The Jew and the War

From article by Nahum Sokolow

[The American Review of Reviews, October 1916]

American Jewry has by force of circumstances been led to become the protector and defender of the war-torn Jewry of Europe. The spokesmen of the American Jews have been numerous and powerful, but practically no voice from the Polish-Russian Jewry, a body of 8,000,000 people, has reached the world's attention. The following remarkable utterance of Nahum Sokolow, made in the course of an interview with the London correspondent of the Jewish Criterion, Pittsburgh, fills that gap. M. Sokolow is the foremost living Hebrew publicist. He has been the editor of the Hazefirah, a daily published in Warsaw, for more than thirty years, and is an executive member of the international Zionist organization. No man of his race could represent the Russian and Polish Jews with greater authority, more extensive knowledge, or broader vision. He said:

It is clear that this war will not usher in the millennium; nor are we to expect a definite triumph of justice at the end, for absolute justice for the various nationalities engaged in the conflict is impossible. To secure such an ideal state of justice, would mean the overturning of our whole social fabric. Nationality does not correspond with territory. Many nations are a mixture of nationalities. And to secure such an equal balance among the nations, a transference of nationalities would be necessary. But justice is an abstract ideal, a pure political chimera, and it cannot be easily applied to the different nationalities at this stage of civilization. What is just for one is unjust for another.

Nationalistic views to-day have become like religion. Only one side is seen, and to the interested observers, that side, of course, must be right. These views are intermixed with various interests and motives, and only the nationalistic ego predominates. In the striving for national defense, the national soul only speaks, and not the general humanitarian soul.

However, when peace will be concluded, a decrease in armaments is bound to follow (as it is not humanly possible for Europe to bear all these burdens indefinitely). And the Jewish problem, which is continually causing irritation, disharmony, conflicts within and among the nations—within the nations through persecution and among the nations through emigration-— should be made the subject of consideration at the coming conference of nations.

The Jewish people are more entitled now to a proper consideration of their problem than at the time of the French Revolution, or at '48, or at any other epoch in history, when it was decided to confer rights upon them out of the mere fact that they were human beings. This is the first time in their history that they are called upon to make so many sacrifices. Altogether, they have given over 700,000 soldiers to the various belligerents, quite an army in itself. In fact, I should say, that in point of numbers and quality it is equal to that of a small ally....

As to national rights in transferred territories, where Jews live in large masses, I must say that a vague "paper" emancipation of rights is really not sufficient in those parts where they meet with much hostility from their surroundings. The "rights" have to be guaranteed. A special formula will have to be drawn up to safeguard not only their economic rights, but what is more important still, their cultural individuality. The Jews of Poland and Galicia should not be compared with the Jews in any western European country. The Jews in those parts are too numerous, too distinctive, too typical, have too much of their own ancient tradition, going back to times immemorial, are too psychologically unique to be absorbed by a not-overwhelming majority, which is also not very superior to them in culture, ability and energy.

It is obvious that the Jews in Poland, as well as in any other country, will undoubtedly be devoted to the interests and welfare of that country, as they will also be loyal to the new government. So they have to be. The conditioning circumstances will make them so. But their rights have not to be bought at the price of the denial of their individuality.... They should not be hampered in living their own life, in realizing their national ego. I think that the modus vivendi of Jews and Poles would be much easier this way than any other way.

If the Poles are anxious that the Jews should speak Polish, let them be sure that in twenty years of Polish autonomy or independence the Jews would speak such a wonderful Polish that many Poles would be really jealous of it. I should like to think that they should speak as good a Hebrew as they would Polish. For me the ideal type of a Polish Jew is the type depicted by that great Polish novelist, Joseph Krazowski, in his remarkable tale "The Jew." In it he draws a Jew who is at the same time an enthusiastic Hebrew and a devoted adherent to the Polish patriotic cause. My friends and I have always been in great sympathy with the Polish national cause, not in spite of, but because of our Jewish nationalistic feelings....

M. Sokolow then spoke gratefully of the part the American Jews have played in aiding their suffering European brethren. He expressed his hope that the American press and the American public will see to it that at the coming Peace Conference justice be done to the Jewish people. The European Jews, he said, will never forget the assistance given to the Palestinian settlers by that "great-spirited American, Mr. Morgenthau." If the Jewish problem is to be solved satisfactorily at the end of the Great War, the Jewish claims to Palestine should not be ignored. "For what we have in Palestine does not belong to one group of Jews, but to the whole Jewish nation. This is the nucleus of a great Jewish future."

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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