R. Michoel Ber Weissmandl on Honesty and the Holocaust

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A reader submitted the following brief piece, which may or may not be relevant to the ongoing controversy about the derech of R. Shamshon Raphael Hirsch. It is offered here without comment or elaboration, and taken from Halachos of Other People’s Money Chapter 1 Section A note 69

I saw an awesome thing in the Sefer Divrei Yonah (Parshas Toldos s.v. V’yesh L’orer): “I heard from the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl zt”l that he said, explaining that which we saw in the latest Hurban, Lo Aleinu, that even though the source of the tribulation, in our great sins, was in Germany and from there spread to the other countries, despite this in reality our brethren in Germany merited to be saved at a far greater ratio than our brethren in the other countries, and they also merited saving their money and property to a great extent, whereas in the other countries all of their money and possessions came into the hands of their gentile neighbors, Lo Aleinu. And he said that the reason for this was that our brethren in Germany had more honesty in their business dealings with the non-Jews during all the years, without cunning, and therefore the money that they had was more their own and there was no mixture of the share of the gentiles, as opposed to the other countries where the poverty and destitution was horrible, Lo Aleinu, and therefore they allowed themselves to sometimes engage in swindling activities in monetary matters in their business dealings with the gentiles and therefore on the day of retribution Lo Aleinu the property ended up in the hands of the gentiles, in order to return the property to the gentile neighbors, and in Heaven the matter was orchestrated that the money should reach the heirs and the like.”

[Thanks to DB]

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33 Responses

  1. Raymond says:

    Blaming our own people for the Holocaust is not much different than a battered woman blaming herself for being beaten by her husband/boyfriend. No evil that any of us have done, either individually or collectively, can morally justify Adolf Hitler murdering six million of our people.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Note, in my comment of July 21, 2008 @ 2:25 pm, “something else” meant kosher food other than meat.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    Charles B. Hall,

    No one suggested that the Mexicans are Muslims!

    You know and I know how eager, even over-eager, most new Americans used to be to learn English if they could. I said nothing about using English exclusively.

    If our kosher meat supply really did depend on mistreatment of workers—and I’m not claiming that it now is that way!—we’d have to find or develop a more suitable source of supply or eat something else.

  4. Charles B. Hall says:

    “1. Do you regard reports of radical Muslims sneaking in across our southern border to be false? All things being equal, wouldn’t they pick the most porous border to cross?”

    Please cite proof of radical Muslims coming across the Mexican border. Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, are overwhelmingly Christian — even more so than is the US as a whole today. And by far the most porous border is with Canada, not Mexico — it is almost twice as long and for most of its length one can easily slip across unnoticed. The security argument just does not hold water.

    “2. Do you believe that the immigrants entering illegally from Mexico plan to learn English, as earlier waves of legal non-English-speaking immigrants typically did? It appears that prominent organizations backing the illegals would be quite happy if the illegals received government benefits but never integrated themselves into our society.”

    Is this really relevant? Many grandchildren of Jewish immigrants continue to speak only Yiddish at home — and we as Orthodox Jews are proud of our lack of assimilation! Furthermore, millions of born US Citizens continue to speak only Spanish at home — their ancestors were made US Citizens by Act of Congress in 1917 because they lived in Puerto Rico. Something similar had happened to the residents of Alaska after its 1867 purchase from Russia, to the residents of New Mexico and California in 1849, of Florida in 1819, and of Louisiana in 1803 — with absolutely no requirement that the new Citizens change any of their customs, or their language, be it Russian, Spanish, or French. Even at the time of independence from Britain, there were substantial numbers of Americans who spoke only German, and many churches and synagogues used primarily German into the 20th century. And the oldest records of the oldest Jewish congregation in America were in Portuguese! America has never been a mono-lingual country.

    BTW I do *not* support illegal immigration, although I am quite sympathetic to the plight of both the immigrants and the businesses that feel they need to hire illegals to compete. Remember that a lot of our kosher meat is processed by illegal immigrants! I do support drastically increased *legal* immigration. It is in fact the refusal to allow the illegal immigrants to become legal, and the concomitant discrimination and abuse, that keeps them from having any possibility of assimilation into American society.

