The United Nations has declared the day the Auschwitz death camp was liberated as International Holocaust Memorial Day. It was only appropriate that Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was invited to address the ceremonies commemorating the 65th anniversary of the liberation by the Red Army of that place of horrors. In the minds of some, the establishment of the State of Israel is linked to the Holocaust, or even seen as a direct result of the Holocaust. U.S. President Barack Obama, probably unaware of the history of the Zionist movement, implied as much in his speech in Cairo last year.
But the truth is almost the exact opposite. The extermination by the Germans of six million Jews during World War II came close to putting an end to the dream of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. The reservoir of Jewish immigrants to Palestine was decimated. Vladimir Jabotinsky, in his testimony before the Peel Commission in London on February 11, 1937, spoke of the aim of Zionism as the establishment of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River in which there would be room for "the Arab population and their progeny and many millions of Jews." At that time, the Jewish population of Palestine was no more than 400,000.
By the time the war had ended, millions of Jews had been exterminated in Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Sobibor and the killing fields of Russia. To Zionist leaders, it became clear that not only were there not enough Jews to constitute a solid Jewish majority, which was the condition for establishing a Jewish state, on both sides of the Jordan River, but that Jewish immigration would not even suffice to establish such a majority in the entire area west of the Jordan.
It was the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who grasped the full potential of the destruction of European Jewry for ending Zionist aspirations, and therefore allied himself with Hitler. Arab leaders in Egypt and Iraq similarly found good reason to hope for Hitler's victory. Yet after the war, the Yishuv (the Jewish community in pre-Palestine) and the remnants of European Jewry, who overcame British efforts to block their way to Palestine, had enough vitality and strength to bring about the establishment of the State of Israel in part of the territory that the League of Nations had originally mandated to Britain for the establishment of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River.
In Israel, we commemorate the Holocaust every year on the day the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt began. It is significant that we pay homage to the Jews of Europe who were exterminated on the day the Jewish survivors in the Warsaw Ghetto rose up to fight the Germans and their Ukrainian henchmen. It was the first uprising against the German conqueror in Europe.
The Warsaw ghetto fighters knew they had no chance of defeating the far superior German forces. They received neither help nor encouragement from Washington, London or Moscow. It was only a year later, after the Germans had laid waste to the ghetto and killed and deported the remaining inhabitants, that the world began to appreciate the full significance of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Today, it is seen as an integral part of the history of World War II. It is a lasting testimony to the few hundred courageous youngsters who dared to challenge the German conqueror. Although defeated in the ghetto, their victory is written in the pages of history.
It was on the eve of the uprising, on April 18, 1943, that Leon Rodal, Pawel Frenkel's deputy in the Betar-led resistance, the Jewish Military Organization, said to Ryszard Walewski, who with a group of his fighters had joined Frenkel's organization: "We will all fall here. Some in battle, weapons in hand, and others as vain victims ... Maybe someday, after many years, when the history of the struggle against the Nazi conqueror is written, we will be remembered, and, who knows, we will become like small Judea that fought mighty Rome in its day, the symbol of man's spirit that cannot be suppressed, whose essence is the fight for freedom, for the right to live, and the right to exist."