Setting the Holocaust Hatzala Record Straight
The sad story of a contemporary writer critical of the Vaad Hatzala and its Holocaust rescue work took a bizarre turn last week. Cross-Current readers get the inside story first.
January 17, the anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg’s capture, had been chosen by the organizers of International Rescuer Day 2006 to convene a conference honoring Jewish and non-Jewish Holocaust heroes. Dr. Efraim Zuroff had originally agreed to participate, but cancelled when he learned that Prof. David Kranzler, a noted Holocaust historian, was also scheduled to attend. Dr. Kranzler had been deeply critical of Zuroff’s treatment of the Orthodox Vaad Hatzala. Dr. Kranzler’s setting the record straight was the cover article in Jewish Action (Fall 2002) [Full disclosure: This writer is on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action, and a friend of Cross-Currents contributor Jonathan Rosenblum, who publicly debated Zuroff on the issue.] Zuroff’s non-attendance was the subject of a Jerusalem Post article on the brouhaha.
Dr. Alex Grobman, himself a Holocaust historian and Zuroff’s successor at the Simon Wiesenthal Center provides some interesting context and background in a personal correspondence that he has allowed to be released.
The Jerusalem Post reported that Dr. Efraim Zuroff boycotted a lecture by Professor David Kranzler yesterday in Jerusalem. Dr. Zuroff is angry that Professor Kranzler has exposed his work on the Vaad Hatzala as a biased and an extremely flawed work, and that he attacked his intellectual integrity.
There are a number of glaring errors in Zuroff’s book. There is no question that Zuroff has an intense dislike of Haredim, which is reflected in his book and in interviews promoting it in The New York Times.
He fails to tell you that his grandfather, Dean Saar of YU, was hired by the JDC to direct the Central Orthodox Committee (COC), a parallel organization under their auspices, ostensibly to destroy the Vaad. We call that nogeah b’davar (affected by self-interest).
His suggestion that one of the lessons of the Shoah is that the Vaad should have worked more closely with the JDC reveals a lack of understanding of how the JDC operated. I found Conservative, Orthodox and Reform American Jewish chaplains who were outraged at the JDC for the incompetence of their staff in Europe and the inability of the organization to work with any other groups or individuals. Rabbi Nathan Baruch, the director of the Vaad in Germany, told of the impossibility of working with the JDC and their efforts to destroy the Vaad through the COC.
To suggest that Orthodox Jews were parochial in their rescue work is to miss the point. Who else was going to give priority to saving the rabbinical leadership and the yeshiva students? Other major Jewish organizations saved their leaders, but somehow it was wrong and parochial for the Orthodox to do the same. The rabbis and the yeshiva students also used quotas outside the regular U.S. quota system so that other European Jews were not deprived of visas at their expense.
Professor Kranzler is a first rate scholar who knows more about the Vaad Hatzala during the war years than anyone else. In the spirit of full disclosure, Dr. Zuroff and I were classmates the Hebrew University, where we received our MA’s and Ph.D.’s under Yehuda Bauer. I succeeded him as director at the SWC after he left for Israel.
Dr. Zuroff has done much good for the Jewish people throughout his life, and deserves our thanks. How unfortunate that a man who devoted himself to the good of our people will be remembered by many for maligning the Gedolei Hador and distorting the role of American Orthodox Jews during the Shoah.