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.
No less than R Berel Wein has suggested that the issue of who “succeeded” more in saving Jews during
the Holocaust is a non-productive topic. R Rakkaffet also quotes RYBS’s words on this issue in a
similar vein. The only work that a historian, as opposed to a partisan supporter of either the JDC
or the Vaad is Professor Farbstein’s work that I mentioned in another context. It is equally
disengenuous to blame any one faction within pre WW2 Jewry as being the “cause” of the demise of
European Jewry without considering a host of political and historical factors. These factors would
1) the role of the Gdolim in discouraging immigration to the US before the closing of the doors under
the quotas enacted in the 1920s;
2) the role of the Gdolim vis a vis Zionism-would their participation in the WJC have yielded benefits for the
3) the role of the Gdolim vis a vis the rise of Communism and Nazism?-
4) the worship by US Jewry of FDR as a semi AZ and their fear of antagonizing FDR?
5) The importance of saving spiritual leaders
6) spriritual leaders who advised their followers to stay behind while they escaped
7) the focus on spiritual resistance and the all but total negation of any Gdolim who agreed with and
supported physical resistance
To this date, both the supporters of the WJC and the Vaad seem more interested in scoring points than
in discussing facts. Perhaps, that is why Yom HaShoah probably will be seen as the refuge of secular
ritual, than as a day in which all sectors of Jewry engage in somber reflection over the destruction
of world Jewry
One more factor cannot be discounted-American Jewry during the Holocaust years was a weak and
disorganized group of competing factions. There were a few “shtadlanim” who had access but who were
hardly friends of European and Orthodox Jewry. The degree of access that we have today and the
ability to bring pressure on issues concerning Klal Yisrael and on the critical issues of European
Jewish refugees and Zionism was alsmost completely insignificant and nonexistent, especially in a US ‘
where anti Semitism and isolationism were mainstream and powerful political forces before WW2. We
also forget that while today’s State Department may have Arabists ( and even Jewish Arabists)in its
higher echelons, the Foggy Bottom of the WW2 era was anti Semitic.
No idea at all if this is in the slightest bit relevant to this discussion, but it should be noted that there was remarkable partnership of the Cheredi R. Solomon Schonfeld( a talmid of R.Weismandel of Nitra) and the centrist Chief Rabbi Hertz z’tl, and the rescue of hundreds( 1200) of Rebbeim, Shochtim, teachers etc. from Germany and Austria, and of course the many thousands of children in the kindertransport, barely an Orthodox one amongst them.
( Can’t we all just get along? R.Rodney King)
These two letters-to-the-editor were recently published in the Jerusalem Post.
(a) “Why I stayed away ”
Sir, – Contrary to “Wiesenthal director boycotts Holocaust event” (January 18), which claimed that I boycotted an evening to honor individuals who rescued Jews during the Holocaust because David Kranzler was among the scheduled speakers, I want to make clear that the reason I changed my original decision to speak was that I found out the organizers planned to honor Kranzler at the event.
Post readers who have followed the ongoing attempts by Kranzler et Rosenblum to portray me as a charlatan willing to falsify my own research in order to increase book sales by lying about the rescue efforts of American Orthodox activists during the Shoah – while presenting their own seriously-flawed and ideologically-based account of those activities – no doubt understand why I could under no circumstances participate in any event at which such a person was honored for his “historical research.”
Those brave individuals who did so much to save Jews during the Holocaust indeed deserve recognition and gratitude, but honoring hagiographers who lack all objectivity and mold their conclusions based on ideological affinity as opposed to accurate research of the historical events hardly contributes something positive to that goal.
Simon Wiesenthal CenterIsrael Office
(b) Sir, – As opposed to what Efraim Zuroff claims, Prof. David Kranzler did not accuse Zuroff of falsifying research on the Va’ad Hatzala to increase sales of his book on the Va’ad. Rather, Zuroff was accused of falsely representing the contents of his own book in a series of inflammatory interviews in order to hype sales.
For a full account of the dispute see “Anatomy of a Slander” http://www.jewishmediaresources.org
“6) spriritual leaders who advised their followers to stay behind while they escaped”
I’ve heard this many times, but I’ve never seen any solid examples. Can you please provide some?
I have no intention of refuting every single one of the inane assertions made about me personally or about my research on the Vaad, but I do want to make several things clear.
