The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Q. Backward countries?

A. Uncivilized countries in the full sense of the word
"civilization" - only such counties refused to give Jews
equal rights. This was only a question of a short time, a
few decades, the time would pass and the whole world would
acknowledge this equality as a fundamental matter, both for
itself and also for the Jewish people. And then the Nazis
began by showing that precisely in a developed country, in a
country steeped in culture which was one of the foremost in
cultural development prior to the First World War, that
precisely in that country it was possible to insist on a
retreat, that it was possible to turn the clock back and to
deprive the Jews of this equality which they had gained in
the course of an historical development. And in this sense,
what happened between the Wars in the countries of central
Europe was of basic importance to the whole of world

Apart from that it should be added that the Jews felt, and
rightly so, that formal equality of rights was sometimes
insufficient. Precisely in the period between the two Wars,
a special development came to a head, namely a demand for
the rights of national minorities, over and above equal
rights. "Minority Rights" now entered the scene of
international law, for the first time by means of the Treaty
drawn up at Versailles etc., where several states were told
that they had to bestow on their citizens both equal rights
and minority rights. And once again I have to state that the
Jews actually saw in this an exceptionally positive force,
since they were amongst the leaders of this movement, to
obtain not only equal rights but also minority rights for
themselves and for several other minorities, in all the
countries where they were living. This also meant a
tremendous adjustment for the Jews. They had to revise their
thinking, especially in Soviet Russia, for example, on which
I shall also, possibly have an opportunity of speaking
They had to create a new structure in a certain sense. But
nevertheless they were sufficiently strong and alert in
order to start afresh, even in this large movement. And I
must say as an historian looking back in retrospect, that
despite all the set-backs this movement for minority rights
underwent,  much as a result of the extermination of the
Jews in Europe, through the changes in national minorities,
it is nevertheless a principle of international law which I
believe still holds out hope in the future to rescue many
countries from the deep embarrassment involved in disputes
between a majority and a minority or several minorities in
any country.

Q.  Professor Baron, would you be able to tell us something
about the organization of the Jewish communities in those
countries which Hitler seized?

A.  Your Honours, here too, we see a special ability to
adjust. The countries in Europe differed a great deal in
their communal structure, as they differed in their general
economic and political life. For instance, a country like
France had a Jewish organization which had existed for about
a hundred years, from the days of Napoleon, something we
call the Consistorial Organization, which was part of a
governmental organization or arrangement. Despite the
substantial changes that came about in the hundred years
after Napoleon - the Bourbon Restoration, after that the
Second Empire, thereafter the Third Republic -  and each
time the Jews adapted themselves to the new structure of the
State. Even when separation between Church and State came
about in 1908, the Jews retained this important
organization, even though they had a fresh opportunity to
set up new organizations for themselves. In particular the
immigrants who entered France between the Wars organized new
congregations, Hassidic prayer-groups, for example, Bundist
organizations, organizations of all sorts. In all this it
was possible to see once again the positive and creative
force of the Jewish people. In nearby Italy, on the other
hand, it was different. There, in the liberal period before
the First World War, freedom was absolute - excessively so -
and in the end, when the Concordat, or the Lateran Treaty,
between Mussolini and the Pope, the Jewish community was
also favourably mentioned, and was re-organized under a
"Union" management for all the Italian communities. In the
thirties, this community, tiny as it was, was enjoying a
good life, as had been the case in the early times of glory
in the history of the Jews in Italy.

In Germany, the community organization was recognized by the
government. It had the right to collect taxes - not merely
gifts and donations - from Jews. And precisely in the years
between the Wars, roof organizations were established for
the first time, such as the Preussischer Landesverband, the
Bayrischer Landesverband. In other words, they brought all
the communities into one organization so that they could
cooperate for cultural and educational functions. In Bonn
and in Wuerttemberg there were organizations of this kind a
hundred years old and more. In Austria the community was
organized in 1891, and this continued to operate in a most
intensive way, despite the fact that Austria-Hungary was
divided into several states, and each state began afresh,
both in Czechoslovakia and in Galicia which belonged to
Poland, as well as in parts of Hungary; everywhere the
Jewish community flourished also in the organizational

In Hungary, for example, since the nineteenth century the
community was divided into the Orthodox and the Reformists.
There were two communities. There were also communities
which were described as "status quo," namely communities
which combined Orthodox and Reform, with their innovations.
And in all the countries, the community developed many
organizations and it was a lively and flourishing body. This
also applied to Poland, where three million Jews and more
constituted strong communities of all kinds. These
communities were partly religious, dominated by the
Orthodox, but there were also communities of whom the
majority were Zionist-secular, and also others where the
Bund and the other socialist parties were the largest. And
even if there were differences between Orthodox or Zionists
of various factions, all of them worked together and
cooperated for the development of Jewish culture and
education which possessed a truly vital force.

