On June 7, 2007, when Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder succeeded Edgar M. Bronfman as president of the World Jewish Congress, he took over a venerable organization that was in a state of reputational chaos and dire financial straits. Just prior to announcing his resignation in March of that year, Bronfman fired Israel Singer—the WJC’s former secretary-general, who had been made chairman of the organization’s Policy Council— accusing Singer of serious financial misconduct. A highly publicized investigation by the New York attorney general into the WJC’s financial operations and absence of meaningful governance procedures placed the then seventy-one-year-old, Geneva-based organization under a cloud and adversely affected its fundraising. The costly retention of two major New York law firms in connection with the attorney general’s investigation, as well as a number of controversial, not to say ill-advised, attempts at legal maneuvering—including a defamation lawsuit (which was ultimately withdrawn) against the veteran WJC leader Isi Leibler, who had blown the whistle on Israel Singer’s activities in the first place—severely depleted the WJC’s reserves to the point of virtual insolvency. Quite a few of Ambassador Lauder’s friends and associates wondered why he would want to take on the not inconsiderable burden of trying to restore the WJC to its erstwhile glory and prominence. For many, what was commonly referred to as the Israel Singer scandal overshadowed the WJC’s many important accomplishments.
Ten years later, the WJC is widely recognized as one of the most influential international Jewish organizations—perhaps the most important— with the 2004–2007 scandal a distant memory, if that. Under Ambassador Lauder’s leadership, and thanks to his vision and personal generosity, the WJC has regained both respectability and credibility, no small achievement. Shortly after taking office, Ambassador Lauder engaged the legendary Jewish professional leader, Michael Schneider, as the WJC’s secretary-general. Schneider had been executive vice-president and chief executive officer of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and for years has been universally revered for rescuing Jews in Iran, Ethiopia, Yugoslavia, and elsewhere, often under the most challenging and daunting conditions. Schneider’s immediate task was to restore luster to the WJC’s internal operations, something he accomplished in large part as a result of his own impeccable reputation for integrity.
To a certain extent, and prodded in large part by the requirements of the New York State attorney general, Schneider’s predecessor, Stephen Herbits, had already begun the process of instituting much-needed governance reforms at the WJC by the time Ambassador Lauder and Schneider took charge of the organization. A new director of finance, Chaim Reiss (now chief financial officer), had established financial controls and personnel procedures in place of a previously haphazard and often erratic modus operandi. At the same time, however, Herbits defended Israel Singer assiduously for two years against charges that he had engaged in self-serving financial improprieties. Eventually, Herbits turned on Israel Singer with a vengeance. At the end of Herbits’s tenure at the WJC, he unsuccessfully urged the New York State attorney general to reopen the office’s investigation into Singer’s actions.
Schneider succeeded in calming the waters. He restored morale and a sense of purpose among the WJC staff with his decency, intelligence, lack of ego, sincerity, and, not least, humor. The state of perpetual tension and paranoia that had existed with the mercurial Herbits at the helm was replaced with a calm, professional, and emotionally stable atmosphere. Schneider also resolved numerous controversial litigations and other disputes that were taking up the WJC’s time and resources, often needlessly and as the result of pique rather than logic. Throughout this period, the late and much beloved Hella Moritz provided a welcome sense of imperturbability, steadfastness, and institutional continuity.
Also, efforts to revise the WJC constitution had stalled during the Herbits regime. Ensuring transparent and democratic governance through a state-of-the-art constitution was one of Ambassador Lauder’s priorities. In the fall of 2007, he retained me to draft a new constitution for the organization, a task I was able to accomplish in large part with the assistance of the WJC’s chief operations officer John Malkinson and with the input, counsel, and support of a lay constitutional committee that included the late Mervyn Smith of South Africa, one of the heroes of that country’s anti-apartheid movement, and Robert Goot of Australia. After the adoption of the new constitution at the January 2009 WJC plenary assembly, I was appointed the organization’s general counsel.
On the political side, Ambassador Lauder refurbished and enhanced the WJC’s image and impact by taking his defense of Jewish rights and the State of Israel to the corridors of power across the globe. In meetings with world leaders ranging from Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Angela Merkel, François Hollande, and Vladimir Putin to Popes Benedict XVI and Francis, to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas, and King Abdullah of Jordan, among many others, not to mention virtually every Israeli government and political leader, he established beyond doubt that Jewish communities and individual Jews threatened by anti-Semitism and worse once again had a formidable champion in the WJC.
