Rare Photos: The Trial of John Demjanjuk

The man believed to be "Ivan the Terrible", a notorious Nazi war criminal, was brought to Israel to face charges in 1986, but the affair ended in doubt and mystery

John Ivan Demjanjuk in custody in Israel, October, 1986. Photo by Israel Simionski, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

“A primitive thug, thick-legged, with a Slavic face, tall, constantly earning pats on the back from his Nazi commanders. That’s how he appears in my dreams. Perhaps because of his great cruelty he seems much larger than he truly was. Perhaps he’s not even that big, perhaps he’s small, but in my memory, he is a sort of cruel giant…”

This was how Samuel Willenberg, the last survivor of Treblinka, the Nazi death camp, described the figure known as “Ivan the Terrible”, the infamous, sadistic camp guard who operated the gas chambers.

He was believed to have been a former Ukrainian prisoner of war, retrained after his capture by the Germans to man the facilities of the extermination camp. Ivan the Terrible (“Ivan Grozny” in Russian) delighted in torturing the inmates. He used his hands, whip and even a sword, with which he cut off ears and limbs of his victims before they were later put to death, according to the testimony of survivors and other guards.

In the chaos of the war’s final years, Ivan the Terrible managed to slip away and disappear. His true identity remained unclarified and his crimes forgotten by many.

In February of 1986, more than 43 years after Treblinka had ceased to exist, Israeli authorities believed they had finally put their hands on the elusive war criminal.

John Ivan Demjanjuk arrives in handcuffs at Ben Gurion International Airport in February 1986. Photo by Ilan Ossendriver, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

John Demjanjuk emerged from an EL Al commercial airliner with his hands cuffed, and was slowly led down the stairs and onto the tarmac of Ben Gurion International Airport by a police escort.

“He’s a Nazi, he’s a killer” Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres told the international press, while Demjanjuk, using broken English, told the judge presiding over a preliminary hearing: “I am completely [the] wrong person. I was never once in that place, that everybody telling me, Treblinka…”

Demjanjuk at an early hearing, August, 1986. Photos by Efi Sharir, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

John (formerly Ivan) Demjanjuk had been extradited from the United States, where he had lived a quiet life as a Cleveland auto mechanic since his arrival with wife and child in 1952. It was only in 1975 that US authorities learned of his past as a Nazi camp guard. His photograph was soon identified as matching the appearance of Ivan the Terrible by Treblinka survivors, resulting in the revoking of his American citizenship. Still, it took more than a decade for the extradition to go through.

The trial was held in a converted movie theatre, February, 1987. Photo by Efi Shafrir, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

 

Demjanjuk and the original head of his legal team, American attorney Mark O’Connor, February, 1987. Photo by Efi Shafrir, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

 

Demjanjuk (center) and his Israeli attorney Yoram Sheftel (left), July, 1987. Photo by Yossi Aloni, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

The Demjanjuk trial, which began a year after his arrival in Israel, was organized as a media event. Emotional testimony by survivors was broadcast live on television, from the stage of a converted Jerusalem movie theatre, with an emphasis on painful details that recalled the trial of Adolf Eichmann 26 years earlier. The reasoning behind this was that the significance of the crimes could only be understood by the retelling of their full context.

Eliahu Rosenberg, a Treblinka survivor, testified at the trial and identified Demjanjuk as Ivan the Terrible. Photo by Ilan Ossendriver, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

“I received blows from him! I saw what he did and he remembers me. Refresh his memory well and he’ll remember me!” testified Treblinka survivor Eliahu Rosenberg in Hebrew, his voice raised, while leaning forward in the witness stand and staring straight at Demjanjuk. Seconds later, an audience member interrupted the proceedings with cries of “Murderer! Murderer!”

Demjanjuk, August, 1987. Photo by Yossi Aloni, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Demjanjuk was under constant supervision while in Israeli custody. Seven guards took turns watching over him, with an adjacent jail cell converted into a guard room. A private yard was also designated for Demjanjuk, who was allowed to spend an hour a day there.

Demjanjuk in the yard of Ayalon prison, August, 1993. Photo: The Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Upon his arrival, the contents of the cell at Ayalon prison in Ramla consisted of shoes, slippers, toothpaste and a toothbrush, as well as two cups, one of them blue. Demjanjuk would soon decorate the walls of his living space with photographs, postcards and Christmas ornaments.