Perhaps the greatest revolution came about in the Soviet
Union. There, after all, life had begun again in many
occupations from the year 1917. There, perhaps, the most
interesting thing was that  Lenin, who prior to the First
World War did not believe in the reality of a Jewish
nationality, that same Lenin changed his mind and when he
rose to power granted the Jews, as the other national groups
in the Soviet Union, what I have previously described as
minority rights.

Perhaps you will permit me to read a paragraph from Iskra,
which I believe was a periodical, which in 1903 contained an
article attacking the Jewish Socialist Bund. It stated:

     The idea of Jewish nationalism undoubtedly has a
     reactionary character, not only because the Zionists
     who are its strongest exponents, profess it, but also
     because of its Bundist form, which attempts to attach
     it to the idea of socialist democracy. This idea is
     fundamentally opposed to the needs of the Jewish
     proletariat, since it creates, directly or indirectly,
     a hostile attitude to assimilation, that is to say the
     philosophy of the ghetto.

These were Lenin's words in 1903. In 1917 he included the
Jews amongst the national minorities given the right to
establish Soviets of their own. The number of such Soviets
in the Ukraine was more than one hundred, in White Russia
twenty-four, and I believe that in the Crimea there was a
certain number of Soviets which had the right to use Yiddish
in all administrative regulations. Perhaps I may recall a
personal experience: In 1937 I sat for a whole day in a
court in Kiev, where throughout the day everything spoken
was in Yiddish.  And this was a totally new structure
created by the Jewish people in observing the great
revolution that had occurred in the lives of all the peoples
of the Soviet Union. But even within the Jewish people,
within the structure of the community itself, in the changes
that occurred between the two World Wars, the Jews succeeded
in adapting themselves to the most difficult roles in the
new states, to continue solely with their traditions of
religion, language and so forth. In the Soviet Union, for
example, the difficulty was extremely great since the
foundations of the Jewish community, the Jewish religion,
the Hebrew language, the Zionist, Messianic ideal -  were
objected to by the new rulers and they were obliged to fill,
with Yiddish, the vacuum that remained as a result of this
fundamental change. Nevertheless, and despite it all, it was
possible for the Jews to supply to their people a new
culture of their own creation in the twenties and the

Attorney General: What functions did the Jewish communal
organs fulfil in these countries?

A. The functions were very, very many, and naturally
somewhat different from country to country. But everywhere
the educational and cultural influence of the Jews on their
own people was tremendous. Firstly, of course, came the
religious activities in the synagogue. Here the position was
very interesting. The synagogue had been protected by public
law ever since ancient times. Already in the ancient Roman
Empire, pagan and polytheistic as it was, it was provided in
the law that anyone laying hands on a synagogue was guilty
of committing sacrilege.

Presiding Judge: Where was this laid down?

Witness Baron: This comes from the Codex Theodosianus and
from the other Codes. Even when the State became Christian,
after Constantine, it still protected the synagogue with all
the means at its command. Perhaps it is worthwhile
mentioning possibly the first case which occurred, of a
conflict between State and Church, - this was between
Theodosius the Great and Ambrose the Holy, in Milan. This
happened when a mob burst into a synagogue in a small town
in Asia Minor, and the Emperor wanted to force the local
community and the local bishop under the law to rebuild the
synagogue or at least to pay compensation to the Jewish
community. Ambrose the Holy, the Archbishop of Milan,
objected to this, but the Emperor insisted upon it,
demonstrating that the State prevailed over the Church. This
was one of the most famous controversies in the history of
these relationships.

This state of affairs continuously repeated itself
throughout the Middle Ages and the modern period, when
country after country protected the synagogues. Possibly the
greatest departure of all was "Crystal Night" in 1938, when
101 synagogues were destroyed and 76 additional synagogues
were damaged, in a way in which the government itself,
instead of protecting the synagogues, caused their
destruction. This was an unusual step, since there had been
nothing like it throughout the history of the darkest Middle
Ages and throughout modern times.