In May of 2013, Robert Singer became the senior professional at the WJC, with the new title of CEO and Executive Vice President. He had previously spent more than fourteen years at the helm of World ORT, the largest Jewish education and vocational training non-governmental organization in the world with more than three hundred thousand students in thirty-seven countries. Since then, Ambassador Lauder and Robert Singer (no relation to Israel Singer) have taken the organization to unprecedented heights, as described in detail in Robert Singer’s chapter in this book.
The purpose of The World Jewish Congress, 1936–2016 is to provide a retrospective overview of some of the major highlights in the WJC’s eighty-year history. To a considerable extent, the present volume is a successor to and continuation of a previous book, Unity in Dispersion: A History of the World Jewish Congress, published by the WJC in June of 1948, on the occasion of its second plenary assembly in Montreux, Switzerland. That plenary assembly was held less than two months after the proclamation of the State of Israel, one of the two watershed events of the twentieth century for the Jewish people, the other being the Holocaust. Calling Unity in Dispersion “a candid answer to the summons of history,” then WJC Secretary-General A. Leon Kubowitzki wrote in his preface:
On the eve of a new epoch in Jewish history, it was keenly felt that the experiences not only of the Congress but also of its predecessor, the Comité des Délégations Juives, ought to be committed to print. The realities of Jewish life are rapidly shifting before our very eyes, and soon a new generation will arise which knows not our problems and to which many of our controversies will be incomprehensible. . . . For the last thirty years the activities of the Comité des Délégations and the Congress have been woven into the woof and warp of Jewish history and their record cannot be written down without Jewish history being written at the same time.
A similar imperative was the catalyst for The World Jewish Congress, 1936–2016. The WJC has been a major—sometimes the only—protagonist in many of the geopolitical dramas affecting world Jewry since the organization’s founding in August 1936 in Geneva, and especially since the 1948 Montreux plenary assembly. It was felt that a chronicle of the WJC’s accomplishments over the course of these eight decades would be a valuable resource to scholars, educators, present and future activists in Jewish and human-rights oriented endeavors, and interested observers generally. We chose not to commission a historian to write an all-inclusive, chronological account, but instead opted for a thematic mosaic that enabled us to bring together the perspectives of historians as well as a number of actual participants in the events they describe. First, we believed that organizations—much like individuals—have distinct, sometimes even multi-faceted personalities, and it was our hope that our chosen format enables the WJC’s personality, and those of some of its leaders over the past eighty years, to come to the fore. Second, we were confronted with the reality that not all WJC archives located in different parts of the world are readily accessible.
In 1982, the WJC donated the entire archive of its New York office to the American Jewish Archives (AJA) in Cincinnati, Ohio. This archive, which has been meticulously digitized and catalogued by the AJA, consists of approximately 1.2 million documents and spans the period from before the organization’s founding in 1936 until 1980. It includes, among many other critically important documents, correspondence from the WJC’s Geneva office in the 1930s, the full records of the early WJC plenary assemblies, submissions by the WJC to the League of Nations and the United Nations, and publications of the WJC’s Institute of Jewish Affairs. This archive is meticulously maintained in accordance with the highest standards, and it is a genuine pleasure to work with the AJA staff, in particular Kevin Proffitt, Senior Archivist for Research and Collections and director of AJA’s Fellowship Programs, and AJA Executive Director Dr. Gary P. Zola.
Subsequently, 4.5 million documents from ten different WJC offices were placed with the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem. However, the majority of these documents have not yet been digitized and catalogued, making them neither easily nor readily accessible. In addition, other WJC archives, as well as the papers of a number of WJC leaders, are located at the Institute of Contemporary History and Wiener Library in London, the University of Southampton, Yad Vashem, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives (formerly, the Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives), and at other institutions. Thus, the research required for an authoritative, comprehensive history of the WJC would constitute a daunting if not impossible undertaking at the present time.
