28 DECEMBER 2002, Page 27

Zionism and the Holocaust

From Farrel Lifson Sir: I read Geoffrey Wheatcroft's 'The Jewish answer?' (14/21 December) with great interest. Mr Wheatcroft goes into great detail to document Jewish secular and religious objections to the formation of a Jewish state, but curiously all his objections come to a screeching halt in the period before the second world war, Mr Wheatcroft, it seems, has totally neglected the immense impact that the Holocaust had on Jewish opinion and thought. Indeed, he mentions the Holocaust only once and even that is a quotation from another writer.

What Mr Wheatcroft fails to discuss is the reality which the Holocaust so cruelly unveiled to the Jews of Europe. While the Jews were engrossed in a mission of 'Weltbiirgertum', the simmering anti-Semitism that had been building up since the Tsars unleashed their pogroms in the early 20th century came to a rapid and murderous peak under the rule of the German Nazi party. The speed at which the native populations in countries like Poland, Hungary and Lithuania turned on their Jewish neighbours, willingly handing them over to the Nazi occupiers, demonstrated that in many communities where Jews assumed they were accepted, they were merely tolerated.

This was the fundamental turning point in the Jewish psyche — the realisation that no matter how hard you try to fit in you will forever be labelled a Jew, unsafe in your own land of birth. What survivor of the Holocaust would return to the country that had just tried to exterminate him? How could one fully trust any government again? It was with this horrendous event that Jewish thought returned to Zion, for a homeland, and most of all for genuine self-determination and safety — not the fragile cocoon that Europe had offered and then subsequently crushed.

Farrel Lifson

University of Cape Town. South Africa