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Lenni BRENNER

ZIONISM IN THE AGE OF DICTATORS

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Chapter 12

 

GEORG KARESKI, HITLER'S ZIONIST QUISLING BEFORE QUISLING

 

The fact that Jabotinsky opposed Hitler, and was able to convince Abba Achimeir to stop praising him, did not mean that all Revisionists accepted this position. Some Revisionists were still convinced that collaboration was the way forward for Zionism. The most notorious of these was Ceorg Kareski, whom (as we have seen) Jabotinsky tried to curb in l933.

By 1919-20 Kareski had already disregarded the ZVfD's preoccupation with Palestine work and concentrated on Jewish community politics. In an age of declining faith, when many German Jews were opting for mixed marriages and atheism, those who clung to the sectarian Jewish community became even more inward-looking. In 1926 Kareski's introverted Zionist Judische Volkspartei, in alliance with other religious isolationists, was able to upset the reformed 'Liberal' German-nationalist leadership, and in January 1929, he became Chairman of the Berlin Jewish community. But his success was short-lived, and the liberals defeated him in November 1930. Kareski had entered German politics in the September 1930 Reichstag elections as a candidate of the Catholic Centre, which was attractive to him both for its concern for religious education and its social conservatism. With Hitler's coming to power, Kareski joined the Revisionists, which he now saw as the potential Jewish equivalent of the successful Nazis. They had been an insignificant faction within the ZVfD, gaining only 1,189 of the 8,494 votes in the delegate election for the 1931 World Zionist Congress. By 1933 the Revisionists were reduced to further futility by their division into rival cliques. Kareski, with his prestige as a notable member of the community, had no difficulty in becoming the leader of these dispirited forces and merging them into a new Staatzionistische Organisation.

In May 1933 he attempted his ludicrous putsch at the Berlin Jewish community centre and was expelled from the ZVfD. His career and his association with the Nazis developed further after the Revisionist split from the WZO, following the defeat of the anti-Nazi boycott at the Prague Congress. As the Revisionists were no longer de facto a part of the WZO, the Palestine Office in Berlin was ordered to exclude Betarim from consideration for immigration certificates. The Revisionists responded by starting brawls at ZVfD meetings, shouting: 'You Marxist swine! You are all sympathizers of the Histadrut which belongs to the Second International!' [(1)] As a result of this the ZVfD headquarters were temporarily closed in June 1934. By 6 August, one of the State Zionist leaders, Dr Friedrich Stern, sent the Nazis a letter explaining that the growth of their anti-Marxist youth group, the Nationale Jugend Herzlia, was stunted by their exclusion from emigration by the Palestine Office staffed by allegedly pro-Marxist Histadrut supporters from the ZVfD. Stern proposed that the Palestine Office be turned over to them. The ZVfD found out about the plot through Hechalutz spies in the Herzlia and through their own contacts in the regime and hence the scheme failed.[(2)] The Nazis quickly realised that if they gave the Palestine Office to the State Zionists the WZO would not give out any certificates in Germany. As long as the Nazis needed the WZO and the Jewish charities to organise the emigration, they could not impose a collaborator on the Jewish community. Kareski's campaign put Jabotinsky in an impossible position: while he was denouncing the WZO for the Ha'avara, his own movement in Germany was working for the Nazis, and he soon had to announce that from then on 'the wing of Zionism who share our Herzlian views also know that "Marxist" is a word never to be used in polemics'.[(3)]

The Nazis had decided on a general policy of favouring Zionists over non-Zionist Jews, and within that line they decided that open encouragement of the State Zionists rather than suppression of the 'Marxists' of the ZVfD would have to be their strategy. On 13 April 1935, the Gestapo notified the regular police that, henceforward, the State Zionists would receive:

 

exceptionally and always revocably, permission to let its members belonging to the 'National Youth Herzlia' and 'Brith Hashomrim' wear uniforms indoors... because the State Zionists have proven to be the organisation which had tried in any way, even illegally, to bring its members to Palestine, and which, by its sincere activity directed towards emigration, meets half-way the intention of the Reich Government to remove the Jews from Germany. The permission to wear a uniform should spur members of the German-Jewish organisations to join the State Zionist youth groups where they will be more effectively urged to emigrate to Palestine.[(4)]

 

