The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Q. Can you tell us something, Professor Baron, about the
national movement and the movements of the Jewish youth?

A. These years between the two World Wars were indeed
flourishing years, both of the Zionist movement and the
other communal movements within the Jewish community. And
most of them were actually maintained by the young people,
the Jewish youth, whether in the high schools or beyond.

As is known, the Zionist movement had already been
established at the end of the nineteenth century.  But it
was actually in the period after the Balfour Declaration
that it acquired international status, and most of its
ideologies took on a definite shape. To this day, when we
speak of the General Zionists, of Mapai, Mapam, the Mizrachi
or other movements, all these movements, all of them,
without exception, Herut, Revisionists, all of them were in
existence already in the period between the two World Wars.
This was a period of great productivity, a period of
exceptional creativity, of Jewish national thought. Perhaps
it was this very fermentation which came after the War, the
splitting up of Europe into a number of new states, of which
eighteen were set up between the World Wars, in each of
which the Jews had a new role, a new difficulty, new
stumbling blocks. To become adjusted to them, one had to
give thought. And consequently there were those who put
forward new ideas, in the sphere of general and Jewish
culture or in the sphere of Jewish politics. It would be
sufficient for me to recall that this was a period of the
rise of Buber, of Rosenzweig, two Jewish scholars who were
great philosophers in the general human sense as well, but
who were nurtured in the Jewish tradition and found for
themselves answers to the great spiritual challenges which
confronted the Jewish people at that period.

This was the time of Weizmann and Sokolow, this was the time
when, here in Israel, the great statesmen, so well-known to
us, were active: Ben-Zvi, Ben-Gurion, and many others. For
everything progressive that we now witness in the Zionist
and the general Jewish world has its roots in the period
between the two World Wars. When I was speaking before of
great writers or great men of science and I mentioned names
- that was almost nothing compared to acquaintance with
these personalities. Only a person who had the special
privilege, such as I had, to be associated from time to time
with a man like Bialik could assess the magnitude of this
genius who left his mark not only in poetry, his many
immortal poems, but also in the gems of wisdom and learning
that countlessly issued from his lips from time to time, and
one can only regret that only towards the end of his days
did his pupils arise and compile a book on this "oral law"
of his, this enlivening fund of wisdom. Only a person who
knew Weizmann, for example, personally and intimately, could
understand this development, so unique, of scientific genius
together with prophetic vision, of wisdom and understanding,
together with exceptional humour. One had to know the man in
order to understand him. I knew Albert Einstein, I had this
privilege. It was possible to witness in this man the
special concentration of mathematical genius together with
his naive personality - almost childlike - in an outstanding
way. I mention only these; one could mention tens of others
who, only when taken together, present a picture of this
essential creative force, which was to be found within the
Jewish people between  the two World Wars. Besides these men
of genius, there were many scores of outstanding persons
whose memory is not recorded in documents. When Jewish
folklore speaks of the "Lamed Vav Tzaddikim" (the 36
righteous men*) {* The minimal number of righteous men who,
according to Jewish tradition, must live in every generation
for the world to continue to exist.} atoning for the
generation  - I am able to state  that I found in my
lifetime more than 36 righteous men, exceptional Jews, in
fact, abounding in their holy purity, both in the religious
sense and the secular sense, who were prepared to sacrifice
themselves for the common benefit.

Presiding Judge: They are hidden.

Witness Baron: They are hidden. They are unknown. They are
not mentioned in documents, their memory has vanished, and
only persons who knew them face to face can talk about them.
Amongst these great creative forces there were, in
particular, the  youth whether organized or unorganized.
There were those great and well-known youth movements such
as Blau-Weiss in Germany, the Hashomer and the other
organizations in Poland, there was that Hehalutz which was
formed in the days of the First War but which developed
principally in Poland and the countries adjacent to it, in
the period between the two World Wars. One had to be
acquainted with these young people in order to know and to
observe to what extent their idealism prevailed over any
personal or collective difficulty. People who were ready to
abandon higher studies in some of the most famous
universities, and to go to the Land of Israel and become
farmers, or road-workers, to be builders - builders of this
country. This pioneering spirit (Halutziut) has scarcely any
parallel in the history of the Jewish people and there are
very few such examples in the history of the world. If I may
be permitted to refer to a personal recollection: three
years ago I was in South Africa and there it was those very
people who want to separate the races who said to me that
they must learn from Israel how a white race was able to
leave the higher strata of life for simple labour.

