Anti Fascism

Perdition, Again

Mark Elf links, approvingly, to Lenni Brenner:

I’m going to Scotland, 1/21-27/07. The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign is presenting performances of Perdition, a play by the late Jim Allen. He based his play on a chapter in my book, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators. Now I’ll accompany it with lectures and documents.

In 1987, Cesarani and Martin Gilbert, another historian, were instrumental in getting London’s Royal Court Upstairs theater to stop rehearsals of the play on the grounds that it was it was biased against Zionism, anti-Semitic, etc. Allen & I then debated Gilbert and a leader of the British Zionist movement on nationwide TV, after enormous publicity generated by the closing down of the play. Cesarani later admitted, in London’s Jewish Chronicle, that the British public felt that the Zionists had deprived them of their right to see the play and make up their own minds about its merits. Subsequently the play was produced on several occasions with praise from important critics. And now Ken Loach, Perdition’s director for Allen in 1987, has won the top film prize at Cannes.

Naturally I’ll discuss Cesarani’s role, then, and his present book which, among other things, deals with relations between Eichmann and Reszö Kasztner, the Zionist who Allen denounced as a collaborator. But I propose that Cesarani and I go further and debate the factual merits of Perdition and the larger question of Zionist/Nazi relations.

We could debate in Scotland or his home city, London, either during my stay in Scotland or immediately before or after 1/21-27. And we can look for a TV or radio show that will carry the event.

I’m an author making a proposal to a fellow author. We all want publicity for our books. If he accepts my challenge, win, lose or draw, the wide British public will know about Becoming Eichmann.

This is Steve Cohen on the subject:

As an opponent of Israeli nationalism I will not be party to another calumny. One which puts the Zionist, the Jew, in league with what might accurately be described as the actual satanic force of our own age – Hitlerism – in order to validate the establishment of the future state of Israel. However show me the evidence of ziomist co-operation/collaboration (there is a difference) with the Nazis! I’ve seen it. I believe it. Use Lenni Brenner’s “Zionism in the age of dictators” as your bible. I’m not going to advocate burning it. For the sake of my argument – the argument that many unpleasant zionists said or did many unpleasant things – I’m prepared to believe every dot and comma (though in practice he gets many dots and commas wrong). And the rot set in well before Nazism. Quiz time. Who told a Berlin audience in March 1912 that “each country can absorb only a limited number of Jews, if she doesn’t want disorders in her stomach. Germany already has too many Jews”? No, not Adolf Hitler but Chaim Weizmann, later President of the State of Israel. As an opponent of immigration controls this is hardly a position I’m going to support. But then Weitzman was a Zionist, it defined his political essence. You would hardly have expected him to have said otherwise. I’m not a zionist and it doesn’t define my politics.

Again there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you can say or evidence that you can produce which will force me into denying the conduct of some Zionists (and non Zionists) during the holocaust itself. Why should I deny it if it is true? Am I responsible for it? Of course not. No more than you are. Did the revisionist (right wing) Zionist Jacobs Gen collaborate (there is no other word) with the Nazis in becoming the overseer of the Vilna ghetto in Lithuania? For sure. Did he have fellow-collaborators who were constituted as the Judenrat – the local Jewish leadership installed by the Nazis? Absolutely correct. Did Gens turn in to the Nazis the leader of the Vilna underground resistance, Yitzhak Wittenberg? Yes. Were there the equivalent of Gens in other ghettos. No doubt. I can give as yet another grotesque example Adam Czerniakow, President of the Association of Jewish Artisans, who headed the Warsaw Judenrat. Chaim Rumkowski of Lodz was perhaps unique in being referred to as “King Chaim” by his ‘subjects’ (the Nazis would have described him somewhat differently) and putting his portrait on the ghetto post Were Judenrats established in other ghettos? Definitely. With similar betrayals? Doubtless. Let us forget for the moment the ghettos (though the memory of their resistance needs to be preserved). Did Rudolf Kastner, a leading Hungarian Zionist, do a deal with Adolf Eichmann in June 1944 where the Jewish elite were allowed to escape to Switzerland for a substantial sum of money – leaving another half million trapped under the Nazi jackboot, most to perish at Auschwitz-Birkenau? This is central to Jim Allen’s play Perdition. It happened. Was part of the deal the concealment by Kastner of Eichmann’s plans to transport the Hungarian Jewish masses to their murder? This is a matter of legitimate and genuine historic controversy. But of Kastner I’m prepared to believe about anything. Want to mire yourself further in the role of Kastner and similar figures? Read “Perfidy” by his American contemporary, the Hollywood screen writer Ben Hecht. OK forget this stuff. Why don’t we talk about the Kapos? The concentration camp inmates used to control the other inmates. You needn’t lecture us Jews on the perfidy of collaboration. We have become experts in it (and resisting it).