The composition of The World Jewish Congress, 1936–2016 was guided תפשת מרובה to a considerable extent by the Talmudic adage (H ̇agigah a tafasta meruba lo tafasta, which translates liberally as, if you try לא תפשת to do too much, you end up with nothing, or at least with far less than the desired result. It was clear to us from the outset that the book could not cover all of the WJC’s activities, programs, diplomatic initiatives, diverse lay and professional personalities, and internal deliberations between 1936 and 2016, or even between 1948, when Unity in Dispersion was published, and the present time. Instead, we have based the format of our new book on a number of what we deem to be compelling considerations. First, we felt that a fresh look at and an appreciation of the WJC’s role and record during the years of the Holocaust was important in order to understand the organization’s subsequent priorities and chosen directions. Second, we decided to focus in depth and detail on the following thirteen principal areas of the WJC’s activities and agenda since the end of World War II:
The WJC’s contribution to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg
The postwar attitudes to, and relationship with, Jews living in Germany
The WJC’s relationship and interaction with the State of Israel
The WJC’s presence and impact at the United Nations
Diplomatic efforts on behalf of North African Jewry
Memorialization of the Holocaust at Auschwitz-Birkenau
Gerhart Riegner’s groundbreaking role in launching the Jewish-Vatican dialogue
Quiet diplomacy versus public activism in advocating for Soviet Jewry
The campaign to repeal the UN’s “Zionism is racism” resolution
The fight to force Swiss banks to disgorge Holocaust-era assets belonging to Jews
The Kurt Waldheim Affair
The complex and sensitive efforts to manage relations with Communist countries
Efforts to bring the perpetrators of the Buenos Aires terrorist bombings to justice
Third, we include a significant speech by each of the Jewish leaders who held the WJC presidency in the past to highlight their strikingly different personalities. Finally, the WJC today is very much a reflection of both the personality of its president, Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder, and the course he has charted, and continues to chart, for the organization.
Since 2013, the implementation of that course has been in the hands and under the direction of the WJC’s CEO and executive vice president Robert Singer. Their concluding chapters, therefore, focus on the present and the future. Our hope is that the combination of all these elements gives the reader an understanding of the role the WJC has played and what it has accomplished over the past eighty years, its broad range of programs and activities today, and insights into its likely trajectories in the future.
It should be noted that we deliberately opted not to highlight numerous episodes and events commonly associated with the WJC. For instance,
we do not devote a chapter to German-Jewish reparations, primarily
because although the WJC was a key participant in the early process that
culminated in the historic Luxemburg Agreements of 1952, the organization as such was neither the catalyst nor a principal protagonist in the
negotiations themselves or in the subsequent implementation of these
agreements. In October 1944, the delegates at the WJC’s War Emergency
Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey, adopted a resolution calling for
both restitution and compensation to individual Jewish victims of Nazi persecution, and that same year Dr. Nehemiah Robinson of the WJC Institute
of Jewish Affairs published a monograph laying forth the legal rationale
for not just individual compensation, but also collective compensation by
Germany to the Jewish people as a whole. Thereafter, Dr. Noah Barou, one
of the founders of both the WJC and its influential British Section, and the
long-time chairman of the WJC’s European Executive, was a mostly unsung
advocate for pressing the new West German government to provide reparations. Indeed, following Barou’s death in 1955, Nahum Goldmann wrote
that, “I am not at all sure whether the great chapter in Jewish history which
we call the reparations agreement with Germany . . . would have come
about if it had not been for Noah Barou.” On the other hand, Goldmann’s
own central role in the reparations negotiations was not in his capacity as
WJC president, but rather as head of the Conference on Jewish Material
Claims Against Germany, commonly referred to as the Claims Conference;
and while the WJC is a founding agency of that organization, Goldmann
convened the Claims Conference in 1951, at the request of Israeli Foreign
Minister Moshe Sharett, in Goldmann’s capacity as co-chairman of the
Jewish Agency for Israel.
Unfortunately, we did not have the space to feature the many important accomplishments of the different sections of the WJC in the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, and elsewhere. The WJC’s British Section in particular, headed between 1945 and 1950 by the Marchioness of Reading, Member of Parliament Sidney Silverman, Dr. Barou, and Alex Easterman, among others, provided critical political assistance and support to the Holocaust survivors in the Displaced Persons (DP) camp of Bergen-Belsen that enabled the leaders of the Jewish DPs to prevail in a succession of confrontations with the military authorities in the British Zone of Germany. Also, Natan Lerner’s insightful reminiscence covers only the WJC’s role and activities in Israel through the early 1980s. Consequently, the book does not make reference to the Hebrew-language Jewish-affairs journal Gesher, edited for many years by the late Dr. Shlomo Shafir, or to the WJC Research Institute, established in Jerusalem in the 1990s, which published more than 150 research studies and policy papers during its fifteen-year existence.