  5. Bob Miller says:

    Charles B. Hall,

    1. Do you regard reports of radical Muslims sneaking in across our southern border to be false? All things being equal, wouldn’t they pick the most porous border to cross?

    2. Do you believe that the immigrants entering illegally from Mexico plan to learn English, as earlier waves of legal non-English-speaking immigrants typically did? It appears that prominent organizations backing the illegals would be quite happy if the illegals received government benefits but never integrated themselves into our society.

  6. Charles B. Hall says:

    Jacob,

    You wrote:

    “are there today other possible factors where unchecked migration/immigration could run counter to our security interests?”

    I do see immigration as partly a moral issue — refusing admission to refugees who face a high likelihood of death if they stay in or return to their home countries seems a lot like standing by while blood is shed. But I think your last phrase “our security interests” is the defining issue. The border issue with Mexico really has little to do with national security; there has not been a single terrorist attack by a Mexican citizen in the US since Pancho Villa in 1916. Interestingly, even though there was well-grounded fear that the chaos and bloodshed of the Mexican revolution might spread over the border to the US, the racist 1924 immigration law did not restrict immigration from the Western Hemisphere. We know from where today’s security threats arise; they are from radical Muslims, mostly from the Middle East — and that is not from where most immigrants arrive. It is also worth mentioning that part of the motivation for the 1924 law was that Jews from Eastern Europe were believed by much of the American public to be big supporters of Bolshevism and that led to widespread popular support for the law. The fact that Jews looked differently, dressed differently, spoke a different language, practiced another religion, were sometimes involved in widely publicized illegal activities (for example, Jewish gangsters like Arnold Rothstein), and seemed impossible to assimilate into the general society reinforced those fears. (Unfortunately, the last concern proved unfounded.) Irish immigrants had faced the same bigotry in the 1840s and 1850s, and Mexican immigrants face it today.

    But to continue regarding your phrase, “our security interests”, we need to define what “our” means. As a Jew — even one whose family has been in America for generations — I must always remember that for me the first person plural primarily means the Jewish people and not the people of the host country of which I am a citizen by birth. Even if there *were* a good security argument for the United States to restrict immigration — and as I pointed out above, there really isn’t — it is unquestionably true that the security of the Jewish people requires sufficiently open borders that we be able to flee when persecuted. That so many Jews in America support restrictive immigration policies today shows how much we now identify as Americans first rather than HaShem’s people.

  7. Jacob Haller says:

    To LOberstein (Comment #12)
    I can’t help but think that you’re leveraging a lot of 20/20 hindsight in arriving at your conclusions.

    One thing that comes to mind is a conference organized in Geneva about what (to phrase it crudely) can be done about all the now stateless Jews wandering around Europe?

    The representative from Argentina said that his country was willing to take in anyone who wanted to come…as long as they had substantial experience in the coal and metal mining industries.

    Do we need to ask and answer the obvious?

    To Charlie Hall (Comment #17)
    You’ve mentioned the open borders issue previously, especially when the topic concerned current controversies that American Presidential candidates must address.

    Please allow another opportunity to ask. Is the border issue with Mexico (and other far-flung countries) just a simple open and shut (no pun intended) case regarding how free frontiers have historically benefitted the Jewish People so therefore we are morally indebted to support such policy? Or, are there today other possible factors where unchecked migration/immigration could run counter to our security interests?

  8. LazerA says:

    Binyomin, Thanks!

  9. Michoel says:

    Cloojew in comment # 7:
    The author of Divrei Yonah was Rav Yonah Forst who was a Rosh Yeshiva in Nitra Yeshiva in Mt. Kisco (with Rav Weismandel), after WWII.

  10. mycroft says:

    “Job skills had nothing to do with immigration visas in the 1940s ”

    Apparently not being a burden was a big factor. I think my father was let in because his aunt who hac come a few years earlier-who was a physician and another aunt owned a farm could vouch and ensure that he couldn’t go on welfare.
    Thus on a natural level the slowness of the German Jews increased persecution helped them survive-the first people to leave had the most skills they were the first to be prevented from practicing their fields, then they could guarranttee their relatives that they woul;d not be a burden.