Demjanjuk, in his room at Ayalon Prison, August, 1993. Photo: The Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Demjanjuk, August, 1993. Photo: The Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Demjanjuk’s legal defense team, originally headed by American attorney Mark O’Connor, was later joined by Yoram Sheftel, a colorful character who had made a name for himself by representing the Jewish-American Mafia boss Meyer Lansky. Sheftel wrote of his “close and special relationship” with Lansky, who had sought refuge in Israel from tax evasion charges before being deported back to the US. The Israeli attorney described the mobster as an “ageing, warm-hearted, sharp-witted Jew” in his book, “The Demjanjuk Affair” (1993).

Attorney Yoram Sheftel was drawn to high profile cases, also representing Meyer Lanksy and Elor Azaria, July, 1987. Photo by Yossi Aloni, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Throughout the trial, Sheftel continuously insisted that the photo spread used to identify Demjanjuk as Ivan the Terrible was insufficient for a conviction. He cast doubt on what he saw as unreliable witness testimony, pointing out inconsistencies and contradictions in narratives of events that had taken place decades before. In the case of Eliahu Rosenberg’s testimony, for example, it would emerge that the survivor had previously stated his belief that Ivan the Terrible was actually killed in the Treblinka uprising of 1943.

Demjanjuk’s photo (center), taken from his Nazi ID card, was used to identify him as Ivan the Terrible by Treblinka survivors

According to Yoram Sheftel, Demjanjuk was the defendant in a “show trial”, orchestrated by the Israeli establishment for the sake of educating the public on the Holocaust

The judges were not convinced.

“We determine unequivocally and without the slightest hesitation or doubt that the accused, Ivan John Demjanjuk, standing trial before us, is Ivan who was called Ivan Grozny [the Terrible]” announced the presiding judge Dov Levin on April 18th, 1988. Levin and his fellow judges Dalia Dorner and Zvi Tal unanimously found the witness testimonies to be reliable, commending them for their precise, detailed accounts. Many of those called to the stand had seen Ivan the Terrible up close at Treblinka, and identified him with the photographs of Demjanjuk in his guard uniform which were presented to the District Court.

Demjanjuk was soon handed a death sentence. Capital punishment had only been carried out once by an Israeli civilian court, in the case of Eichmann.

Demjanjuk at the opening of his appeal to the Supreme Court, May, 1990. Photo by Eli Harati, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

It was during the appeal process that the turning point arrived. New evidence emerged in 1991, in the form of Soviet documents containing statements from numerous former guards at Treblinka. 21 of these guards, who had been tried in the USSR, identified Ivan the Terrible as one Ivan Marchenko, not Ivan Demjanjuk. They described Marchenko as having a large diagonal scar on his cheek, dark hair and brown eyes. He was already a father of three during his time at Treblinka, they said. Ivan Demjanjuk was blond, with greyish-blue eyes, no scar and no children until years later. A photograph of Marchenko was also presented to the court; it was clearly not the same person.

Ivan Marchenko was last seen alive in 1945. His fate is unclear.

Demjanjuk awaits the appeal verdict of the Supreme Court, July, 1993. Photo by Vered Peer, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

This time, the judges decided that the evidence constituted reasonable doubt. It would take two more years, but on July 29th, 1993, Meir Shamgar, the Chief Justice of Israel’s Supreme Court announced: “Ivan Demjanjuk has been acquitted by us, because of doubt, of the terrible charges attributed to Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka. This was the proper course for judges who cannot examine the heart and mind, but have only what their eyes see and read[…] The matter is closed – but not complete, the complete truth is not the prerogative of the human judge.”

Demjanjuk’s lawyer Yoram Sheftel leaves the Supreme Court after the acquittal of his client, July, 1993. Photo by Vered Peer, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Demjanjuk was released and allowed to return to his home in Ohio, but one strange detail remained somewhat unresolved.