To fully grasp the significance of the WJC’s place and role in contemporary Jewish and world history, a brief review of the organization’s origins and early years provides an explanatory context.
The WJC’s roots lie in an ad hoc body called the Comité des Délégations Juives auprès de la Conférence de la Paix (Committee of Jewish Delegations at the Peace Conference) that was formed in 1919 to advocate “for the protection of the Jewish population of Bulgaria, Esthonia, Finland, Greece, Lithuania, Poland, Rumania, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Ukrainia, Jugoslavia, and other East and Central European lands” before the Versailles Peace Conference.9 The Comité des Délégations Juives was comprised of Jewish representative bodies from the United States (the American Jewish Congress, which had come into being one year earlier), Canada (the Canadian Jewish Congress), Eastern Galicia, Italy, Palestine, Poland, Romania, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine “by written mandate,” Greece (Thessaloniki), Transylvania, and Bukovina, as well as the American Jewish Committee, B’nai Brith, and the World Zionist Organization. This composition in and of itself was revolutionary: it constituted the first organized international endeavor by Jewish organizations and communal groups in the face of “pogroms which have been carried out in some of the East European countries against the peaceful Jewish inhabitants,” and that “have revolted the conscience of the world.” The president of the Comité des Délégations Juives was US Circuit Court Judge Julian W. Mack of the American Jewish Congress, who had also been one of the founders of the American Jewish Committee in 1906; one of its vice presidents was Louis Marshall of the American Jewish Committee; and its secretary general was the Zionist leader Leo Motzkin, originally from Russia but at the time based in Paris.
The fact that the American Jewish Committee joined the Comité des Délégations Juives was especially noteworthy because it had vehemently opposed the formation of a broad-based representative body for American Jewry, and subsequently would be equally opposed to the very concept of a world Jewish congress, something which the founders of the American Jewish Congress, in particular Rabbi Stephen S.Wise, advocated from the outset. On the other hand, the prior several decades had seen a dramatic increase in anti-Semitic incidents and manifestations, from the Dreyfus Affair in France to pogroms in Kishinev and other parts of Eastern Europe, to the Beilis blood libel trial in Russia, all of which had been widely covered in the press. In fact, the American Jewish Committee itself had been founded in 1906 following the Kishinev and other pogroms “to prevent the infraction of the civil and religious rights of the Jews throughout the world.” Thus, Louis Marshall, who succeeded Judge Mack as head of the Comité des Délégations Juives after the latter’s return to the United States, declared that
[t]he purpose of our mission to Paris was to co-operate with organizations from all parts of Europe to secure full civil, religious, and political rights for the racial, religious, and linguistic minorities of Eastern Europe. . . .They have been deprived of the most elementary rights such as are guaranteed to all citizens of the United States, of England, of France, and of Italy.
Following the end of the Peace Conference, the Comité des Délégations Juives remained in existence, under Motzkin’s leadership, albeit without the participation of some of the organizations that opposed any permanent international Jewish representative body. Over the years, it made representations on behalf of Jews threatened by anti-Semitic discrimination or worse in various Eastern European countries, and in 1933, it helped score an impressive victory against the new Hitler government by forcing the temporary nullification of anti-Semitic laws in German Upper Silesia.
Simultaneously, both Motzkin in Europe and Rabbi Stephen S.Wise in the United States, among others, wanted to form an international body to advocate and act on behalf of Jews and Jewish communities across the globe. As early as December 17, 1918, the delegates to the inaugural session of the American Jewish Congress in Philadelphia adopted a resolution instructing its European delegation, “as soon as peace is declared among the warring nations . . . to take the necessary and effective steps in co-operation with the representative Jewish bodies in other countries for the convening of a World Jewish Congress.” In May of 1923, Motzkin called for a World Conference of Jews to address issues of Jewish concern, especially in light of the violation of Jewish minority rights in various European countries.17 The first concrete development on the road to establishing such a world body took place August 17–19, 1927, when sixty delegates from the United States, twelve other countries, and Palestine gathered in Zurich for the World’s Conference on Jewish Rights. Simon Dubnow, widely recognized as the greatest living Jewish historian, gave an overview of Jewish emancipation since the French revolution. Calling minority rights for Jews “the culmination of their national freedom,” he stressed the need for an organization that would be “a seeing eye and a hearing ear.” Motzkin, meanwhile, called for the creation of a committee to coordinate the activities of the various Jewish agencies that were making efforts on behalf of Jewish minorities, and such a body, called the Council on the Rights of Jewish Minorities, was formed.
