Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Satmar Rebbe and the Destruction of Hungarian Jewry 

In her book Be-Seter Ha-Madrega (In the Covert of the Cliff), Haredi Holocaust historian Esther Farbstein writes, “Rabbi Yoel (Yoelish) of Satmar was unquestionably chief among leaders [of Haredi Jews in Hungary].” If Farbstein is correct in her claim, Rabbi Yoel’s conduct before, during, and after the Holocaust may explain, albeit only partially, the extraordinary devastation suffered by the Hungarian Orthodox community, which had regarded him as “chief among leaders.”

The first section of this article describes Rabbi Yoel’s life and actions during the Holocaust, both on personal and public levels, as reflected in his writings, the contemporary press, memoirs written by his Hasidim, and archival sources. In many cases, researchers note that Rabbi Yoel’s position regarding the Holocaust was extreme and exceptional compared to views held by other rabbis and spokespeople of the Haredi community. Yet the worldview he cultivated, coupled with his theological explanations of the Holocaust and its mystical meaning, drew a growing number of followers, in whose eyes he was the last remnant of a dying ideology. His anti-Zionist worldview, representing as it did to them the Eastern European “Old Home,” expunged his failures during the Holocaust. As his public stature grew, criticism from within diminished, while criticism from without was disregarded and dismissed as Zionist defamation.

As I argue in greater detail in the following, Rabbi Yoel’s life, activities, and decisions during the Holocaust and his pressing need to explain and justify them thereafter offer a possible explanation for the extremism of his later views. Any fair examination of the historical record shows that Rabbi Yoel’s contribution to assisting Jewish refugees and to the rescue of Transylvanian Haredi Jews was negligible. Prior to the Holocaust, he ignored the dangers threatening the Jews of Transylvania and failed to engage in the preparation of rescue and aid plans. Although he became privy to reports on the extermination of the Jewish communities in Poland, given his position as a member of the Central Bureau and through his connections with the authorities, he refrained from calling on his followers to save or prepare themselves. On the contrary, he warned any would-be immigrants to Palestine or other countries that they were in danger of severely harming their Haredi way of life. Moreover, he refrained from cooperating with the Zionist—and even with the Haredi—leadership in addressing current issues or preparing for the impending threat and even opposed measures of a religious nature, such as prayer and fast days, which he feared would be perceived as a protest against the authorities.

When the danger of war became real and immediate, Rabbi Yoel did his best to equip himself and his closest circle with certificates or visas that would facilitate their escape to Palestine or the United States. At the same time, he thwarted all attempts at cooperation between the heads of the Orthodox communities and the Zionist organizations, which could have helped to rescue them. He failed to set a personal example and rejected his associates’ advice to prepare a hiding place or attempt to cross the border to Romania. Had he done so, some of his Hasidim may have done the same and thus survived.

When put to the test, he chose to save himself clandestinely after his own congregation had already been incarcerated in ghettos and to abandon his followers in the time of their harshest adversity. His conduct stands in stark contrast to that of other rabbis in his vicinity, many of whom rejected pleas to save themselves and accompanied their congregations to the transport trains, the extermination camps, and in some cases even into the gas chambers.


Most of this story is not true.


Please see shulchan aruch and explain this.

אורח חיים הלכות יום הכפורים תרו

ג תקנת קדמונינו וחרם שלא להוציא שם רע על המתים


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