First and foremost, I find the comments attributing my somewhat critical appraisal of the Vaad’s activities to my grandfather’s position as head of the Central Orthodox Committee to be utterly ridiculous. For the record, my grandfather z”l passed away when I was less than fourteen years old. He NEVER discussed the subject of the VH with me, so I never heard his views on the topic nor was any effort made subsequently to inform or “enlighten” me about this issue. The problem with my critics is, apparently, that they cannot accept the fact that an Orthodox Jew might be publically critical of a group headed by rabbis. That might be the reality in the haredi world, but it is certainly not my reality. My research shows that the Vaad did some very good things as well as some highly-questionable things, and that is what I have ben saying for the last five years.
Second, I did NOT “boycott” the evening because David Kranzler was scheduled to speak. In fact, I had originally agreed to speak knowing that he was going to speak as well( but not on VH). The reason I pulled out was because I found out that he was going to be HONORED at the event, which is something which-given his unmitigated efforts to besmirsch my research and impugn my integrity-I did not feel that I could be part of.
Take a look at Lawrence Kaplan’s essay on Daas Torah in a book published by the orthodox Forum on Halachic Authority and
Religious Autonomy. Professor Kaplan contrasts two radically different speeches on this issue given by none less than the Belzer Rebbe ZTL. Bezras HaShem, I will post both versions here tonight. Rebbitzen Farbstein contrasts those leaders who stayed and those who left without passing judgment on this issue.
‘spriritual leaders who advised their followers to stay behind while they escaped’
What probably happened, if this is true, was that at a cetain early point they didn’t advise them to leave, but as the situation got worse later on, it was obvious that everyone should get out. The accusation, I would say, is a half truth.
Aaron-check the date. The speech in question was given by the Belzer Rebbe ZTL in March 1944, immediately before his flight from Hungary. As promised, I will prinnt both versions -the first in which he asked his Chasidim to stay and the sanitized version of the same that was disseminated afterwards.
The most important Chassidic leader in Europe, the Gerer Rebbe (the Imre Emes), strongly urged his folowers to purchase land in Eretz Yisroel and move there before World War II. In fact, he himself travelled to Eretz Yisroel , purhased land, and refused to return to Europe.
A special Beth Din was convened by his Chassidim to force him to return to Poland.
Now you know the rest of the story!
Hillel-The Gerrer Rebbe saw the writing on the wall and escaped Poland ahead of the Nazis. The Belzer Rebbe was aligned with the strongly anti Zionist Munkacher Rebbe ZTL who blamed Polish Jewry for their own misfortunes. Take a look at Aim HaBanim Simecha and the Kaplan article re the attitude of the Hungarian Admorim and the role of the Belzer Rebbe ZTL
It is also known that none less than R E Wasserman ZTL, HaShem Yimkam Damo, also discouraged Talmidim of his from accepting visas that would have provided them with entry to the USA as RY in RIETS and Skokie ( HTC) on the grounds that Europe presented physical danger and the US visas would have placed them in a place of spiritual danger. This is quoted explicitly in the ArtScroll bio of REW. While this was REW’s position, it is also known that many Charedi RY gave shiurim in RIETS in the 1920s and 1930s, including R Shimon Shkopp ZTL and many others. Obviously, they differed with REW’s assessment of RIETS.
I am nogeyah bedavar three ways: I edited Dr. Alex Grobman’s book Battling for Souls and my mother was on the Kastner transport, and my father was world vice president of the agudath israel. So there’s my full disclosure, right up front.
What Alex Grobman forgets to mention in his post is that this is all in his book, Battling for Souls, which came out a couple of years ago to settle the Krazler/Zuroff debate once and for all. He got kudos from both the Agudah and the JDC for finally setting the record straight. As for who told who to stay behind and not go to the Yishuv, I can think of the Satmar Rebbe, who blamed the Zionists for the Holocaust, yet took the Kastner transport out with a Palestine Certificate and went to the Yishuv before he came to Williamsburgh. My uncle was vilifed by his father-in-law, the Minchas Elazar, who also said that the Zionists caused the Holocaust and that everyone should stay put. My uncle the Admor, Baruch Yearchmeil Yehoshua Rabinowich, was trying to get people out to Mandate Palestine, including his sister, my Polish mother–who also landed on the Kastner transport–after he sent her to Freudiger. The Kastner transport would never have left the station if not for the Vaad–but it did and I am here to write this post and tell you all to read Battling for Souls and get the full picture.
