The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 12
(Part 4 of 7)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. Now, Professor Baron, would you be able to give us in a general way, a cross-section of the situation of the Jewish people before the Holocaust which overtook it following the rise to power of the Nazis?

A. Your Honours, before I reply to this question, I want to begin with an apology - a double apology, if I may. Firstly for my Hebrew, which is not fluent, as I do not use it every day. From time to time words may escape me, especially technical expressions, in which case please allow me to use either English or another language.

The second apology may be more important. I appear here as a witness, not an eye-witness or a jurist, but as a historian. It is known that a historian who studies contemporary history is always confronted with a double problem. The first problem is: Does one already have a historical perspective? Generally, one does not, until the passing of several decades, at least. The second problem is: Does one have documents? These are usually locked away and not available and one does not know about events that happened until 50 years later or more. It seems to me that precisely in this regard, there is a difference.

The period before the Second World War is so remote from this generation, and sometimes so forgotten even by people who lived through it, that already, it seems to me, we have a historic perspective which usually is lacking in such cases. And with regard to documents, perhaps we are fortunate in that many of the German archives were captured by the Allies and many of them have already been published. Also many of the participants in these events wrote diaries, autobiographies and so on and the material accumulated at such a pace that there is perhaps need for a vast bibliography, merely to have on record the large number of these manifestations.

As for the Jewish Question of that period, suffice it for me to mention that the material is so extensive that there has already appeared a handbook by Dr. Robinson Historical Guide to the Literature of the Jews in the Hitler Era etc., and literature like this is still being published from time to time. Therefore, it seems to me that it is already possible, provisionally, to sum up the impression we have of the thirties.

Now, if you will allow me to return to the question asked by the Attorney General. In general, the impression gained is one of the exceptionally vital and creative force of the Jewish world in Europe of that time. In general, there was a big crisis, a big crisis in the world, and a Jewish crisis in particular. The rise of new states after the First World War, the Soviet Revolution, the development of the Fascist and Nazi movements, the economic crisis which began immediately after the War, and reached its peak after 1929- 1930 - all these things placed the whole of Europe in a state of tension to which it was really difficult for any nation to adapt itself. At the same time, there appeared various theories, scientific, doctrinal theories, which attempted to seek a compromise between reality and theory, and all these added further tension, instead of lessening it.

With regard to the Jews, as is known, the rise of these new states brought the situation of the Jews to a position where most Jews wanted to leave some of the European countries if they could. But they were unable to do so because there were indeed severe restrictions on emigration at that time. Nevertheless - and to my mind it is the most striking aspect - the vital power of the Jewish people was so strong, that they overcame these difficulties and found new ways to adapt to conditions which had not existed before.

Q. Were there any noticeable demographic changes during the period between the two World Wars? I refer all the time to the Jewish community.

A. Yes, definitely. Here again, there is a striking element - that is the great urbanization of the Jewish people during the period of which we are speaking. Of course, this movement began in the nineteenth century, but it reached its peak during the period between the World Wars. In reality, Jews moved from small towns (particularly from the stetl) to the large towns and to cities of a million or more inhabitants.

For example, in Poland before the First World War where I think there were 86 towns with a Jewish majority, and in the other large towns there was a rather substantial minority, nevertheless at the time about a quarter of the entire Jewish people, already in the thirties, lived in cities with a population of a million or more, and another quarter in large towns with a population from one hundred thousand to a million inhabitants. That is to say, half of the Jewish people lived in very large towns.

This naturally had several consequences. Firstly, as is known, the main decisions about economic, political, cultural and scientific problems were taken in these cities. Since such large numbers of Jews lived in the intellectual and political centres throughout the world, this endowed them with special influence which we understand as resulting from this concentration.

On the other hand, it is also known that these large cities generally were not populated in a natural way, that is to say the mortality rate was higher than the birth rate. This is a recognized historical fact. In the case of Germany, already between the years 1550 to 1750, there were only eighty to ninety births for every hundred who died. Therefore for the Jews also there was a possibility that they would lose in numbers because of this concentration in the large cities.

Presiding Judge: That is to say, their number would decrease.

Witness Baron: The number of Jews in the world would decrease. In some countries this is what happened. We have reliable statistics from Germany which show, for example, that in Prussia in the years 1925-28, the Jewish population decreased by approximately five thousand, while at the same time the general population actually increased by more than a million and one hundred thousand, and so forth. On the other hand, it must be remembered that the majority of the Jews did not live in those countries of Western Europe; in Eastern Europe and in other countries their number still increased, although not as much as in previous generations.

It is known that in recent centuries, the Jewish population increased considerably, even more than the general European population which entered into a new period of great expansion. It should be sufficient to mention that from the middle of the nineteenth century, until 1930, during these 80 years, the percentage of European Jewry increased from 1.5 per cent to more than 2 per cent. That is to say, the number of Jews increased during the period that the entire population of Europe increased.