Perhaps I should mention another thing here: if I said
beforehand that the Jews endeavoured to enter all the
productive occupations and to become farmers or builders,
instead of being engineers or experts in economics, science
and so forth - this indeed changed somewhat in the
subsequent years. We Jews did not know, and the rest of the
world did not know, that a movement had already begun at
that time, a "white-collar" movement which was steadily
taking precedence over manual labour. There were already, in
fact, statistics in the thirties; in the United States it
was noticed that in each decade the number of manual
labourers declined and, interestingly enough, the number of
people in the arts multiplied. In Germany proper, from 1907
until 1925 the number of manual labourers decreased by four
per cent, but the professionals, the men in skilled
occupations etc. rose by fifty per cent in the same years.
If we ask ourselves what would have happened to the Jewish
people, I would say that the same Halutziut would have been
required. It would have equated the Jews more closely to the
structure of the rest of the nations, but nevertheless the
other nations would have become equated to the Jews. Twenty
years later we clearly know that if the Jews in Europe had
been able to continue living as before, Jews would have
flourished - if one may say so in a paradoxical sense -
seeing that the economical fabric of the nation was becoming
more Jewish, even without the Jews changing externally. In
short: these youth movements mentioned here, one of whose
principal attitudes was to equate the Jewish people to the
nations of the world, operated in an outstanding manner.
This led to the flourishing development of this country. The
State of Israel would not have been established without
these Halutzim. These Halutzim influenced all the countries
of the Diaspora with their spirit. I am an American. It is
impossible to imagine to what extent the United States
suffered loss from the fact that the Jews of Europe were
destroyed. It is sufficient to mention but one example: in
1938  there appeared in New York a pamphlet listing three
thousand Landsmannschaften - organizations of Jews
originating from various eastern and central European towns.
Each such Landsmannschaft kept in direct and mutual contact
with the place of its origin. There were even a few
Landsmannschaften which had more members than the number of
Jews remaining in the place of their birth. And this mutual
relationship was so strong, that one could say that the Jews
of New York, or the Jews of the United States or of Canada,
or South Africa or Argentina drew essential inspiration from
the Zionist, from the socialist movements, from those same
European youth movements, and this influence continued until
the outbreak of the Second World War.

Q. If we were to sum up and wished to receive a broad cross-
section showing a view of European Jewry on the eve of the
Second World War - if you wish to summarize your remarks in
a few sentences - would you please do so?

A. Subsequently, we see that in the thirties the Jews of
Europe, the same 9,800,000, were living a difficult life.
They had to become adjusted to unprecedented conditions,
completely new. They were living in new countries which
themselves were struggling for their existence. They were
living in countries wherein the nationalist spirit was
increasing more and more and becoming more extreme, and thus
greatly opposed to the Jews. Chauvinism existed. It was a
period of economic crisis, as I mentioned previously, on the
basis of which each country tried to be more autarkic,
supplying its own needs. And these Jews there stood in the
middle, since they were members of the middle-class, and it
was precisely this class that built up the new countries,
and found that the Jews stood in its way. Anti-Semitism was
on the increase. It increased in Poland, in Rumania, but
very much more so when it received a stimulus in Germany
which had an evil influence on all its surroundings, even on
the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, despite all these obstacles,
in spite of this entire problem, the Jews who realized that
they would not be able to leave Europe, as perhaps they
might have continued to leave in the period prior to the
war, found a way of adapting themselves. It is most
remarkable to notice that despite the large emigration of
Jews from Europe, nevertheless their number went on
increasing from year to year, from decade to decade.
Proportionately, possibly in relation to the remaining
inhabitants, they might have gone down by one per cent owing
to the fact that their emigration, especially before the
World War, was so enormous but, notwithstanding, they
increased further; they increased in numbers and they
increased in the concentration of their strength.

