Israel's Culture of Martyrdom
Another affair described in detail by Grodzinsky concerns the preparation and conscription of the displaced persons in European camps for participation in the Arab-Jewish struggle over Palestine. From 1946, the Palestinian Jewish underground militia organizations--mainly Ben-Gurion's Haganah--attempted to recruit veteran Jewish partisans from Russia, Poland and France for the anticipated war. Moreover, in February 1948 the Haganah issued a call to every fit man and woman in the European camps between the ages of 17 and 35, seeking volunteers for the military forces of the embryonic Jewish state in Palestine. The Zionist movement's assumption that the survivors in the camps would become citizens of Israel and fight on its behalf aroused resentment among many of them.
At the same time, the sense of existential fear in the Jewish community of Palestine, roughly 600,000 in number and short on weapons, was quite real. There was a deep anxiety that the coming intercommunal (and perhaps interstate) war could lead to their annihilation. The sense of urgency led a number of inhabitants of the camps in Europe to join the Haganah, which provided a degree of pride and some psychological compensation for the horrors they had suffered. In addition, it rescued them from their miserable lives in the camps.
Yet the request for volunteers yielded only about 700 recruits. The majority of survivors were in no mood to take up arms for the Jewish state. "We have already smelled fire, let others smell it now," said one. As Grodzinsky shows, the low number of volunteers led, from April 1948 onward, to "compulsory conscription" in the camps in Germany and Austria. This "compulsory conscription" was implemented by the autonomous camp managers through a variety of means, among them firing employees from their jobs; evicting tenants from their houses; denying food supplies; arrests and beatings; and the threat of ostracism from the community. The number of draftees rose to 7,800, many of whom disembarked from the ships only to be sent directly to the battlefield to die for their new homeland.
After the war, under pressure from Holocaust survivors, Israel's Knesset passed the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law, in 1950. The law, tailored in accordance with the Nuremberg precedent, required a mandatory death sentence for every person found guilty of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, without any differentiation between the degree and scope of their crimes. The law's intention was mainly symbolic since, as Zertal observes, nobody seriously considered the possibility that Israel would bring Nazis to trial after Nuremberg, even if some Nazis succeeded in escaping justice. The passage of this law, however, would have unintended and far-reaching consequences.
Initially intended to punish Nazis and their collaborators in Eastern and Central Europe, the law turned sharply against certain Jews themselves. During the 1950s dozens of Jewish men and women were sued by Holocaust survivors who identified them as kapos--Jewish supervisors in death and concentration camps--or as former members of the Judenräte, the Jewish community councils that provided the Nazis with lists of community members and organized the transports to the camps. In most of these cases the sentences were light, since the judges felt that most of the Jewish collaborators were themselves victims and that the 1950 act was not designed to apply to them. Nonetheless, the boundary between perpetrators and victims began to be blurred in disturbing ways, raising troubling questions about the role some Jews had played in the Nazi campaign of destruction.