  11. Binyomin Eckstein says:

    LazerA,

    Toras Avraham page 17.

  12. Ori says:

    Sarah Elias, I didn’t know that during the great depression countries did not evaluate immigrants based on potential benefit to their economies. Do you know when that changed (since today almost every immigration destination country does evaluate on economic benefit)?

    Since the upper classes in the UK were the ones employing domestic servants, it makes sense they have special privileges. Do you know what were the other approved professions?

  13. DF says:

    No comment on the specifcs being addressed here, but as to the general propostion that Jews are in part responsible for anti-semitisim – to me, at least, it’s a dovor poshut. Those who deny this truisim are responsible for perpetuating anti-semitisim, because if it is seen as something immutable, then there is no reason for Jews to correct bad behaviour and chillul Hashem. “Why should I act any better, the goyim will hate us anyway?” It’s a mindsett like that, in part, is responsible for this exile dragging on as long as it has.

  14. Sarah Elias says:

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    Ori – where do you get that from? The reason more German Jews got visas to the US was because there was a much bigger quota for Germany than for Eastern Europe. Job skills had nothing to do with immigration visas in the 1940s – unless your skills were rabbinical in nature.

    Similarly, other countries weren’t interested in Jews’ job skills either. For example, one of the only ways to win entry to the UK was as a domestic servant. Not exactly the skills you were referring to, are they?

  15. Rachel W says:

    Point 1 – I think a lot of people are missing a point here. True, there are natural reasons for the Germans to have had a greater rate of survival. But, then again, Hashem does disguise His messages in natural form.

    Point 2 – I don’t think R’ Michoel Ber was giving reasons for the Holocaust. He was just trying to draw lessons for us to learn after the fact. R’ Michoel Ber felt the loss of Churban Europe in his blood and bones for the rest of his life. He never stopped mourning for one moment. He slept, ate and lived the loss. It is known that he would go up to the Ezras Noshim of the Poilishe Shul in Williamsburg and just cry and cry for hours. So he was certainly not excusing or accusing or anything of the sort. Just tried to give mussar and food for thought to us Americans.

    Point 3- {For Cloojew – Who wrote the Divrei Yonah?} I don’t know the answer. But I do know that one of the Rosh Yeshivas in Nitra Yeshiva in Mount Kisco, NY (which was founded by R’ Michoel Ber after the war) was Rav Yonah Forst, a great Talmid Chochom and, if I’m not mistaken, a talmid of R’ MIchoel Ber in Europe.

  16. Ori says:

    L Oberstein: How does one explain the minhag avoseinu beyadeinu that permits violation of the law in certain elements of the community.

    Ori: How would that be different from me having a family tradition of violating the Shabbat, since my parents and grandparents have done that?

  17. Charlie Hall says:

    Not mentioned yet is the effect of the racist Immigration Act of 1924. It set an annual quota of over 50,000 immigrants from Germany but only about 6,000 from Poland, less than 3,000 from Russia, and less than 1,000 from Hungary and Lithuania combined:

    http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5078/

    No wonder far more German Jews were able to get out. Had the US maintained the same immigration laws in 1939 as it had in 1839 or even 1914, far more Jews would have been saved from the Shoah.

    And unfortunately most other countries in the world had followed the lead of US and adopted similar immigration restrictions. I write this with some passion because tonight I am in Ireland, where I visited the Jewish museum in Dublin this morning. There I learned that this wonderful country that had made Jews full citizens in the late 18th century and had little history of anti-Semitism had accepted exactly *twenty five* Jewish refugees from the continent of Europe during World War II. Back in the middle ages, Jews who had been expelled from England, France, Spain, and Portugal *did* have places to go, thanks to the open borders policies of most other countries at that time. History has proven again and again that freedom of movement across national boundaries has been good for Jews.

