Friday 29 April 2016

Was Hitler a Zionist?

Yesterday, British politics was plunged into an improbable, yet nonetheless frenzied discussion of Adolf Hitler and Zionism.  Despite the multifarious threats of ISIS, the Migration Crisis, the EU's slow-motion car crash and the faltering world economy - journalists were quoting Mein Kampf and dissecting the finer points of Hitler's policies towards the Jews.

The reason for this rather preposterous state of affairs was the veteran left-wing politician, Ken Livingstone, who - on riding to the support of a Labour MP, Naz Shah, who was exposed as having made anti-Semitic remarks - successfully poured fuel on the flames.  Apropos of not very much, he said in a radio interview:

"Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews."

Now, given the obvious historical ignorance on show in that sentence - Hitler didn't "win" an election, he was appointed Chancellor in 1933, he didn't "go mad" and Israel was not established until 1948 - it is perhaps surprising that Livingstone's suggestion that Hitler supported Zionism was given any credence at all, but the press (and others) nonetheless had a field day.  So let's give the subject the once over.

Hitler was an anti-Semite.  He was an ingrained and impassioned anti-Semite.  Anti-Semitism was the guiding principle of his political life and it ran through his career like the text in a stick of seaside rock.  Hitler's primary political ambition was to remove the Jews from Germany.  As we all know, this he would later do by extermination in the Holocaust - but in the early years of the Third Reich, he sought to do it by "encouraging" emigration; making conditions for Jews within Germany so bad through boycotts, purges and persecution, that they would opt to leave of their own accord.  In this, indeed, he was relatively successful.  Between 1933 and 1939, the Jewish population of Germany fell from over 500,000 to little over 200,000, with German Jews finding refuge across Europe and the wider world.

Some of those emigrants found their way to British Mandated Palestine - or, as Ken Livingstone would put it: "Israel".  Indeed, there was a scheme in place called the Ha'avara Agreement, made in 1933 between the new Nazi government and Zionist German Jews, to facilitate emigration to Palestine.  It required the payment, up front, of a £1,000 fee, which would be used to effectively 'purchase' the possessions of would-be emigrants, thereby neatly getting around the fundamental problem that the Nazis did not allow German Jews to remove their property and wealth from the country.

This shakedown of the desperate might feasibly be what Livingstone was referring to when he stated that Hitler "supported Zionism".  But, there are a number of caveats that he should perhaps have borne in mind.  For one thing, Hitler was no fan of the Ha'avara arrangement, fearing that the Jews - if concentrated in Palestine - would simply form a new outpost of his imagined "Grand Jewish Conspiracy".  Neither were all German Jews "Zionists" - Zionism was a particular strand of Jewish political thought and was by no means shared by all German Jews, even in the increasingly perilous situation that they found themselves in the 1930s.  Also, the British in Palestine were far from enthusiastic about encouraging a wave of Jewish emigration that would be bound to upset their fractious province.  In addition to all that, the up front costs of the Ha'avara deal meant that many German Jews were unable to take up the offer, even had they wanted to.  In the end, some 50,000 German Jews used the scheme, barely one in six of the total that left Germany between 1933 and 1939.

So, there was a Zionist arrangement of sorts with Hitler's Germany - but to conclude that Hitler therefore "supported Zionism" is not only historically inaccurate, it is historically illiterate.  But then, this particular storm in a teacup was never really about history. It was just a crude, rather cretinous attempt to smear by association.


Steve Peers said...

I think the obvious point to make is that Zionism isn't based on a loathing of Jews - quite the opposite. That’s why the words about Hitler 'supporting Zionism' caused outrage.

historian at large said...

Good point, thanks

worldcupgibbo said...

I thought AH WAS elected at some point. Am I wrong about that?

historian at large said...

Afraid so - in the two elections in 1932, the Nazis emerged as the largest party in the Reichstag, but fell short of a majority. Hitler, therefore, was not elected. He was appointed Chancellor in January 1933 by the president (Hindenburg) to head a coalition government.

