From the Archives: The Holocaust
Editor’s Note: 80 years ago, the Nazi Germans perpetrated an unprecedented mass murder of the European Jewish population. Many Americans during the early years of the war were either unaware of these atrocities or apathetic to the pleas of the victims. Published here are articles from a special six-page issue of The Commentator detailing the reactions of students at Yeshiva University to the horrors of the Holocaust in 1943.
Title: From the Archives (March 4, 1943; Volume 8 Issue 7) — Save Us, O Lord: An Editorial
Author: Joseph Karasick and The Commentator Governing Board of 1942-3
Ten years ago in Germany there came into power a man who did not believe in man — or God. This man was the epitome of everything against which enlightened mankind had been fighting since the dawn of civilization, and his first official act was the sacrificing on his altars of animalic cruelty, debauchery, and supreme hatred the Jewish citizens of his state.
Yet, the world kept silent.
His slaughter benches became redder and redder with the blood of his people. The drops accumulated and became raging torrents, and as the years went on they bore ghastly witness to the extermination of a portion of mankind.
Yet, the world kept silent.
The tidal wave of chaos and havoc overflowed the sluice gates, and this flood of fury poured out all over Europe, tearing out everything in its path — appeased for the moment only when mixed with Jewish blood. Rob the Jew! Kill the Jew! Exterminate the Jew!
Yet, the world kept silent.
The world did not realize that this stigmatized Jew was its pulse. It did not realize that rot and decay were setting in, that when the Jew suffers it is always symptomatic of a greater and far more deadly illness. And even when, finally, the world decided to take up arms, “expediency” prevented it from demanding justice for the first heroic soldiers who fought this monster.
“It might be said it is a Jewish war,” furtively whispered so-called leaders of freedom. “It might lead to embarrassing complications if we bring the Jew into the limelight,” worried so-called fighters of liberty. Blasted appeasement and weak-kneed cowardice was all that it was! While the world was sacrificing itself on an altar of “expediency,” the Jewish people was being sacrificed for all humanity, and that same indifferent world is now paying dearly for turning its eyes away, for saying “Peace, Peace” when there was no peace.
Conditions have now reached a head — late enough to be sure. With the blood of two million murdered Jews screaming out for revenge, rumblings of protest and demands for action are finally issuing forth. The stomach of human decency is vomiting in revolt!
We, the students of Yeshiva College and The Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, have dedicated ourselves to the task of making those rumblings stronger and stronger. We have taken upon ourselves the sacred duty of making every human being with a spark of mercy and righteous indignation bring pressure upon the leaders of the United Nations to guarantee for our brethren a fifth freedom — the freedom to live. Or if to die, to die as human beings, and not as helpless lambs being led to the slaughter.
This publication is our initial attempt. Through it we hope to create a militant nucleus — on the campus, from the pulpit, on the floors of Congress, in the schoolroom, on street corners, wherever a thinking being can be found — which will storm the gates of our leaders and demand that abstruse principles be translated into dynamic reality.
Whether we shall succeed or not depends wholly upon the reader. If what is presented in the ensuing pages is read with the proper measure of mind and heart and soul, we will succeed; if not, this will but be a hollow voice in the wilderness of indifference.
Yet, it goes still deeper. We are students of a theological seminary. Our lives are bound up in the work of the Lord. We hope some day to become leaders of Jewry, to mould a good and spiritual people.
But we, the living, cannot rest while our brethren are dying. The words in our holy books become blurred because of the burning tears which blind us. And although we know that the ultimate decision rests in the hands of G-d, we also feel that it is incumbent upon us to let our brothers know that we are not forgetting them in this, their darkest hour — to let them know, that besides our prayers, we are trying our utmost to make mankind itself create out of their black misery a new humanity and a real civilization.
Title: From the Archives (March 4, 1943; Volume 8 Issue 7) — Students Condemn Nazi Atrocities; Demand Action
Author: Commentator Staff
Representing all the departments of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and Yeshiva College, an overflow crowd of students, alumni, and faculty members assembled Tuesday morning, Feb. 23, and condemned the Nazi atrocities against the Jews. A vigorous protest was lodged against the United Nations’ silence un the face of “the brutal obliteration of a who people.”
The assembly gave its unanimous approval to a strongly-worded resolution urging the American government to assume the lead in effecting the rescue of the European Jews now facing extinction. In addition, the resolution urged that the Palestinian immigration laws be annulled to allow the Jewish refugees from persecution “a haven in the Jewish National Home.”
