In Sons and Soldiers, Bruce Henderson tells the story of young Jewish refugees from the Third Reich who joined the U.S. Army after Pearl Harbor, and whose familiarity with Germany and the German language was put to use by military intelligence. In Racing against History, Rick Richman explains the unsuccessful attempts of three Zionist leaders—Chaim Weizmann, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and David Ben-Gurion—in 1940 to raise a Jewish army in America to fight the Nazis. Reviewing the two books, Matti Friedman finds some familiar themes:
Of the three leaders in Racing against History, Weizmann, [then the head of the Zionist Organization and later the first president of Israel], was the most careful in his public utterances. He grasped the danger of the perception that world war was being waged for Jewish interests and preferred the quiet maneuver. . . . In America, he wrote, even mentioning what was happening to Jews in Europe might be “associated with warmongering.” . . .
[The Revisionist Zionist leader] Jabotinsky, [by contrast], wanted a Jewish army raised immediately and said so, even though the mainstream American Jewish leadership called him a “militarist” and published a pamphlet warning against his views. In the pages of the Forward, its editor Abraham Cahan mocked him as a “naïve person and a great fantasizer.” There was no need for Jabotinsky’s Jewish army, Cahan thought, and the Jewish problem would be solved not by a Jewish state but by an Allied victory and democracy. “If true democracy exists,” [wrote Cahan], “there is no place for anti-Semitism.” In other words, the way forward was to be American citizens and soldiers, like [those described by Henderson].
Recent events in Europe and America would seem to suggest that anti-Semitism does, in fact have a place in democracy. . . . The old idea of “Jewish warmongering,” about which Weizmann was so careful in 1940, is still current, as evidenced by the flap in September over a tweet by Valerie Plame, the former CIA agent, suggesting just that. And though the Zionist plan succeeded and there is a Jewish army, the normalization of the Jews has failed to materialize and their existential fears continue.
Read more at Jewish Review of Books
More about: Abraham Cahan, Anti-Semitism, Chaim Weizmann, History & Ideas, World War II, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Zionism