Mrs. Friedman’s comment certainly supports my contention that Gdolim and Admorim urged their followers to stay but who ultimately left , whether via the Kastner Transport or other means. On the other hand, as Rebbitzen Farbstein pointed out, the decision to flee or stay was a judgment call for many Rabbonim, Roshei Yeshivah and Admorim, especially in Poland. One can certainly contrast the different atitudes and views taken without engaging in second-guessing. However, as I will point out in detail this evening, there is more than enough material to study and teach the next generation about this issue without engaging in the rewriting of drashos and historical perspectives.
I don’t think you could say that “the gedolim” told people to stay while saving themselves. Many leaders told the people not to make trouble for the Nazis.My mother was only 12 at the time, but she remembers the rabbi in her city in Hungary telling the people not to worry. Many people did hear the warnings of the Polish refugees, but my mother said that no one could beleive that such a thing could happen. My mother doesn’t know whether or not that rabbi got out in the Kastner transport.
My father was from the Carpathean area of Czeckeslavakia. I know that the Tzailemer Rebbe came to America before the borders close but I highly doubt that the Rebbe told people to stay. He lost many members of his family. I’m sure he would have saved them if he could have.
There is no doubt that Hungarian Jews were sold out but I would from what I heard in my family and from what I have read on the subject, I would look alot further than just some rabbis.
“There is no doubt that Hungarian Jews were sold out but I would from what I heard in my family and from what I have read on the subject, I would look alot further than just some rabbis.”
I believe Kastner himself had a hand in selling out the Hungarian Jews…
I’m reading a lot of comments about the “Kastner Transport” of prominent Jews who left Hungary in 1944 on a special train arranged by Eichman himself.
But no one has pointed out that this transport was arranged as part of a deal between Eichman, the murderer of Hungarian Jewry, and Kastner, the representative of the zionists in Hungary.
According to the record of the Kastner trial in Israel, Eichman struck a deal with with Kastner as follows: Kastner would pacify Hungarian Jewry by telling them that the Nazis would not harm them. In exchange, Eichman would allow Kastner to select about 1500 prominent Jews for a special transport that would be allowed to go to freedom in Switzerland.
Kastner kept his part of the bargain. He travelled around Hungary assuring everyone that they were being sent to labor camps–not Auschwitz. This was a lie, and Kastner knew it.
Eichman kept his part of the deal, too.
The Satmar Rebbe got a spot on the train as a result of bribery by his Chassidim. The train was supposed to be for zionist officials only.
For an honest portrayal of the controversy between Dr. Zuroff and myself, concerning the Orthodox rescue efforts during the Holocaust, one would be advised to read two articles in “Jewish Action.” The first, in “Jewish Action” (Fall, 2002), pp. 32-39, is my fully documented critical review of Dr. Zuroff’s book on the Vaad Hatzalah. His response and my answer to his response is found in “Jewish Action” (Spring,2003), pp. 32-39. For a review of an earlier misunderstanding of the Orthodox by Dr. Zuroff, see my book, “Thy Brother’s Blood: The Orthodox Jewish Response During the Holocaust”, page 68, one of my ten books devoted to rescue and rescue attempts during the Holocaust.
One of Dr. Zuroff’s most recent egregious historical errors, is found in his article entitled “The Evolution of American Orthodox Relief and Rescue Efforts During the Holocaust: Two Documents,” found in the “Journal of Ecumenical Studies” (Fall, 2003), p. 456, where he cites Rabbi [Dr.] Wolf Gold as “President, Agudas [sic] Israel.” To clarify, Dr. Zuroff provides a footnote with a brief history of Agudas Israel. In reality, Rabbi Dr. Wolf Gold was a major Mizrahi leader and former president of Mizrahi of America and one of the founders of Mesivta Torah Vodaath. It was Rabbi Eliezer Silver who founded both the Vaad Hatzalah and Agudath Israel of America, in 1939, at the behest of his former teacher, Hagaon Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, of Vilna.
Congratulations Prof.(of Library Science, not of history or Jewish history)Kranzler,
You finally caught a genuine mistake that I made.I’m sure it made your day( and that of J.Rosenblum and A.Grobman).
You are indeed correct that Rabbi Wolf Gold was NOT President of American Aguda and that he was one of the leaders of American Mizrachi.
