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Jabotinsky's Children: Polish Jews and the Rise of Right-Wing Zionism;Disciples of Trumpeldor: The Betar and Its Complex Relationship With the Pre-WWII Polish Government

jan peczki|Wednesday, November 29, 2017

This book contains a wealth of information. I focus on a few salient matters.


One commonly-voiced exculpation for Jews in Communism states that Jews were just seeking a better world [Who doesn’t?], and that they had no idea that Communism relied on violence and totalitarianism. This is patently untrue. Heller candidly writes that, “Despite knowledge of the violence and repression that had accompanied the early years of Soviet rule, many socialist Zionists were mesmerized by the romance of the Communist revolution, with its promise to promote social justice, abolish unearned privilege, and fight antisemitism.” (p. 48).


The entanglement of Jews and Communism went far beyond membership in the Communist Party itself. Author Heller describes how the heretofore-apolitical HASHOMER HATSAIR re-made itself, “HASHOMER HATSAIR branches in industrial cities such as Warsaw, Bialystok, and Lodz were the first to radicalize. By the fall of 1925, the youth movement’s leadership in central Poland, and soon after in Galicia, were drawing battle lines at their conferences between those who endorsed communism and called for class warfare and revolutionary struggle, and those who defended the youth movement’s original commitment to transcending party politics. The latter were soon outflanked by leaders who adopted a pro-Soviet stance.” (pp. 48-49).

For more on the drift of the ostensibly non-Communist Jewish Left to Communism, see Comments.


Jabotinsky referred to the Sanacja regime for inspiration and direction. However, he also reached out to the National Democrats, and expressed no concern when they praised him and referred to him as a “Jewish Endek.” (p. 62).

Laurence Weinbaum, who wrote A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE (see my review), thus characterized this apparent symbiosis of Betar and the Polish government. Others thought of it as an expression of mutual affection. Author Heller suggests that it was neither: It was a complex and sometimes-contradictory give-and-take. (p. 18). In addition, he stresses the fact that the Betar movement was hardly monolithic, and that the Polish/Betar relationship was irrelevant to many Betarim. Pointedly, even when genuinely amiable, the Polish/Betar relationship in no sense implied that Betar members were out to “become Poles”--to the contrary. Heller quips, “Equally significant was the fact that their performance of Polishness simultaneously insisted on its very uniqueness as a Zionist act. It allowed Betar’s members to send a message to local Poles that even as they exhibited all the celebrated virtues of the Polish nation, they had no desire to become a member of its national community. Instead, they could take pride in their own national identity.” (p. 144).

In the late 1930’s, Jabotinsky met with the post-Pilsudski Polish officials to implement his “Evacuation Plan”, which called for the emigration of 1.5 million eastern European Jews to Palestine in the next 10 years. He also came to understand Polish anti-Semitism as the product of economic rivalry between Poles and Jews in an overcrowded poverty-stricken nation. (p. 227). For more on this, please see my review of Jabotinsky’s THE JEWISH WAR FRONT. For details on the economic and non-economic antagonisms that polarized Jews and Poles, see comments.


Before WWI, Jabotinsky had claimed common cause with the Ukrainians against the Poles. (p. 161). At about this time, he also threatened to support the Russians, against the Poles, if the latter did not stop when he considered their anti-Semitism. (p. 262). Many young Jews were politically promiscuous, frequently changing party affiliations. (p. 262). [No wonder that the Endeks thought of Jews as ones with ephemeral loyalties, so that a pro-Polish Jew today would likely not be one tomorrow.] This continued. By July 1944, Revisionists were meeting with Soviet officials in order to solicit Soviet support for the State of Israel. (p. 246).


Though it is an oft-used emotive term, there is no straightforward objective definition of a fascist. (pp. 9-10). D. Stabiecki, a Revisionist living in Rome, proclaimed that the Revisionists are Jewish fascists. (pp. 71-73; 101-102). Many Betar members agreed, but others did not. Finally, some Betar leaders (e. g, Abba Achimeir) did suggest that the Revisionist movement had a great deal to learn from Germany’s Nazi Party. (p. 205). As for Jabotinsky, he never deviated from belief in democracy, although he freely disclosed that “fascism has many good ideas”. (pp. 80-81).


Assassinations are easy to politicize. When Yishuv Zionist Haim Arlosoroff was murdered, by unknown assailant(s) in 1933, Labor Zionists exploited this tragedy by accusing the Revisionist Zionists of “importing” foreign European models of nationalist violence. They also dragged-in the Narutowicz assassination by pontificating that the assassin of Arlosoroff “shares the same mentality as Niewiadomski”. (p. 207). [The Narutowicz assassination was later also politicized by the Communists. Now it is exploited by the LEWACTWO.]


Author Heller rejects the claim that Jabotinsky anticipated the Shoah. Based on Jabotinsky’s correspondence at the time and thereafter, Heller concludes that Jabotinsky’s August 1938 speech (about Jews needing to flee the soon-to-erupt volcano of Europe) referred to upcoming severe economic boycotts of Jews, not a genocidal extermination of Jews. (p. 253).


Heller cites Horowitz’ work, MEMORIAL BOOKS OF EASTERN EUROPEAN JEWRY to draw the following conclusion, “Historians need to exercise great caution when using memorial anthologies (YIZKER BIKHER) published by Holocaust survivors to commemorate Jewish communities in towns and cities across Poland. Many of them were published decades after the historical events they describe. The accounts of the past provided by YIZKER BIKHER contributors frequently bear the imprint of the trauma of the Holocaust, nostalgia for a ‘vanished world’, as well as the authors’ political and religious commitments.” (p. 286).


Author Daniel Kupfert Heller touches on pre-WWII Betar violence (e. g, p. 85, 203, 225), but just barely. He ignores an important work—DUCH MLODYCH by Wojciech Muszynski—that does. [See comments for my review of Muszynski’s ignored work.]

On another subject, the author fails to connect Jabotinsky’s views with those of fellow-Revisionist Jacob Gens, the eventual Judenrat leader of the Vilna (Wilno, Vilnius) Ghetto under the Nazi German occupation. Jacob Genes had believed that Jews, while seeking their own homeland, should be unswervingly loyal to the nations in which they live. Accordingly, Jews should not be separatists demanding special rights or cosmopolitans denying patriotic bonds. See my review of THE PAVEMENT OF HELL, by Leonard Tushnet
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