When I mentioned that one quarter of the Jewish people dwelt
in cities with a population of one million or more, it is
worth remembering that in Europe itself, for example, while
the Jews, who lived in Russia beyond the pale of
settlements, were allowed to reside in Moscow and in
Leningrad, only two to three thousand actually resided
there. In 1939 the Jewish population of Moscow rose to
400,000 and in Leningrad to 250,000.

Presiding Judge: The purpose at this stage was to sum up the
chapter that you have been talking about.

Witness Baron: The increase in population was substantial.
Despite this difficulty and because of it, there came an
economic adaptation. The Jews went into agriculture and into
industrial work to an increasing extent. But, as I have
mentioned, this was in contrast to the external trend, the
world trend, since the Jews had a great influence on modern
economic developments and would have continued to exert
influence particularly in the usual spheres and not in these
new ones - in agriculture or in industrial production. In
the political field, and possibly this is even more
important - they received for the first time in history and
in a way acknowledged by the countries of the world, the
rights of a national minority, at least in certain
countries, despite the fact that many of them did not fulfil
their obligations. At least two did fulfil them -
Czechoslovakia and Estonia.

Simultaneously they received the Balfour Declaration and the
Mandate which opened very great possibilities for the Jews
of Europe, both for emigration, and also for building a new
culture and a new community of their own. But seeing that
the Mandate did not give them sufficient freedom - they were
obliged actually to build up their existence in the
countries of Europe, and in their communities - they became
adjusted to a new life, continuing to, work in the usual
professions of religion and culture. And despite this, they
created completely new institutions for themselves,
innumerable new schools and even new developments in
education, in pedagogy, both in Hebrew and in Yiddish. At
the same time they continued to yield a great cultural
production, whether in Jewish religious or secular culture,
or in poetry or art. In the end they were able,
nevertheless, to make an exceptional contribution, much
greater than in proportion to their numbers, to the general
European culture.

In short, in these years, and even in the mid-thirties, the
Jews in Europe were still a living and flourishing people,
adapted to all the conditions, and revealing an essential
power and an exceptional creative power that was almost
without equal in other peoples.

Attorney General: Were there distinctions between the
attitudes of the Nazis to the Jews and the forms of anti-
Semitism known to us previously?

Witness Baron: Yes, certainly. There were very great
differences. The most outstanding difference was, of course,
racial anti-Semitism. Throughout the ages when Jews suffered
from anti-Jewish hatred, there was always one possibility
left to them: to convert to Christianity. In the darkest
Middle-Ages, if a Jew or sectarian Christian, or a witch or
anyone else repented - as the Christians term it - when they
became Christians, when they changed their religion, they
remained alive. Not only did they remain alive, but, for
example, according to the law in Lithuania, a Jew who
converted to Christianity immediately became a member of the

Racial anti-Semitism created out of this situation of the
Jews something biological, a law of nature which could not
be altered, and they even revealed in respect of a person
who did not know this himself, years afterwards that one of
his parents or grandparents was a Jew, that was sufficient
to turn him into a Jew for ever, and that he had not changed
at all. Of course, in previous generations as well, there
were Jews who preserved their faith and publicly blessed the
Heavenly name. But at least the Jews of lesser faith had an
alternative - now they no longer had that alternative. The
law became one of nature instead of a law of history and

Other differences were less striking. Many people, even
those who were not Nazis, repeatedly said that the Nazis
were actually restoring the conditions which prevailed in
the Middle Ages - setting up ghettoes, demanding a special
"badge of shame," forbidding intermarriages, forbidding
sexual relations between Jews and Christians - these things
evidently existed in the Middle-Ages and all was in order.
And there were also some who said: At last the Jews - they
lived for a thousand years a life apart and did not suffer;
despite this they were able to develop this beautiful
culture of the Middle Ages which we have inherited. What
these people forget here is one basic fact, that the Middle
Ages were indeed a period of order, of internal order
according to the outlook of those times, it was a period of
a certain amount of justice, namely, there were
corporations; every individual country was divided into
various societies, the aristocracy separately, the clergy
separately, the Bourbon nobles separately - there were even
differences between corporation and corporation, and between
guild and guild, guilds of merchants and guilds of
craftsmen. Each one of them had its own system of law,
special rights and special obligations. The Jews were,
within the framework of such a society, a little unusual,
but in the main a society possessing special rights and
having special obligations.

