The Yishuv Responds
The Jews in Palestine respond to Nazi anti-semitism and genocide, 1929-1945.
The Yishuv, the Jewish settlement in Palestine, struggled to do what it could in response to the situation of the Jews in Europe. The following article outlines the complex interactions between the Yishuv, the British, and the Arabs that defined the Yishuv's activities vis-a-vis European Jewry between 1929 and 1945. It is reprinted with permission from the Gates of Jewish Heritage. Please note that the author's use of the word "terrorism" in this piece reflects his own views. Not all scholars would feel comfortable with his use of the term to describe the actions of the Irgun.
Britain's two greatest blows against the Yishuv were to limit immigration and to limit the Jewish National Fund's ability to purchase land. Following major Arab riots in 1929 in which the Jewish community of Hebron was massacred on Shabbat, the British issued a White Paper which noted the unrest caused by Jewish immigration and recommended severe restrictions on such immigration. World Jewry was outraged, and the British retracted the White Paper. It was lucky for many Jews that such restrictions were removed. Between 1933 and 1936, more than 164,250 Jews fled Germany and entered Palestine, thus doubling the size of the Yishuv. Called the Fifth Aliyah [or Immigration], these German Jews came with money to build businesses and cities. By 1936, Tel Aviv had more than 150,000 inhabitants, and Haifa had become a major port city with more than 50,000 Jews.
The Yishuv recognized the need to help save Jewish children in Europe. In 1933, Hadassah [an American Jewish women's organization] and Henrietta Szold [its founder] established Youth Aliyah, an institution to bring German Jewish children to Palestine and provide them with homes. Between 1933 and 1942, more than 5,000 children were brought into Palestine and integrated into kibbutzim. Another 15,000 were sent to Western countries by Hadassah because the British refused to allow them to enter Palestine. From its founding, Youth Aliyah provided homes for more than 140,000 Jewish children in Israel.
The Yishuv was outraged by Britain's callous refusal to open the gates of Palestine to Jewish immigrants. With Hitler in power in Europe, thousands of Jews desperately needed refuge immediately. Britain adamantly refused to increase its immigration quota for Jews. The Yishuv and European Jewry organized Aliyah Bet, the institution responsible for smuggling Jews into Palestine against the orders of the British. The British called this illegal immigration; the Jews called it legitimate immigration based on the promise of the Balfour Declaration [of 1917, with its promise of a Jewish state in Palestine].
Youth movements and Zionist organizations set up transport systems to get Jews to small ports in southern Europe. From there, a part of the Haganah [the non-governmental Jewish military organization] called the Mossad L'Aliyah Bet tried to sneak boatloads of Jews into Palestine. By the end of 1939, thousands of Jews had arrived in Palestine illegally.