Analysis: State of the Jewish world 1939 v. 2019

On the 80th anniversary of  World War II, what is the position of the Jewish nation in 2019 compared to 1939?

By Daniel Krygier, World Israel News

World leaders recently gathered in Poland to mark the 80th anniversary of the Second World War. Each nation appears to draw different lessons from the devastating conflict, which claimed 70 million lives.

What is the main lesson from the Holocaust for the Jewish people? What is the position of the Jewish nation in 2019 compared to 1939?

In 1939, there were around 18 million Jews compared to today’s 13-14-million. A minority lived in Western democracies while the majority lived in more-or-less repressive East European societies and the Islamic world.

Like today, Jews were bitterly divided between assimilationists, Zionist nationalists, traditionalists and socialists.

Relying on others

The shared reality for all Jewish subgroups in 1939 was that the Jewish people was stateless, largely defenseless and relying on non-Jews to protect them.

In May 1939, Great Britain ratified the White Paper, which severely limited Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel.

The White Paper violated the pledges made to support Jewish statehood in the Balfour Declaration and the international San Remo Conference. It was a cynical British effort to appease anti-Jewish sentiment throughout the Muslim Arab world.

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While Zionist leaders like David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann opposed London’s anti-Jewish policy, they lacked the power to challenge it.

At the same time, most countries, including the United States, blocked large-scale Jewish immigration. As a result, the fate of European Jewry was sealed even before Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939.

In the absence of a sovereign Jewish nation-state, the world in 1939 was divided between places where Jews could not live and places where Jews could not enter, as Weizmann famously observed.

While the Zionist movement succeeded in smuggling some Jews from Europe to the Land of Israel, they were merely a drop in the ocean compared to the millions of Jews who eventually perished in the Nazi flames.

The large and allegedly influential American Jewish community was powerless and unable to influence Washington to accept significant numbers of Jewish refugees from Europe. For example, the St. Louis vessel containing 900 Jewish refugees from Germany was denied entry by both the United States and Canada.

As a result, the ship was forced to return to Nazi-dominated Europe. Historical research has estimated that around one quarter of the Jewish refugees on St. Louis were later murdered in the Nazi death camps.

Light years ahead today

In 2019, almost half of world Jewry resides in Israel.

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Surviving onslaughts against all odds, the resurrected Jewish State has transformed from a poor and fragile state in 1948 into today’s technological and military powerhouse.

Israel’s strength is essential in a world where genocides and mass killings have continued across the globe from Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda to Sudan, Yemen and Syria.

Western countries seem just as unwilling to confront such massacres as they did in 1939. America’s “red lines” in Syria proved to be nothing more than an empty declaration.

The Jewish state is strong and counts many powerful allies. However, it is important to keep in mind it has allies because it is strong.

Today’s close U.S.-Israeli alliance was only born after Israel’s surprising military victory during the Six-Day War in 1967.

It was the stunning transformation from Jewish powerlessness to Jewish power that paved the way for Israel’s growing diplomatic ties worldwide.

Unlike individual friendships, states are driven by interests. Philo-Semitism plays a part, but it’s the demand for Israeli technologies and know-how that push a growing number of nations to forge ties with Jerusalem.

The main reason behind the Boycott Divestment Sanction (BDS) movement’s failure is that Israel has simply become too valuable to boycott.

Jews nevertheless face challenges. Internally, the Jewish world is increasingly divided between a largely liberal American Jewry that embraces post-national universalism and a conservative Israeli Jewry that embraces nationalist particularism.

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During the past 80 years, anti-Semitic genocidal incitement has moved from Europe to the Middle East. Germany and France officially have close ties with Israel, but they are happy to embrace trade with an Iranian regime that openly calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Israel must constantly struggle on how to best use its power in order to secure her existence in a hostile region that overwhelmingly rejects Jewish national independence.

But at least the Jewish people have an independent state – and that puts them light years ahead of the state of the Jews in 1939.