The next four years saw Nazism on the rise in Germany and an intensification of the increasing anti-Semitic manifestations in other Eastern and Central European countries. Nevertheless, in 1931 when Wise took further steps in the direction of convening a world Jewish congress, he met with considerable opposition. Confronting his critics at the annual session of the American Jewish Congress, he said:
I refuse to believe that we may never summon the representatives of world Jewry together for wise and considered action with respect to their common problems because of the danger of allegations being made such as those that are to be found in the protocols of the elders of Zion. There is only one problem before us with respect to a world Jewish congress: Can it help? Will it serve the highest interest of the Jewish people?
One year later, as anti-Semitism posed an ever greater threat and the Nazi Party was becoming dramatically stronger, the American Jewish Congress voted to convene another world conference of Jews in Geneva. Wise explained to the delegates why a world Jewish congress had become an urgent necessity:
In the Zurich conference which met five years ago we thought things were serious and grave, but 1927 is the Messianic year compared with 1932. At that time Hitlerism was unknown—that Austrian adventurer who made a few speeches. No one took him seriously.
In response, Dr. Cyrus Adler, the president of the American Jewish Committee, went public with his harsh opposition to Wise’s initiative. In an article published in the American Hebrew and JewishTribune, Adler denounced the convening of both a world Jewish congress and a preparatory conference as “a sensational blunder—perhaps one of the most colossal mistakes in the history of the Jewish people.” As far as Adler was concerned,
For a congress of persons from many parts of the world to discuss the peculiar economic, political, and social conditions affecting the Jews in the various countries would be to furnish a spectacle that would be ludicrous and possibly tragic. The enemies of the Jews in every country, and especially in Germany, would seize upon the congress as an alleged justification of their charges.
Wise’s reaction, in the form of a statement signed by himself and two other leaders of the American Jewish Congress, was swift and equally direct:
Dr. Adler and his associates of the American Jewish Committee are evidently governed by the fear that a Jewish conference and ultimately a world Jewish congress will lead the world to suspect that Jews are united in defense of their imperiled or impaired rights. The call for this conference has already met with an eager response by leaders of European and American Jewry, conscious of the need of united consideration and common action on the vast complex of Jewish problems.
From August 14 to 17, 1932, the first of three World Jewish Conferences that preceded the formal founding of the WJC was held in Geneva. Ninety-four delegates from seventeen countries participated, but the American Jewish Committee, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and the Hilfverein der deutschen Juden in Germany were among the communal bodies that chose not to attend. The American Jewish Congress had invited a young Zionist leader from Germany, Dr. Nahum Goldmann, to organize this event. It was the beginning of his lifelong leadership role on behalf of world Jewry. A compelling orator, he explained the purpose of a world Jewish congress to the delegates:
It is to establish the permanent address of the Jewish people; amidst the fragmentation and atomization of Jewish life and of the Jewish com- munity, it is to establish a real, legitimate, collective representation of Jewry which will be entitled to speak in the name of the 16 million Jews to the nations and governments of the world, as well as to the Jews themselves.
This conference decided to convene a world Jewish congress based on the then quite controversial proposition that the Jewish people constituted a national entity; and the delegates elected an Executive Committee, including Wise and Goldmann, to bring the congress into being.
