Page 151 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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145
H
oltz
— H
illel
Z
e itl in
Jewish Agency policy of restraint. He insisted that bearing arms
in self-defense was as ethically justified as loving one’s friendly
neighbor. Once peace is achieved, all human energies should
be dedicated to the creation of a new society in preparation for
the final redemption. This exemplary community could then
function as the spiritual reservoir for Jews in the Diaspora and
for mankind at large.
Zeitlin welcomed the 1917 Russian Revolution and looked
forward confidently to the liberation of the enslaved millions.
This was to be a prelude to universal salvation and the end of
all tyranny. But within less than two years, deep disappointment
and chagrin replaced the earlier hopeful mood. Regarded as
traitors, the Jewish members of the Yevsektsia, the official gov-
ernment bureau for Jewish affairs, were regularly censured as
perhaps the most dangerous adversary facing Russian Jewry. The
Soviet Union itself was exposed as totalitarian and despotic.
The Biro-Bidjan projects to resettle Jews in an autonomous
region were unmasked as little more than a Soviet diversionary
tactic. Jews were spurred not to remain culpably silent while
their compatriots were persecuted.
Zeitlin Warned of Nazi Atrocities
The Soviet threat was soon overshadowed by the rise of Hitler
Fascism in Germany. In 1927 Zeitlin prophetically warned that
while Jews were to be the first victims of Nazi atrocities, the
whole world would be inundated in this scathing of degenerate
horrors. Commenting on the early acts of Nazi vandalism in
Jewish cemeteries in Germany, he voiced a castigating indictment
of western culture. The murderous inhumanities, he stressed,
were occurring on the very soil that had produced the world’s
greatest scientists, artists and philosophers. All the while Ger-
many’s sophisticated people remained shockingly mute. Such cal-
lousness, aside from emboldening, the criminals, places a “mark
of shame upon all of western civilization.” Furthermore, if re-
fined and civilized people tolerated such contemptible barbar-
ism, of what value was culture? Did not this behavior point
up the bankruptcy of western humanity?5
5
Ibid.,
August 8, 1927, .p 3. How dose Zeitlin’s disillusion is to that of
George Steinerl The latter writes, “We know now that a man can read
Goethe or Rilke in the evening; that he can play Bach and Schubert, and
go to his day’s work at Auschwitz in the morning.” George Steiner,
Language
and Silence
(Pelican Books, London, 1969), p. 15. Later in the same volume
he adds, “Recently one of my colleagues . . . inquired of me . . . why some-
one trying to establish himself in an English literature faculty should refer
so often to concentration camps; why they were in any way relevant. They
are profoundly relevant, and before we can go on teaching we must surely
ask ourselves: are the humanities humane, and, if so, why did they fail
before the holocaust?” (p. 88).