- The Hebrew word for the Jewish community in Palestine prior to the founding of Israel in 1948. At the outbreak of World WarII in September 1939, there were approximately 470,000 Jews in the Yishuv. In light of the refugee crisis in Europe that followed both the German annexation of Austria (March 1938) and Kristallnacht (9–10 November 1938), the efforts of the Yishuv to absorb Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis were stymied by the British White Paper of 1939, which limited immigration into Palestine to 75,000 people for the following five years.The Yishuv’s response to the British restrictions was to organize an illegal immigration operation to smuggle Jewish refugees into Palestine (Aliya Bet). Great Britain responded by boarding ships carrying illegal immigrants and interning them in refugee camps. It was at the beginning of 1942, however, that the Yishuv learned that the objective of the Nazis was to murder the Jews of Europe. The Yishuv also found itself threatened by German forces in North Africa. Furthermore, Great Britain made it clear that should Alexandria fall to the Germans, it would abandon Palestine. The Yishuv’s leadership understood that a British retreat from Palestine would also lead to the destruction of the Jewish community in Palestine. It was only after the German defeat at El Alamein in November 1942 that the Yishuv felt secure enough to turn to the fate of European Jewry. Given the lack of financial, political, and military resources, there was little the Yishuv could do to effect rescue. In fact, as the news of the Holocaust unfolded, the Yishuv, like most of the Allied countries, had difficulty comprehending the enormity of the Nazi genocide. Inasmuch as its resources and its ability to effect the course of the Final Solution were limited, it was not possible for the Yishuv to make a dramatic difference in the rescue of the victims of the Nazi extermination campaign. Consequently, the record of the Yishuv, given its limitations, was reduced to a few dramatic gestures, such as organizing periods of public mourning and demonstrations. Yet its leadership focused on saving thousands of Jews through illegal immigration with an eye to strengthening the Jewish community in Palestine, so that at war’s end, it would be prepared to absorb the remaining Jews of Europe.
Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. Jack R. Fischel. 2014.
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