Goldmann’s rapid rise to the upper echelons of the group that spearheaded the creation of a world Jewish congress underscored the close relationship of the WJC’s founders with the Zionist movement. In 1931, at the Seventeenth Zionist Congress, he had been one of the engineers of the removal of Chaim Weizmann from the presidency of the World Zionist Organization (WZO); and he became close to Stephen Wise, who was another of Weizmann’s opponents on that occasion. It is significant that numerous other Zionist leaders and personalities such as Motzkin; Nahum Sokolow, Weizmann’s successor as president of the WZO; Joseph Sprinzak, the future speaker of the Knesset (Israeli parliament); and Yitzhak Gruenbaum actively participated in the various preparatory conferences that preceded the WJC’s first plenary assembly in 1936. Indeed, the WZO stood fully behind the concept of a world Jewish congress, with its Executive declaring in 1935 that “the Zionist movement has from the very beginning affirmed the idea of a world Jewish congress.”That same year, the Nineteenth Zionist Congress adopted a resolution stating that it considered “the creation of an authorized representative body [of the Jewish people] on a democratic basis as an urgent necessity, and that it “looks upon the World Jewish Congress as a suitable form of such a representative body.” Following Motzkin’s death in November 1933, Goldmann became head of the Comité des Délégations Juives, and in 1935 he was appointed the Jewish Agency’s representative to the League of Nations.
Two more preparatory conferences followed. Both took place in Geneva after Hitler and his National Socialist Party had come to power. At the second conference, in September of 1933, Wise called for an organized Jewish boycott of German goods and stressed that the situation of the Jews in Germany had become “the overshadowing Jewish problem, overshadowing all else, and marking this year in Jewish history with a new and unprecedented sorrow, filling the hearts of the Jewish people with a sense of grief if not despair such as we have not known for many centuries.” The question, he declared, was no longer whether but when a World Jewish Congress would take place.
At the third World Jewish Conference, August 20–23, 1934, the delegates reiterated their determination to establish a world Jewish congress and set forth the mission of the new organization in the following resolution that was unanimously adopted:
It is a question of the creation of a permanent body representing Jews all over the world, whose task it will be, in the name of the whole of Jewry to defend the common interests, and to protect the rights of Jewish communities wherever they may be threatened. It follows from this declaration of aims and objects . . . that the World Congress and the organs elected by it will in no way have the task, or the competence, to occupy themselves with questions of the internal policies of the Jewish communities in the various countries nor with questions of internal Jewish life in those countries. Furthermore, all questions of a religious character are outside the competence of the World Jewish Congress and its organs.
To the extent that this resolution was meant to ease the concerns of Wise’s critics and adversaries in the Jewish political arena, it had no such effect. The American Jewish Committee in particular kept up its opposition to the creation of a world Jewish congress, arguing vociferously against American Jews associating with Jews from other countries to create an international body that would presume to speak for American Jews. In June 1936, with the World Jewish Congress scheduled to take place two months later, the American Jewish Committee announced that other American Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Labor Committee, B’nai Brith, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States would also refuse to participate. Wise’s response was succinct: “We have to fight Hitler with one hand and the American Jewish Committee with the other.”
On August 8, 1936, 250 delegates from thirty-two countries (including Mussolini’s Italy, but not Germany or the Soviet Union) gathered in Geneva for the first plenary assembly of the WJC, setting in motion what would become in very short order the most outspoken and arguably most effective Jewish organization advocating for Jewish rights worldwide. A detailed discussion of the proceedings of this plenary assembly can be found in Unity in Dispersion and therefore need not be repeated here.35 For purposes of this introduction to the present volume, it is sufficient to cite the words spoken by one of the organization’s founders and longtime leaders Maurice L. Perlzweig, a Polish-born, British-educated liberal rabbi, on that occasion:
What is it that we, who venture to speak in the name and with the voice of the Jewish people, seek to achieve?
First, we affirm the unity and integrity of the whole House of Israel in the hearing of the nations of the world. We demand for all Jews the full prerogative of citizenship as of right and not on sufferance, and whatever be the price of citizenship in sacrifices and loyalty we shall pay as we have paid without flinching even in all the step-fatherlands of the Jewish diaspora; but in one thing we shall not yield. Emancipation is no emancipation if it denies us full place and partnership in faith and fellowship of Israel. Jewish loyalty is integral in the highest Jewish citizen- ship. We who are assembled in this Congress seek to bring a great gift to the world: we bring our Jewish heritage to the service of our citizenship.
Secondly, we shall seek to mobilize all the resources of the Jewish people in the struggle against those who have declared war on us. The truth of science no less than the inexhaustible capacity for courage and self-sacrifice of our people shall be our weapons in a struggle we shall wage for all humanity. First the Jew, then the Liberal, then the Christian, the sequence is governed by a logic, inexorable and ineluctable. Liberty is indivisible. If the Jew goes down in the struggle, then woe to the freedom of the world.
