Buber on the Holocaust

Yad Vashem Studies, Volume XVII

Dina Porat

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Martin Buber in Eretz-Israel during the Holocaust Years, 1942-1944

Martin Buber emigrated from Germany to Israel five years after Hitler’s rise to power. Subsequent to Kristallnacht, he was persuaded to join the Association of Israel among the Peoples, a group of intellectuals in Palestine who were horrified by the happenings in Germany and wished to arouse similar feelings in intellectuals around the world. Buber wrote letters to Gandhi and Tagore. However, he strongly condemned any violent response in the Yishuv as satanic and Hitler-like. In 1942, speaking at the Writers’ Conference Debate, he denounced the Yishuv for its moral disintegration, which sparked a heated argument centering around his spiritual, pacifist Zionist ideology. By the end of 1942, news of mass murders of Jews reached the Yishuv and other countries. Three days of mourning were observed in Palestine, following which intellectuals and writers formed a group called Al-Domi (Against Silence). Buber considered that such demonstrations would have no effect at all on the Allied leaders and was pessimistic whether any course followed in the Yishuv would change their attitude. Menachem M. Schneerson objected to Buber’s stance and advocated urging intellectuals to exert influence to begin rescue operations. By 1943 many Yishuv intellectuals agreed with Buber’s denunciation of the preoccupation of the Jews with their daily routine, and their and the Zionist leaders’ indifference to the fate of their brethren in Europe. He also condemned using the Holocaust for political purposes and advocated purity of inner life. Buber now becomes less philosophical and more involved in recommendations for rescue actions, which were passed on to the Jewish Agency, however, due to factional infighting, the Agency’s response was minimal. Obviously, Buber was unaware of the secret activities undertaken to rescue Jews from Europe. In 1944 Buber recognized the necessity of public action in the Yishuv, but had not accepted a linkage between that and the Yishuv’s political future. The Revisionist Yitzhak Gruenbaum completely disagreed with the latter belief. Buber emerges as a great philosopher, but an enigmatic, controversial character. In essence he believed that the fight against the Nazi Satan should not be pursued at the expense of relinquishing the highest moral values of the Yishuv: “The purpose of the struggle of the Jew was not only to preserve his own existence and values; it was the struggle of a human being created in God’s image, upholding universal values.”

Products specifications
ISSN 0084-3296
Year 1986
Catalog No. 198604
Format Electronic article in Yad Vashem Studies, Volume XVII, pp. 93-143, Edited by Aharon Weiss
Publisher Yad Vashem