Now there came an innovation. After the Nuremberg period,
for example in 1935, Germans were equal to one another -
they still used the principle of equal rights. Only one per
cent was distinguished as a corporation, outside the German
people, having very few rights, but many obligations. This
was a total innovation which mislead some people at that
time. Already in 1935, I myself when asked to write an
article for the Independence Journal of Columbia University
about the Nuremberg Laws said the same thing, that one could
not compare the Nuremberg Laws to the position in the Middle
Ages. This was something exceptional. It is sufficient to
compare, for example, the rights which the European rulers
Heinrich IV, Friedrich I and Friedrich II issued, and to
compare them to the period of the Nuremberg Laws. Thus it
would be possible to see the differences and that it was not
merely a return to the Middle Ages.

Another aspect which distinguishes Nazi anti-Semitism as
contrasted with the Middle Ages was this: there were violent
disturbances in the Middle Ages, many disturbances, and
Jewish blood was shed, and this was very frequent. But on no
occasion was it possible to bring evidence to the effect
that some government or other, whether of a King, Emperor or
Cardinal or one of the Elders of the city, a member of the
ruling authority organized the disturbances, these pogroms.
The "Crystal Night" was perhaps the first time, apart from
precedents in Czarist Russia, where the government itself
organized the disturbances against the Jews. And again, this
was not a return to the Middle Ages, but a complete

Again, perhaps it is worthwhile mentioning that Hitler and
others kept on saying that this was not a persecution of the
Jewish religion - that there was no religious persecution at
all in the Nazi ideology. It is perhaps worth recalling that
already in 1934, Mussolini wrote explicitly "All human
history from the days of Diocletian to Bismarck shows that
when a State attacks religion, it is always the State that
loses out." And even Hitler himself said in Mein Kampf that
whoever wanted to fight religion would have to be a
religious reformer and not a political leader. Nevertheless,
he himself said, also in Mein Kampf that the Nazi ideology
was not merely a party matter but a Weltanschauung - a new
world outlook, and as a world outlook it was unable to
compromise - no compromise was possible on a world outlook.

In fact it is not true that there was no war on religion, on
the Catholic religion and on the Protestant religion, and
much more so on the Jewish religion. And perhaps you will
permit me to quote from Pope Pius the Eleventh who said the
following in 1937 in his address to his Council of Cardinals
on Christmas: "Surely there is a real persecution of
religion in Germany. People say, and they have been saying
this for some time, that this is untrue. But we know that,
to the contrary, there is a terrible persecution. Only on a
few occasions in history has there been such a terrible
persecution, so frightful, so deep and so sorrowful in its
far-reaching consequences." And what the Pope said here in
relation to the persecution of the Christian religion was
true to a far greater extent in relation to the persecution
of the Jewish religion, since it is an obvious fact that the
Jewish religion cannot exist without Jews. To the Jewish
religion, unlike other faiths, there is a need for
believers, since the Jewish people is so organic a part of
the Jewish religion that whoever destroys the people
simultaneously destroys the religion. And everything that
caused the destruction of synagogues was that which
emphasized extraordinary religious persecution.

In conclusion I want to say that the Nazi movement not only
did not turn the clock back, that is to say the clock of
modern development which prided itself in more emancipation,
in more freedom and more equality, but it brought to the
world new elements which had no precedent but which were
distinct from the whole history of anti-Semitism of two
thousand years and more.

Presiding Judge: We shall adjourn now and will continue this afternoon
at 3.00 o'clock.

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