It is impossible to overstate the effect of the Holocaust on Jews as well as on civilized people worldwide. As of 1933 there were about nine million Jews living in the 21 European countries. By the end of WWII in 1945 six million of them had been murdered—that’s two out of every three. The number included 1.5 million children.
To give you perspective, worldwide there are about 14 million Jews today. Six million of that number would be a known loss to every civilized person in the world—people they actually knew or loved ones of people they know. Compare to 9/11. That day we lost about three thousand; all of us know someone who was lost or who knew someone lost that day. We are a country of over 300 million. Twenty times that actual number of Jews were killed in the Holocaust, from a population much much smaller. If two thirds of the total US population were annihilated, that would be a loss of 200 million people. That’s how it felt to Jews in Europe.
But they were not allowed to immigrate to their homeland as promised, even to escape certain death from savage tyrants—because civilized people failed to keep their promises to them.
Despite betrayals against the Jews, among the British were 26,000 Jewish volunteers fighting against the Axis powers. In 1944 the Jewish Brigade became an independent military unit of the British army, seeing action in Egypt, Italy and northwest Europe. Following victory, these same soldiers joined the “illegal immigration” efforts to carry Holocaust survivors to Eretz Israel.
Victory against Hitler didn’t mean victory for the Jews. The White Papers had essentially nullified the Balfour Declaration, and they used diplomatic means worldwide to let their complaints be known. Diplomacy was not enough. People networked to smuggle in thousands of refugees past the British blockade. And simultaneously underground groups worked to defend Jewish neighborhoods, as well as supplies and infrastructure, from Arab attack. Some also worked to subvert British command. A handful were executed for their underground activities.
Working and fighting for their own survival, while simultaneously rallying support worldwide eventually resulted in delegations to the United Nations to explore the possibility of independent statehood. President Harry Truman took an interest almost as soon as he took office, and on Yom Kippur 1946 Truman declared his support for the Jewish Agency’s plan to partition the Palestine area into separate Jewish and Arab states.
Britain withdrew its paternal role, having failed to keep basic order, and referred the problem to the United Nations. After a UN study, a commission recommended that the Jews become sovereign over the area that included their main holdings (Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel-Aviv), and leave the rest to become an independent Arab state.
At the time, Arabs in the Jewish areas outnumbered Jews, and the partition severely restricted new settlement areas for the influx of European refugees. Nevertheless, the Jews agreed to the partition, and they continued diplomatic efforts, particularly to gain US support. Up until just days before the vote, the solution seemed impossible, but worldwide efforts finally came to fruition. On November 29, 1947, Resolution 181 was approved by the UN General Assembly—to much Jewish fanfare around the globe.
The Arabs outright rejected the partition. They responded by blowing up buses, attacking people in their neighborhoods and businesses, and destroying the main roads between Jewish cities. Jews were attacked throughout the Middle East.
With British protection withdrawing, Jews and Arabs struggled for control of strategic positions. Yet amid the conflict, on May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared the formation of the State of Israel. Within hours the Arab response was to bring in the armies of surrounding Arab countries, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and contributing forces from other countries as well, to “drive the Jews into the Mediterranean.”
Beleaguered new Israelis used light artillery and not much more than handguns and rifles to hold off the onslaught of the surrounding Arab world—and prevailed, slightly increasing their territory during the dispute
One of the byproducts of this battle to defend their right to exist was the refugee problem. That will be Part V.