Having said that, I believe that persons curious about issues concerning Orthodox rescue efforts will no doubt find my review of the book you mentioned “Thy Brothers’ Blood” of great interest since they will be informed of far more serious mistakes regarding major historical events that you made there, as well as in other publications.The review was published in:
“American Jewish History,” Vol.78, No. 1(September 1988), pages 132-136 and will go a long way toward explaining your obsession to try and delegitimize my research.
Since Dr. Zuroff has been trying so hard to denigrate my academic credentials, I would like to set the record straight. I have a BA in history (Brooklyn College), an MA in East Asian History (CUNY) and an MLS in Library Science (Columbia), as well as a Ph.D. in Jewish History (with 120 credits) from the Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University.
Incidentally, my degree in Library Science honed my skills in research and scholarly format, which gives me an edge in research and research tools on numerous subjects. Based on my academic achievements, I am the only (non chief) librarian in the City University to have attained the level of full professorship.
As a historian, I authored ten books on the Holocaust, mostly on rescue and rescue attempts during that tragic period. My first book, (Japanese, Nazis and Jews: the Jewish Refugee Community of Shanghai 1938-45. Yeshiva U. Press, 1976) was based on my dissertation. Two years ago, it was awarded the prize of inclusion “Among the 100,000 Most Significant Books (not only Jewish) Published from 1930 to 2000.” A more recent book, “The Man Who Stopped the Trains to Auschwitz,” (Syracuse U. Press, 2000), was awarded the “1998 Histadrut Prize for the Best Manuscript on the Holocaust.” Based on my scholarship, three years ago I was granted a Four Month Senior Research Fellowship at Yad Vashem. Prof. Yehuda Bauer, Dr. Zuroff’s mentor, and Israel’s foremost authority on the Holocaust, with whom I have disagreed on scholarly issues (never personally) for many years, gave his approval for this Fellowship. Ironically, in the Foreword to Dr. Zuroff’s book, it was Professor Bauer who noted “[Dr.] Efraim Zuroff follows in the footsteps of David Kranzler and other pioneers in this field.”
I’d be happy to debate with Dr. Zuroff, any aspect of rescue and Jewish organizations during the Holocaust, in any venue, in any place, whether in Israel or in the United States.
I would agree with Dr. Zuroff that the reader would be advised to see his article in “American Jewish History” where, in five pages, he is unable to contradict a single fact in my book “Thy Brother’s Blood”. What is interesting, however, is his concluding sentence, “What do you expect from the Charedim they know neither Hebrew nor history.”
Has anybody considered the fact that the “godless communists” (Soviet Russia, Yugoslav partisans) saved many more Jews than the meager numbers saved by the anti-Zionist orthodox. Dr. Zuroff probably has the numbers. One possible obstacle in saving significant numbers of haredim was that they mistrusted and considered communism a bigger threat that Nazism. They agreed, without realizing it, with papa Pacelli (Pius XII) and papa Montini (Paul VI) who both thought that Stalin was a greater threat than Hitler. I would like Dr. Zuroff to comment, if possible. Thank you.
Shabetai Perera, PhD, Applied Math
ES TUT VEI ! it hurts ! not one hint of HAINT – where are we ? – just 20+ years ago there was a MUSEUM OF THE FUTURE HOLOCAUST in JERUSALEM. It was set up by R’ MEIR KAHANNA ( hashem yinkkom damo) and shut down by the gov’t of Israel. Let K….and Z. ..put their pens together and reopen the MUSEUM OF THE FUTURE HOLOCAUST lezichrono
Someone from New Milford, NJ was kind enough to mail me a copy of Dr Grobman’s book without any
charge or retrun address. Whoever you are, I thank you. I would also suggest that anyone interested
in reading about R Eliezer Silver ZTL read R Rakkafet’s bio “The Silver Era”. It is a wonderful profile of an Adam Gadol who was a talmid of R Chaim Brisker and R Chaim Ozer Zicronam Livacha and
who literally “danced at two chasunas”-as a supporter of the Agudah, Agudas HaRabbonim and the RCA.
It is must reading on the development of the Torah community in the US both before WW2 and afterwards
, along with R Silver ZTL’s relationships with all of the Gdolim ranging from R A Kotler to RYBS, Zicronam Livracha.
