The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Attorney General: Professor Baron, please tell us of the
Jewish cultural activity in the sphere of religion and

Witness Baron: This aspect of the Jewish creative spirit
maintained its greatness. In the early days the Jews
endeavoured to develop their religious and cultural life as
far as they could, and in this they succeeded. They
succeeded in ancient times, in the Middle Ages, and also in
the twenties and the thirties.

Perhaps I may be able to recount a personal experience. I
happened to compile a Bibliography of Jewish Social Studies,
1938/39. This was a technical bibliography on what had
appeared in the sphere of research into society, in the
widest sense of the term, in those two years.

I did not know at that time that these two years would be so
vital in the history of the Jewish people, that these would
be the last years of the European age in the history of
Jewry. And nevertheless I was amazed to see how productive
the Jewish people were, despite these being such years of
difficulty and tremendous crisis, before the last World War.
I recall, that I myself, despite the fact that I was a Jew
born in Europe, was astounded to see to what extent books,
articles, and newspapers were printed, particularly in those
two years, by Jews and on Jewish topics. Naturally it was to
be regretted that I also had to devote greater space than I
would have liked to do, to the anti-Semitic literature of
that time, and on the other hand to the apologetic
literature, written both by Jews and non-Jews, in order to
defend the Jews against these charges. But most of the book
is full of bibliographic data applying to literature that
had practically no connection with the situation of those
days. It all appeared as if there were peace in the world,
as if they were not confronted by impending destruction.
They were engaged in the traditional culture and in the new

In those very two years, according to a list which I
discovered, there also appeared in the context of the
ancient literature of the people, books of responsa, books
of Rabbinical exegesis, books of Kabbalah, Hassidic books,
all these written in the traditional style. Books of this
kind appeared in greater numbers than in any decade in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,in that period of
flourishing Rabbinical literature.

Sometimes these were large books of three hundred pages or
more which appeared in three and four editions; that is to
say there was a large market for them. And what was more
important in my eyes, when I delved into these books, I saw
that many of them were of great excellence, and if these
Rabbis had lived five hundred years earlier they would have
been regarded as being amongst the greatest of the first or
the later generations of Rabbinical commentators. It was
only by chance that they wrote at a time when the classical
period, the golden age of Rabbinical literature, had already

At that time there was also a secular culture, a Zionist
culture, a socialist culture of various kinds. Perhaps I
should also recall the contribution of the Jews of Poland to
the general culture, and I shall mention only the press, if
you will permit me. I have with me some facts about the
Jewish newspapers which appeared at that time. Even the
relatively small Jewish community in France supported no
less than 96 Jewish newpapers, and amongst them two daily
papers in Yiddish, 6 weeklies in French, 5 in Yiddish and
one in Russian. In Holland there appeared 21 Jewish
newspapers, in Austria 16; in Hungary 21, in Rumania 54, in
Lithuania 15 and so on. In Germany, naturally, there
appeared more. 113 Jewish newspapers appeared in Germany,
and amongst them no less than 33 of what were called
Gemeindeblaetter, which the Jewish communities published
throughout Germany.

Presiding Judge: Are you referring to periodicals?

Witness Baron: Yes, in the thirties.

As far as Poland is concerned, it is almost impossible to
believe that they published there the amazing number of 30
daily newspapers in Yiddish, 5 in Polish, in addition to 132
weeklies which appeared twice monthly, or once in three
months and so forth.

The total number of Jewish newspapers recorded in one list
which I saw, included 854 newspapers that appeared in Europe
in the period before the Holocaust. Naturally the value of
each paper depended upon the editors and the quality of the
publication. But amongst these there were some very well-
known papers. Perhaps it would be sufficient to recall, from
Warsaw, the Hajnt in Yiddish or the Nasz Przeglad in Polish
or Chwila in Lvov, which were first-rate daily newspapers,
of which the Jewish people could well have been proud.
Amongst the non-daily press, one can mention, for example,
the periodical Hatekufah which appeared in Warsaw, and which
was an excellent publication for Hebrew literary works.

At the same time, there appeared in Germany the important
scientific monthly Monatsschrift fuer Geschichte und
Wissenschaft des Judentums, which was founded in the year
1851 and continued to appear even during the Hitler period.
In 1939 a volume still appeared which the Nazi authorities
confiscated. It was a basic periodical for all Jewish
studies. Similar to it was the periodical Hahashkafah , and
in French, Revue des etudes Juives founded in 1881 and which
continued to exist until the Second World War, and which had
a beneficial influence on Jewish culture. There were basic
publications in every country.

