era". Strikingly, he wrote: "It is not assimilation which has failed; it is democracy which has failed, that very democracy which made possible assimilation."

 

J-Vault logo

We welcome your reactions in the comments section below.

Have a meaningful Yom HaShoah.

Wiesel at Wagner

by Aimee Gonzalez

(cross-posted at Wagner Today)

Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel, whom many consider to be the most articulate witness of the Holocaust and whose work, Night, has become a classic account of that time, visited New York University’s Puck Building on April 12th with the Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship and the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. In light of his most recent publication, An Ethical Compass, and the general theme of social entrepreneurship Wiesel discussed ethos, and why we need it to advance society.

Speaking to a room filled with students, community members and faculty, Wiesel asked, “Where are we? With so many changes, convulsions, what is happening to the world? We need a historic compass,” to situate and orient ourselves. That compass is ethos.

For Wiesel, ethos “is a choice between good and evil. How can we make such a distinction? First decide what is not good—anything involving humiliation of the other.” He discussed Hitler and Stalin’s use of their leadership position to preach an ethos that was not truly there—and was instead a way to justify millions of deaths. Wiesel reminded his audience that “the choice is always in our hands.” He gives the example of the SS (Hitler’s protection force that grew into a paramilitary organization), emphasizing that they had a choice. In fact, it was a voluntary position; no one should ever believe that they were coerced.

Given Wiesel’s life story, references to Hitler and Nazi Germany are inevitable. However, he also defines ethos as generally “respect[ing] the other for whatever the other is.” His childhood love for the others in his community, beggars and madmen, grew into the social activism he is well known for today. To illustrate this respect for the other, he gave the example of his visit to German President Johannes Rau, in which he pointed out that the one thing Germany had never done was to ask the Jewish people for forgiveness. In 2000, Rau flew to Israel and went before the Knesset, and wrote letters to survivors, asking for forgiveness.

Wiesel gave another example of his social activism, the mediation between the Minister of Apartheid in South Africa and Nelson Mandela. After many days of frustration, he “took them into a room and said, ‘talk to each other.’ That was the beginning of the end of apartheid.”

His policy of respecting the “other” in others has earned Elie Wiesel recognition and reputation beyond his story of survival. Although he has written extensively about his experience, and especially the challenge of writing about the Holocaust, he has also been an activist on behalf of other humanitarian causes. (See, for example, this 2000 open letter of advice to then-President Clinton regarding the situation in Sudan.) Wiesel has also established a foundation to combat injustice and indifference worldwide.

Browse the BJPA for more resources on the Holocaust, Holocaust Education, Genocide, Human Rights, Global Responsibility, and Ethics.

How to Rehabilitate a Hero: from Oakland Federation to Portugal

Aristides

Forbidden to practice in his trained profession as a lawyer and stripped of his position in Portugal's diplomatic corps, and his pension, Aristides de Sousa Mendes died in a poor house in Portugal in 1954.

“I would rather be with God against man, than with man against God.” -Aristides de Sousa Mendes

Against the orders of the Portuguese government, Sousa Mendes, then the Portugese Consul general to France, decided to issue a Portuguese visa to anyone who requested one, regardless of race, religion, or economic status. He and children worked round the clock to produce visas for refugees. The visa allowed the bearer to flee from France into Spain, and to escape the Nazis. In this way, Sousa Mendes saved 30,000 lives, including 10,000 Jews.

The Portuguese government punished him for his disobedience. Thirty-four years later it changed its mind.

In 1988, "he was posthumously reinstated to the Portuguese diplomatic corps, given the rank of Diplomat First Class, and was subsequently awarded the highest honor and medal that can be bestowed on a Portuguese civilian: the Grand Cross of the Order of Christ... A postage stamp with Sousa Mendes’ likeness was issued and a new subway station named in his honor. A curriculum exemplifying Dr. Sousa Mendes’ deeds was developed and is now taught to every school child."

In Reinstating the Name and Honor of a Portuguese Diplomat Who Rescued Jews During World War II: Community Social Work Strategies, Robert Jacobvitz tells the story of how, in his position as director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay (of Oakland, California, where some of Sousa Mendes' descendants lived) he, Sousa Mendes' son and daughter-in-law, John Paul and Joan, worked on a shoestring budget to organize an international effort to persuade Portugal to recognize and honor Sousa Mendes - the only Portugese citizen ever recognized by Yad Vashem.  They were able to recruit Israel's first female Ambassador (and now member of the Knesset), Consul General to San Francisco Colette Avital, and then United States Representative Tony Coelho, the only Portugese American in Congress, as allies in their effort.

Jacobvitz frames this article as the story of how he applied his education from Yeshiva University's Wurzweiler school of Jewish Social Work to organize a small team of committed to people to act as effectively, and appear to the world as, a large international campaign. I'm glad we have it in BJPA to serve as both a template and inspiration for future efforts by Jewish communal professionals.

Here are some more sources about Sousa Mendes:

The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous is an organization dedicated to finding and supporting gentile rescuers (who are often too proud or humble to seek help) to make sure that the future is unlike the past:

John Paul once shared with me this response he received from a Portuguese group representative: “If your father rescued Jews, then let the Jews help you.”

"Resisting Re-ghettoization" Recap

Wagner Today, the student blog of NYU Wagner, provides a useful summary of yesterday's BJPA roundtable ("Resisting Re-ghettoization: From Without and Within") with journalist Yossi Klein Halevi:

The great post-Holocaust achievements were power and integration into the world community (and for American Jewry, the public space). Now both those achievements are under assault -- from without and from within. The legitimacy of Jewish power is questioned not only by the UN Human Rights Council, but also by increasing numbers of Jews. The integration of Jews into the world community is also under assault from without and within -- the diplomatic ghettoization of Israel, the growing power of the haredim and the religious right in Israel.

He emphasized that we need to re-commit the American Jewish-Israeli relationship to reaffirming Jewish power and the Jewish place in the community of nations. This means resisting the demonization from without -- and strengthening Jewish pluralism, especially religious pluralism in Israel.

Click here for their full summary, with a few pictures.

Tablet Magazine also covered the event.

Here came, for me, the most useful part of the conversation, because I got to see, in Halevi, something I had heretofore only read about: The widespread Israeli understanding of the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from all the Gaza settlements and a few in the West Bank as a complete disaster, which must never be repeated. “I don’t want Netanyahu to give anything away for free,” Halevi insisted, his voice carrying a harsh undercurrent for the only time that afternoon. The problem with extending the freeze for nothing in return, he said, is that the last time the settlements were put on hold—indeed, they were eliminated—in exchange for nothing, there were rockets; and then there was an attempt to stop the rockets; and then there was a near-total absence of international support for stopping the rockets; and then there was the Goldstone Report.

Read Marc Tracy's excellent overview of and commentary on the roundtable: Resisting ‘Re-Ghettoization’