The former mayor of London Ken Livingstone has defended his explosive claim that Adolf Hitler was ‘a Zionist’ by citing Lenni Brenner’s book Zionism in the Age of Dictators. According to Livingstone – now suspended from the UK Labour Party – ‘Lenni’s book shows a shared common belief between the Nazis and the Zionists … they wanted to preserve their ethnic purity and that’s why they had a working relationship.’ In this comprehensive critique Paul Bogdanor skewers Brenner’s many factual manipulations and pseudo-scholarship and explains why his work is a fixture of antizionist and antisemitic propaganda about the Holocaust on both the far left and on the far right, avidly followed by those convinced that ‘Zionists’ are to blame for all evil in the world.
In April 2016, Britain was rocked by scandals involving antisemitism in the opposition Labour Party. There were complaints that student members had been dismissing Jewish colleagues as ‘Zios’. Numerous party activists were suspended or expelled for offences such as stating that Jews had ‘big noses’, that Hitler was the ‘Zionist god’, that socialists had to address ‘the Jewish Question’, or that Jews were behind the slave trade and ISIS. A Member of Parliament was obliged to issue an apology after proposing the ‘transportation’ of millions of Israeli Jews to America.
Into this maelstrom stepped former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who denied the existence of any antisemitism in the party, and volunteered that Hitler ‘was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.’ For this, and for related comments, he too was suspended from the Labour Party.
To justify his claims, Livingstone invoked Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, a book published by Lenni Brenner in 1983. Livingstone had written in his memoirs that Brenner’s work ‘helped form my view of Zionism and its history’ (Livingstone 2011: 223). The book is a fixture of antizionist and antisemitic propaganda about the Holocaust on both the far left and on the far right, and Brenner has a cult following among those convinced that ‘Zionists’ are to blame for all evil in the world.
Lenni Brenner’s Background and Importance
Brenner was born to an Orthodox Jewish family in 1937. By his teenage years, he was an atheist and a Marxist. In the 1960s he was arrested repeatedly for his activities in the civil rights movement and for marijuana possession, ultimately spending several years in prison. An acquaintance from those years remembered him as ‘a non-student “Marxist agitator” who would stand near the Bancroft strip and rail about the Pope, the Bay of Pigs, and marijuana, indifferent to the fact that most passersby thought he was “certifiably crazy”’ (Berkleyan, 2004).
During the 1980s, Brenner worked with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist-Leninist faction of the Palestinian Liberation Movement (PLO). Brenner himself is a Trotskyist. He is the author of an attack on the Democratic Party and a book on the American Founders’ views on church-state separation. But it is for his vitriolic assaults on Zionists and the American Jewish community that he is best known. These include Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, as well as The Iron Wall: Zionist Revisionism From Jabotinsky to Shamir, Jews in America Today, and 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration With the Nazis (Brenner 1983; Brenner 1984a; Brenner 1986; Brenner 2002a).
Brenner’s Zionism in the Age of the Dictators sought to document his claims that Zionism is a reactionary ideology with many similarities to fascism and Nazism; that Zionists have always betrayed the Jewish masses, whose interests were, in reality, defended by the Bolsheviks and their legitimate heirs, the Trotskyists; and that during the 1930s and 1940s all branches of Zionism attempted to collaborate with the fascists and Nazis. According to Brenner, the Zionists were to blame for the collapse of the Weimar Republic; they supported Japanese imperial expansion in Asia; and – worst of all – they contributed to the Holocaust, which some of them welcomed as a step towards the creation of a reactionary and racist Jewish state in Palestine (Brenner 1983: 27-37, 183-6, 238, 263-4, 269). In his own words, by the time of the Holocaust, ‘Zionism had come full turn: instead of Zionism being the hope of the Jews, their blood was to be the political salvation of Zionism.’ (Brenner 1983: 238)
Brenner was not writing in a vacuum. For many years before the publication of Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, the Soviet bloc had been waging an antisemitic campaign with the same themes. The Soviet propagandists were, however, far cruder. Whereas Brenner was content to pose questions – for example, ‘Who Helped Kill 450,000 Jews?’ (Brenner 1983: 263) – the Soviets gave explicit answers: the Zionists did. They spoke of ‘the true role of the Zionists in organising the mass destruction of Jews’ (IJA 1978: 69). ‘Together with the Nazis,’ they proclaimed, ‘the Zionists bear responsibility for the destruction of the Jews in 1941-45 in Europe. The blood of millions is on their hands and on their conscience.’ (IJA 1978: 69)
The myth of the Zionist-Nazi conspiracy to exterminate the Jews of Europe, as invented by the Soviets and as refashioned by Brenner, could become as dangerous as Holocaust denial. Whereas far-right deniers accuse Jews of inventing the Holocaust in order to discredit the Nazis, far-left falsifiers accuse a group of Jews of perpetrating the Holocaust in collaboration with the Nazis. If the far-leftists were correct, this group of Jews would be guilty of the most horrible crime ever committed. Given the inflammatory potential of the collaboration libel, it is essential to expose the pseudo-scholarly apparatus employed by its foremost living exponent.