  18. dovid says:

    Rabbi Weismandel’s criticism of dishonest business practices has immediate relevance and applications to us here in America. As a case in point, there is an assifa tonight (July 13) in one of the foremost Orthodox Jewish towns in Metropolitan NY, organized by L’Assurim ([email protected]), to discuss “sensitive and legal topics important to every individual on financials and government issues”. Per the ad, this organization has been in “business” for 12 yrs. The ad reads: “Committing Crime Serving Time”. Even a former Jewish convict will be speaking, in addition to district attorneys, judges, etc. The ad had the audacity to identify the convict by name. (I don’t know whether it was with or w/o this character’s consent.) Rabbi Hershel Schechter was saying in one of his videoed lectures that there are Daf Yomi shiurim in federal penitentiaries. Rabosai, this is not about non-observant Jews. This is about us. Can there be a greater Hilul Hashem than that? One of excuses of these frauds was that Jews had been singled out for special taxes and have been oppressed over the centuries back in Europe, i.e., they were forced to commit fraud in the old country. What these frauds didn’t mention was that they are second or third generation Americans. Be’er HaGolah in Choshen Mishpat about 400 yrs. ago and the Chafetz Chaim in Sfas Tamim more recently warned about the dire consequences of fraudulent practices with our neighbors. Rabbi Weismandel is only echoing these warnings.

    We live in exceptionally dangerous times. Israel, the home of the largest Jewish community today, is in the crosshairs of a capable, determined, and ruthless enemy. It should be clear to all of us, that no one will come to our aid. The only thing we can do is what some of the writers wrote: cheshbon hanefesh, to revamp our priorities. There is no better time. Shiva Assar b’Tamuz is in about a week, followed by Tisha b’Av, and chodesh Elul.

  19. Jewish Observer says:

    The point of R. Weissmandl’s vort was to impress upon his listeners or readers that dishonesty in business dealings with Gentiles is a serious sin and sins have serious consequences. The example he used was a shocking one and that was precisely his point in making it. Sometimes ,in fact often , it is necessary to give people a jolt so the message will enter their heart and strengthen their yiras Shomyim…literally fear of Heaven. Chas v’sholom that anyone would misinterpret R. Weissmandl’s words as blaming the Yidden for the Nazi holocaust.

  20. Bob Miller says:

    HaShem constantly sends us messages for our betterment, and there is every reason to believe that a major event carries a major message. Not every Jew, and not even every Tzaddik, has the insight to understand all or part of the message, but some do. They have every right to make their insights known. We may find that two Tzaddikim can draw opposite conclusions from an event; they may each be onto part of the truth.

  21. Raymond says:

    Here is my take on the Holocaust, for whatever it is worth.

    I think that blaming the Jews or the Germans is futile. What I mean is, that there is no way that Jews in Europe were even remotely sinful enough to deserve the treatment they received from the nazis, but also there is no way that the Germans could have hated the Jews on such a large, horrifying scale that would explain the degree of evil that they committed.

    Just to give one example from each point to explain what I mean, no amount of cheating in business by Jews would make six million of them deserve to be murdered, and no amount of antisemitism that Adolf Hitler had, could quite explain his murdering six million Jews.

    What I am saying is, is that I strongly suspect that the real reason for the Holocaust is beyond our human understanding. Our ways are not G-d’s ways. None of us were around when G-d created the varioius forces and phenomena of the universe.

  22. L Oberstein says:

    I am surprized that no one has pointed out the obvious. Hitler came to power in Germany many years before World war II. He gradually made life more difficult forJews but also encouraged them to emigrate.They had time to get out . By the time the war came to Poland, many avenues of escape were closed. That is why more German Jews per capita survived . Rabbi Weismandle is one of the legendary figures in rescue and it is a tragedy that he was not helped more by the outside world. In hindsight, the Nazi thugs could be bribed and many lives would have been saved had the leadership not disdained the tried and true method of “shmearing”.
    How does one explain the minhag avoseinu beyadeinu that permits violation of the law in certain elements of the community. Are they getting a bad rap or is there an element of dishonesty in certain segments of the chassidic community . What is the rruth and what is mere libel?

  23. LazerA says:

    Binyomin Eckstein wrote:

    “Rabbi Avrohom Grodzinsky HY”D identified twelve areas of deficiency in the Jewish world prior to the Holocaust.”

    Could you please provide a reference for this?

    Thank you!