In his 1951 US visa application form, Demjanjuk had written “Marchenko” in the space reserved for his mother’s maiden name. This was a mistake, he explained to the court. He claimed to have forgotten that her name was in fact “Tabachuk”, writing a common Ukrainian surname instead. Perplexed, the judges remarked, “The question is not what was her true name but why did the appellant record that her name was Marchenko…”

 

16 years later, Demjanjuk would be extradited once more, this time to Germany, in May 2009. He was convicted again, but on charges that did not relate to Ivan the Terrible or Treblinka. Demjanjuk was found to have been an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews as a guard at the Sobibor, Majdanek and Flossenburg camps. He died in Germany in March, 2012 at the age of 91, after an appeal process had already been set in motion, but before it could be completed. This meant that according to German law, he died an innocent man.

 

If you liked this article, try these:

The Secret Nazi Documents Captured in a British Commando Raid

The Man Who Would Be King: Delusions of (Royal) Grandeur in Mandatory Palestine

The Housewives Who Took on the USSR to Help Soviet Jewry

When Heinrich Heine Revealed His Thoughts on His Conversion to Christianity

Several months after he was baptized, the poet Heinrich Heine wrote to his friend about the frustration, disappointment and remorse that this action had brought about.

Portrait of Heinrich Heine by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, 1831

It was his “entry ticket”. He saw it as a necessary step to open the gates of the German cultural world. It would serve as his seal of approval, certifying unconditional Germanism, the full and complete removal of all obstacles. If he could have written his own story, he probably would have chosen a simpler path for the hero’s role he was forced to play. One can assume with a high degree of certainty that, given another option, he would not have chosen to convert.

In his youth, he believed that stubbornness paid off, and indeed this turned out to be the case on more than one occasion. His father and uncle insisted that he enter the thriving family business, but he was intent on a life of art and creativity. Eventually, his obstinacy won out over that of his family, and they agreed to finance his higher education. In 1819, Heine began studying law at the University of Bonn.

Six years later, after three different universities, a semester-long suspension and even an invitation to a duel that never took place, Heine finally graduated from Göttingen University. A doctorate of law was not the only thing awarded to the 28-year-old in July of 1825. That same month he was also given his new name – Christian Johann Heinrich. Heine received the name after being baptized in a Protestant church in the nearby town of Heiligenstadt. Using this name, he would come to be recognized as one of the greatest poets and writers of the nineteenth-century.

As part of the continued discussion of Heine’s Jewishness, his writings have been poured over in search of every trace and reference to Jewish culture and religion. The references found were combined to create a 300-page volume. From the volumes of writings Heine produced during his life, only a single letter of his is preserved in the National Library of Israel. As you will soon see, it sheds a great deal of light on the feelings of the poet in regard to his conversion to Christianity.

On January 9th, 1826, less than a year after his conversion, Heine sent a letter to his classmate and confidant, Moses Moser. The letter was composed in the Heine family house in Hamburg and is full of secret references and codes between friends. It even mentions the name of a certain publisher (“the bastard Govitz”) on whom Heine sought revenge after the delayed the publication of a story Heine sent him. Toward the end of the letter, Heine proceeds to address the true source of his own distress: his baptism. He felt torn and confused, and expressed to Moser his difficulty in writing or thinking about “external things.”

Heine believed that German-Christian society, which demanded that its Jews abandon their religion in order to ascend its ranks, had exposed its true nature in light of his sacrifice. From other sources we learn that Heine expected that his conversion would help him win a coveted academic position, an expectation that was ultimately dashed. “Isn’t it strange,” he asked Moser, “I just converted to Christianity and already they are angry at me for being a Jew?”

There is a certain note of irony in Heine’s words that dulls the sting of the situation. “Now I am hated by both Christians and Jews. I am very sorry that I converted to Christianity, and I have not felt better since. Quite the opposite actually, since I seem to be surrounded by bad luck – but enough of that, you are too enlightened not to smile at it.” He added, “I think I’m better off than I know.” The likely truth is that his harshest critic was, of course, himself.

 

Heinrich Heine’s letter to his friend Moses Moser, the National Library collections. Click to enlarge

Thoughts on German

By 1831, almost six years after his baptism, Heine had had enough of German censorship and repeated criticism of his work and moved to Paris. Two years later, all of his works (including those not yet finished) would be confiscated due to a decision reached by the states of the German Confederation. The converted writer would become something of a refugee, who spent the rest of his life in exile in France.