The same thing applied to cemeteries. At all times there
were sadists of various kinds who wanted to wreak vengeance
on the Jews, on dead Jews, where they could not take revenge
on living Jews. The Popes, for example, generation after
generation, in the constitutions they gave to the Jews of
Rome, repeatedly decreed that it was forbidden to touch a
Jewish graveyard, a Jewish cemetery. Once again, already in
the period between the two Wars, there were numerous
desecrations and destruction of holy tombstones in Jewish
cemeteries, and here again Germany was in the lead and
committed vandalism in Jewish cemeteries. But here too, the
Jews stood up for themselves, and in every case where
someone desecrated a cemetery, they came and restored it.
Ancient cemeteries are to be found in all the countries of
Europe which Jewish communities preserved with all the means
at their command. This was an important function. In a
particular way it was possible to utilize cemeteries for
social purposes. That is to say, sometimes, when somebody
was to be buried who was known not to have been
philanthropic in his lifetime, a rich man who had not given
sufficiently for public needs, the community took advantage
of this opportunity to exact a contribution to public causes
more than was customary in order to compensate for what he
had not done in his lifetime.

Apart from this, there were other duties amongst the various
functions of the community. There were the duties of
providing Kosher meat - and this was not only a religious
matter, but even more so possibly, a matter of education and
general culture. For the community - whether it was a
secular community in the Soviet Union or a religious
community which also had an ethnic nature, if not
specifically national - in the countries of Western Europe,
in all these countries, the general community was not only
entitled but was obliged to assist the Jews in that
particular town to develop their public institutions. I must
refer now to questions of charity. The Jews, from ancient
times, used to pride themselves in the fact that they were
"merciful, sons of the merciful." This was their pride, and
justifiably so. Whoever looks at Europe of the twenties to
the thirties would be amazed at the multiplicity of
charitable institutions, institutions of public charity.

Attorney General: Public welfare.

A. Public welfare, social welfare for all its members. And
not only for its own members. There were Jewish hospitals in
all the countries of Europe. They served not only as
hospitals for Jews, but often also accepted non-Jewish
patients. There were also research centres, and all the
citizens in the world benefited from the results of their
medical research. In some way there was social justice in
this in the sense that Jewish physicians who had sometimes
suffered from discrimination in general hospitals, were able
to develop their talents in their own Jewish hospitals.
There were orphanages, old-age homes of various kinds,
already before the modern state began to set them up - there
were several countries in the thirties that had already
public welfare - but for hundreds of years the Jewish
community used to provide every assistance to its members.
Even in the twenties and the thirties, in the days of the
depression, it had to support many of its members.

Another thing is worthwhile mentioning - matters of banking
and charity - banks without interest. Funds for mutual help
of all kinds. They had these in all the countries in Eastern
Europe. For example, in Poland itself, there were, in the
thirties, I believe 224 funds with a capital of more than
two million, specifically for giving aid to owners of
workshops, or small traders or also to farmers, for lending
them, in time of need, money without interest to start a new
occupation or to enable them to cope for a time with a
particular difficulty.

The Jews established all these things by themselves
throughout many generations, and created new forms of
organizations. I had the occasion, as I have already
mentioned to the Court, to write a special book on the
history of the Jewish community, and there it was clearly
evident to me to what extent the Jewish community, whether
in the eighteenth century or in the twentieth century, was
one of the most advanced, one of the most pioneering in a
certain sense in all matters of public life between man and
his neighbour, and of course also between man and his

Attorney General: Would you be able to tell us about the
Jewish educational structure during these years and in these

Witness Baron: 03Jewish education was close to the hearts of
Jewish leaders in ancient times. Judaism truly took pride in
the fact that it was the first to establish the public
school. This happened in the first century of the Christian
era, 1,700 years or more before they did so in Europe. This
was in the first century when the great Roman and Greek
world, with its famous civilization, supplied education to
only a small minority of its children.

And with this pride of achievement they continued all the
time. The Rabbis still taught then  in the twentieth century
that "study of the Law took precedence over everything else"
- that is to say over all other precepts. They recalled the
Rambam, that famous doctor, sage and philosopher who said to
them "Try to work for your living only three hours a day,
and study the Torah for nine hours or more." This was an
ancient tradition which constantly remained amongst Jews of
all classes, and in this respect there was hardly a
difference between the strictly observant and the secular,
between the Zionists or the Orthodox or the socialists. Each
one of them greatly appreciated study whether actually
Jewish learning or general studies - there was no
difference. For this reason there is no wonder that the
communal framework was built to a large extent on the
schools they established.