One of the absolutely endearing traits of Professor( of Library Science)Kranzler is that he applies the same standards to his own research as he does to the historical record of his favorite rabbis.Thus just as he is incapable of attributing any mistakes to certain rabbis, he denies making any mistakes in his books and articles.This is the only possible explanation for his unbelievable statement that I did not find a single mistake in his book “Thy Brother’s Blood,” when my review pointed out numerous such mistakes, so many serious ones in fact, that I even contemplated not writing the review because it was so embarassing for him.
As far as his supposed readiness to debate me, he refused to do so as recently as two years ago when Jonathan Rosenblum chickened out of such a debate in Nof Ayalon on Chol Hamoed Sukkot and instead suggested that DK fill in for him but the dauntless professor( of Library Science) refused the invitation.Of course there is no way that the readers of this list would know that since it was not publicized and therefore DK can tell you of his courageous readiness to debate me anywhere any time.
My advice to all of you interested in the topic:Read my book.Read my review of DK’s “Thy Brothers’ Blood” and judge for your selves, u-ba l’Tziyon goell.
“Has anybody considered the fact that the “godless communists” (Soviet Russia, Yugoslav partisans) saved many more Jews than the meager numbers saved by the anti-Zionist orthodox…One possible obstacle in saving significant numbers of haredim was that they mistrusted and considered communism a bigger threat that Nazism.”
Actually, the Chareidim WERE right. In the end, Stalin did far more damage to Judaism than Hitler.
Agree with Steve Brizel about reading R. Rothkofp-Rakaffets-book about R. Eliezer Silver ZT”L, that book and his biography of Revel are not only good for understanding two major personalities but in background give a good flavor of issues that were around in the first half of the 20th century.
Re the Holocaust it is clear that mistakes were made by great Zaddikim and Gaonim-nobody is infallible. To be fair Zuroff does mention prominently in his book the march to the White House by Chareidi Rabbonim.
To a great extent I believe that the issue of what mistakes were made during the Holocaust and the reaction of trying to make great leaders into those who didn’t make mistakes one that is not productive and just likely to increase sinat chinam on both sides. A lot is in the packaging Zuroff points out that the Vaad Hazalah was run inefficiently until Mike Tress came to straighten thins out. In a Chareid biography it is pointed out how much Mike Tress did to improve efficincy in Agudah and Vaad Hazalah. Essential agreement on the facts-it is packaging that is different.
Although in general I don’t agree with R. Shimon Schwab ZT”L that History with its warts should not be taught-I am
tempted to agree when disputes about the Holocaust arise.
It is a shame that Dr. Zuroff has difficulty in tellling the truth. I never refused any challenge of his to debate. I repeat, I challenge him to a debate any time he is is the U. S. or when I hope I”YH to be in Israel. Most likely for Sukkot and afterwards. Yad Vashem or the Israel Center,or the Jerusalem Post, would be a good place, but I’ll debate him anywhere. In the U.S., Rabbi Proshansky of Teaneck, NJ, offerred his synagogue for such a debate. It could also be held at Yeshiva University, where the administration will provide the forum. I took him on in my two articles in “Jewish Action,” where he ignored my points and merely repeated his thesis, to which I again responded. I challenge him anywhere, any time. Let us see whether Dr. Zuroff will accept this challenge.
David Kranzler, Ph.D
Mykfroft-Thanks! I am reading the Grobman book. It is an interesting description of how the Vaad worked in the DP camps. I don’t believe that one should the view of R Eliezer Silver ZTL is incomplete and that R Rakkafet’s book sheds a lot of light on this Gadol who worked with all Gdolim ranging across the board and who was equally at home in the RCA, Agudah and Agudas HaRabbonim.
That being said,the emails between Drs. Kranzler and Zuroff illustrate the dangers of letting ideological biases influence
a historian’s product. That is probably why Holocaust education in all sectors of the Torah world operates from what one could
call the rehetoric of victimization without any objective analysis which seeks to understand the era in its political, cultural an
and economic antecedents and causes. Until we move out of the blame game and look at it from a Torah perspective, but one at
least informed by the history of the 19th and 20th Century and how we all failed to react , Holocaust education in the Torah
world will be exclusively “rebbishe maasehs” of spiritual reistance, despite the fact that some Gdolim supported and participated
in physical resistance and an attitude that precludes any discussion into the historical events that preceded the rise of the
Nazis, Yimach Shmam vZicram to power. We should be able to engage in a discussion of these issues without being precluded that such a dicsussion is violative of Daas Torah. After all, no less than Rebbitzen Farbstein has accomplished this-why can’t we ?