In his new residence in Paris, Heine would make the most of his new life. He was able to mingle in the most sought-after circles, socialize with great personalities such as Alexander Dumas and Frederic Chopin, his name would become ever more famous, and his works (those that were written in Germany and those that he would write in Paris) would eventually become renowned the world over.

Neither the feelings of rejection nor the fear of a nationalist takeover of German politics could overcome Heinrich Heine’s longings for his native land. His homesickness would remain with him until his death on February 17th, 1856.

This article was written with the assistance of Dr. Stefan Litt, of the Archives Department at the National Library of Israel , and Chaya Meier-Herr, Director of the Edelstein Collection at the National Library.

 

If you liked this article, try these:

Gershom Scholem’s Mystical Experiences

From the Political Wilderness to the Asian Jungle: Moshe Dayan in Vietnam

The Peacenik Who Flew His Plane into Enemy Territory

Vanished Streets – Unseen Photographs of Lost Jewish London

Shloimy Alman's collection of photographs of Jewish London from the 1970s survive as a unique record of a disappeared world.

Robotkin Butcher Shop on Hessel Street. Photograph by Shloimy Alman

In May of 2019, during an extreme heatwave that hit Israel, a forest fire near the town of Modi’in forced Manchester-born Shloimy Alman and his wife Linda to evacuate their home in Moshav Kfar Daniel where they have lived since making Aliyah in 1978. Fleeing for safety, Shloimy grabbed just three items: passports, family photo albums and 7 boxes of color slides of London’s old Jewish East End that he’d taken in the mid-1970s.

The slides had sat inside Alman’s cupboard for more than 40 years but, during that week, I had visited from London to interview Shloimy and scan these previously unseen images. The images have since been printed and were displayed in an exhibition titled ‘Vanished Streets’, at London’s oldest Ashkenazi synagogue Sandys Row, on Sunday, the 6th of October, 2019 as part of the European Day of Jewish Culture.

I work at Sandys Row as the resident archivist and historian. The president there, Harvey Rifkind, is a great friend of Shloimy’s and told me about this unique collection of images from the 1970s of a world that has now largely disappeared.

Shloimy started taking these pictures in 1977. He was in his early twenties back then, living in Manchester and attending a Jewish Youth Workers’ conference in London. He arranged to meet the Yiddish poet Avraham Stencl who he had heard a great deal about growing up – his father, Moishe, had previously contributed many articles to Stencl’s monthly Yiddish magazine, Loshn un Lebn.

Avraham Stencl, 1977. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

On their first walk, Stencl led Shloimy to Bevis Marks Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in London that was established by Sephardi Jews in the seventeenth century. “He walked very quickly for an old man, I had trouble keeping up with him. As we walked and talked, in Yiddish of course, he pointed out places on the way, where the Jews’ Free School had been, the site of the Jewish Soup Kitchen, Bloom’s restaurant on Whitechapel High St and the many small synagogues, which were still operating.”

Shloimy was amazed by the amount of Jewish institutions, shops, and people still evident. “People kept telling me the Jewish East End was dead but for me, coming from Manchester, it was buzzing with life and activity.”

They passed run-down tenement blocks and stopped briefly at Whitechapel Library, known as ‘the university of the ghetto.’ After their walk, Shloimy went with Stencl to a “Friends of Yiddish” meeting. There were about twenty people there who were all very welcoming. After this first visit Shloimy began attending these meetings regularly whilst visiting his parents-in-law in London. “I wanted to be in that atmosphere that my parents so loved, to hear Yiddish literature being spoken and talked about again. It was most important.”

After his initial walk around Whitechapel with Stencl, Shloimy started exploring by himself, often drifting around the streets coming across things by accident. “Knowing that places like Commercial Road were important, I’d wander along and see a Jewish shop name and photograph it.”

He spent days recording Jewish life, from shuls to delis, shops, market stalls, and traders. He recorded the textile-trimming merchants. He recorded kosher poulterers on Hessel Street. “Shop after shop, stalls with chickens plucked and hanging from a barrow, they were all surviving, all doing business, it was still a rich Jewish landscape.”