Despite the relationship between the State Zionists and the Gestapo, Kareski was still welcome at the NZO Congress in Vienna in 1935. When the Revisionists had decided to support the anti-Nazi boycott, they had formally disaffiliated their German unit in an effort to protect it; thus it was obvious that Kareski was there with the encouragement of the Gestapo to lobby against the boycott. The uneasy ranks wished to distance themselves from the State Zionists and they compelled a resolution that, under the circumstances, there was not and could not be a Revisionist movement in Germany.[(5)] Kareski made the mistake of travelling to the following Betar Congress in Cracow in the company of a known Jewish Gestapo agent, and some German Betarim reported them to Jabotinsky.[(6)] He was asked to leave, and Jabotinsky was compelled to call on him to defend himself publicly and deny any connection to the Nazis.[(7)] However, later, in 1936, he used Kareski as his go-between with the German publishing house holding the copyright to one of his books. Jabotinsky assumed no further responsibility for Kareski after Cracow, but as long as he remained in Germany Kareski was in contact with the minority within the world Revisionist movement, notably those around von Weisl in Vienna, who continued to agree with his pro-Nazi line.

 

'The Zionists as the "Racial Jews" have at least Given us a Formal Guarantee'

 

Kareski's repeated failure to get the German Jews to accept his approach never discouraged the Nazis from trying to impose him on the community. In late 1935, they forced him on the Reichsverband judischer Kulturbunde. These Culture Leagues had been set up to provide jobs for Jewish musicians, writers and artists who had been thrown out of their positions, and the Gestapo had decided that a genuine Zionist spirit would do the Leagues some good.[(8)] Benno Cohen of the ZVfD had been appointed assistant to their director, conductor Kurt Singer, but that was not enough: the performers were still really cultural assimilationists, and in October 1935 Kareski, who had nothing to do with the arts, was appointed to a more senior position than Singer, and Cohen was dismissed. The conductor told the Nazis that he would resign rather than work with Kareski, and the Leagues were closed down in an attempt to force them to accept Kareski. The refusal of the Jews to concur with Nazi policy gained attention in the Nazi press, and Hans Hinkel, the bureaucrat in charge of the Leagues, publicly explained his choice of a new director.

 

I have consciously allowed the Zionist movement to exert the strongest influence upon the cultural and spiritual activities of the Kulturbund because the Zionists as the 'Racial Jews, have at least given us formal guarantees of cooperation in acceptable form.[(9)]

 

The Zionists to whom Hinkel referred were the State Zionists, even less popular at that time than in 1931; realistically they did not number much more than a few score adult party members and 500 youth.[(10)] However, the Nazis made much of Kareski in their propaganda. As the former head of the Berlin Jewish community, the head of the State Zionists, and now the head of the Culture Leagues, he sounded a very impressive figure. Der Angriff interviewed him on 23 December:

 

I have for many years regarded a complete separation between the cultural activities of the two peoples as a condition for a peaceful collaboration... provided it is founded on the respect for the alien nationality... The Nuremberg Laws... seem to me, apart from their legal provisions, entirely to conform with this desire for a separate life based on mutual respect. This is especially so when one takes into account the order for separate school systems which has been issued previously. The Jewish schools fill an old political demand of my friends, because they consider that the education of the Jew in accordance with his traditions and his mode of life is absolutely essential.[(11)]

 

However, the Culture Leagues were too important to the Nazis as a model of cultural separatism to be abandoned because of Kareski, and eventually the Nazis allowed them to be reorganised without him. By 1937 Kareski and the Gestapo were ready for another manoeuvre. This time their target was the Reichsvertretung der deutschen Juden (the Reich Representation of German Jews). Kareski formed an alliance with discontented conservative assimilationists within the Berlin community, and they proposed a programme whereby the State Zionists would take over the political work of the organisation and the religious congregations would run the charitable functions. Max Nussbaum, rabbi of the Great Jewish Congregation of Berlin, later told of the Nazi pressure for the Revisionist line. The Gestapo's Judenkommissar, Kuchmann, took it into his head to become an expert on the Jewish question, reading every available book on modern Jewry. Now determined to do the right thing by his charges, he summoned Nussbaum.

