On the eve of the 60th Anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948, I reflect on what had preceded this historic landmark event.
After the Liberation in 1945, the entire world, Europe and the Jewish refugees in particular, were undergoing dramatic upheaval and changes unprecedented in modern history. The 180,000 Jewish survivors of the concentration camps were on the march from all corners of Europe and relocated in DP camps in Germany. They were driven by a strong force, a force that was pulling them in one direction only, in the direction of their old homeland, then called Palestine and todayâ€™s the State of Israel. They rejected any suggestion to return to their countries of origin and their homes from where they were expelled by the Germans.
The tragic uniqueness of the Jewish Holocaust survivors manifested itself in the measure of autonomy granted to them in the DP camps. President Truman instructed General Eisenhower to recognize the Jewish refugees as a separate ethnic group and to place them in separate DP camps in Germany. In 1946, this decision was officially announced over the Armed Forces Network in Frankfurt. The broadcaster was overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment and uttered the following:
This act of General McNarneyâ€™s writes a new page in history. He has recognized the existence of a little democracy of 180,000 people liberated in the heart of Germany. The Central Committee of Liberated Jews is now a government without a flag.
A Central Committee of Liberated Jews, representing the sheâ€™erit ha-pleitah (the saved remnant of Jewry), was elected by the refugees in the DP camps and charged with the administration and representation of the survivors. This committee was accepted and recognized by the United States authorities in Germany, by the Zionist leaders, and the Jewish Agency.
At that time a delegation of three elected representatives from the Central Committee of Liberated Jews, representing the sheâ€™erit ha-pleitah, was invited to meet in Zurich with David Ben-Gurion. Our delegation included Trager, Chairman of the Central Committee, Blumowich and myself. The meeting was impressive and Ben-Gurionâ€™s words dramatic. He said:
I came officially to participate in the meetings of the General Zionist Council, but I am here to meet with you primarily to instruct you to go back to Germany and to organize the sheâ€™erit ha-pleitah en masse and proceed to Lubeck in Germany, where you will board the Exodus and fill up the boat to its maximum capacity. Destinationâ€”Palestine!
He went on to say:
Nothing in the world can stop our people from going forward by the thousands, by sea and by air, both above and under the ground, to reach their goalâ€”to return to their homeland in Israel. I want you, the leaders of sheâ€™erit ha-pleitah, to make sure that when the United Nations sends a delegation to the DP camps in Germany to investigate the wishes of the refugees, it is of vital importance an overwhelming majority express their unequivocal determination to go to Israel. Furthermore, once the United Nations deliberates about partition, our people shall proceed by the hundreds of thousands towards their destinationâ€”to Israel. We will see the creation of a reborn Jewish State.
In the meantime, Zionist and Jewish leaders in Palestine and throughout the world, and especially those in the United States, focused their efforts on easing the plight of the 180,000 Holocaust survivors in the DP Camps in Germany, to shorten their stay in Germany, and to expedite their departure for Palestine. Prominent Zionist leaders such as Nachum Goldman, Rose Halperin, Abba Hillel Silver and Stephen S. Wise spoke up on behalf of the survivors to the White House and the State Department, with the aim of protecting the survivors from German interference in administering the DP camps. This was achieved by placing the DP camps under the jurisdiction of the American military leadership of General Eisenhower and General Clay.
The finest hour of the Jewish Central Committee was when the United Nations delegation visited the DP camps, and an overwhelming majority of the survivors declared their strong rejection of being returned to their countries of origin, especially to their homes in Poland from where they had been driven out.
I was astounded when the United Nations delegate from India asked: Why not send the survivors back to Poland? I reminded him of the Kielce pogrom, when Jews were killed while attempting to return to their homes in search of their families. He was silent. What is more, the UN Delegation also heard directly from the survivors the fervent undiminished desire of the survivors to go to Palestine (Israel) only. As they were returning to their limousines, a woman survivor confronted them, pointing to an Auschwitz tattoo on her arm, and sobbed: â€œWhy do you keep me here? See how I have suffered? And now you wonâ€™t let me go home to Palestine.â€ I also recall having to explain to the Belgian delegate why there is no other place in the world for Jews but their old original homelandâ€”Palestine. The Uruguayan delegate expressed the urgency of relocating immediately all the children to Palestine without any further delay.
The day the UN Delegation returned from their DP camps, the newspaper Neue Zeitung in Munich reported that the UN Special Committee on Palestine was impressed by the intense unanimous desire of the Jewish refugees to go to Palestine. It gave them an in-depth understanding of the need for an independent Jewish state for the survivors of the Holocaust, a need that had no precedent in the history of humankind.
Simultaneously with the activities of the Zionist and Jewish leaders throughout the world, the United Nations began deliberations on the partition of Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish state, a homeland for the Jewish people and the ingathering of the survivors of the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis. That deliberation came to a climax on November 29, 1947 when the UN passed the partition resolution and on May 14, 1948 (the fifth day of the Jewish month of Iyar) when David Ben-Gurion publicly read the Israeli Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv and proclaimed the existence of the modern democratic Jewish State of Israel after almost two thousand years of exile, inquisition, pogrom, and Holocaust. â€¢
About the author
Kalman Sultanik,a Holocaust survivor, represented the D.P. camps at the World Zionist Congress in 1946. He is currently a member of the Board of Govenors and Zionist Executive of the Jewish Agency and serves as Chairman of the WZO, American Section. He also sponsors Midstream.