Though I fully agree with Kahane’s condemnations of the American Jewish establishment’s inaction in the face of catastrophe, the outcome was preordained. Those small, ugly, weak characters could have done nothing. The American Jewish leader Stephen Wise, almost physically broken by the news of extermination, pleaded with every American official he could. Roosevelt did not bother to respond to Wise, and blocked efforts for the temporary resettlement of 2,000 Jewish refugees on the US Virgin Islands. The State Department slapped Wise by limiting the delivery of food parcels to Warsaw ghetto to $12,000 total.
The bombing of the death camps, a rallying cry of disaffected Jews after the Holocaust, would have solved nothing. Before the death factories were constructed, the Germans and their accomplices murdered 1.5 million Jews in mass shootings and gassing trucks. Death camps were a more convenient method, but the murder would have proceeded in one fashion or another.
Nor would meaningful popular outrage have changed things. Nowhere did protests against the deportations run as high as in France, but they only managed to save most French Jews; masses of refugees were deported. Danish Jews were saved by their proximity to neutral Sweden; the number of Danish Jewish refugees was insignificant compared to the 70,000 Finnish refugees taken into Sweden during the Finnish-Soviet war. The people of the countries that had surrendered to the Germans could not have mounted a meaningful defense of their Jews even if they had wanted to.
And why would they want to? Centuries-old anti-Semitism was exacerbated by assimilationist trends when millions of Jews suddenly entered the European milieu. Despite all their Holocaust education, how many Germans or Americans wanted a showdown with Iran over its nuclear program, which might annihilate a similar number of Jews in Israel? Nor, for that matter, are Jews any different: their rhetoric notwithstanding, how many of them marched on the White House to demand the landing of US troops in Darfur or Rwanda? Neither were Jews particularly concerned about the German extermination of gypsy vagabonds. It is in human nature to extend compassion but not help to others.
Nor could they really help. When the State Department issued 5,000 refugee visas to Jewish children in Vichy France, none of them could escape. The situation was worse in German-occupied territories where Jews were commonly denied exit even with newly purchased Latin-American passports. Carpet-bombings of death camps were unlikely to succeed: in that age of untargeted bombings, taking out the chimneys was akin to shooting a fly from a mile away.
The escape routes were closed already in 1940 when the Germans herded the Jews into the Warsaw Ghetto, obviously not with the intent of letting them live. At any rate, the extermination plans were finalized in a July 31, 1941 directive. By the time the world realized that the persecution of Jews was something more than a passing outbreak of anti-Semitism, most European Jews were trapped. Certainly, more could have been done, but in terms of statistics, the efforts wouldn’t have borne significant fruits.
It matters little whether they did not believe the reports from Poland or whether they simply closed their minds to those gruesome reports. Even if the State Department d been more forthcoming to Jews, and Jews more demanding, what could one warring power do against another? Polish Jewish MPs asked the United States for retaliation against German-American citizens; assuming for a moment that such an action could have been carried out, the Nazis could not have cared less about their compatriots in America. The Jews then requested retaliatory bombings of German cities, but those had been going on for some time by then, and German propaganda turned them against the Jews: the extermination in Poland would go on because, ostensibly, the world’s Jewry had organized the bombings. Thus the Germans turned retaliation on its head—now they were retaliating against the Jews. Strong condemnations from the Swiss king, a major German ally, aroused no concern among the Nazis, nor did they care about mass protests in America and Britain. Besieged in the Vatican, the pope could not afford to be vociferous, and in any event deeply anti-Semitic Polish Catholics and pro-Nazi German Catholics wouldn’t have heeded his pleas.
There had been several chances to diminish the scale of Holocaust. If America had allowed Jewish immigration and Britain had not closed Palestine to Jews, some could have escaped before 1941. If the USSR had warned its Jews of the massacres, they could be evacuated. If the Allies agreed to Europa plan and the Romanian offer, a million and another 70,000 Jews could have been ransomed. The majority was doomed.
The only Jewish leader who could have turned the tide of American Jewish passivity, Zeev Zhabotinsky, died just before the Holocaust was unleashed. As if the divine hand had intended on slaughtering two-thirds of Zechariah’s flock, the man was removed from the scene. Likewise, Rabbi Kahane was killed just before the Peres-Rabin clique embarked on the Oslo negotiations, which only he could have stopped.