What does all this show? What does it prove? One thing it absolutely does not prove is the one thing that it is continually cited as proving – that the Nazis and the Zionist formed some unholy bond. I use the word “unholy” because only the mindset of medieval European theological obscurantism can do justice to the assertion. The supposed bond was not just that in some ways both were nationalist movements. The supposed bond was not just that in some way they both shared a common aspiration – the Nazis didn’t want Jews in Europe and the Zionists wanted them in Palestine. Even these assertions are grotesque caricatures. There was absolutely no symmetry between Nazism and Zionism. Crucially (again I use the language of the cross deliberately) the former didn’t want Jews simply out of Europe – they wanted them out of the world. Indeed given the Nazis mad apocalyptic view of Jewish domination they wanted them out of the universe. It does not require anti-Zionists to (correctly) point out that in the event of a Nazi victory then Palestine would have been no safe haven. No! The real supposed bond that (mis)informs this discourse was that both the Nazis and the Zionists wanted the holocaust and in some way (the way of the hidden hand) they actually joined together in creating it – the Nazis because they hated/despised/feared Jews and the Zionists because they were prepared to go to any lengths/sink to any depths to see created a Jewish state. Once more I can only scream out against such an assertion “Forgive them they do not know what they say”.

Mikey puts the two arguments in context:

Well sadly it says a lot that he is prepared to believe “every dot and comma” as many people aren’t. The book has been thoroughly discredited. Bryan Cheyette wrote in Patterns of Prejudice when the book came out:

“The World Jewish Congress (WJC) in the 1930s is accused of refusing to incorporate the American Communist Party into its anti-Nazi activities – in Brenner’s world this becomes ‘another tragic sacrifice to Zionism’… (In fact, at the time, the WJC in America only consisted of the American Jewish Congress, an individual membership organisation – so the question of admitting affiliated organisations never arose.) Albert Einstein is stereotyped as a ‘classical Zionist’ who ‘subscribed to Zionist race conceptions’… The Board of Deputies of British Jews is characterized erroneously in the 1930’s as ‘Zionist’ which, for Brenner, accounts for their ‘ignoring’ the British Union of Fascists… Professor Bernard Wasserstein of the Tauber Institute at Brandeis becomes a ‘later-day apologist for the Holocaust Jewish Establishment’… These are just a few examples; they could be multiplied ad nauseam.”

Cheyette was right – they could be. There are numerous errors and distortions in that book. Steve Cohen’s own book on antisemitism was published by a small publishing collective that also published Gill Seidel’s “The Holocaust Denial, Antisemitism, Racism & the New right”. Seidel had a section about Brenner and she was not that impressed. She said at one point:

“Brenner does not deny the Holocaust, or seek to minimise it…. Rather, on the basis of skewed and irresponsible interpretations of particular documents… he claims that the Zionist movement in general not only collaborated with the Nazis, as if that allegation were not disturbing enough, but that Zionism and Nazism are entirely congruent; and that Zionism, by implication, bears responsibility for the Holocaust.”

Brenner’s work has been so discredited that even some of the ant-Zionist left are stepping away from it. Even the Socialist Workers Party activist and self declared “Trotsky supporting, anti-Zionist veteran”, John Rose in his book “The Myths of Zionism” criticized Brenner. He commented that “it is very foolish to draw the conclusion that ‘Zionist collaboration with the Nazis’ was typical or somehow automatically built into the Zionist project, an interpretation that which could be put on the subtitle of Brenner’s 51 Documents book”. Rose went on to admit “Zionism was perfectly capable of inspiring resistance to the Nazis, as ‘Antek’ Zuckermann, makes clear in his massive autobiography, A Surplus of Memory”.

Cohen might be better off re-reading Seidel’s book before believing “every dot and comma” from Brenner.

Cesarani should, in my view, accept the offer of a debate: even though Brenner’s “challenge” smacks of attention seeking. He should show how a discussion like this ought to be conducted.