Retaliation for Atrocities
“The governments of the United Nations must impress the Germans that acts of atrocities against the Jews will result in immediate retaliation,” the statement continued. “We appeal to the leaders and statesmen of the justice-loving nations of the world to act now while there is yet time.”
The resolution concluded with a plea for concrete action, rather than expressions of sympathy and commiseration. “In regaining the lost soul of the world, let us not discover that in the process, we have, by our own indifference, lost our own.”
Preceding the adoption of the resolution, Abraham Zuroff ‘41, president of the Students’ Organization of Yeshiva, briefly outlined the state of the European Jews today. “The record shows,” he stated, “that over two million Jews have already been ruthlessly slaughtered. The Nazis have already conceived and executed a satanic program beyond the grasp of the decent human mind … What is needed now is action, not pity, action, not sympathy.”
Walker Urges Action
Discussing the immediate problem of “what can be done by the individual student,” Jacob Walker, president of the Yeshiva College Student Council, declared: “Our own beloved country is, thank G-d, still a democracy and public opinion is still a powerful force. The voice of decent, justice-loving people must be heard.” The speaker concluded with a spiritual plea to the gathering to send letters to its representatives in Congress, protesting America’s indifference to the plight of the Jews.
Solomon Gopin, representing the alumni of the institution, then read the resolution which was unqualifiedly accepted.
Title: From the Archives (March 4, 1943; Volume 8 Issue 7) — Text of Resolution
We the students of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and of the Yeshiva College, raise our voices in solemn protest against the iniquitous silence and callous passivity on the part of the United Nations, in the face of total annihilation of all the Jews on the continent of Europe.
Hitler and his accomplices in crime have committed themselves to a policy of barbarous extermination, the magnitude of which is unparalleled in the annals of human history. Millions of Jews have already met a martyred death in the German slaughterhouses; millions more are facing imminent destruction at the hands of the ruthless Nazi butchers.
We, citizens of a free country where the torch of freedom still burns with unabated intensity, cannot resign ourselves to the belief that the conscience of mankind has become so morally numb as to view with equanimity the total obliteration of a people. For the Jews do not bleed alone. Israel’s wounds are the wounds of all mankind.
In view of the aforementioned we demand that:
1.) Immediate negotiations be started through the good offices of the Vatican or a neutral country, for the immediate release of all Jews imprisoned on the continent of Europe.
2.) That the gates of Palestine, the Jewish national home, be thrown open to these innocent victims as a haven of refuge. All restrictions on immigration must be lifted!
3.) That the governments of the United Nations impress the Germans that acts of atrocities against the Jews will result in immediate retaliation.
We appeal to the leaders and statesmen of the justice-loving nations of the world to act now while there is yet time. Recent reports from reliable sources indicate that thousands of Jews can be saved from the inferno created by the Nazi hordes.
If the United Nations fail to act now, they will have placed an indelible stigma on themselves second only to the barbarism of the instigators and perpetrators themselves. Mere expressions of pity, sympathy, and commiseration are but empty gestures and a hollow mockery if they are not translated into concrete action.
In regaining the lost soul of the world let us not, G-d forbid, discover that in the process, we have, by our own indifference, lost our own.
Title: From the Archives (March 4, 1943; Volume 8 Issue 7) — We Ask: “Give Us Back Our Homeland”
Author: Commentator Staff
Close to two thousand years the Jew has wandered from country to country from continent to continent; nowhere could he stay, nowhere could he rest so he trudged along the road to no man’s land. A day here, a day there, so has he travelled across the length and breadth of the universe. When he sat down to think only one idea permeated his mind, “next year in Jerusalem.” So he has told his children throughout the ages, next year! next year!
There were periods in his life when he was subjected to the ruthlessness of mankind. There were times when he was robbed and murdered, pillaged and plundered. Whole communities were razed and communal populations annihilated. But never in all his history has he undergone a more complete and systematic extermination as in the past decade. Europe has become an inferno of hate and slaughter. Man stands arrayed on an opposite front from his fellow man and in the midst of all this misery of mankind stands the Jew, beaten and tortured in the blood-caves of the continent.
The Cry of the Jew
To all mankind we cry out — why? What have we done to deserve this fate? Whom have we killed? We ask not riches, nor fame, nor fortune. Let us live!! Permit us just to rest our wearied bodies on the cold stones of your land. This, too, you do not grant us. Have we not given of our sweat and blood to the growth of the fatherland? Must the blood of the Jew forever grease the wheels of civilization?