I have with me some statistical data which are worth-while
mentioning. For example, Polish Jewry after the First World
War, found that the whole communal fabric had changed. There
were in Poland territories that had been annexed from what
was formerly Russia; other regions which originated from
Congress Poland; there was Galicia taken from Austria, there
was Posnan from Germany and so forth; and each one of those
regions had a different structure and also a different kind
of school. And then they began to build a magnificent
educational system which it would really be difficult to
describe at present - how they managed to achieve this in
such a short time. For instance, apart from thousands of
"Heder" schools for the old-type education, there were
18,000 young Jews in the Yeshivot in 1930.

There were two organizations, one in Yiddish and one in
Hebrew, which came out with new slogans for Jewish
education. There was the Yiddish CYSHO (Central Yiddish
School Organization), backed by the Bund and by the left
Poalei Zion, which had, in the years 1934-1935, no less than
86 schools providing instruction to 9,936 children,
especially in the district which had been taken from the
former Russia. At the same time, the central organization of
Hebrew Schools, called Tarbut provided a complete modern
Hebrew education and Zionist ideology. In the year 1938
Tarbut itself supported 70 schools together with their
buildings. Amongst them were 75 kindergartens, 104 primary
schools and 9 secondary schools. Altogether 42,241 pupils
studied there.

Presiding Judge: Was this in Poland only?

Witness Baron: 03In Poland only, the number of teachers was
1,350 - that was in Tarbut and in CYSHO. Together these
Jewish schools had almost 20 per cent (19.2%) of all the
Jewish pupils of primary school age; about fifty per cent of
all the pupils who went to secondary schools, and sixty per
cent of the pupils who went to vocational schools.

Accordingly I say, to have rebuilt organizations such as
these which were not in existence before at all, despite the
fact that the country itself suffered greatly, economically
and politically, and that it had become necessary to weld
territories from various countries into one structure - this
clearly shows us to what extent the Polish Jewish spirit was
fruitful in its creativity.

The same thing could be found in other countries. Generally
we do forget that even in assimilated France there were
special Jewish schools. In Germany there were Jewish schools
since the eighteenth century, such as the Freie Schule in
Berlin, the Philantropim in Frankfurt, the Talmud Torah in
Hamburg and others. All these in the twentieth century had
been in existence  for more than a hundred years and
continued to exist. In Germany and all these countries it
was at least possible to bring up a generation of orthodox
Jews - if they so desired, or Zionists - if they believed in
Zionism, and at the same time, also with an education
steeped in German culture, for they all grew up on the basis
of this great culture. What is possibly most surprising is
that, despite the fact that German culture influenced the
Jewish spirit from the eighteenth century onwards, not only
of the Jews of Germany but also of all the Jews in the
European dispersion - despite this fact, the Jews in Germany
endeavoured to develop their own education, the education of
the young generation, whether in Jewish religion or in
Jewish culture, in an exceptional way.

Even more so in new countries such as Lithuania, or Latvia,
or Estonia. There, of course, the local culture was very
young and there had been no appreciable assimilation of the
Jews into the Lithuanian or Latvian culture. In fact, only
12 per cent of the Jewish children in Lithuania went to
general schools at a time when Jewish schools were
available. A large majority, 88 per cent, attended the
Jewish schools which had not been in existence before the
end of the first World War.

In Latvia the percentage of those attending Jewish schools,
I believe, was 85 per cent. In Rumania there were various
difficulties, for there the districts were separated from
one another, and it was the government, despite the fact
that it had taken upon itself, at the Treaty of Versailles,
the obligation to give the Jews national minority rights,
which nevertheless evaded this and tried by every means in
its power to interfere with Jewish education.  There were
local reasons for this. Generally they wanted to influence
all secondary schools with their national spirit; in
particular they wanted to force all the minorities to teach
everything in Rumanian, and even to put the instruction in
the hands of Rumanian teachers. But in spite of all these
difficulties, the Jews succeeded, even in Rumania, in
setting up an admirable system of Jewish education.

All this was in force at the time when the conquerors
arrived and destroyed it.

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