VLADIMIR JABOTINSKY (center left) visits Pinsk, Poland, in 1933 with Menachem Begin (right).
(photo credit: GPO)
Writing a history book that appeals to average readers as well as history buffs is a difficult task. Authoring a history book about a well-known topic – in this case, the fate of the Jews in World War II – can be even more challenging, as the tragic events of that period are exceedingly well documented. In Racing Against History: The 1940 Campaign for a Jewish Army to Fight Hitler, author Rick Richman succeeds admirably on both counts. Richman, a lawyer who has written extensively about Jewish history, focuses on the noble but ultimately futile efforts of three of the 20th century’s leading Jewish statesmen – Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion and Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky – to rally support for forming a Jewish army to counter the Nazi menace in 1940.Richman sets the stage with a concise summary of the state of Jewish world affairs at the beginning of that year. Poland, which had the largest Jewish community in Europe, had been defeated and annexed by Germany and the Soviet Union. The British “White Paper,” issued in May 1939, had curtailed further significant Jewish immigration to Palestine. By mid- 1940, Western Europe had fallen to the Nazis, and the Battle of Britain, the first major military campaign fought entirely by air forces, was under way. In the United States, American public opinion was unequivocally against any new immigration from Europe. The American Jewish community itself was divided into two divergent groups – Jews who held deeply Zionist beliefs and supported the development of the Jewish community in Palestine, and other Jews who considered themselves as Americans first and Jews second, who were less supportive of the Zionist initiative.