We must also recall, in the educational field, the
Rabbinical College in Berlin, the Hochschule in Berlin, the
Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin, the Rabbinical College in
Breslau, which had been founded more than a hundred years
previously and continued its existence until the Second
World War.

The same applied in Budapest where the Rabbinical College
had been founded by the Hungarian State, to a certain extent
with funds confiscated from the Jewish communities. And the
same applied to the Israelitische Theologische Lehranstalt
in Vienna. All these were basic institutions which trained
rabbis of various trends and teachers of various kinds, and
even teachers of many universities, not only in Judaism, but
also in the field of oriental languages and so forth. All
these were the alumni of these schools, this press and the
books which appeared without number.

In regard to books, it is worth mentioning the list of
Jewish publishers issued after the War, relating to the
thirties. There is a complete pamphlet of many, many pages,
a large pamphlet which I do not have at the moment. In it
were recorded the Jewish publishers in a number of countries
who were robbed of the substantial property they had
accumulated in the course of time. The Jewish books such as
I mentioned previously in the Bibliography were many-sided.
There were Bible scholars, Talmudic scholars of the first
rank and outstanding historians. It would be sufficient for
me to mention here - if you will permit me - some of the
names from Hebrew literature. In Hebrew literature we do not
have greater names than those of Bialik and Tchernichowsky.
Although they were forced to leave Europe immediately after
the First World War they had many followers who continued
their work in Hebrew literature. Amongst the well-known
classical writers the greatest were Shalom Aleichem, Peretz
and others. But even in the period between the two World
Wars, there were men such as Avraham Reizin and Sholem Asch
and others who were among the best known in all Europe, and
not only amongst Jews. Even in the Ladino literature Jewish
writers emerged. There arose a Ladino press. There were four
newspapers in Salonika, which testified that a renaissance
had come at that period actually to the Sepharadim
throughout the world. The new Sephardic movement began in
the twenties of this century. That same Salonika, which was
the centre of this movement, was laid waste afterwards by
the conquerors.

It is not enough merely to mention these names or to know
about the literature or the political activity. It is worth
dwelling on the exceptional quality of this spiritual
creation in all its aspects. But. of course, we do not have
the time for that. I shall talk at length about this on
other occasions.

Attorney General: And what was the contribution of the Jews
to the culture of Europe and how did it express itself?

Witness Baron: Yes, yes, one can still be amazed that after
the less of such outstanding work in the field of Jewish
culture, the Jews of Europe still had a sufficient reservoir
of energy to be able to make an outstanding contribution to
the general culture of Europe. Here the field was so broad
that it is almost impossible to mention more than a few
names. Perhaps it would be sufficient to say this: it is one
of the most difficult things for a national minority, not
dwelling on its own soil, to penetrate into the soul of the
nation which constitutes the majority. For example, take the
case of Poland. The Jews lived there for hundreds of years,
but they lived a life so much set apart from the Polish
majority, and it was difficult to expect that a Polish
Jewish poet of the highest order would emerge.
Notwithstanding, in the thirties men like Tuwin, Antoni
Slonimski arose, who were well-known even in the circles of
Polish anti-Semites as being among the greatest of Poland's
poets. In Germany it is sufficient to mention the very well-
known names of outstanding writers such as Wassermann,
Feuchtwanger, Kafka, Werfel and Brod. It is hardly necessary
to mention these names, since everyone knows to what extent
they had a cultural influence on the German literature of
the period between the two World Wars. They enriched the
whole of the German literature with their spirit. There were
important Jewish writers in France like Catulle Mendes,
Andre Spire, and half-Jews, whose father or mother was
Jewish, such as Marcel Proust, and in Germany Rainer Maria
Rilke and Hugo von Hofmannsthal - people of world-wide fame.
All these were Jews, or according to the Nazi tenets,
complete Jews, but actually only half-Jews. And all these
took part in the development of European culture to the
highest degree.

Insofar as science is concerned, there would be no limit to
the names that can be mentioned. Certainly we did not have
greater men of science throughout the world than Albert
Einstein and Sigmund Freud, whose influence is felt all over
the world today, and will be felt for many generations. But
there were others in various fields, philosophers such as
Hermann Cohen or Durteheim or Lewy-Bruehl, each one of whom
was a great person in his profession, of the very greatest.
On occasion one pauses to think what would have happened to
men of ability in Poland, to the children who grew up in
Poland, if they had had the opportunity to leave for one of
the Western countries whence the culture of the world was
influenced, and they would have acquired an exceptional
reputation. Somebody once said that Emile Meyerson, the
famous French philosopher, would certainly not have been
that same famous philosopher had he remained in Lublin where
he was born.

