Time for Aliyah?

Chesed le’ummim chattath, warns King Solomon: “The kindness of nations is a sin offering” (Proverbs XIV, 34).

By the end of 1945, the full dimensions of what had happened to the Jewish population of Europe were becoming apparent. No one has exact numbers, of course, but most demographers and historians have agreed that roughly six million people, men, women, and children, had died of exposure, famine, epidemic disease, exhaustion, and murder through all means, ranging from savage beatings to shootings to gas. Given the unsanitary conditions of the ghettos and camps into which they had been crowded as well as the intentional malnutrition, all of the deaths had been the result of deliberate policies. These policies were set in place and relentlessly pursued by one of the most advanced and cultured nations of Europe: Germany.

The horrific campaign which has come to be known as the “Holocaust” (the Germans referred to it as die Endlösung der jüdischen Frage, “the final solution of the Jewish question”) was only made possible by the march of conquest which carried the National Socialist ideology, by the end of 1942, across Europe from the English Channel to the Caucasus. It was not done without the acquiescence -- when not the active support -- of a substantial part of the conquered populations. The result was a near-universal sense of shame and guilt.

Two years later in San Francisco, temporary headquarters of the newly formed United Nations, the nations of the world found a chance to make an amends of sorts. The British Empire, exhausted from the war and from the mounting chaos in the empire’s “crown jewel,” India, reacted to the vicious civil war which had broken out between the Jewish and Arab residents of mandatory Palestine (in which the British had been, as the saying goes, “neutral on the side of the Arabs”). They decided to give up the mandate, and the UN voted 33 to 13 with 10 abstentions to partition Palestine and create a Jewish state.

A glance at the list of those who voted “for” is instructive: Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, Belgium Denmark, France, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Belorussian SSR, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Ukrainian SSR, USSR, Liberia, South Africa, and the Philippines.

Of these, the Communist-dominated states (the Soviet Union’s three votes, with Poland and Czechoslovakia) voted in favor because they hoped to use the new state of Israel, then dominated by Socialist parties, as a “wedge” into the British-dominated Middle East. The United States, which would have abstained, voted in favor only because of the personal intervention of President Truman. This was prompted by an old friend and former business associate from Missouri, Edward Jacobson. The rest (certainly the other Europeans) engaged in an act of chesed, kindness, as the chattath, the “sin offering,” for what they had allowed to happen.

It seems that few of them would repeat that vote today.