And at the same time that the Jews migrated to other countries, to new countries, their increase was greater than their proportionate size in the general European population. And maybe here it should be pointed out that during the last 24 years preceding the first Great War, about 30 per cent of all the Jews of Europe left Europe and went to another continent - especially to America, but also to Palestine and so on. Thirty per cent, in other words every third Jew, changed his place of residence from the European continent to another continent. And at the same time, I say, they increased their proportion in the European population.

Therefore it can be said that even during the period between the two World Wars, their natural increase continued. According to the famous sociologist Jaakov Lestschinsky, the increase of the world Jewish population during the twenties was on the average 140,000 per annum. It was decreased by the great crisis of the thirties to about 120,000. But it was still on the increase. And there is reason to assume that in the forties and the fifties, a period which in English is called the "Population Explosion," when throughout the world the population increased very rapidly, the number of 120,000 annually would have grown, had it not been for the terrible crisis that befell them.

Judge Raveh: Is this for the whole world?

Witness Baron: In the whole world. With respect to Europe, if I have to give specific figures, it would perhaps be worthwhile, if you would allow me - I have such figures for the thirties for the whole of Europe - about 9,800,000.

Attorney General: Jews?

Witness Baron: Among them, in Poland - and these are the results of a census of the year 1931 - at that time, together with Danzig, there were 3,040,000. This figure apparently - during the eight years following - increased to over 3,300,000. In Soviet Russia, in a census of the year 1926, the Jews were only counted according to their adherence to the Jewish nation, not to religion. There too, they totalled more than three million at the beginning of the thirties. In Germany - we have an exact number for the year 1933 - there were 499,682. This figure must be increased by 3,117, when the Saar region was annexed to the Reich. In Austria - 191,000; in Hungary - 444,000; in Rumania - 728,000; in Czechoslovakia - 356,000, in France - 320,000; in Holland - 156,000; in Lithuania - (a census had been carried out in 1923) - 155,000, etc.

A total, as I have said, 9,800,000. There were many other countries where the number of Jews was less than 100,000, but nevertheless they had an appreciable influence in all aspects of the political, economic and cultural life. All this, of course, was before the Holocaust, which very substantially reduced the numbers.

Judge Halevi: In Hungary, was this before the annexation of the additional regions to Hungary?

Witness Baron: Correct.

Judge Halevi: This somewhat changes the numbers.

Witness Baron: Yes, in the thirties.

Attorney General: We shall submit a map which will also show the geographical changes.

Have you concluded your answer to this question?

Witness Baron: Not altogether. Perhaps it is also worthwhile to point out that not only were there approximately ten million Jews in Europe at that time, but also those same European Jews were the origin of almost all the Jewish communities of the countries outside Europe. After all, the Jewish community in the United States, in its millions, was virtually created by Eastern and Central European Jewry, actually in the course of the fifty years before the Holocaust. In the same period this community grew from a very small population to being a community of approximately five million in the thirties. And these were the products of the Eastern European communities. The same thing applies to South America, or to the countries of the British Empire, or even to this country. Eretz Israel was nourished at that time by European Jewry and the links between their descendants and the centres in Europe remained in existence and it was impossible to distinguish between them. Everything that happened to the Jews of Europe, was immediately felt in all the countries of the world.

Attorney General: How did the Jewish groupings adjust to the economic changes which occurred in Europe between the two World Wars?

Witness Baron: Again, I have to say that that period was one of great crisis, an economic crisis and a Jewish crisis. Generally speaking the Jews found for themselves a special way of becoming adjusted to these new situations. We talk generally of that period as the period of modern capitalism. There are, of course, opposing views. There were differences of views amongst Jews, as to whether capitalism was the most important and the best course for the world or not. But almost all the experts - even anti-capitalist experts - all agreed that as a stage in modern economic evolution, capitalism was beneficial. And it was precisely the Jews who had great influence. It is known that the outstanding German authority in this field, Werner Sumbart, who was no friend of capitalism, nor of the Jews, nevertheless described in a book devoted to the subject, the extent to which the Jews had influenced the development of the great economic process. There is even one sentence in which he says - if I can remember it fully - "that Israel was like a sun: at the point where it arose, new life sprang up from the ground; where it was no longer, it was followed by desolation." He obviously was referring to matters which had already been stated in the eighteenth century, namely that in Holland, for example, England and France, the Jews had a beneficial influence on the progress of these countries, whereas the expulsion of the Jews from Spain removed this important element from the country.

Even in the twentieth century this process continued. The Jews were vital to the European economy in the full sense of the term; not only as bankers and money changers, and not only as merchants - and especially as international merchants - but also in industrial and agricultural pursuits, and so forth. In industry, for instance, they did not have substantial influence on the basic industries of coal, oil and of iron, although Jews were also active in Baku, in the oil wells, in Germany and in Galicia; there were Jews in Moravia, and it was there particularly, where the Rothschilds wielded a great influence on coal production etc. But they were especially outstanding in industry, such as the clothing industry, the textile industry,the food industry; they were extremely important in the gold and silver industry. In all these areas, whether in Continental Europe or other countries of the world, the Jewish influence was exceedingly noticeable.

