In the past, and in a different context, I’ve written about the mistake of conceiving Judaism as a "religion", instead of understanding it as the "Constitution of the Jewish People." This may seem like a simple and superfluous game of words, but when we understand the origin of this distinction, and especially the terrible direct or indirect consequences of taking away from Judaism its national aspect, we can better appreciate its magnitude.
The story of the differentiation between Jewish people and Jewish religion began around 1840 in Germany, when the first Reform Jews deliberately renounced to any idea that could relate them to the land of Israel, a fundamental element of the people of Israel. In a famous declaration signed in Frankfurt de Main in 1845, the first Jewish reformers explicitly renounced to a Messiah who would take them back to Israel and rebuild the Bet haMiqdash; they also renounced to pray for their return to Jerusalem or to cry for its destruction. All these element, which constitute the "national" aspect of Judaism were deliberately eliminated from the prayer books and from the new Reform ritual. The idea was very clear: Reform Jews saw themselves as "patriotic Germans", an integral part of the German people and their heroic history and destiny. And as a matter of loyalty to their "mother country" they openly and explicitly renounced everything that could be perceived as an expression of double loyalty. The first Reformers (I must mention that this has changed in our days) called themselves proudly "Germans" of "Mosaic religion" (they tried to use as little as possible the word "Jewish" or "Jewish religion"). They sought to compare themselves with other religious groups such as Catholics or Protestants, who had no alternative allegiance, national or geographical.
The terrible consequences of this seemingly innocent paradigm shift were not long in coming. One example: In 1840 there was a blood libel in Damascus, Syria. The Jewish community of that city was falsely accused of killing a Christian child to use his blood to knead the Matsot de Pesah (sic!). Several community leaders were imprisoned, tortured and forced to “confess” this crime. The Jewish leaders of Europe, like Sir Moises Montefiore of London, Adolphe Crémieux of France, Eliyahu Picciotto of Austria and many others, moved heaven and earth to help free these poor Jews, and after an inexhaustible struggle they managed to get them out of prison. There was an exception to these efforts: rabbi Abraham Geiger, the most important leader of the Jews of Germany. Geiger, considered by many historians as the founder of the reform movement, refused to help those Jews because he had nothing in common with those "Arabs". This had nothing to do with Sephardi / Ashkenazi distinctions. Geiger, rather, saw himself as belonging exclusively to the German people, and for him, consequently, there was no national (or emotional) link with any other Jew outside of Germany. The fact that these "Syrians" practiced the same creed as him, was totally circumstantial and secondary. Geiger owed nothing to them. Geiger surely was not the first Jew who refused to help other Jews; but as far as I know, he was the first Jew to use this new argument, renouncing the idea of a Jewish people, to disassociate himself from "Israel", the land and the nation, and justify in this way his lack of action, his apathy and his indifference towards other Jews. All this was done in pursuit of being perceived as an exemplary and patriotic German citizen, and being accepted as equals in their society (I don't need to tell you the rest of the story...).
But what does this have to do with the Shoah and the New York Times?
Unfortunately, very much.
As painful as it is to talk about this matter, I think that it teaches us a very important lesson, relevant for our days, where information and deliberate misinformation carries so much power and influence.
Let's see. Between 1939 and 1945 there were around 5 million Jews living in the US. Many of them very influential in the government and in American culture. However, there was very little that American Jews actually did to influence Roosevelt and save their brothers in Europe, when they needed it most. Europeans Jews were desperately asking for the Americans to bomb the railroad tracks that took millions of Jews to death. Or to bomb the concentration camps. And as we all know, none of this happened ... until it was too late.
One of the reasons to explain this silence and inaction is that the vast majority of American Jews (and non-Jews, as admitted by Eisenhower himself) DID NOT KNOW what was happening: they had no idea of the magnitude of the massacre that was taking place in European soil ...
Why? A book called "Buried by The Times" by Laurel Leff, explains this enigma. Leff concludes that the man responsible for this deliberate misinformation was one of the most influential men in the USA at that time: Arthur Hays Sulzberger, editor in chief and owner of the New York Times (his family still owns this newspaper), the most important newspaper in the world.
