Israel, State Of


Israel, State Of
   The State of Israel was founded on 14 May 1948, against the background of the Holocaust. Ultimately approximately 350,000 survivors of the death camps left Europe and immigrated to the Jewish state. One of the first decisions faced by Israel, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, was the emotional issue of its relationship with the West German Federal Republic. Under the leadership of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, West Germany displayed a desire to compensate the Jews for the horrors of the Nazi epoch. Despite protests from Holocaust survivors and Israeli politicians such as Menachem Begin, the future prime minister, that compensation was “blood money “ the decision was made to accept the reparations and seek a cordial relationship with West Germany. In 1952, the World Jewish Congress, led by Nahum Goldmann, negotiated a reparation agreement whereby West Germany made restitution of $845 million to Israel in the form of goods over a span of 12 to 14 years. The West German Parliament also passed a restitution law that compensated survivors for their suffering. Although a controversial and emotional issue, the reparations brought badly needed capital equipment, such as passenger and merchant vessels, tractors, heavy machinery, and concrete mixers, to the fledgling Jewish state. The reparation agreements with West Germany, for many Israelis, did not imply forgiveness for the suffering endured during the Holocaust. Rather, the action of West Germany was viewed as recognition of its responsibility to the victims of Nazi Germany.
   An accounting of a different kind, however, occurred in May 1960 when the Israeli public learned that Adolf Eichmann, a major figure in the implementation of the Final Solution, had been kidnapped from Argentina by the Israeli secret service (Mossad) and brought to Israel to stand trial. Eichmann was the first Nazi to be tried in the Jewish state, an event that was televised in Israel as well as in the United States. Eichmann was found guilty and hanged on 31 May 1962. The Eichmann trial marked a turning point in Israel’s understanding of the Holocaust. Native-born Israelis could not comprehend how their European brethren allowed themselves to be murdered by the Nazis with so little resistance. The Eichmann trial educated Israelis to understand how difficult it was to defy the Nazi objective of annihilating the Jews of Europe. As the trial brought home the anguish of the Holocaust, a new appreciation for the suffering and martyrdom of Europe’s Jews took hold of the population. The interest in the Holocaust led to its memorialization with the establishment in 1962 of Yad Vashem, a museum for Holocaust remembrance, located in Jerusalem.
   On 5 July 1950, the Israeli parliament (Knesset) enacted the Law of Return. The act guarantees the right of every Jew to enter Israel as an immigrant and to become a citizen immediately upon arrival. The passage of the law reflected not only the Zionist movement’s objective to restore the Jews of the world to their ancient homeland but also the painful lessons of the Holocaust. Had there been a Jewish state at the time the Nazis came to power, would there have been a Holocaust? The Law of Return guarantees to Jews everywhere that the reenactment of restrictive immigration laws that prevented Jews from finding a refuge from persecution would no longer be a concern. Thus the Law of Return has become, for many Jews, an insurance policy against the day when Jews might once again be threatened with persecution, if not annihilation. In this respect, Israel has become the immediate haven that was denied to them on the eve of the Holocaust.
   See also Palestine; Zionism

Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. . 2014.

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