Yad Vashem Special Focus

Real reason some voted against creation of Israel

REALPOLITIK: Silberklang

A CONTROVERSIAL issue I highlighted last week was the fact that experts at Yad Vashem insist that Israel was not born as a result of the Holocaust.

They insist that it would have been created anyway, but even more controversially, that the Holocaust might actually have stymied a Jewish state.

Dr David Silberklang, the senior historian of the International Institute for Holocaust Research, and editor-in-chief, Yad Vashem Studies, pointed out that the heartland of the Zionist movement, the Jewish communities of the Soviet Union and Poland, were all but wiped out by the Nazis — 6.2 to 6.4 million Jews, together with Lithuanian Jewry.

“Can you create a state without a constituency, without people?” he asked.

“You could argue that the Holocaust almost prevented the creation of the State of Israel.”

Jews were the only people who never replaced their losses from the Second World War.

There were an estimated 16 to 17 million Jews worldwide in 1939.

Today, he believed, the most generous estimate of world Jewry was 14 million, a million of whom may not be halachically Jewish.

Why, he queried, did 33 countries vote in favour of a Jewish state in the United Nations partition?

“The Soviet Union and the five countries of the communist bloc did not vote for sympathy of Jews, or regret,” he said.

The vote was realpolitik. The ambassadors of Egypt and Iraq told the UN that if they voted in favour of a Jewish homeland, they could not guarantee the safety of Jews in their own countries and that Jews would be under threat in other countries, too, as a result.

India’s prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru said they were opposing a Jewish state because they resented pressure from the Zionist lobby, while the view of the Guatemalan ambassador to the UN and those of other Latin American countries was that the proposed state should be given a chance and that perhaps they could learn from the greening of the desert and other innovations.

Ninety per cent of displaced Jews after the Holocaust wanted to go to Israel, including the ultra-Orthodox and those who had no particular Zionist leanings.

“Part of what survivors were having to deal with was the sense of home.” said Dr Silberklang.

“Not just four walls, but where you belong, and that’s something survivors don’t have.

“But they were displaced, and unlike others, they had nowhere to go.”

Most of them, he said, had concerns about the family they had left behind, and anxiety.

And allied to that anxiety were worries about what they would have to deal with in then-Palestine, such as the British mandatory authority and Arabs.

Even as the Holocaust played out, in 1942 discussions were already underway in Palestine about a memorial — before the gravity of the situation was realised.

By the summer of 1944, architectural plans had been drawn up, although none were ever used. But the name Yad Vashem had already been suggested.

As I reported last week, there is so much behind the scenes at Yad Vashem, which the public rarely sees and research of which most are unaware.

In the archives, for example, is the original architectural blueprint of Auschwitz-Birkenau, bearing Heinrich Himmler’s signature.

Efrat Komisar, head of the film footage section at the Yad Vashem archives, has one of the most intriguing roles at the Holocaust memorial.

She spends her time trawling through hundreds of hours of film footage shot before and during the Holocaust.

Much of it is undated and gives no indication of the location although the country is sometimes evident.

Efrat uses landmarks such as churches or public buildings or monuments as references and then searches the internet, Google Streetview and other sites to pinpoint the location.

And she has been hugely successful in her endeavours, even managing on many films to tag individual people either she has recognised or whose families have identified them.

Much of the cine-footage exists because relatives who emigrated to America would return to visit their families in Europe before the war began and shoot films as mementos.

Other films and still photographs were shot clandestinely in the ghettos and some by Nazi photographers for their own official records.

Next week I will focus partly on Avner Shalev, the chairman of Yad Vashem, who says: “Some Israelis want to see us as a tool of the government. This is totally incorrect.”

He revealed, too, that Yad Vashem publishes between 30 and 40 new works every year.

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