 

As a result of his diligence, he suddenly fell in love with Revisionism, asserting to each of us who had the misfortune to be summoned to his office, that this was the only solution of the Palestine problem and constantly blaming official Zionism for being 'red' and 'left'. One day in the Spring of 1937, he called me to his office and told me bluntly that I had to take over the leadership of the Revisionist group, to make Revisionism more popular with German Jewry, to drop my propaganda for the 'Meineckestrasse-Zionism' [ZVfD]... When I refused... he 'punished' me by a speaking and writing prohibition for one year.[(12)]

 

Again the attempt failed; foreign Jews could not be made to subsidise a German Jewish central organisation run by a traitor, and the Nazis backed down. As a consolation prize the Nazis, in spring 1937, made the Staatzionistische Organisation the only authorised Jewish representative for dealing with the German public-relief agencies. [(13)]

Kareski's usefulness to the Nazis came to an end in July 1937, when a scandal was uncovered in his Iwria bank. He had been making illegal loans to members of its board and his personal friends, and he tried to cover himself with a cheque on the account of the Berlin Jewish community, making one of his clerks accept it with only his signature in violation of the requirement that it be countersigned. The cashier took the cheque under protest and notified the Berlin congregation. There is no evidence that Kareski personally profited from his manipulations --he used the loans as chits to gain allies within the Jewish community-- but in the end the bank failed and Kareski decided to visit Palestine.[(14)]

His visit was not a success. On 6 October 1937, the German Jewish community in Haifa discovered that he was there and a large mob turned out to greet him, chasing him through the streets. He finally had to barricade himself into a house until he was rescued by the police.[(15)] The German Immigrants Association (the HOG) publicly accused him of seeking to be appointed leader of German Jewry with the aid of the Nazis, of trying to incite the murder of the ZVfD's chairman, of trying to destroy the Zionist organisation, and of corruption in his bank. Kareski made the mistake of denying the charges and insisting on a trial in the rabbinical courts. In June 1938 the court, headed by the chief rabbi, found the HOG's charges to be fully borne out by the evidence.[(16)] The decision effectively ended his active political career.

 

'A Jewish Legion to Protect the Jews in Palestine from Attack'

 

Despite Jabotinsky's disowning him, Kareski always had his apologists within the Revisionist movement. There had always been those who disagreed with Jabotinsky's anti Nazism. If it was permissible for Jabotinsky to try to deal with Simon Petliura in the Slavinsky agreement when the Ukrainian Army had already butchered 30,000 Jews, why was a deal with Hitler unacceptable? Prior to Kristallnacht Hitler had killed no Jews as Jews. These Revisionists were convinced that Hitler's victory foretold a Fascist age and that the Jews simply had to understand that and come to terms with it. The circle around von Weisl, who was Jabotinsky's negotiator with the other authoritarian dictatorships in Eastern Europe, agreed with Kareski's approach. In 1936, von Weisl, apparently acting on his own, contacted the British Fascists and proposed a fantastic wartime alliance between Britain, Japan, Poland and Germany, together with a future Revisionist state, against the Soviets and the Arab and Asian colonial revolutions.[(17)]

It would be pleasant to report that the rabbinical court's decision finally ended Kareski's career, and that he died alone and hated, but on 2 August 1947, the 68 year-old Kareski was the chairman of a Revisionist health fund in Palestine. Some friends even tried to have a street named after him in Ramat Gan.[(18)] He even has his latter-day apologists who suggest that, given what we know of the abandonment of the Jews by the rest of the world, as soon as Hitler took over rapid emigration was the only solution.

Kareski, a classic Revisionist, albeit of an extreme brand, was a traitor to the German Jewish community. His vision ran to nothing more prophetic than a Revisionist state stretching from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates with Mussolini as its Mandatory protector.[(19)] He certainly did not foresee the Holocaust. In 1935 he was proposing a 25-year evacuation plan from Germany with 20,000 emigrants per year. His concern was to use the Jugend Herzlia as 'a Jewish Legion to protect the Jews in Palestine from attack' (my emphasis).[(20)]

It is not surprising that the Nazis used Kareski as their collaborator in Germany. His rival amongst the assimilationists, Max Naumann, was totally unacceptable for his insistance on full Jewish participation in the Third Reich. Kareski appeared before the Nazis as if sent by central casting: the caricature of the stage Jew, a crooked usurer, as zealous as any medieval rabbi to keep the Jews apart from unbelieving humankind, and at the head of a brownshirted emigrationist movement.

 

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This text is a chapter of <Zionism in the Age of the Dictators ­ a Reappraisal>, by Lenni Brenner.

The copyright (©) belongs to the author. It was published by Croom Helm, Kent (Great­Britain) and Laurence Hill, Westport, Conn. in the USA, 277 p. ISBN (GB) 0­7099­0628­5; USA (paperback) 0­88208­164­0 in 1983. This book has been out of print for years.



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