May 22, 2024

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German Jews at 1935 Zionist Congress voted against condemning German antisemitism

This headline from AP on September 3, 1935 is awful. Obviously the German Zionists weren’t Nazis.

The resolution’s text, translated from the German report of the Congress, was:

The 19th Zionist Congress raises its voice against the systematic disenfranchisement of the Jews in Germany, whose ever increasing vehemence undermines the moral and material existence of the German Jews. This results in a defamation of the entire Jewish people and their intellectual and ethical cultural achievements…. The Zionist Congress, which has always regarded the preservation of Jewish honor as one of its legitimate and most important tasks, resolutely rejects, on behalf of the Jewish people, the defamation of Jews because of their race as contradicting the elementary principles of morality and justice. The protest against this disenfranchisement is not only a matter for the Jewish people, but a task to defend the principle of equal rights for all peoples. The 19th Zionist Congress declares that the Jewish people, which in the course of several thousand years of history have preserved their honor and their character under endless sacrifices, will never, in any situation, surrender their honor. It will defend the claim to equal rights for Jewish citizens in all countries, as well as its right to exist as a people among the peoples of the world, with the same determination with which it is willing to build its national home in Palestine – as a solution to its existential question . The Jewish question, which today more than ever is an acute world question, and requires the cooperation and sympathy of the non-Jewish world for its solution. The 19th Zionist Congress appeals to the peoples to lend their assistance to the Jewish people in the struggle to preserve their honor and secure their existence.

The German Jewish delegation objected, saying that the Zionist Congress should only be dealing with Zionism and not other issues:
The delegation of Zionists from Germany came to this Congress in the conviction that the aggravation of the Jewish question has revealed more emphatically than ever before that Zionist work must be stepped up. For thousands of Jews, especially for the Jewish youth, and for large parts of the Jewish middle class, emigration to Palestine is the only solution to their existence and future problem today. We worked primarily at this Congress to help pave the way for large-scale Jewish immigration to Palestine through a renewed surge in Zionist work. …We have always seen it as the central, specific task of Zionism to concentrate all our efforts on the constructive solution of the Jewish question through the building of the Jewish national home. We must reject the resolution that has just been read out because, in our opinion, it departs from this clear Zionist line. We will vote against the resolution.

This sounds a lot like how Iranian Jews are careful with their words today, concerned that saying the wrong thing could get them imprisoned.

The plight of Jews in Germany was the topic of many discussions at the Congress, with delegates looking for ways to save Jews.

James G. MacDonald, who was the League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Coming from Germany, spoke:

First and foremost, on behalf of the Council of the High Commission for Refugees from Germany and on my own behalf, I would like to express our great satisfaction with what they Zionist Organization and the other bodies united in the Jewish Agencv have done for the Jews from Germany who have gone to Palestine. I have said many times that our daily prayer after dinner should be: “Lord, God, we thank you for Palestine(stormy, repeated applause). Without this homeland, the prospects for the Jews from Germany would be during the been far more gloomy in the last two and a half years.

At this time, when the gates of almost all countries, the largest as well as the smallest, are almost completely closed to all objections, it is a tremendous thing that Palestine was able to give a home to some thirty thousand Jews from Germany. And in my opinion it is an even bigger thing that Palestine today represents a hope for tens of thousands, yes for hundreds of thousands of Jews in Germany, Poland and elsewhere. It is only this hope, according to my firm feeling, that gives the Jewish people their resolve today and gives them the strength that lies in solidarity.

By 1939, some 60,000 German Jewish refugees made it to Palestine. While the British limitations on immigration doomed hundreds of thousands of Jews in Europe, if it wasn’t for Zionism, those 60,000 would have perished as well.  

MacDonald said he had spoken to British government officials to plead for allowing more Jews into Palestine, and at the time he was guardedly optimistic that they would. He was sad he hadn’t had the chance to visit Palestine himself as of that time, but he spent most of his time trying to convince other countries to accept Jews.

MacDonald later became the first United States Ambassador to Israel.

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