Where is the money?

I find it difficult to believe that in a free and independent Israel any budgetary problems might deprive us of the best defense in training and materiel that money can buy.

70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This is a true story. I carry it with me in my heart whenever Holocaust is mentioned. I may not remember all the details, but the pertinent question which I had asked myself all these years was: Could indeed 10,000 young, well-trained and armed Jews, arriving on 10 ships at the Tel Aviv shore in September, 1939, save millions of European Jews? Could they get through the British blockade that resulted from the infamous British White Paper of 1939 which betrayed the Jewish people? What would be the consequences of such invasion? This was certainly a crazy, fantastic idea, and yet some people not only seriously considered such possibility, but believed this was possible. And despite all the odds and difficulties they took the first, practical steps in this direction.
It wasn’t their fault that they failed. We know today that both the volunteers and the money for such a big and dangerous undertaking were there, even if they didn’t know how and where to look for them. Many good, honest Jews would not admit that they could help this movement at that crucial time.
IT ALL began in the summer of 1939 in the office of my father’s printing press in the very heart of the Jewish Quarter of Warsaw. A few young people, accompanied by a well-known Jewish publisher and industrialist, asked my father for his support for their plan to publish, in Yiddish, another big daily, a promising revolutionary newspaper. They had already published small-format bulletins all over Jewish towns and villages, but they believed they needed a big and inexpensive daily newspaper which would not only spread their ideas but mobilize volunteers for their organization.
As a matter of fact they asked my father for credit only, a few weeks of free trial. Their purpose, they explained, was to wake the Jewish masses from their lethargy and apparent readiness to accept their fate, and to settle them in a free and independent Jewish Palestine.
Another Jewish newspaper? My father expressed his doubts. There were too many newspapers and leaflets already. The Jewish street was dominated by scores of political parties, each offering its own policy on how to face a growing anti-Semitism. There was no end to the Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, Zionist, Socialist and Bundist leaflets and literature, as they offered sole means by which a Jew could express himself, after official radio stopped any references to the Jewish affairs.
“We are different,” the visitors assured him firmly.
“Our message will wake them up, it will have the desired impact and never be forgotten.”
I was a young boy at the time and I may have misunderstood some of their arguments, but I was deeply moved by their sincere conviction and personal appeal.
My father, an experienced man who met many hotheads in his printing press, had serious doubts. He could not believe that a few Jewish intellectuals could even plan to provoke the British Empire. But the visitors were patient and explained once again how they planned to purchase 10 ships, load them with arms provided by the Polish government that wanted to get rid of Poland’s Jews, but had to be careful since it had just signed a pact of mutual assistance with Great Britain.
Once they successfully landed 10,000 well-armed young Jews on the Tel Aviv shore, these would be joined by thousands other volunteers, all of them eager to free the land from the disastrous policies of the British White Paper.
Palestine was not a British territory, nor a British colony, but a Mandatory territory, and once the infamous British White Paper of 1939 broke the terms of the Mandate, at least as far as the settlement of Jews was concerned, it became a usurper and had to be relieved of its responsibilities. Anyhow, treacherous Britain had to be taught a lesson.
The entire world will understand this and acclaim the Jewish people’s right to fight for its independence, they claimed. As a matter of fact, they said, their conspiracy was a tightly-kept secret, but anyhow the enemies of the Jews were certain to learn about it sooner or later; It was difficult to hide the fact that their first, recently purchased ship was loading Polish Army weapons at Gdynia.
A group of volunteers was undergoing training in sabotage and warfare by the Polish Army instructors in Carpathian Mountains. Some of volunteers there were sabras who didn’t speak a word of Polish. It was all very well organized, and what they needed now, in addition to other means of propaganda,was a big, very inexpensive daily newspaper in Yiddish which would help them to reach directly the vast masses of embittered Jews persecuted by the Polish economic boycott.
“And where will you get the money?” my father asked. “Do you realize how much money would be needed to realize such goal? Where will you get the money? Right now you seem to be unable to finance your own newspaper. Even if the Polish Army lends you money to purchase the much-needed weapons, where would you find the money for ships, volunteers, food, organization and transport? “Our printing house prints a lot of the Zionist Movement stuff,” my father argued, “but it is obvious that no official Zionist bodies will support your group of adventurers whose failure may lead the entire Yishuv to an unprecedented disaster.”
To fight the British Empire seemed, certainly to my father, to be incredible folly, an impossible dream that no responsible man could subscribe to. Good Jew that he was, he offered alms to anyone who knocked at his door, including some recent refugees from Nazi Germany, contributed generously to Keren Kayemet, Keren Hayesod, ORT and countless other welfare institutions.
But he found it difficult to spend his hard-earned money on such a wild, fantastic project, which he felt could endanger the entire Yishuv.
My father shook his head. And yet he agreed to a trial period and plans were made accordingly. I can understand now that what made him sign despite his misgivings was the frustration felt by every Jew who lived in a land that refused to recognize him, and was deprived of an opportunity to escape the inevitable slavery.
Or perhaps he recalled how only a month earlier he was attacked and beaten in Warsaw’s “Saski Gardens” by vendors after he refused to buy the ABC anti-Semitic newspaper or offer a donation. He might have also recalled how his last Polish non-Jewish client, the Firefighters Union, left the press after 20 years of service due to growing anti-Semitic propaganda.
So the deal was made against his better judgment, but alas, it was much too late. The first issue of this new, revolutionary Yiddish newspaper was to have appeared on September 1, 1939.
I AM not sure whether it was printed at all, for I was already far away, never to return home.
I discovered many years later that the ship loaded with arms was captured by the invading Germans at the port of Gdynia. The Polish Army weaponry stored in a Warsaw warehouse was apparently used to defend the city for the 28 days it stood against the German invaders. Some of it may have been used by the Irgun Zva’i Leumi in the April 19, 1943, ghetto uprising.
But by that time there was no printing house either, all the machines had been confiscated by the SS and taken to Germany. Dust covered the huge, empty field where the house stood and no signs were left of my entire family.
But I still recall one of my father’s arguments: “Jews are too poor, impoverished, boycotted, persecuted...they are unable to support themselves, where will you find their trust and so much money?”
BUT THE money was all there; the Nazis helped themselves to their hearts’ desire. Jews under occupation paid and paid, and when this wasn’t enough the Germans still continued to take and take. They took everything from the living, and found ways to rob the dead.
Trains were leaving for Germany carrying everything the Nazis could lay their hands on. Gold, diamonds, gold teeth and even the bricks from the destroyed houses of the Warsaw ghetto. Loaded trains went to Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal and South America.
It was enough not for 10, but 50, even 500 ships, with not 10,000 but hundreds of thousand of volunteers. So may be those few adventurers weren’t so crazy after all.
It is true that they came much too late and were only a few, but the idea was there, a single light on an otherwise dark horizon that preceded a deadly storm which swallowed six million of our people. Too little and too late is hardly an excuse. But it remains a historical truth. Isn’t this a lesson for all of us in free and democratic Israel today?
I RECALL this little story of Jewish bravery whenever our defense budget is being discussed. I find it difficult to believe that in a free and independent Israel any budgetary problems might deprive us of the best defense in training and materiel that money can buy. I fail to understand the blank government statement that any division, brigade or tool necessary for our defense may be shelved for “budgetary considerations.”
I find it difficult to believe that any soldier or officer of the Israel Defense Forces may be deprived of what is his due and what he needs on duty. Too much was stolen from us yesterday to endanger what we have won the hard way today.