Unknown said...

You could argue that Hitler was a Zionist in the sense that there is much common ground in the concepts of Zionism and German national socialism. Both are seeking a lebensraum or living space for a racially defined group. Both view it as natural to treat others also residing in this space as second or third class citizens. There are other similarities too.

commonsense said...

To Uknown above:
Sure, and any group of friends meeting regularly at the local pub for a beer have much in common with that too.

Unknown said...

Drawing links between Jews/Zionism/Hitler is offensive and it difficult to engage meaningfully with those who cannot grasp this simple point. In Ken's case yesterday, it wasn't even relevant to the issue and didn't advance the debate at all. What point was he actually trying to make? That Nazis supported Zionism so being anti Zionist can't be anti-Semitic?

We see this repeated here by the brave "Unknown" with his "lebensraum" dig, but why pick on Israel for this one? Political Zionism arose in a time of nationalism worldwide and other nation states have shared these very same characteristics, as do modern liberation movements for self determination. Do the Kurds want Lebensraum? Do the Palestinian people? What these peoples/ethnic groups all seek is a homeland of their own, exercising self government. The new state need not be exclusive to the group concerned but usually envisages that the group will represent a majority in the country eventually created. That is what the Jewish people wanted also. That is Zionism.

Anti-zionists frequently seek to distinguish Zionism from these other movements for national liberation and self determination on the basis that the concept should not extend to religious groups. They also then define "Jewish" and the Jewish state in purely religious terms, but the reality is much more complex. Jews are of course in part a religion, and the religion is so bound to the history and culture that it is difficult if not impossible to totally unravel it, yet there are avowed Jewish and Israeli-Jewish atheists who simply don't fit the description. The early socialist-zionist kibbutzniks (many fleeing the anti-semitism that continued after the Russian revolution) included many who had utterly abandoned religion. Being Jewish is not simply a religion, it is that in part and it is a culture, a shared history, traditions, a language.

To complicate matters further, after nearly 70 years since the establishment of the modern state of Israel there are now multiple generations of Israeli-Jews who know no other country and to whom all talk of 'should Israel exist?' is not an interesting ideological debate but a challenge to their existence, offering an intellectual support to the rather more direct threat posed by many in the region who would rather see the land of Israel (or Palestine) Jew-free .

To complicate matters further, after nearly 70 years since the establishment of the modern state of Israel we now have multiple generations of Israeli-Jews who know no other country and to whom all talk of 'should Israel exist?' is not an interesting ideological debate but a challenge to their existence, offering an intellectual support to the rather more direct threat posed by many in the region who would rather see the land of Israel (or Palestine) Jew-free .

The Israeli declaration of Independence sought to be clear on the direction intended for the country: at paragraph 13, is states the State of Israel would be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex".

Modern political Zionism was kick-started by Herzl's reaction to the anti-semitism of the infamous Dreyfus affair in France (see Zola "J'accuse"). Hitler wanted the Jews dead. All of them, in Germany and out. Hitler was no Zionist, and whatever footnote Livingstone produces of collaboration, from an avowed anti-Zionist, is ultimately a distraction, one tiny and atypical piece of a complex story endlessly repeated by those seeking to undermine Israel's legitimacy as a modern state. We could also talk of the Socialist Zionists from the youth movement Dror in Poland who led the Warsaw ghetto uprising. No collaboration there.

Geoff Short said...

If Hitler was supportive of Zionism why did he prevent German Zionists from attending the Zionist Congress in 1933? And why, after the fall of France, did the Nazis adopt the Madagascar Plan? Those who support Zionism want Jews in Israel, not Madagascar!

Unknown said... speak of this

Unknown said...

Livingstone would have been on much firmer ground if he compared Revisionist Zionism to Italian fascism. Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism, was a big admirer of Mussolini, so much so he set up a Zionist naval base in fascist Italy called the Betar Naval Academy.

m1945 said...