Nevertheless there were Jews, and even non-Jews, who had long felt that the economic structure of the Jewish people was not what you could call normal; it was not similar to that of the other citizens. Accordingly movements arose among the Jews, as early as the eighteenth century, but continued especially in the twentieth century, and in the period between the two World Wars, to convert the Jews from business and other forms of work which we call "white- collar occupations" to work of "greater productivity"; as we have said, we describe "productivity" as being in agriculture, industry and so on.

It is really amazing that although the economic trend in the world was the movement of farmers from country areas to the town, taking people out of agriculture and placing them in factories - the Jews reversed the order, and precisely in the twenties and the thirties, many of them found a way of entering into basic agriculture, not only in Palestine, in the land of Israel, concerning which it is known that they renewed a desert land and converted it into a flourishing country, especially in agriculture. But this also occurred in Soviet Russia, in the Soviet Union. I have some statistics on which it is worthwhile to dwell.

Ten years after the revolution there were counted amongst the Jewish agricultural population in Russia no less than 33,357 families; that is to say approximately 165,000 souls, who were already settled in special Jewish agricultural villages, in addition to another approximately 33,000 Jewish families spread over the remaining areas, that is to say, in the Soviet Union 10 per cent of all the Jews living there engaged in agriculture.

Presiding Judge: Are you saying that there was a movement from the city to the village in the Soviet Union, apart from the areas of Birobidjan?

Witness Baron: Apart from Birobidjan. This happened in regions in the Crimea and the Ukraine and in other places as well. With the aid of the American Agro-Joint they established villages such as these, completely Jewish settlements, in addition to the individual farmers. It was 10 per cent and this was a high percentage. For at that time the number of Jews occupied in business dropped to 10 per cent. That is to say, the number engaged in agriculture was the same as the number in business. This was a great upheaval. But it took place in the course of ten years; a period of time which is practically negligible in the development of a people. The Jews showed an aptitude to accustom themselves to new conditions; and obviously, as I have mentioned, in Israel as well.

During that same time there was also a change-over from "white-collar" occupation to industry. The Jews, to a large extent, became factory workers, particularly in Poland, but also in the other countries. The change-over was even greater in France, in England and in the United States, that is to say those countries to which they emigrated. When the Jews of Poland and Russia entered Western countries, they could not be absorbed immediately without joining these "productive occupations." And ultimately they even succeeded in organizing several trade unions of their own, especially in Eastern Europe; in Poland there were Jewish trade unions in Warsaw, in Bialystok and in other places, despite opposition, not only on the part of the authorities, but also occasionally despite resistance on the part of the workers of other faiths in the same town.

Something interesting even happened in one Polish town, where there was a demonstration on May 1st. This was in Lodz. There was a separate Polish trade union, a separate German trade union and a separate Jewish trade union and when the police attacked the Jewish trade union, the other two unions did not do a thing.

Presiding Judge: They stood aside.

Witness Baron: Yes, with indifference. Despite all their difficulties, the Jews managed to enter fields of the economy which were not normally open to them until that time. I am showing in this way only their exceptional ability of economic adaptation. Naturally the greatest degree of adaptation was the intellectual arts, what are called today "the liberal professions." There were Jewish doctors from olden times - throughout the ages.

But they were not allowed to be lawyers until the emancipation, the liberation movement came along and opened the gates for them in such a way as to be able to enter this important field. They also became engineers and professional men of all types. In medical science, in jurisprudence, not as judges but as lawyers - they were so scattered that in many European countries, the number of Jews in these professions far exceeded their proportion of the population.

Attorney General: When you say "scattered," you mean "wide- spread" I presume.

Witness Baron: Wide-spread. But in this respect I want to say here that all this came about in spite of the fact that Jewish students at the universities faced many difficulties, both in Poland and Rumania and also in the other countries, and, already in the period before the War, in Russia. A numerus clausus was introduced, according to which only a fixed number of Jews could enter the university, but after the War, this was re-introduced in a number of countries, and the Jews of Poland, for example, were obliged to go to the West, and it may be said precisely at this point, that Mussolini's Italy, like the Czechoslovakia of Masaryk and Benes opened their doors especially to Jewish students from Eastern Europe, where they were subject to legal persecution.

And, nevertheless, and this is quite an interesting matter, despite all the legal pressure, despite everything which the university and government authorities did in Poland and the other countries, the number of Jewish academic students was still larger, proportionately, than the number of all other nationalities. In other, free countries, Jews were obviously able to take part in this development completely freely. It was calculated that in 1931, in Italy, 25 per cent of all the Jews resident in that country were either students or had already completed their studies in institutes of higher learning. A quarter of the entire population. This was somewhat typical for a free country.

Of course, I am not the person to decide whether this was a good thing or not. At that time one often spoke of a proletariat of the mind, actually of people who found for themselves neither a source of living nor an interest in these professions, in these arts. But, in fact, the presence of so many Jews in the professions undoubtedly had a beneficial effect not only on the Jews, but on the general culture in the spiritual sense, in the cultural sense and in the economic sense as well. Hence the percentage here is not as important as the spiritual influence that the Jews brought to bear in this way upon the Western world, on the entire world, and especially on the Europe that we are talking of now.

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