Zionist Policy and the Fate of European Jewry 1939-1942
In 1939 the Zionist movement faced the increasing stress of the Jews in Europe, the future of the Yishuv, Britain’s renunciation of the Balfour Declaration and Jewish participation in the war. Britain, the USA, and their Jewish populations were not supportive of Jewish volunteers in, and even outside, Palestine. As the war neared the Yishuv’s borders in 1940 and 1941, Ben-Gurion feared for the fate of the Yishuv. Weizmann continued to pursue political opportunities. The Zionist leadership was skeptical about the mass destruction of Jews even in mid-1942. At the end of 1942, authentic reports of Nazi atrocities reached the Yishuv but the response was not vociferous. Britain still adhered to its 1939 White Paper. Ben-Gurion considered that at the war’s end British and American opposition must be overcome and the Jewish state must be established. Weizmann still strongly advocated a Jewish fighting force, which he considered would be of symbolic importance after the war. Ben-Gurion’s top priority was a Jewish state. Ben-Gurion agreed to a Jewish army abroad. The British government toyed with the idea of a Jewish settlement in places other than Palestine. Non-Zionists continued to believe that equal rights for Jews were more important than a Jewish state. In 1941/42 the Zionist movement began to appreciate the potential of mass immigration of Jews from Middle Eastern countries. At the end of 1942, the British feared that the Yishuv was gearing up for the postwar battle to oust them and seize land from the Arabs and attempted to restrain the growth of the Yishuv’s military power. The Yishuv now recognized the need to rescue European Jewry and mobilized more forces to fight at the European front. In retrospect, the Jewish vanguard had failed to understand the tragedy overtaking European Jewry.