Zionism does not treat gentiles as second or third class citizens.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

'Barely' or 'astonishing' is nitpicking, and in the context of the point being made unreasonable. It means that 5/6 went without it so it was hardly a decisive factor. And there's nothing 'astonishing' about people accepting £1000 for something, that for all we know they would have done anyway. If someone paid me £1000 to have left Nazi Germany I'd have taken it. If I'd had the money to travel I'd have gone for nothing and I'm not even Jewish. If on the other hand someone offered it to me under threat of smashing my shop windows I'd have jumped at it. This £1000 wasn't available to everyone. It was 'compensation' for the loss of their property. If anything about it is astonishing it will have been that people with property worth much more than £1000 were prepared to take it and go and live in a desert.

Unknown said...

Frank Owen (29/4/2016) misinterpreted the position of Ze'ev Jabotinsky: he was no autocrat (a pre-requisite for being a Fascist, let alone a Nazi), but - if anything - a liberal democrat. I expect that his assertion is based on Jabotinsky's use of the concept of legionism (armed self-defence, if you will), which is adopted so enthusiastically these days by assorted White Supremacist movements - as well as all the nation-states. Thus Betar movement, which he founded. There are no other similarities that I am aware of. I may be wrong, of course; I would welcome a factual argument.

Regarding the Betar Naval Academy (in Civitavecchia): it did indeed exist, but that does signify that Jabotinsky - or Betar, or Revisionist Zionism - adopted Fascist philosophy in any form. To the contrary: cadets were specifically warned against it. Furthermore, it is worth remembering that Mussolini and Fascist movement (as distinct from Hitler and National Socialists) were not initially anti-Semitic. Indeed, in 1932 Mussolini said in an interview (I quote): “Antisemitism does not exist in Italy ... Italians of Jewish birth have shown themselves good citizens, and they fought bravely in the war. Many of them occupy leading positions in the universities, in the army, in the banks.” One does not have to be a Jew to understand what these words meant to Jews at the time...
A footnote: overt anti-Antisemitism came to Fascism in 1938 with the 'Manifest of Race' and promulgation of Leggi Raziali; that occurred after the Pact of Steel (with Germany) was concluded.

Finally, as far as Jabotinsky's position on Arabs is concerned (he's being consistently accused of advocating a genocide, almost): it would be best to let him speak for himself. I quote from 'The Iron Wall', 1923:

I am reputed to be an enemy of the Arabs, who wants to have them ejected from Palestine, and so forth. It is not true.

Emotionally, my attitude to the Arabs is the same as to all other nations – polite indifference. Politically, my attitude is determined by two principles. First of all, I consider it utterly impossible to eject the Arabs from Palestine. There will always be two nations in Palestine – which is good enough for me, provided the Jews become the majority. And secondly, I belong to the group that once drew up the Helsingfors Programme , the programme of national rights for all nationalities living in the same State. In drawing up that programme, we had in mind not only the Jews, but all nations everywhere, and its basis is equality of rights.

I am prepared to take an oath binding ourselves and our descendants that we shall never do anything contrary to the principle of equal rights, and that we shall never try to eject anyone. This seems to me a fairly peaceful credo.

But it is quite another question whether it is always possible to realise a peaceful aim by peaceful means. For the answer to this question does not depend on our attitude to the Arabs, but entirely on the attitude of the Arabs to us and to Zionism.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

great article. it seems Ronaldold is saying that he would have TAKEN the £1000 paid by the Nazis to the jews to leave Germany. I thought the Nazis CHARGED the jews £1000, equivalent to the average life savings at the time ie so the Jews were left with nothing

Daniel said...

Very informative post this cleared a lot of confusions that were in my mind thanks for sharing this stuff also check Hitler Facts You Hardly Know Before Funklist

Unknown said...

Did Livingstone ever say "Hitler was a Zionist"? No he didn't. So by all means attack him for things he has said but just making things up and attacking those Aunt Sallys is pretty pathetic.