Brenner’s Falsifications of History
A few of Brenner’s factual manipulations will be examined below. Clearly, it is impossible to do justice to any of these issues in the space available; each could be the subject of an entire volume. Still, the discussion will suffice to illustrate Brenner’s historical ‘method’ and Livingstone’s foolishness in relying on it.
(i) ‘Over-concern’ for the fate of Germany’s Jews
Interviewed on the BBC shortly after his initial outburst, Livingstone claimed that Hitler’s policy towards Jews in 1932 ‘was to deport them all to Israel’. He spoke of ‘private meetings between the Zionist movement and Hitler’s government which were kept confidential, they only became apparent after the war, when they were having a dialogue to do this’ (Livingstone 2016a). In fact there was no Zionist-Nazi ‘dialogue’ in 1932; there was no deal to ‘deport’ Germany’s Jewish population; and there was no State of Israel until 1948.
Negotiations between the Labour Zionists and the Nazi regime began in 1933; at issue was the opportunity to help German Jews emigrate to Palestine without losing almost everything they had. Far from being ‘private’ and ‘confidential’, the resulting Transfer Agreement caused intense public controversy within the Zionist movement, as Brenner himself made clear (Brenner 1983: 64, 66-7). But, as Brenner was forced to concede, ‘Once Hitler had triumphed inside Germany, the position of the Jews was hopeless; all that was left for them was to go into exile and continue the fight from there.’ (Brenner 1983: 55)
The moral dilemma facing the Labour Zionists was whether to help German Jews leave with a fraction of their funds or to join a futile boycott of Germany, which meant abandoning Jews and their assets to the Nazis. The Labour Zionists may be dismissed as naive for entering these talks, but their motives were not unreasonable.
Brenner, of course, saw the Zionists as evil. His trump card in his attack on the Transfer Agreement was the fact that two-thirds of German Jews seeking Palestine certificates in the years between 1933 and 1935 were turned down (Brenner 1983: 145). However, as his source pointed out, Jewish Agency representatives were forced to reject these applications because of the British quota, which limited the number of immigration permits regardless of the plight of Diaspora Jews (Margaliot 1977: 253).
Brenner scorned as ‘capitalists’ the thousands of desperate human beings who were rescued thanks to the agreement (Brenner 1983: 65). In his opinion, it would have been better to forget about saving Germany’s Jewish population: ‘Every genuine opponent of Nazism understood that once Hitler had taken power and had German Jewry in his claws, the struggle against him could not possibly be curbed by an over-concern for their fate; they were essentially prisoners of war. The battle still had to go on. Naturally no one wished those unfortunates any more grief than necessary, but to have brought the campaign against Nazism to a standstill out of concern for the German Jews would only have accelerated Hitler’s further march into Europe.’ (Brenner 1983: 76)
To Brenner, the Labour Zionists of the 1930s, who disagreed with his pronouncement made from the comfort of post-war America, were guilty of ‘boycott-scabbing and outright collaboration’ with Hitler (Brenner 1983: 65).
(ii) Zionists who ‘agreed’ with Nazi ideology
According to Brenner, ‘the German Zionists agreed with two fundamental elements in Nazi ideology,’ namely ‘that the Jews would never be part of the German volk and, therefore, they did not belong on German soil’. This being the case, ‘it was inevitable that some Zionists would believe an accommodation possible.’ (Brenner 1983: 35)
To substantiate these assertions, he invoked the historian Stephen Poppel, who in fact wrote the exact opposite on the very page he cited. In Poppel’s words, even though there was a split in German Zionist opinion between those who believed in the existence of ‘moderate elements’ in the Nazi Party and those who did not, ‘Zionists were unanimous in condemning Nazi brutality and racism.’ (Poppel 1976: 161)
Poppel proceeded to quote from an official declaration of the German Zionist Federation (ZVfD) in September 1932. The declaration stated in part: ‘Zionism condemns a nationalism whose foundations include the conviction of the inferiority of other national groups. Against this nationalism, which would use the power of the state to deny freedom and the possibility of existence to men who happen to be of a different sort or a different opinion, Zionism… sets… the true national idea: constructive effort and the development of the creative energies of a nation, not a battle of different groups of men against one another… we demand the protection of full equality and freedom, and of the development of our own nature.’ (Poppel 1976: 161-2)
This disposed of Brenner’s fiction about Zionists agreeing with Nazis ‘that the Jews would never be part of the German volk and, therefore, they did not belong on German soil’. Brenner’s fantasy, to repeat, was rejected by the very scholar he cited, and the evidence against it was available on the very page from which he quoted.