  24. dovid says:

    To Catherine and Noam Pratzer

    From your lines I deduce that you have no concept who Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl zt”l was. This man had an insight as to what happened and why it happened that escaped the rest of us. I suggest that we all should do our homework before sermonizing to people of the calibre of Reb Michoel Ber.

  25. Binyomin Eckstein says:

    “Does he take into account the points that Ori makes — that German Jews were wealthier and more skilled, and therefore could get out? Or maybe German Jews were closer to what was going on and therefore more informed as to the real threat?”

    “While the Jewish people should no doubt be constantly undergoing cheshbon hanefesh and recognizing our weaknesses, to claim that we know the ways of divine justice and we can explain why things happen the way they do is far beyond our capacities.”

    This is true. But the Rambam in Hilchos Taaniyos says that the greatest cruelty is to say that misfortunes happen as a coincidence – there is always an underlying spiritual cause to all calamities. And they all come with a clarion call for Teshuvah. Since the facts were that the German community was, as a rule, more upright in its business dealings with their neighbors than some other communities, and that they managed to escape with more of their possessions, I don’t think it is wrong to underscore this as something to repent about, if needed. If Lo Machshevosai etc. means that we just leave the Cheshbon Hanefesh in general terms of the need to improve, there are significant parts of Shas that should be deleted. Even in Pirkei Avos this week there were particular reasons for particular calamities given.

    I don’t think anyone has to take this personally about their own family or acquaintances being blamed. It is sufficient that on a communal level there was a problem, to explain an unleashing of the Destroying Angel vis-a-vis loss of property. Rabbi Avrohom Grodzinsky HY”D identified twelve areas of deficiency in the Jewish world prior to the Holocaust. If one were to shrug his shoulders at all of them and say that nobody knows the cause of what happened, I think it would be contrary to the lesson the Rambam in Hilchos Taaniyos is trying to convey.

  26. Yosef says:

    Reminds me of Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg writing that the Jews might have some responsibility for high levels of anti-Semitism. Chazal recognized this when they spoke of the need to avoid chilul hashem.

  27. ClooJew says:

    The author quotes “Rebbe Michoel Ber.” He does not give a last name. Who wrote the Divrei Yonah?

  28. Noam Pratzer says:

    I must say with I am incredibly weary of the offering of reasons and explanations for the tragedy of the Holocaust. I think it is incredibly dangerous for us to begin explaining why certain people deserved the fate they got and others theirs, specifically regarding events such as the Holocaust which consisted of evils that are beyond fathomable. While the Jewish people should no doubt be constantly undergoing cheshbon hanefesh and recognizing our weaknesses, to claim that we know the ways of divine justice and we can explain why things happen the way they do is far beyond our capacities. “Loh Machshevotai machshhevoteiche” We don’t know how God runs the world and we should not pretend that we do. Theodicy has been a challenge throughout the history of religion and the way to adress it is not to take the easy way out and point our fingers. Our responsibility towards both victims and survivors of the Holocaust is to show sympathy and offer our comfort and support. Loh Aleinu that we should ever come to a stage where we can look in the eyes og someone who faced these unspeakable horrors and tell them why they deserved it.
    Respectfully
    Noam

  29. Catherine says:

    I, respectfully, take some offense to what seems to be implied from Rabbi Weissmandl statement that somehow the Eastern European Jews deserved their fate more than the German Jews. Does he take into account the points that Ori makes — that German Jews were wealthier and more skilled, and therefore could get out? Or maybe German Jews were closer to what was going on and therefore more informed as to the real threat? While promoting honesty in business is extremely important, I question whether such a statement is the proper method.

  30. ClooJew says:

    That is, lulei demistafina, an awesome statement. It requires each of us lefashfeish bemaasav.

  31. Moshe Schorr says:

    It is refreshing to see a “bein adam l’chaveiro” being mentioned.

  32. Ori says:

    The Derech haTeva (= natural) explanation is that the German Jews had better job skills on the average. Therefore, they were more able to get permission to immigrate to another country.

    Of course, while learning job skills they didn’t learn Torah, so they had developed less great Talmudists. It was a tradeoff.