Kosher chickens. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

He took photographs of kosher wine merchants, the Grand Palais Yiddish Theatre and the Kosher Luncheon Club. He took slides of the Jewish bakeries – Free Co., Cohen’s, Kossoff’s, Grodzinski’s and bagel shops in East London. “They were all friendly, loved me coming in and chatting in Yiddish and taking a picture.”

Bakery shop windows. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

He went into the Soup Kitchen on Brune Street, which was sending out pre-packed food to elderly Jews living in the area. On Brick Lane, he photographed Jewish booksellers, newsagents, textile merchants. “All these places existed, everything the community needed – it told me how large the community still was.”

Textile traders. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

On Cheshire Street he saw the work of Jewish cabinet makers outside their workshops and during one visit he managed to get inside the Cheshire Street Synagogue, “which was the most remarkable find, it was a Shabbat and the door was slightly open so I went inside and saw all this beautifully lathed woodwork done by the cabinet makers of the street.”

A stall on Petticoat Lane. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

He photographed the entrance to Black Lion Yard, once known as ‘the Hatton Garden of the East End’ because of all the jewelry shops there, although most of the street and shops had been demolished by then. He took pictures of the Whitechapel Waste, of the market stalls and street life, of Stencl selling his magazine to an alter bubby (old grandmother), the London Hospital, the nearby Brady Street dwellings. He explored the back streets, visited little shops, tobacconists, market stalls and Jewish delis. “Roggs was my favorite, he’d always be in that old vest, sticking his great hairy arms into a barrel of cucumbers he pickled himself.”

Roggs on Canon Street. Photograph by Shloimy Alman

He photographed the window of the room on Tyne Street where “Sholem Aleichem stayed on his way to America from Odessa.” Most of the time Shloimy walked alone but sometimes Stencl would join him.

A butcher on Hessel Street. Photograph by Shloimy Alman.

Shloimy fell in love with the area and documented what he saw. He said, “I am not a photographer, I make no claim. The reason that I started this is I wanted to be able to show my children about Jewish life in England before I immigrated to Israel. It was obvious to me that what I was looking at was soon to vanish. It might be because I was an outsider that I saw this so acutely or because I had already witnessed this disappearance of Jewish life in Manchester. For an intense period of time, I photographed what I considered important landmarks and eating places of Jewish London.”

His photographs capture the era absolutely and survive as a unique record of a disappeared world.

A catalog of the exhibition photos can be ordered direct from Sandys Row Synagogue here.

This post was written as part of Gesher L’Europa, the NLI’s initiative to connect with Europe and make our collections available to diverse audiences in Europe and beyond.

 

If you liked this article, try these:

The Oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue in London

Let My People Serve! How a Jew Became Mayor of London Against the Odds

The School that Helped Children Heal from the Holocaust

Gandhi’s 1939 Rosh Hashanah Greeting to the Jewish People

Sent 80 years ago, on the day World War II broke out, the greeting recently surfaced

Gandhi with two Jewish confidants in South Africa - Sonja Schlesin and Hermann Kallenbach, 1913

On September 1, 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland, beginning World War II and setting the stage for the incomparable atrocities of the Holocaust.

On the very same day, Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, one of the most influential figures of the 20th century and the father of modern India, wrote a short but powerful Rosh Hashanah greeting to A.E. Shohet, the head of the Bombay Zionist Association. The timing of the greeting reflects the extent to which Nazi persecution of Jews was of concern to global citizenry at the time. In hindsight, it also presents a chilling portent of the horrors to come:

Dear Shohet,

You have my good wishes for your new year. How I wish the new year may mean an era of peace for your afflicted people.

 

Yours sincerely,

MK Gandhi

Gandhi’s 1939 letter to A.E. Shohet. From the Abraham Schwadron Collection at the National Library of Israel  (Schwad 03 07 04)

The greeting came to light as part of a major National Library of Israel initiative, with support from the Leir Foundation, to review and describe millions of items in its archival collections, which include personal papers, photographs, documents and more from many of the 20th century’s most prominent cultural figures. It appears online here for the first time.

A.E. Shohet was an Indian Jew from the Baghdadi community in Bombay. He headed the Bombay Zionist Association (BZA), the city’s Keren Hayesod office, and served as editor of “The Jewish Advocate”, the organ of the Jewish National Fund and the BZA. He believed deeply in the Zionist cause and saw it as a singular path to unifying the diverse Jewish population of Bombay, which included the long-established wealthy Baghdadi Jewish community, the Bene Israel Indian Jewish community, and the local European Jewish community.

