Archive for November 2005

Book Review: Radicals, Rabbis, and Peacemakers

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

RADICALS, RABBIS, AND PEACEMAKERS: Conversations With Jewish Critics of Israel, by Seth Farber, Common Courage Press,  252  Pages, $l9.95.  207-525-0900.

Reviewed by Michael Steven Smith

My grandparents came to America from Hungary in 1912. My family who stayed there and the Hungarian Jewish population were mostly killed by the facists in the bitter winter of l944, some 800,000. Twenty thousand alone died of the cold and disease, huddled in the great unheated synagogue, the largest in the world, on Dohany Street in Budapest. I was in Budapest with my wife and sister and friends this past October vacationing and visiting my cousins. As it happened it was during Yom Kippur, the Jewish high holiday and new year. We are not religious, nor are my Hungarian relatives, but we asked them to take us  to that synagogue  for Yom Kippur services. It was quite stirring to be there amongst the remnant of that ancient Jewish community that had been in Budapest going back to the times of the Romans.

My Hungarian cousin Anti is still alive and vigorous at age 96. He was not picked up in l944 with the others but rather in l94l, because he was a communist. So was his wife Manci. They managed to place their two year old son Vili with a sympathetic Christian woman before being arrested and put in separate labor camps. Anti soon escaped and fought in the forests with the Partisans. He is figure mentioned by his country’s historians. Manci lived. In l945 with the Russian liberation they returned to Budapest to fetch their son. Vili answered the door. “I am your mother,” said Manci. “No you are not,” answered Vili. “My mother was beautiful.” She was ninety pounds and bald. So they started anew.

The history of the Zionists in Hungary is a sordid one, even before they established their exclusivist colonial settler state in Palestine. My cousins, who were not important people, were amongst the several thousand Hungarian Jews who survived the fire. A pact was signed by Dr. Rudolph Kastner of the Jewish Agency Rescue Committee and Nazi exterminator Adolph Eichmann in l944 allowing 600 prominent Jews to leave in exchange for Zionist silence on the fate of the remainder. Malchiel Greenwald, a Hungarian survivor, exposed the deal and was sued by the Israeli government, whose leaders at the time had actually drawn up the terms of the pact. Greenwald won. The Israeli court concluded, “The sacrifice of the majority of Hungarian Jews, in order to rescue the prominent ones (and send them to colonize Palestine – MSS) was the basic element in the agreement between Kastner and the Nazis….In addition to its Extermination Department and Looting Department, the Nazi S.S. opened a Rescue Department headed by Kastner.” ( Judgment given on June 22, 1955, Protocol of Criminal Case 124/53 in District Court, Jerusalem.)

In point of fact, members of the Zionist movement actively collaborated with Nazism from the beginning. The World Zionist Organization sabotaged world Jewry’s attempt to boycott the Nazi economy in order to be allowed to send money from Germany to Palestine. They fought against liberalization of U.S. immigration laws, for they wanted European Jews to go to Palestine, not America. As Ralph Schoenman, like me, an American Jew of Hungarian descent, wrote  “This obsession with colonizing Palestine and overwhelming the Arabs led the Zionist movement to oppose any rescue of the Jews facing extermination, because the ability to deflect manpower to Palestine would be impeded.(The Hidden History of Zionism, Veritas Press, P. 50)   David Ben Gurion summarized to a meeting of “left” Zionists in 1938 in England: “If I knew that it would be possible to save al the children in Germany by bringing them over to England and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Israel, then I opt for the second alternative.” (cited in Lenni Brenner, “Zionism in the age of the Dictators,” p.49)

The first time I toured and worked in Israel was over the summer of 1959. I was sixteen years old. Israel was eleven. Anti’s brother Carl and his son managed to survive and get to Israel. The lived in Jaffa, a once Arab village north of Tel Aviv which was ethnically cleansed in l948. I found (more…)