To you, noble England, we can only say this: We are sick of being butchered in all parts of the earth. We shall no longer be cattle to be herded for slaughter on chopping blocks. Can’t you see that we are breathing our last breath? Can’t you see that mother earth has reached its saturation point with Jewish blood? Do not mock at us because we are small in number or weak physically. Remember, Palestine is ours and shall be so forever because G-d in his infinite mercy has granted it to us. Remember, too, that our spirit is still high and shall never be daunted by the beastliness of men. G-d shall fight our battle.
“In That Day…….”
When this black age of unbelievable torture and suffering shall pass and the voice of freedom shall ring throughout the world and when the shackles of hate and despair shall forever be broken, our people shall come forth proudly and staunchly. Higher and higher shall we rise above the shoulders of man. Slowly but surely shall we march along the glorious road that leads to our everlasting homeland. Lo and behold the gates shall open. Israel shall forever be — a people!
Title: From the Archives (March 4, 1943; Volume 8 Issue 7) — Proposals Must be Adopted — The Time to Act Is Now
Author: Commentator Staff
It seems as if the entire democratic world of freedom-loving countries has become calloused to the extermination of millions of defenseless and innocent people. These deeds of savagery have undoubtedly strengthened the resolve of the United Nations to overthrow the barbarous Nazi tyranny. They have even effected the issuance of a statement declaring that “the people of the United Nations sympathize with all victims of Nazi crime and will hold the perpetrators of these crimes to strict accountability in a day of reckoning which will surely come.”
But, is a mere declaration unescorted by practical action commensurate with the ghastliness of a tragedy that has befallen an entire people? Has verbal consolation already been recognized and accepted as an adequate substitute for immediate action which alone may save the remnants of a martyred nation? Even in the arsenal of democracy — America — only faint clamorings for action have been audible. Evidence of severe shock has manifested itself neither in the American press, in public opinion at large, nor in the lawmaking bodies of this Republic.
We Must Awaken From State of Apathy
The apathy and indifference alone that greeted the publication by the American Jewish Congress of the documented story of Nazi atrocities against the Jews, is an exhibition of the complacency that has gripped the Christian peoples of the free world, and the most frightening aspect of the situation is the fact that even a large portion of American Jewry finds itself immersed in a pool of lethargy and smugness. Has the entire civilized world descended to a state of moral bankruptcy? Perhaps even the word bankruptcy us incorrect for it necessarily implies a prior assumption of obligations and responsibilities.
But maybe this attitude has finally changed. Perhaps the conscience of a people has finally been aroused.
At any rate, the huge protest meeting of Monday night last served its purpose in finally setting forth a concrete platform to the leaders of the United Nations. They are proposals which no civilized being can refuse — and to refuse, or just as bad, to ignore them, is not civilized.
The following are some of the proposals — all of which we heartily endorse — which were addressed to our President and through him to the governments of the United Nations, and let every reader of this paper absorb them and realize once and for all that something can be done if he so wills it:
1. Through the intermediation of neutral agencies, the German Government and the governments of states it now partly dominates or controls — such as Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary — should be approached with the view to secure their agreement to the release of their Jewish victims and to consent to their emigration to such havens of refuge as will be provided.
2. The United Nations should take steps, without delay, to designate and establish a number of sanctuaries in Allied or neutral states to serve, under agreed conditions, as havens of refuge for those Jews whose release from captivity may be arranged for, or who may find their way to freedom through efforts of their own.
3. The procedure that now prevails in the administration of existing immigration law in the United States should be revised and adjusted to the war conditions and in order that refugees from Nazi-occupied territories may find sanctuaries here within such quotas.
4. Subject to the maintenance of national security, Great Britain should be asked to provide for receiving a reasonable quota of the victims escaping from Nazi-occupied territories and to provide for their accommodation for the duration.
5. The United Nations should urge the republics of Latin America to modify such administrative regulations that now make immigration under the law extremely difficult and to endeavor under existing immigration law to find temporary havens of refuge for an agreed number of refugees.
England Must Open Doors of Palestine
6. Overriding pre-war political considerations, England should be asked to open the doors of Palestine — the Jewish homeland — for Jewish immigration, and the offer of hospitality made by the Jewish community of Palestine should be accepted.
7. The United Nations should provide financial guarantees to all such neutral states as have provided temporary refuge to Jews from Nazi-occupied territories. The transfer of such refugees to the designated sanctuaries should be undertaken without delay.
Remember, the time to act is now! Tomorrow may be too late!
Photo Caption: The Commentator archives
Photo Credit: The Commentator