The envelope in which Gandhi’s ‘Shanah Tova’ card was sent. From the Abraham Schwadron Collection at the National Library of Israel

Gandhi had been reluctant to declare his views on the Arab-Jewish question in Palestine and the persecution of German Jews. Finally, on November 26, 1938, he published an article entitled “The Jews” in the Harijan, offering “satyagraha” or non-violent resistance as his solution to both problems. Gandhi suggested that the Jews in Mandatory Palestine ought to “offer satyagraha in front of the Arabs and offer themselves to be shot or thrown into the Dead Sea without raising a little finger against them.”

Regarding German Jewry, he implored resisting Nazism solely through non-confrontational means. “My sympathies are all with the Jews… If there ever could be a justifiable war, in the name of and for humanity, war against Germany to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war…”

The article was harshly criticized by leading intellectuals of the period including Martin Buber and Judah Magnes, who viewed Gandhi’s statements as unfavorable to Zionism and not satisfactory vis-a-vis the situation of German Jewry. Shohet replied in “The Jewish Advocate”, emphasizing one fundamental difference between the Jews in Europe and the Harijans in India – the former had no home. Moreover, he argued that Jews had practiced non-violence for two millennia, yet their persecution persisted. Other statements by Gandhi and the dangers of the Indian National Congress’ neutral attitude regarding the Nazi persecutions disturbed the Jews of India and pushed Shohet to continue his attempts to influence the Mahatma.

To that end, he enlisted the assistance of Hermann Kallenbach, a wealthy Jewish Zionist architect and carpenter who Gandhi referred to as his “soulmate”. Kallenbach had bankrolled the 1910 establishment of “Tolstoy’s Farm” – the South African prototype for the Gandhian ashram – where he and Gandhi had lived together, sharing a kitchen and seemingly endless conversations about the proper path and meaning of life. Gandhi once wrote to Kallenbach, “Your portrait (the only one) stands on the mantelpiece in my room… even if I wanted to dismiss you from my thoughts, I could not do it.”

Tolstoy Farm in South Africa, 1910 - Gandhi and Kallenbach center row, center
Tolstoy Farm in South Africa, 1910. Gandhi and Kallenbach are seated in the center of the center row

In March 1939, Kallenbach arranged for Shohet to interview the Mahatma, which he did over the course of four days at Gandhi’s ashram in Wardha.

According to a letter Shohet wrote to Eliahu Epstein (who later became known as Eliahu Elath and would serve as Israel’s first ambassador to the United States), the interview was discouraging because although Gandhi to a certain extent understood the idealism of the Jews’ wish to return to Palestine, he still saw the Palestine question from the Muslim point of view.

Kallenbach and Shohet never convinced Gandhi to become an active defender of European Jewry nor a Zionist, and he remained steadfast in his belief that non-violence and passivity could solve all problems.

In 1939 and 1940, Gandhi wrote a series of letters to Adolf Hitler, which controversially included elements of both respect and admonishment, “We have no doubt about your bravery or devotion to your fatherland, nor do we believe that you are the monster described by your opponents. But your own writings and pronouncements and those of your friends and admirers leave no room for doubt that many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity…”

Not long before he was assassinated, Gandhi called the Holocaust “the greatest crime of our time,” yet maintained that, “… the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs… It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany… As it is they succumbed anyway in their millions.”

 

 

Many thanks to National Library of Israel expert archivist Rachel Misrati for her invaluable assistance preparing this article.

 

Additional Reading

The Jewish communities of India: Identity in a Colonial Era by Joan G. Roland

The Life of Mahatma Gandhi by Louis Fischer

Soulmates: The Story of Mahatma Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach by Shimon Lev

Hermann Kallenbach: Mahatma Gandhi’s friend in South Africa, A Biography by Isa Sarid and Christian Bartolf

 

If you liked this article, try these:

What Did Martin Buber and His Friends Write to President Johnson about Martin Luther King Jr.?

An Invitation to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Wedding

That Time David Ben-Gurion’s Father Sent Him Some Cash