Following the 1936 plenary assembly, the WJC continued seamlessly the activities of the Comité des Délégations Juives and interceded on behalf of beleaguered Jewish communities before the League of Nations and with various Eastern European governments. Goldmann and Perlzweig undertook most of these initiatives in what remained of the interwar years, with Goldmann, who had been elected chairman of the WJC’s Administrative Committee, becoming the organization’s de facto foreign minister.
One of the most notable early public WJC appearances was at the now infamous July 1938 conference on refugees convened at President Roosevelt’s behest at the French spa of Évian-les-Bains. As it turned out, the conference accomplished precisely nothing, with Australian Minister for Trade and Customs T. W. White epitomizing the collective attitude of the participating governments when he declared that, “as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one by encouraging any scheme of large-scale foreign migration.”
The WJC submitted a memorandum over Wise’s signature in which it argued forcefully, among other points, that the refugee crisis that must be addressed should not be limited to Jews fleeing Germany and Austria:
It is desirable that the Evian Conference should not confine itself to consider the case of German Jews, which, although the most painful, is but one of the aspects of the refugee problem. Following the nefarious example set by Germany, several European states have, for some time, been enacting legal and administrative measures designed to evict Jewish population from employment and professions, to deprive Jews of their nationality and to force them to emigrate. In doing so, these states are violating their constitutions which guarantee to Jews equality of rights, and disregard the rights pledged to Jewish minorities by the peace treaties. We venture to think that one of the most urgent tasks incumbent upon the Evian Conference is to reaffirm the principle of equality of rights of the Jews in all countries, and to remind the states of eastern [sic] Europe that they have no right to create new masses of refugees through driving out of their boundaries their Jewish citizens.
Numerous Jewish organizations attended the Évian Conference and were far from unified. Historian Yehuda Bauer observed:
It must be stressed that only the World Jewish Congress, represented by Dr. Nahum Goldmann, disregarded the appeals for moderation. It sharply attacked German practices, demanded that the Jewish problem be viewed as a whole, said that Jews fleeing from Eastern Europe should also be helped, and insisted that uncultivated areas be set aside for Jewish settlement. Also, WJC thought that government financing was indispensable because private agencies would not be able to support the emigration by themselves.
Other Jewish groups espoused radically different positions. Rabbi Jonah B. Wise (no relation to Stephen Wise), chairman of the JDC, told The New York Times upon his return from Évian that the JDC and other American relief agencies were “Americans first of all,” and that there would be no relaxation of US immigration regulations in favor of German or Austrian Jews. “After all,” he said, “the people working for this movement are Americans, and their first interest here is for America and for Americans.” He then added that “if our concern for groups in foreign countries who need assistance in escaping oppression would interfere with helping Americans, then we couldn’t do it.”
After the Évian Conference had concluded, Goldmann conveyed his
impressions in a letter to Rabbi Stephen Wise:
The Jewish organizations did not make up a very brilliant show in Evian. More than 20 of them appeared in Evian and created a deplorable impression. The British Council for German Jews is responsible for this ridiculous performance. We asked the British Council several times to invoke, together with the Executive of the Jewish Agency in London a conference of the Jewish organizations before the meeting in Evian in order to choose a united representation as it was done before the Lausanne Conference five years ago; I am sure that a united Jewish delegation composed of four or five people would have been received and heard by the whole Conference, and Weizmann would inevitably have become the speaker of this delegation. Unfortunately the British Council refused to call such a conference mostly because of Samuel’s41 fear for so-called “International Jewry,” which should not appear united in Evian. Brodetzski was not courageous enough to call such a conference on behalf of the Jewish Agency without the British Council, and so nothing happened. All the Jewish organizations came to Evian, swarmed around like bees and made a very bad impression on the Conference and the press. If ever a lesson for the necessity of Jewish unity representation was given, it was done in Evian. But I am afraid that Jewish notables have learnt nothing from this lesson.
It is against this overall background that we hope that The World Jewish
Congress, 1936–2016 is read. The WJC has changed and evolved since 1936,
as have the Jewish people in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel, and both will most certainly continue to
change and evolve. However, as the different chapters in this book make
clear, the WJC has consistently remained, and remains, true to its mission,
which is to advocate for and defend Jewish communities and the Jewish
people wherever and whenever necessary.
