By Mark Lavie, Associated Press Writer
JERUSALEM (AP) — During the Holocaust, ultra-Orthodox American rabbis focused on saving several hundred Polish Talmudic scholars, ignoring the suffering of millions of other Jews who were eventually murdered by the Nazis, a new book charges.
The rabbis, organized as the Rescue Committee, feared that if the tiny group of scholars and their students were lost, the Jewish religion would vanish with them.
The group’s narrow goal brought it into conflict with mainstream American Jewish groups working to rescue as many Jews as possible and to influence reluctant American politicians to take action, wrote Holocaust historian and Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff.
The book, “The Response of Orthodox Jewry in the United States to the Holocaust,” is being released Tuesday to coincide with Israel’s annual memorial day for the 6 million Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust.
Rabbi Menahem Porush, chairman of the Israel branch of Agudat Israel, a worldwide ultra-Orthodox group, said it was only natural for the rabbis to try to rescue those close to them.
“No one has to teach us, who live according to the Torah, the meaning of ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,'” he said.
Zuroff documents how the rabbis funneled scarce funds to scholars already safely in exile so they could maintain full-time Talmud studies, even as other Jews were being killed in death camps.
Menahem Brod of the ultra-Orthodox Habad movement said the refugees needed the money to survive.
According to Zuroff’s book, the Rescue Committee extorted money from mainstream Jewish groups, employed shady practices to transfer funds to Europe and even violated the Jewish Sabbath for its cause.
The Rescue Committee threatened to mount a rival fund-raising drive unless local Jewish federations handed over cash. Some complied, Zuroff wrote, but others refused, arguing that the mainstream rescue campaign would include the scholars anyway.