We began to write about the role played by the prestigious newspaper The New York Times and the lack of information about the Holocaust in the American population.
It should be noted that the New York Times, especially in the 1940s, was not only the most important newspaper in the world, but also the "leading" newspaper, in the sense that thousands of other newspapers and newscasts in the US and around the world got their information from the Times and followed its leadership (this, obviously, is changing in the modern news-media-world).
We will see now some examples that illustrate the biased attitude of the New York Times in reporting the atrocities that were occurring in Europe.
A New York Times article of July 2, 1942 reports the killing of 700,000 Jews, "one fifth of the entire Jewish population of Poland." It even mentions concentration camps and gas chambers. The article says: "Children in orphanages, elderly in hospices, sick in hospitals and women were killed in the streets. In many places Jews were detained and deported to undisclosed destinations or massacred in nearby forests. " The article continues to list how many Jews had been killed in each province, and then says that "the massacre still continues in Lvov."
This story is typical. The information is objective, detailed and even contemporary. However, the American public was largely unaware of the magnitude of what was happening. Then that generates two questions. The first question is, how did this happen? And then the second question is, why did this happen?
How? The answer is that these news were buried in the middle of the newspaper. The article of July 2, 1942 appeared on page 6 under a small subtitle reserved for unimportant material.
Another article of June 27, 1942 that describes the same massacre as "probably the biggest mass slaughter in history", was on page 5 and had no title!
Why? This tendentious down-playment of the Shoah did not occur because the front page of the newspaper was full of momentous news. The day this horrific story appeared in the New York Times, the front page featured articles about tennis shoes and canned fruit.
Then we ask ourselves again why?
The answer is: Arthur Hays Sulzberger. Sulzberger was the owner and editor of the New York Times. And what makes it so amazing is that Sulzberger was Jewish.
Sulzberger felt no religious or emotional connection to the threatened mass of European Jews. Although hard to believe, it seemed that, on the contrary, he did the impossible to ignore them.
Sulzberger wrote the following:
"There is no common denominator between the poor and unfortunate Jew led [to death] in Poland and ... .I. Certainly, in Poland, this Jew is part of a persecuted minority. ... fortunately, I'm not in that category. "
According to Leslie Leff, the author of "Buried by the Times" who denounces Sulzberger's silence and minimization of the information about the Shoah, Sulzberger's lack of empathy and tendency towards European Jews was due to his reformist ideology. Sulzberger's political grandfather, Isaac Wise, was the founder of the Jewish reform movement in the US. In those times reform Judaism promoted the idea that Jews are not a nation but simply followers of a creed.
Sulzberger was an assimilationist Jew: for him Jews are not a people, in the same way that Catholics or Protestants are not a people. In December 1942, in a note to the staff of the New York Times he wrote: "I have been trying to instruct the people of my newspaper on the subject of the word 'Jews'; that they are not a race or a people, etc. "
Former New York Times journalist Ari Goldman, in his review of Leff's book, writes:" There is no doubt that Sulzberger's views on Judaism influenced what what he did in his newspaper. "
Again and again the views of Sulzberger are reflected in the editorials of the New York Times, in which the difficult situation of the Jews is not mentioned but is rather deliberately ignored.
On the German refugee children, almost all of them Jews, the New York Times generalized: "[those children] are of any race and faith."
On the Hitler regime, the New York Times wrote: "It is decency and justice that are being persecuted [by Hitler], not a race, nor a nationality, nor a faith."
On the millions of Jewish refugees, the New York Times said: "They have nothing to do with a specific race or creed. It is not a Jewish or a Gentile problem. "
And notably in an editorial on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943, the New York Times did not mention Jews at all!
Leff also examined the positions and actions of the editorial staff of the Times. Leff concludes: Sulzberger's bias was shared by other Jewish staffers who decided to minimize, bury and downplay the news about the killings of Jews: "Between them and influential Catholics among the crucial night editors, who decided where to place news items, the imperiled Jews of Europe had no advocate in the NYT's newsroom."