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Zionism and the Third Reich
by Mark Weber
Early in 1935, a passenger ship bound for Haifa in Palestine left the German port of Bremerhaven. Its stern bore the Hebrew letters for its name, "Tel Aviv," while a swastika banner fluttered from the mast. And although the ship was Zionist-owned, its captain was a National Socialist Party member. Many years later a traveler aboard the ship recalled this symbolic combination as a "metaphysical absurdity."1 Absurd or not, this is but one vignette from a little-known chapter of history: The wide-ranging collaboration between Zionism and Hitler's Third Reich.
Over the years, people in many different countries have wrestled with the "Jewish question": that is, what is the proper role of Jews in non-Jewish society? During the 1930s, Jewish Zionists and German National Socialists shared similar views on how to deal with this perplexing issue. They agreed that Jews and Germans were distinctly different nationalities, and that Jews did not belong in Germany. Jews living in the Reich were therefore to be regarded not as "Germans of the Jewish faith," but rather as members of a separate national community. Zionism (Jewish nationalism) also implied an obligation by Zionist Jews to resettle in Palestine, the "Jewish homeland." They could hardly regard themselves as sincere Zionists and simultaneously claim equal rights in Germany or any other "foreign" country.
Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), the founder of modern Zionism, maintained that anti-Semitism is not an aberration, but a natural and completely understandable response by non-Jews to alien Jewish behavior and attitudes. The only solution, he argued, is for Jews to recognize reality and live in a separate state of their own. "The Jewish question exists wherever Jews live in noticeable numbers," he wrote in his most influential work, The Jewish State. "Where it does not exist, it is brought in by arriving Jews ... I believe I understand anti-Semitism, which is a very complex phenomenon. I consider this development as a Jew, without hate or fear." The Jewish question, he maintained, is not social or religious. "It is a national question. To solve it we must, above all, make it an international political issue ..." Regardless of their citizenship, Herzl insisted, Jews constitute not merely a religious community, but a nationality, a people, a Volk.2 Zionism, wrote Herzl, offered the world a welcome "final solution of the Jewish question."3
Six months after Hitler came to power, the Zionist Federation of Germany (by far the largest Zionist group in the country) submitted a detailed memorandum to the new government that reviewed German-Jewish relations and formally offered Zionist support in "solving" the vexing "Jewish question." The first step, it suggested, had to be a frank recognition of fundamental national differences: 4
Zionism has no illusions about the difficulty of the Jewish condition, which consists above all in an abnormal occupational pattern and in the fault of an intellectual and moral posture not rooted in one's own tradition. Zionism recognized decades ago that as a result of the assimilationist trend, symptoms of deterioration were bound to appear ...
Zionism believes that the rebirth of the national life of a people, which is now occurring in Germany through the emphasis on its Christian and national character, must also come about in the Jewish national group. For the Jewish people, too, national origin, religion, common destiny and a sense of its uniqueness must be of decisive importance in the shaping of its existence. This means that the egotistical individualism of the liberal era must be overcome and replaced with a sense of community and collective responsibility ...
We believe it is precisely the new [National Socialist] Germany that can, through bold resoluteness in the handling of the Jewish question, take a decisive step toward overcoming a problem which, in truth, will have to be dealt with by most European peoples ...
Our acknowledgment of Jewish nationality provides for a clear and sincere relationship to the German people and its national and racial realities. Precisely because we do not wish to falsify these fundamentals, because we, too, are against mixed marriage and are for maintaining the purity of the Jewish group and reject any trespasses in the cultural domain, we -- having been brought up in the German language and German culture -- can show an interest in the works and values of German culture with admiration and internal sympathy ...
For its practical aims, Zionism hopes to be able to win the collaboration of even a government fundamentally hostile to Jews, because in dealing with the Jewish question not sentimentalities are involved but a real problem whose solution interests all peoples and at the present moment especially the German people ...
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