Of course, there were also Jews of great accomplishment who
assimilated to such an extent that many of them changed
their religion. And here it would be perhaps worthwhile to
read the writings of Henri Bergson, actually one of the most
famous of men. Henry Bergson in his will of 1937
acknowledged that the Catholic religion had a very strong
attraction for him.  But he said that he saw - and I quote -
for many years how the threatening flood of anti-Semitism
was about to burst and how it had in its power to destroy
the whole world. "I therefore decided to remain amongst
those who were going to be the persecuted of tomorrow." He
was only one. But many persons felt this way, so that,
because of the anti-Semitism which was continuing to
increase, they actually decided to remain within the Jewish

But even those who changed their religion, of course did so
to no avail towards the racial anti-Semites, who considered
them to be Jews.

The number of Jews in medicine, at the bar, in law, in all
the other disciplines of social sciences, economics and so
forth, was so large that the listing of their names would
take more time than can be allocated to me.

I should like to end this topic, perhaps, with another
aspect. Occasionally I am asked: How did this come about,
how were the Jews able to have such an influence on world
culture - did I believe that the Jewish race was so
talented, very much more than others,that with their small
numbers they were able to affect culture so profoundly? For
me there was always a simple answer to this. Whoever
believed with complete faith in the "Chosen People" - well,
that was a religious belief - one either believed in it or
did not believe in it. But no secular historian can explain
this phenomenon so simply. I always used to see Jewish
history, especially in the time of the dispersion, as a
unique history. I acknowledge, and I would not be ashamed to
admit, that in my opinion it would be worthwhile to rewrite
Jewish history, the story of the Halutzic theme therein, the
pioneering theme, in other words to illustrate how, in
generation after generation, the Jews were compelled,
whether they wanted to or not, whether willingly or not, to
find new openings for themselves. This is not a simple
matter: where a minority enters a country and settles in it,
it invariably discovers that all the permanent positions
have already been taken, somebody is occupying them, and
this minority was obliged to find some new ways for itself,
to discover them, even to find in its economic life the
possibility of remaining alive. Therefore this pioneering
spirit, this Halutziut, was a constant feat in the history
of the Jews, both in economics and in social affairs, and
also, especially in culture, from the days of the Babylonian
exile to the present day. I have spoken of this from time to

With regard to the European culture, it was obvious, time
and again, that the Jews were obliged to excel in order to
find a place for themselves. In a certain sense I used to
say occasionally that it was precisely the anti-Semites who
complained of the Jewish "domination" in many cultural
professions, it was precisely they who contributed to this.
For it was this discrimination between Jews and non-Jews
that forced the Jewish student , the Jewish artist, the
Jewish writer to excel more than his colleagues, for if he
were only equal to his colleagues, there would be a
preference in favour of the colleagues against him.
Accordingly they were in this way stimulating the Jews to
become greater pioneers and to try and develop matters for
themselves, and incidentally also for the benefit of the
entire world civilization, and obviously also for the Jewish

If I may, possibly, be permitted to add a word, it would,
perhaps, be worthwhile mentioning that, both in Jewish and
general culture, the Jews in the course of generations
amassed for themselves exceptional cultural treasures. In
one list that had been completed, under my supervision by
Dr. Arendt and her colleagues, which was entitled Tentative
List of Cultural Treasures in Axis-occupied Countries, we
discovered that there were about 430 special Jewish
institutions, archives, libraries and museums in the
countries which had been over-run by the Nazis.  And these
institutions were amongst the most famous. These things it
is impossible to replace since they develop over
generations, in the course of centuries. It is impossible to
establish a national library even here despite the fact that
you have worked wonders in building up a library. But
libraries develop in the course of decades, in the course of
generations, throughout hundreds of years. And apart from
these large libraries, there were also smaller institutions,
for example, a city like Worms, in Germany, possessed its
own archives and library, which had, for example, a
wonderful Hebrew Festival Prayer-Book dating from the
thirteenth century. It possessed things which it is
impossible to purchase. Even if someone were to come forward
with millions in his pocket, he would not be able to restore
these treasures to the Jewish people.

Apart from this there were also Jewish art treasures in the
general libraries and museums. And furthermore, every
synagogue, every Rabbinical college, at times every primary
and secondary school, had its own small library, and
sometimes a large one, and this is apart from private
individuals; there were excellent private libraries, for
instance that of David Kaufman in Budapest which is now part
of the Academy, that of David Simonson in Copenhagen, which
is part of the National Library. Or that of Baron Gunzburg
which is now part of the Lenin Library. These were libraries
of great value with rare manuscripts which had not even been
published. We do not know to this day what they contained of
the history of Jewish culture throughout all the
generations. All this was cut short by the occupation of the

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