Not Only Livingstone: Some Jews in the 1930s Also Thought Hitler Aided Zionism

When the Nuremberg Race Laws were passed in 1935, some ultra-Orthodox Jews believed they would help the effort to prevent intermarriage.

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
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Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone leaves his home in London, Britain April 29, 2016.
Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone leaves his home in London, Britain April 29, 2016. Credit: Peter Nicholls, Reuters
Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

A leading ultra-Orthodox Israeli newspaper declared this week that Israel is responsible for anti-Semitism throughout the world. Yated Ne’eman wrote, “The State of Israel, which was established to solve the problem of anti-Semitism, has become the main cause of anti-Semitism. The Jews of the world are suffering not because of their religion, but because of the State of Israel and its policies!”

With regard to the statement by former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who was suspended from the British Labour Party for saying Hitler “supported Zionism, before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews,” the daily, which belongs to the Lithuanian (non-Hasidic) branch of ultra-Orthodoxy, stated, “It is terrifying that blood-soaked Europe is once again proving that its land has not yet covered the blood of the holy martyrs.”

But the conflating of the interests of Zionism and the Nazis, mainly for propaganda purposes, didn’t begin with Livingstone. Had he wanted, the Labour Party member could have called upon some Jewish sources – even ultra-Orthodox ones – which at the time thought Hitler’s actions were making an indirect contribution to the Zionist movement.

For example, Dos Yiddishe Tagblatt – a Polish-Jewish newspaper identified with the ultra-Orthodox community – reported in 1935 (after the Nuremberg Race Laws were passed) about a “session of the Reichstag in Nuremberg and speeches by Hitler and Göring.” The article’s subhead noted that with the Nuremberg laws “Hitler made the Zionist flag kosher.” It was referring to the fact that the Jews had been banned from raising the German flag, but were allowed only to raise a flag “in Jewish colors.”

That headline was found in the National Library in Jerusalem recently by Dr. Hanan Itzhaki, the rabbi of Efrata College in Jerusalem. He was doing research for a lecture on the 70th anniversary of the passing of the Nuremberg laws. Itzhaki collected headlines from Poland and Germany, including responses of confusion or exploitation of the events for anti-Zionist propaganda.

He found, for example, that Der Israelit – the German-language newspaper of Agudath Israel – negated the existence of a “Jewish flag” (i.e., Zionist flag). At the same time, it responded with some sympathy to the race laws because they contributed to the Orthodox effort to increase separatism and prevent intermarriage.

According to Itzhaki, as opposed to other newspapers in Poland (and like the German newspaper), Dos Yiddishe Tagblatt didn’t protest the Nuremberg Race Laws.

“All the Jews at the time were already suffering from Hitler, and of course they didn’t like him. But the race laws didn’t shock Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] society at first; perhaps the contrary. After all, the thing that threatens them most is assimilation,” said Itzhaki. He added that the use of the term “kosher” was not an accident. It was intended, he said, to goad the Zionists and to tell them, “Look who your rabbi is. Look who the man is who makes you kosher.”

A copy of Dos Yiddishe Tagblatt from 1935. The subheadline says that with the passing of the Nuremberg Race Laws, “Hitler made the Zionist flag kosher.”Credit: Yated Ne’eman

The phenomenon was also present in Palestine. In the newspaper Doar Hayom, in an issue from September 1935, a writer by the name of S. Schwartz wrote an article entitled, “Out of the bitter comes the sweet.”

The article called on readers not to be “given over only to feelings of insult” following the passing of the Nuremberg Race Laws by the “Berlin devil.”

According to Schwartz, the poet Haim Nahman Bialik had more than once “in conversation compared the Hitler regime to the regime of Stalin in terms of our national interests. He specifically said that, actually, the former is better than the latter. In spite of ourselves, the Hitler regime makes us Jews and even nationalist and Zionist, while the Stalin regime led Russian Judaism to total assimilation.”

Schwartz wrote that the law prohibiting Jewish children from attending German schools would “bear good fruit, will help us save the unfortunate Jewish youth in Germany from the tortures of hell, and inculcate Jewish education and perhaps Jewish national education in full measure.”

Elucidating what he meant by bitter and sweet, Schwartz said that instead of being insulted, “let us think about possible usefulness here In fact, if German Judaism had feelings of national pride, it would long ago have stood up and demanded that the government open special schools for the Jewish children, declaring openly that it is inconceivable for them to be educated in the ‘racist’ atmosphere, full of horrors, now in the general schools.” Schwartz wrote that Hitler “is now forcing the Jews of Germany to save their youth and to join the great Jewish movement now underway throughout the world, creating a new life and assured future for our people.”

Of course, there are enormous differences between the forgotten Jewish writers and British politician Livingstone, although political passions are present in all the interpretations of the events. The differences, for example, are 80 years of history and a historical perspective that some of the Jews couldn’t have in 1935.

But even in 2016, there are some Jews who are nostalgic for the 1930s in Europe. “The natural state of the Jewish people is exile! Its normality is in the pressure cooker of hatred and persecution,” Yeted Ne’eman wrote this week.

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