April 28, 2000
Blasts WWII Rabbis
By MARK LAVIE,
Associated Press Writer
JERUSALEM (AP) -- During the
Holocaust, ultra-Orthodox American rabbis focused
on saving several hundred Polish Talmudic scholars,
ignoring the suffering of millions of other Jews
who were eventually murdered by the Nazis, a new
The rabbis, organized as the Rescue Committee,
feared that if the tiny group of scholars and their
students were lost, the Jewish religion would
vanish with them.
The group's narrow goal brought it into conflict
with mainstream American Jewish groups working to
rescue as many Jews as possible and to influence
reluctant American politicians to take action,
wrote Holocaust historian and Nazi hunter Efraim
The book, "The Response of Orthodox Jewry in the
United States to the Holocaust," is being released
Tuesday to coincide with Israel's annual memorial
day for the 6 million Jews killed in the Nazi
Rabbi Menahem Porush, chairman of the
Israel branch of Agudat Israel, a worldwide
ultra-Orthodox group, said it was only natural for
the rabbis to try to rescue those close to
"No one has to teach us, who live according to
the Torah, the meaning of 'Thou shalt love thy
neighbor as thyself,'" he said.
Zuroff documents how
the rabbis funneled scarce funds to scholars
already safely in exile so they could maintain
full-time Talmud studies, even as other Jews
were being killed in death camps.
Menahem Brod of the ultra-Orthodox Habad
movement said the refugees needed the money to
According to Zuroff's book, the Rescue Committee
extorted money from mainstream Jewish groups,
employed shady practices to transfer funds to
Europe and even violated the Jewish Sabbath for its
The Rescue Committee threatened to mount a rival
fund-raising drive unless local Jewish federations
handed over cash. Some complied, Zuroff wrote, but
others refused, arguing that the mainstream rescue
campaign would include the scholars anyway.
Zuroff, who directs the Simon
Wiesenthal Center office in Israel, does not go
so far as to blame the Rescue Committee for the
deaths of Jews.
"What actually cost the lives of Jews was that
Nazis and their collaborators murdered them,"
Zuroff said in an interview. But he said the Rescue
Committee's "tunnel vision" hindered rescue
Zuroff noted that Rescue Committee rabbis were
the only ones to march in Washington to protest the
Nazi killings, but then-U.S. President Franklin
Roosevelt refused to meet them.
Zuroff said Roosevelt's Jewish advisers
counseled against a meeting, reflecting the
divisions among Jewish leaders.
In the end, the Rescue Committee saved about 625
Polish rabbis and students who had escaped to
Lithuania, and kept several hundred others alive in
Central Asia and Shanghai through donations, Zuroff
On the Net: Simon Wiesenthal Center site,