1. See, generally, Stephanie Strom, “Money-Shifting Uproar Shakes World Jewish Congress,” The New YorkTimes, November 30, 2004; Strom, “Spitzer Looking into World Jewish Congress,” The New York Times, December 31, 2004; Strom, “World Jewish Congress Dis- misses Leader,” The NewYork Times, March 16, 2007; Strom, “New Accusations Are Raised after Firing in Jewish Group,” The New York Times, April 6, 2007; Strom, “President of Jewish Congress Resigns after 3 Years’ Turmoil,” The New York Times, May 8, 2007; Strom, “Cosmetics Heir to Lead World Jewish Congress,” The New York Times, June 11, 2007.
4. Unity in Dispersion: A History of the World Jewish Congress (New York: Institute of Jewish Affairs of the World Jewish Congress, 1948), p. i. (A second edition of this book, also published in 1948, somewhat confusingly titled what had been Kubowitzki’s “Preface” as“Foreword.”)
5. “Jewish Aspects of Indemnification: A Statement of the World Jewish Congress,” Congress Weekly, November 24, 1944, p. 6; “Declaration Adopted by Conference of theWorld Jewish Congress, November 30, 1944,” Congress Weekly, December 15, 1944, p. 16.
10. Ibid. The principal British and French Jewish representative bodies, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Anglo-Jewish Association, and the Alliance Israélite Universelle, declined to join the Comité des Délégations Juives. Unity in Dispersion, p. 26.
11. See, e.g., “The revolutionary and anti-Semitic newspapers [in France] are starting a Jew-baiting campaign in view of Dreyfus’s Semitic origins. La Libre Parole predicts that the Jews, by presuming to consider themselves the equals of Frenchmen, and competing with them, are preparing the most fearful disaster that ever marked the tragic history of the race” in “Irritation about Dreyfus,” The New York Times, December 27, 1894; “Talk of the Parisians: Great Interest Manifested in the Guilt or Innocence of Former Captain Dreyfus,” The New York Times, November 28, 1897; “Jews in Roumania and Poland Alarmed, Letters Show that Passion against Them Is Widespread,” The New York Times, May 21, 1903; “Trying a Man for ‘Ritual Murder,’ and in 1913,” The New York Times, September 7, 1913; “The second significant fact in the case is the nature of the accusation, the allegation of murder for Jewish ritual purposes. The crime does not and can not [sic] exist. [I]t is a foolish, blind superstition bred of prejudice upon ignorance,” “The Czar on Trial” (editorial), The New York Times, October 9, 1913; and “Reports Massacre of Jews in Ukraine, ”The New York Times, August 1, 1919.
14. See, e.g., “Plead for Jewish Rights, Draft to Be Presented to League— Want Safety in Hungary,” The New York Times, December 10, 1920; “Jews Appeal to League, Ask Investigation of Condition of the Race in East Europe,” The New York Times, December 12, 1920; “Report New Pogroms,” The New York Times, August 1, 1921; “Attack Expulsion of Jews, Paris Delegates Appeal to League against Rumanian Order,” The New York Times, Septem-ber 28, 1923.
15. See, e.g., “Other Petitions to League,” The New York Times, May 21, 1933; “Seek League Help for All Reich Jews,” The New York Times, June 8, 1933; “See Reich Retreat on Silesian Jews,” The New York Times, May 22, 1933; “Reich to End Curbs on Jews in Silesia,” The New York Times, May 27, 1933. See also, Unity in Dispersion, pp. 34–35.
27. See, generally, Jehuda Reinharz, “Nahum Goldmann and Chaim Weizmann: An Ambivalent ‘Relationship,’” in Nahum Goldmann: Statesman without a State, ed. Mark A. Raider (Albany, NY, 2009), pp. 125–138.
37. “Statements from representatives at the Evian Conference in July 1938, discussing the Jewish refugee situation in Europe,” Facing History and Ourselves, https:/www.facinghistory.org/ resource-library/text/statements- representatives-evian-conference-july-1938.
41. Herbert Louis Samuel, 1st Viscount Samuel (1870–1963), first practicing Jew to serve as a British Cabinet minister. He was Home Secretary, 1916 and 1931–1932, and the first High Commissioner of Paleestine, 1920–1925