(iii) ‘Favoured children’ of the Nazis
Brenner attacked the German Zionists of the 1930s as ‘mimics of the Nazis’, ‘confirmed racists’, and ‘the ideological jackals of Nazism’ (Brenner 1983: 52, 55). One of the documents he used to establish this was an article by Rabbi Joachim Prinz, published in 1937 after his escape from the Third Reich. Brenner’s quotations from Prinz included these lines: ‘Solution of the Jewish question? It was our Zionist dream! We never denied the existence of the Jewish question! Dissimilation? It was our own appeal!’ (Brenner 1983: 47) The passage appeared to suggest a belief on the part of Prinz that Zionists and Nazis had common goals. But Brenner ignored what Prinz wrote next about the real aims of the Zionists: ‘We believed in the slim possibility of saving the German Jews…’ In contrast, the Nazi government’s ‘only attitude toward Jews was one of humiliation, degradation, and the spirit of the Sturmer….’ (Prinz 1937). So, Prinz expressly denied the existence of any common objectives.
Brenner failed to mention this. But later in his book he did not neglect to quote an apparently damning confession by Prinz: the German Zionists appeared to be ‘considered as the favoured children of the Nazi Government’, which ‘asked for a “more Zionist behaviour”’ from Germany’s Jewish community (Prinz 1937). In Brenner’s view, these lines showed that ‘The Nazis preferred the Zionists to all other Jews.’ (Brenner 1983: 88) Yet immediately after the words in question, Prinz went on to say: ‘But the Nazi attitude toward the Zionists was only a façade. In reality, the Zionists were and are miserably treated… During the years, Zionists have frequently been arrested. Zionist meetings were forbidden or dissolved… Zionist officials were and still are frequently called to the Gestapo and examined in not very polite terms. In brief, the seeming pro-Zionist attitude of the German Government is not an expression of, and should not be confused with, cooperation on the part of one side or the other.’ (Prinz 1937) None of this was divulged in Brenner’s book. By selective quotation, Brenner simply reversed the meaning of his source.
(iv) The Haganah’s ‘offer to spy for the SS’
Brenner accused the Zionists of offering espionage services to the Third Reich before World War II. In his version of events, ‘A Haganah agent, Feivel Polkes’ reached Berlin in February 1937 and opened negotiations with Adolf Eichmann; the meetings were recorded by the SS; and Polkes invited Eichmann to visit Palestine (Brenner 1983: 93-4, 98-9). As Brenner put it, ‘Polkes had proposed that the Haganah act as spies for the Nazis’, and ‘The Labour Zionists were receiving Adolf Eichmann as their guest in Palestine and offering to spy for the SS.’ (Brenner 1983: 99, 176)
According to Brenner, the SS report on the meetings proved that Polkes was acting on behalf of the Haganah when he offered to act as an informer. A review of the report – later republished by Brenner himself – exposes this claim as a falsehood. The SS report included some highly relevant details: ‘In the beginning, [Polkes] didn’t know that he was dealing with a [Nazi] Security Service agent… He stated that he is ready to serve Germany and supply information as long as this does not oppose his political goal… His standing promises that important information and material will reach us regarding world Jewry’s plans.’ (SS 1937: 113-14)
Clearly, Polkes could not have been sent by the Haganah to contact the Nazis, as he did not at first know that he was in contact with the Nazis. And, as the report makes clear, Polkes was offering to become a Nazi spy against his fellow Jews, not for the Haganah.
As is now known, the Polkes-Eichmann meetings were fiercely denounced within the Haganah when they came to light; Polkes was removed from all positions within the group; and nothing of significance ever emerged from the encounters (Nicosia 2008: 126). But the relevant point here is this: Brenner’s claims about the Haganah offering to spy for the Nazis and inviting Eichmann to visit Palestine were false, as shown by the very document he was citing.
(v) Lehi’s ‘collusion with the Fascists and the Nazis’
Brenner devoted a chapter to the 1941 offer to the Nazis by Avraham Stern’s Lehi. Stern proposed to join the war on Germany’s side in return for the release of all Jews from Nazi Europe and their emigration to a Jewish state.
Three points must be kept in mind. First, Lehi was – at the time of this proposal – a minuscule fringe group of no more than a few dozen members, reviled and hunted by the larger Zionist groups in Palestine. Second, no reply ever came from the Nazis, so there was never any actual collaboration. Third – and most important – at the time of the proposal, Stern believed that Hitler’s intention was to deport Europe’s Jews to Madagascar; he knew nothing of any Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews (Heller 1995: 317n46).
Brenner’s reaction to Stern’s offer was predictable: ‘There can be no better proof than this,’ he concluded, ‘that the heritage of Zionist collusion with the Fascists and the Nazis, and the philosophies underlying it, carries through to contemporary Israel’ (Brenner 1983: 269). He quoted from a broadcast made by Lehi in defence of its policies. That broadcast distinguished ‘persecutors’ from ‘enemies’, arguing that whereas the Nazis were persecutors, Britain was the real enemy (Brenner 1983: 266).
What Brenner did not tell his readers is that the broadcast did not advocate collaboration with the Nazis. On the contrary, the broadcast argued against joining British forces overseas because Jewish youth were needed in Palestine ‘to guard our brethren here from the Arab terrorists that are awaiting Hitler’s victory, as well as the persecutor himself should he invade and set up an oppressive regime’ (Sicker 1972: 32-3). Far from offering to fight for the Nazis, the Lehi broadcast promised to fight against them. Brenner did not mention this. Nor did he reveal that, according to the article he was quoting, Lehi’s views on the war were anathema to everyone else in the Zionist movement; all of the other Zionist groups wanted to join the anti-Nazi struggle. The official Jewish leadership in Palestine, stated Brenner’s source, ‘fought vigorously for maximum mobilization of Palestinian Jews into the British forces’ (Sicker 1972: 33). Brenner did not mention that either: it would have disproved his narrative of Zionist-Nazi collusion.
(vi) Ben-Gurion and the Holocaust
David Ben-Gurion’s role in rescue efforts during the Holocaust has been much debated. Brenner’s summary of the issue was a masterpiece of deceptive phrasing: ‘Ben-Gurion talked of “requests” that the Allies should threaten retribution and try and rescue Jews, particularly children, or exchange Germans for Jews, etc. In the same breath, he continued to call for concentration on building support for the Jewish Army proposal. The Jewish Agency just soldiered on; no special effort was made for the rescue operation.’ (Brenner 1983: 232-3)
Brenner insinuated that Ben-Gurion was vague and non-committal about his rescue ideas, and that his demand for a Jewish army was somehow inconsistent with them. Turning to Brenner’s source, we find Ben-Gurion’s actual words quoted as follows: ‘We must limit ourselves to focusing on a few issues which can be adapted to demands for the Jewish people as a whole, and to gaining for them the support of the enlightened world. They are: (a) cessation of the slaughter and rescue of the Jews; (b) enabling the Jewish people to fight as Jews against Hitler. It is also our duty to request that the Allies threaten the Nazis with individual and collective retribution for massacres of Jews. We must try to increase the scope of exchanges [of German exiles for Jews]… We must particularly stress the rescue of children, but we ought not to be satisfied with children alone: every Jew who can possibly be rescued must be saved.’
Thus, Ben-Gurion spoke of ‘demands’, not ‘requests’, as Brenner would have it, and his genuine concern for rescue is apparent. As for the proposal for a Jewish army, Ben-Gurion had this to say: ‘There are hosts of stateless Jews, and there are also Jews in neutral countries. We must ask permission for them to fight as a Jewish army against Hitler, in addition to the Jewish army in Eretz Yisrael, whose task is mainly to defend the country.’ (Gelber 1979: 195-6)
So, Ben-Gurion’s call for a Jewish army was not a distraction from rescue, as Brenner implied; instead, it was integral to the Zionist support for the Allied war against Nazi Germany. This is itself sufficient to refute the central claim of Brenner’s book about the Zionist movement’s ‘collaboration’ with the Third Reich.
(vii) The Gruenbaum Speech
The head of the Jewish Agency’s official rescue committee in Palestine during the Holocaust was Yitzhak Gruenbaum. He is remembered both for rejecting Zionist demands to use Zionist funds for rescue operations, and, conversely, for being one of the first to call on the Allies to bomb Auschwitz.
Gruenbaum’s speech to the Zionist Executive in early 1943 is often quoted in antizionist propaganda relating to the Holocaust. His remarks included the lines: ‘We have to stand before this wave that is putting Zionist activity into the second row… we do not give priority to rescue actions… Zionism is above all – it is necessary to sound this whenever a Holocaust diverts us from our war of liberation in Zionism.’ Even though Gruenbaum added that no opportunity for rescue would be missed, his words were – and still are – the target of much criticism. Brenner, naturally, reproduced the speech at length (Brenner 1983: 233-5). But he did not tell his readers about the Zionist reaction to Gruenbaum’s remarks, as related by one of his own sources: out of fourteen members of the Zionist Executive who spoke after Gruenbaum, only one backed him, while eleven rejected his views (Beit-Zvi 1991: 130). Gruenbaum’s Zionist colleagues overwhelmingly opposed his doctrine of the priority of Zionism over rescue efforts; several of them disputed his pessimistic views of the prospects for rescue; none of them agreed with his refusal to release Zionist funds for rescue operations; and almost all insisted that Gruenbaum renounce his other tasks and devote himself exclusively to rescue planning (Beit-Zvi 1991: 130-5). Brenner recounted none of this. He was content to print Gruenbaum’s speech, but not the hostile Zionist replies to it.
(viii) ‘Zionist’ Collaborators in Nazi Europe
Brenner’s attempts to incriminate Zionism included an examination of Jewish leaders in Nazi-occupied Europe. Brenner maintained that the Nazi-imposed Jewish Councils (Judenräte) in the Polish ghettos were led by Zionists: ‘Upon their arrival in Warsaw the Germans found Adam Czerniakow, a Zionist and President of the Association of Jewish Artisans, as the head of the rump of the Jewish community organisation and they ordered him to set up a Judenrat (Jewish Council). In Lodz, Poland’s second city, Chaim Rumkowski, also a minor Zionist politician, was similarly designated.’ (Brenner 1983: 203-4)
Brenner was forced to admit that these individuals were never official representatives of Zionism, and he was forced to concede that the Jewish Councils did not invariably collaborate. Regardless, he insisted that the Nazis preferred to deal with Zionists, who could be trusted to betray the Jewish masses (Brenner 1983: 204-5).
Contrary to Brenner’s claims, neither Czerniakow nor Rumkowski belonged to the Zionist movement at the time of their appointment by the Nazis. Czerniakow, according to Holocaust historian Israel Gutman, ‘was not a member of a Jewish party, nor did he identify with any of the dominant political or socioreligious movements, although at a certain stage he sided with the minority bloc and moved nearer the non-Zionists within the Jewish Agency’ (Gutman 1998: 54). Rumkowski had actually been expelled from the Zionist movement for refusing to vote with party colleagues (Marrus 1989: 311). Brenner suppressed this fact. Furthermore, in early 1941, the Zionist parties in the Lodz Ghetto formed a coalition against Rumkowski (Katz 1970: 63). Brenner withheld this crucial fact from his readers.
(ix) The Slovakia and Europa Plans
The Nazi drive against the Jews of Slovakia commenced in early 1942. An attempt to halt this campaign was made by the Slovak Jewish ‘Working Group’ led by Rabbi Michael Weissmandel (an anti-Zionist), and his relative, Gisi Fleischmann (a Zionist). The Working Group tried to bribe the Nazis.
In the first stage of the negotiations, the Working Group approached Dieter Wisliceny, the SS officer handling the liquidation of Slovakia’s Jews, offering money to stop deportations from the country. This was known as the Slovakia Plan. In the second stage, wrongly believing that its bribe had saved Slovakia’s Jews, the Working Group offered the Nazis two million dollars to stop the Final Solution throughout Europe. This was named the Europa Plan. Weissmandel was unable to raise the required funds from his Jewish contacts abroad. Both during and after the War, he blamed world Jewry, and specifically the Zionists, for ruining his attempt to end the Holocaust.
Brenner twisted the facts in two ways (Brenner 1983: 235-8). First, he endorsed Weissmandel’s claim that here was a genuine opportunity for rescue. The consensus of historians is that there was no such opportunity: the cessation of the deportations from Slovakia had nothing to do with the bribe to Wisliceny, who was actually pressing for their completion; and the Nazis never intended to halt the Final Solution in line with the Europa Plan (Rothkirchen 1984; Aronson 2004: 170-80). Second, Brenner quoted Weissmandel’s version of a letter supposedly received from Nathan Schwalb, a Zionist rescue activist in Switzerland, who was alleged to have written: ‘Only with [Jewish] blood shall we get the land [of Israel].’ No copy of this letter has ever been found in any archive. Even if such a letter was sent, it surely did not have the sinister connotations given to it by Weissmandel and Brenner. According to Shlomo Aronson, one of the few historians who does not deny its authenticity, Schwalb ‘tried his best to give some future meaning to the deaths of those who could no longer be saved in his correspondence with Weissmandel by making them martyrs’ (Aronson 2004: 177).
(x) The Brand Mission
In March 1944, the Nazis occupied Hungary. With the collusion of a puppet regime, Adolf Eichmann and his SS officers rounded up all the Jews outside Budapest and imprisoned them in ghettos.
Shortly before he began the mass deportations of Hungarian Jews, Eichmann summoned Joel Brand, a leading figure in the Jewish Agency’s rescue committee in Budapest, and made the following proposal: the Nazis would release one million Jews from Europe in exchange for goods from the West, including trucks to be used against the Soviets. Brand was sent to Turkey to pass this ‘Goods For Blood’ offer to the Jewish Agency and Western governments. But his mission failed: British authorities arrested him, refused to entertain Eichmann’s offer, and later publicly rejected it. Meanwhile Eichmann deported over 400,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz.
After the war, Brand accused both the Jewish Agency and the British of sabotaging his mission. Brenner quoted from Brand’s sensationalised memoirs at length, exploiting them to incriminate Zionist leaders for blocking the rescue of European Jews. As Brenner explained: ‘Brand never had any illusions that the Eichmann proposition would be accepted by the Western Allies… Brand hoped that it would be possible to negotiate for more realistic arrangements or, at least, to decoy the Nazis into thinking that a deal could be made. Possibly the extermination programme would be slowed down or even suspended while an accord was being worked out.’ (Brenner 1983: 254)
What Brenner did not disclose was Brand’s subsequent admission that his hopes had been illusory and his mission a blunder. Shortly before his death, Brand testified in a German courtroom: ‘I made a terrible mistake in passing this on to the British. It is now clear to me that Himmler sought to sow suspicion among the Allies as a preparation for his much-desired Nazi-Western coalition against Moscow.’ (NYT 1964)
Brenner should have been aware of Brand’s confession, which discredits the notion that Eichmann’s offer represented an opportunity to save lives. Indeed, had Brand’s mission ‘succeeded’ – as Brenner wished in retrospect – precious time would have been squandered in doomed negotiations with the Nazis while the deportations continued, and nothing would have remained of Hungary’s Jewish population by the end of July 1944.
(xi) The Kasztner Trial
When Joel Brand left on his mission to Turkey, his colleague Rezső Kasztner remained behind in Budapest and conducted further talks with the Nazis. The result of these contacts was the departure of a trainload of 1,684 Jews, including several of Kasztner’s relatives and friends, to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp – the passengers were ultimately released to Switzerland. Kasztner was later accused by Holocaust survivors and others of collaborating with the Nazis. The accusations culminated in a famous libel trial in Israel in 1954, in which the judge concluded that Kasztner had ‘sold his soul to the Devil’. This verdict was partially reversed by Israel’s Supreme Court, but not before Kasztner had been killed by right-wing extremists.
The question of Kasztner’s personal innocence or guilt need not concern us here. Even Brenner conceded that ‘No movement is responsible for its renegades.’ (Brenner 1983: 263) What is relevant is Brenner’s manipulation of the facts to indict Zionists collectively for criminal complicity in the mass murder of Hungary’s Jews. To this end, Brenner relied partly on a post-war interview with Eichmann – a transparently worthless source – and partly on the verdict in the Kasztner Trial. He quoted the judge as stating that Kasztner considered his actions ‘a great personal success and a success for Zionism’ (Brenner 1983: 261). In Brenner’s eyes, the Kasztner affair exposed ‘the working philosophy of the World Zionist Organisation throughout the entire Nazi era: the sanctification of the betrayal of the many in the interest of a selected immigration to Palestine’ (Brenner 1983: 263-4).
However, the trial judge, Benjamin Halevi, stated the exact opposite in his verdict, where he referred to repeated efforts by Zionists inside and outside Hungary to prevent the extermination of the Hungarian Jewish masses. For example: ‘Calls from leaders of the Yishuv (Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Moshe Shertok, Yitzhak Gruenbaum) for self-defence and resistance by Diaspora Jews were sent to the rescue committee in Budapest. After the Nazi occupation, the [Zionist] pioneer movements established their own “headquarters” in Budapest and organised information, escape and bunker actions as well as preparations for resistance.’ (Halevi 1955: section 33) Halevi also noted: ‘Experience had taught the Nazis that everywhere the Zionists were the “activist” element in the Jewish population and were able to supply the leadership for resistance and anti-Nazi operations.’ (Halevi 1955: section 34)
In short, whatever Kasztner’s personal role may have been, the Zionist movement opposed the Nazis and tried to save Jews from the Holocaust. Since Halevi’s real findings sharply contradicted the conclusion that Brenner wanted to foist on his readers, Brenner simply omitted them.
(xii) The Zionist Paratroopers
Brenner used other misleading tactics to conceal the Zionist rescue efforts in Hungary. He referred to the three paratroopers from Palestine, Hannah Szenes, Joel Palgi, and Peretz Goldstein, who arrived in Budapest during the Nazi occupation hoping to organise Jewish resistance. Szenes was captured, tortured, and executed; Palgi and Goldstein were persuaded by Kasztner to turn themselves in. Through deceptive phrasing, Brenner implied that the paratroopers were sent by the British alone (Brenner 1983: 260-1). In fact the British army sent them at the instigation of the Jewish Agency in Palestine, and it was these Zionist leaders who wanted to arrange Jewish resistance to the Nazis in Hungary. As Judge Halevi explained: ‘In early 1944 [the paratroopers] volunteered under the aegis of the British army… to undertake a dual mission. The British military mission was to smuggle POWs and send intelligence out of Hungary. The Jewish Agency mission was to organise Hungarian Jews for self-defence against the Nazi destroyer and to assist the underground rescue of Jews.’ (Halevi 1955: section 82)
Here, again, Brenner manipulated facts to lead readers to his desired conclusion – that Zionists opposed resistance to the Nazis – which was the reverse of the truth.
The paratroopers’ mission failed, but other Zionist rescue efforts in Hungary succeeded. Moshe Krausz, head of the Jewish Agency’s Palestine Office in Budapest, smuggled to the free world an eye-witness report by two Auschwitz escapees, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler. The resulting outcry led to international pressure on the Hungarian regime, which reacted by ending the mass deportations to the death camp. Krausz also had the idea of creating diplomatic safety passes for Jews in the capital; these were distributed to scores of thousands of people by Zionist activists. And Otto Komoly, president of Hungary’s Zionist Federation, rescued several thousand Jewish children from the fascist terror.
How did Brenner explain these inconvenient facts? He did not even try. He made no reference to them, consigning them to an Orwellian memory hole.
Brenner’s Writings in Antisemitic Propaganda
Brenner’s motive for writing Zionism in the Age of the Dictators is not hard to fathom. Antisemitic remarks litter his writings. ‘The Jews’, he claimed at one point, ‘were powerful in the emporiums of the world, particularly in two of Germany’s biggest markets – Eastern Europe and America’ (Brenner 1983: 57). In his next book, Brenner commented, ‘Karl Marx was only being matter-of-fact when he remarked that “the Jews of Poland are the smeariest of all races,”’ before dismissing Zionism as nothing but ‘a Shylock operation’ (Brenner 1984a: 11, 38). Soon afterwards he authored a savage attack on the American Jewish community, which he denounced as a ‘pillar of capitalism’ (Brenner 1986: 61). Brenner catalogued the wealthiest Jews in the United States, condemning them as parasites, slum landlords, racketeers, tax evaders, and so on. He vilified Orthodox Jews as male chauvinists and Reform Jews as tribalists and racists (Brenner 1986: 65ff, 292, 314). He concluded: ‘Their “prophetic heritage,” their “passion for secular justice,” their “contribution to world culture” is just so much wood on the tribal totem pole… The belief that American Jewry, in its majority, will play a progressive role in the future is racist and utopian.’ (Brenner 1986: 358)
To a British interviewer he declared: ‘I am for the Palestinians. I don’t care if they scalp the Israelis. On the other hand I might say “Stop scalping the Israelis”.’ (Brenner 1984b)
The Soviet regime, whose antisemitic incitement paved the way for Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, was grateful for Brenner’s efforts. A rave review appeared in Izvestiya, one of the main organs of the Soviet press. The review included the lines: ‘During the world war, Brenner points out, Zionism showed its real meaning: for the sake of its ambitions, it sacrificed the blood of millions of Jews.’ Brenner detected ‘nothing improper’ in this review (Brenner 1986: 172).
The racist far right also admired Brenner’s book. To the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) – America’s major Holocaust-denial outfit – the book was an ‘astounding, bombshell exposé’. The IHR did not hesitate to market the book to its supporters (Brenner 1986: 180). These neo-Nazis promote Brenner’s book, despite his loathing for them, because his ‘findings’ serve their interests. If they cannot convince people that the Holocaust was fabricated by the Jews, their second option is to argue that it was perpetrated in league with Jews, or a group of Jews. Either way, guilt for Hitler’s genocide is transferred to the victims. In addition, the extreme Right welcomes extreme left-wing ‘antizionist’ propaganda such as Brenner’s book because, in fomenting hated of ‘Zionists’, it stigmatises the majority of Jews alive today.
Aside from admirers of Stalin and Hitler, Brenner’s book inspired a British Trotskyist to pen his own antisemitic work. Jim Allen’s play Perdition caused uproar when an attempt was made to stage it at London’s Royal Court Theatre in January 1987. Allen characterised his play in these terms: ‘Without any undue humility I’m saying that this is the most lethal attack on Zionism ever written, because it touches the heart of the most abiding myth of modern history, the Holocaust. Because it says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to help bring about a Zionist state, Israel, a state which is itself racist.’ (Allen 1987)
Allen described Brenner’s work as a ‘goldmine source’ (Rose 1987). Brenner, in turn, travelled to Britain to defend the play and his own historical claims on television. The play is periodically revived by extreme antizionist groups in Britain.
Now comes Ken Livingstone with his contention that Hitler was a Zionist. The British politician has been mesmerised by Brenner’s book for decades. Asked why he found it so compelling, he replied: ‘Lenni’s book shows a shared common belief between the Nazis and the Zionists in preserving their race from interracial marriage and things like that. They wanted to preserve their ethnic purity and that’s why they had a working relationship.’ (Livingstone 2016b)
Thus, Jewish nationalism and Nazism are cast as ideological soulmates. The equation of victim and perpetrator could not be clearer. Livingstone energetically denied being an antisemite.
The Livingstone scandal is only the latest – but surely not the last – chapter in the story of Brenner’s Zionism in the Age of the Dictators. As long as fanatical antisemites are prepared to debase the memory of the Holocaust in pursuit of their ideological goals, we can expect to encounter the hideous libel of the Zionist-Nazi conspiracy to murder the Six Million.
Jim Allen, Interview, Time Out, January 21-8, 1987.
Shlomo Aronson, Hitler, the Allies and the Jews (Cambridge University Press, 2004).
B. Beit-Zvi, Post-Ugandan Zionism On Trial: Volume 1 (Tel Aviv: privately printed, 1991); the pre-publication synopsis was available for use in Brenner 1983.
Berkleyan, ‘For Some, the Free-Speech Battle Isn’t Over Yet,’ Berkleyan, October 14, 2004, http://www.berkeley.edu/news/berkeleyan/2004/10/14_leaders.shtml. Accessed May 9, 2016.
Lenni Brenner, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators (Lawrence Hill Books, 1983).
Lenni Brenner, The Iron Wall: Zionist Revisionism From Jabotinsky to Shamir (Zed Books, 1984).
Lenni Brenner, Interview, City Limits, June 15-21, 1984.
Lenni Brenner, Jews in America Today (Al Saqi Books, 1986).
Lenni Brenner, ed., 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration With the Nazis (Barricade Books, 2002a).
Lenni Brenner, ‘The Future of the Palestinian Movement,’ CounterPunch, June 19, 2002b: http://www.counterpunch.org/2002/06/19/the-future-of-the-palestinian-movement/ Accessed May 10, 2016.
Yoav Gelber, ‘Zionist Policy and the Fate of European Jewry (1939-1942),’ Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 13, 1979, pp. 169-210.
Israel Gutman, Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998).
Judge Benjamin Halevi, Verdict, Criminal Case 124/53: Attorney-General v. Gruenwald (District Court of Jerusalem, 1955).
Joseph Heller, The Stern Gang: Ideology, Politics, and Terror, 1940-1949 (Frank Cass, 1995).
IJA, Soviet Antisemitic Propaganda: Evidence From Books, Press and Radio (Institute of Jewish Affairs, 1978).
Alfred Katz, Poland’s Ghettos At War (Twayne Publishers, 1970).
Ken Livingstone, You Can’t Say That: Memoirs (Faber and Faber, 2011).
Ken Livingstone, Interview, Daily Politics, BBC2, April 28, 2016a, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-anti-semitism-row-full-transcript-of-ken-livingstones-interviews-a7005311.html. Accessed May 18, 2016.
Ken Livingstone, Interview, Sky News, April 30, 2016b, http://news.sky.com/story/1687454/livingstone-says-labour-should-reinstate-him. Accessed May 9, 2016.
Abraham Margaliot, ‘The Problem of the Rescue of German Jewry During the Years 1933-1939: The Reasons For the Delay in Their Emigration From the Third Reich,’ in Israel Gutman and Efraim Zuroff, eds., Rescue Attempts During the Holocaust (Yad Vashem, 1977).
Michael R. Marrus, ed., The Nazi Holocaust, Part 6: The Victims of the Holocaust, Volume 1 (Walter de Gruyter, 1989).
Francis Nicosia, Zionism and Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany (Cambridge University Press, 2008).
NYT, ‘Allied Rift Called Aim of ’44 Nazi Ransom Plan,’ New York Times, May 21, 1964.
Stephen M. Poppel, Zionism in Germany, 1897-1933: The Shaping of a Jewish Identity (The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1976).
Joachim Prinz, ‘Zionism Under the Nazi Government,’ The New Palestine, September 17, 1937. Reprinted in Young Zionist, November 1937.
David Rose, ‘Rewriting the Holocaust’, The Guardian, January 14, 1987.
Livia Rothkirchen, ‘The ‘Europa Plan’: A Reassessment’ in Seymour Maxwell Finger, ed., American Jewry During the Holocaust (American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust, 1984), Appendix 4:7.
Martin Sicker, ‘Echoes of a Poet: A Reconsideration of Abraham Stern – Yair,’ American Zionist, February 1972.
SS, Franz-Albert Six, ‘Report on Secret Commando Matter,’ June 17, 1937, translation in Brenner 2002a: 111-15.