Zion Island 26.

“Notes on the Varieties of Zionism,” by Dr. Emmanuel Ringelblum.

Submitted to General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski at his request.

            “Zionism” is the idea that Jews alone should not be the only civilized people without a nation-home of their own.[1] 

            From the late Roman period through the 18th Century, European Jews had labored under many legal disabilities.  The subsequent legal emancipation of European Jews came soonest where nationalism triumphed.  It came later and more haltingly where multi-ethnic, multilingual, and multi-religious empires resisted nationalism as the price of their survival.  Whenever it came, Emancipation allowed the assimilation of Jews into the various European nations, if they chose to assimilate.  Judaism itself split into several currents. 

            Legal emancipation ran ahead of social acceptance.  “Anti-Semitism” remained a powerful force.  Sometimes it was water flowing underground in the form of snobbery, stereotypes, and social exclusion.  Sometimes it broke out in the open in judicial persecution, or noisy street movements, or even in political parties.  Occasionally it turned violent. 

            Historians commonly tell one another that “You’re right, but it goes back much farther than that.”[2]  The same is true of Zionism.  During the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries, schemes for a “return to Zion” appeared and disappeared like soap-bubbles.  In the 1890s, however, Theodore Herzl (1860-1904) became the founder the movement called “Zionism.”  Repulsed by the overt political anti-Semitism in Austro-Hungarian Empire, Herzl devoted his great abilities and energy to the creation of a Jewish state in the ancestral homeland of Palestine.  He died before the Great War, the “Balfour Declaration,” the partition of the Ottoman Empire that put Palestine in British hands, and the Arab “Awakening.”  It fell to his followers to make “Zion” a reality. 

            These followers were of several minds about the practical problems.  Much Zionist thought amounted to applications of European ideas of the pre-1914 period.  On the one hand, “Labor” Zionism and “Liberal” Zionism represented the left wing of European politics: socialist, communalist, reformist, democratic, tolerant of religious differences, and hopeful of a peaceful resolution of disputes over land with the Arabs.  These forms of Zionism appealed to the best in the Jewish community: idealistic, educated, compassionate, and “practical.” 

            On the other hand, “Revisionist Zionism” represented those harsher times that came after the Great War.  It’s prophet, the fanatic Ze’ev Jabotinsky (1880-1940), argued that “Zion” could only be built by a strong state with a strong army that could, first, define a territorially-large country, and second, force the Arabs to accept it.  “Zionism is a colonising adventure and it therefore stands or falls by the question of armed force. It is important to build, it is important to speak Hebrew, but, unfortunately, it is even more important to be able to shoot….”  This movement developed a wide appeal in the former Poland.  It had a group, “Betar,” that tried to instill military virtues in the young.  It attracted many ruthless, rigid minds. 

            All these debates have been put to rest by our migration to this place. 

[1] For Pity’s sake, even the Rumanians have a country!

[2] Or, alternatively, “You’re right, but that’s not true in Breslau.” 

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