World War II brought out the worst characteristics that humanity had to offer, and no event was more notorious than the Holocaust. With millions of Jews massacred and many more displaced across Europe, the setting was ripe for the advancement of the Jewish national imperative. Zionism, the ideology which had driven Jewish state-building since the 1800’s, became the most appealing alternative to the crisis at hand. For many young Jews, there was no option but to leave the rubble of Europe for more promising ventures, which many did. The sources have shown the degree to which the contagious spirit of Zionism spread among the European Jewry, and with renewed immigration and moral support worldwide, the Jewish polity found itself in a prime position to create Israel.
Jews had been treated disproportionately since the Medieval Times, when the Inquisition cracked down on all non-Christian entities, and the spirit of these times have been carried on to the modern fabric of European society and policy. The pogroms in Tsarists Russia and central Europe had long created a divided society that served to create disparity as Jewish communities became increasingly isolated. After the horrors of the Holocaust, an ideological beacon was the greatest hope for many Jews. As Cohen states in his book In War’s Wake, Zionism became the language of hope for the besieged Jews who remained in Germany (p. 3). This group, known as the Surviving Remnant, was torn between remaining in their traditional homes in Europe and moving to the promised land in Palestine. These desires were realized in the Kibbutzim Nili which appropriated former Nazi dwellings and transformed them into kibbutz style agricultural training centers (Patt, p. 101). The purpose of these places was to train the young and traumatized Jews of Europe the skills they would need when they eventually emigrated to Israel.
In fact, many rabbis and Jewish leaders took the opportunity they saw in the displaced peoples to push their Zionist ideals. The American-Jewish Conference was the forerunner to the post-war effort which appealed to the world’s moral obligation at the time (Cohen, p. 5). Cohen asserted that Jews had earned special recognition by the international community due to their particular plight, and this was especially brought to the attention of the American military as the de facto rulers of Europe. This effort brought about acts by President Truman which supported the scattered Jewish community and brought aid to the survivors of the Holocaust. While only a temporary action, this was part of a global rhetoric that had been propagated by the fledgling proto-Israeli government. By establishing Jews as “unique” in the post-war setting allowed the Jewish community to promote the idea of “national duty” which attracted so many of the young, labor qualified Jews that would emigrate to Israel (Patt, p. 101).
The creation of the Jewish polity as we know it was not restricted to the European battlefield. The Yishuv, in what was then the Mandate of Palestine, had long been working to increase its power over the Jewish community. Many sources are critical over the original Jewish government, which had used many tactics, including terrorism and violence by the para-military Haganah, to secure its goals. The Holocaust; however, justified what they did by its context of brutality. One author, T. Segev, goes as far as to say that Nazi Germany and the Holocaust fueled the Yishuv’s strength, which can be backed up for a number of reasons. The existence of the haavara system, which created a sort of trade between Germany and Palestine that included the transfer of German Jews to Palestine in exchange for their possessions in Germany, shows the lengths at which the Jewish state would go to create Israel (Segev, p. 21). Capitalizing on the deteriorating political system in Europe increased their influence of Jewish people and helped the Yishuv in increasing its manpower.
Many governments used the displaced persons crisis to compound their labor pool, and the Yishuv was no different in this aspect. By the images above, there was a massive influx of Jewish survivors to Palestine, and this fit perfectly into the government’s goals for the creation of a unified Jewish state. The fact that most of the Jews were of a young age made them even more desirable in the kibbutz-centered utopia that was being promulgated (Patt, p. 103). It is important to note that all the sources try to justify the measures taken by pre-Israel as necessary in the survival of the Jewish people; however, if the Holocaust had not occurred, would this be the global opinion? The belief as we know it is that Jews were victim to a demagogic state, but could they also have been manipulated and used by their own people in the furthering of the Zionist cause? In the end, the needs of the state outweighed those of the individual, but we as historians must continue to note how states capitalize on the great tragedies of history to their own benefit.
Gerard Cohen, In War’s Wake, ch. 6 (alternate: