Ken Livingstone’s wild historical revisionism has been widely panned — by Andrew Roberts in CAPX, by John Mann in the Daily Mirror and in Millbank (gloriously, to Livingstone’s face), and by Antony Beever.
Still, there are people on Twitter lazily linking to the Haavara agreement, hoping to show complicity between Nazis and Zionists and therefore absolve Ken Livingstone of any blame or shame.
Yet saying “read the Haavara agreement!” is disingenuous for a number of obvious reasons:
1. The Haavara Agreement was a means of facilitating Jewish emigration to Palestine, by allowing them to transfer property from Germany to Palestine; but it was in the wider context of Germany encouraging Jewish emigration everywhere. Yes the Zionists had an interest in encouraging Jewish immigration to Palestine in order to liberate the Jewish people, and yes the Nazis encouraged Jewish emigration from Germany to anywhere, as part of a long-term plan to destroy the Jewish people.
The Dutch Resistance fighter Geertruder Wijsmuller-Meijer, one of the top 3 rescuers of Jews during World War Two, met with Adolf Eichmann in Vienna and got him to agree to the transfer of 600 Jewish children out of Vienna to Britain. That began the Kindertransports out of Austria; one of which saved my grandmother.
So if you say that the Haavara Agreement proved “Hitler supported Zionism”, logically then does the Kindertransport prove that “Hitler supported the anti-Nazi resistance”?
2. Look at the Haavara Agreement itself; it encouraged Jewish emigration to Palestine, but did not involve any forced deportation. It must be seen within the context of Nazi attitudes towards the Jews, favouring their mass exile from the Reich, and seeking to use anywhere as a “dumping ground” (Cesarani’s term); be it Palestine, Madagascar, or parts of Poland they conquered. As Nicosia writes, Germany used the Zionist movement as a way of furthering its own ends, whilst maintaining that Zionism and Jewish nationalism were a dishonest ruse (see Point 3). David Cesarani writes (Final Soluction, Location 2988 of Kindle edition):
The Nazis were not Zionists in any conventional sense of the word: they did not care where Jews went when they left Germany, and treated Palestine as merely a dumping ground. If for any reason it ceased to be available they would force the Jews to go elsewhere.
3. Hitler’s interaction with the Haavara Agreement came in the period 1937–39; not before 1932 as Livingstone suggested, and at a time when Hitler was intentionally making life as difficult as possible for the Jews in Germany. At this time, the Nazis were busy seizing Jewish businesses, banning Jews from public schools, cinemas, and parts of German cities. From 1933 until 1939, approximately half of Germany’s Jews emigrated, and Hitler wanted to encourage them to leave Germany. It is only in that context you can talk about Hitler’s attitudes towards Palestine.
4. What was Ken Livingstone doing in the first place, but defending Naz Shah? Naz Shah’s original comments which Ken Livingstone defended as not racist, called for mass deportations of Jews to America. For Ken’s supporters to suggest that he was only raising a historical point, and not defending or rationalising a call for the forcible transfer of seven million Jews to America, is deeply dishonest.
5. Ken Livingstone claimed that Hitler was a Zionist, before he changed his mind in 1932 and went “crazy” and decided to kill Jews. As John Mann pointed out, this denies and distorts history. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf in 1925, and wrote even then about gassing Jews:
If at the beginning of the War and during the War twelve or fifteen thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas, as happened to hundreds of thousands of our very best German workers in the field, the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain.
6. In addition, Hitler claimed in Mein Kampf that Zionism was a Jewish ruse to trick the world into believing Jews wanted a nation-state in Palestine, whereas actually the Jews wanted a central base from which to undermine the world. Furthermore, Hitler wrote an article in the Illustrierter Beobachter in 1929, asking what the Jews could do in Palestine, when there are already two people there with the same essential qualities as the Jews: Armenians and Greeks (Ihrig, S., Ataturk and the Nazi Imagination, Cambridge, 2014, p.180).
7. If Hitler “went crazy” in 1932, it implies that Hitler was sane and rational until then. This is a glimpse into Livingstone’s depraved thinking: antisemitism is only irrational when people start killing Jews because of it; until then it is perfectly acceptable. Anyone defending Livingstone’s words is essentially defending this proposition.
8. The Haavara Agreement does not support the claim that Hitler was a Zionist (a clear lie if you read Mein Kampf or have any measure of historical awareness). If Livingstone had mentioned the Haavara Agreement, how exactly does it vindicate him endorsing Naz Shah’s comments — which she herself is ashamed of — suggesting the mass deportation of Jews to America?
Mass deportations often go hand in hand with genocide; when the Ottomans decided to annihilate the Armenians, they euphemistically “deported” them to the Syrian desert, where they were tortured and murdered by Ottoman soliders.
I’ve been reading David Cesarani’s Final Solution, which emphasised how often Hitler and the Nazis spoke of mass deportations of German and Austrian Jews “to the East”. In practice, the Jews were murdered as soon as they were “deported”, and after the deportations came the death camps.
When you suggest a mass population transfer to a country that is not planning to receive anyone, or to a non-specified area, you effectively flirt with the first stage of genocide. At best it shows an ignorance of history, and at worst it shows a contempt for history’s lessons. Either way, no good can come of it.
9. Ken Livingstone proves the absurdity of his own argument; by speaking of Hitler going crazy and killing Jews in 1932 — as historically inaccurate as this is — he therefore proves it was logical for Jews to seek to leave Germany after this year.
10. Historically, when the Jews were in Poland, people told them to go back to Palestine. Now they’re in Palestine people tell them to go back to Poland. It’s really very helpful of Naz Shah to suggest a new place the Jews can now go to, and Ken Livingstone to treat this as fine, isn’t it?