Faith facing the holocaust - Lecture #04c: The Satmar Rebbe's Understanding of the Reason for the Holocaust
By: Rav Tamir Granot
Like Rabbi Wasserman, the Satmar Rebbe also perceives Jewish history as moving along a fixed track in accordance with rigid laws of reward and punishment, and nothing else. Everything that happens is the result of reward and punishment. The Holocaust, then, is a punishment, and a punishment for the worst of all sins: heresy, the negation of the Kingdom of Heaven by hastening the end. And in accordance with the laws of Divine retribution, the punishment is "measure for measure": in return for rejection of God's Kingship (i.e., His control over history), there came a punishment in which the blood of Jews flowed freely, and God truly did not involve Himself in what was happening in history. As we read in the midrash concerning the three oaths: "The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: if you observe the oath – well and good; if not – I will abandon your flesh to be like that of the deer and the gazelles of the field" (Ketuvot 111a).
However, the Holocaust was not merely a punishment within the framework of Divine retribution for Zionist heresy. It was also the result of the actions of the Zionists on the historical level. The Satmar Rebbe develops a comprehensive accusation, arguing that it was Zionism that caused the Holocaust, whether directly or indirectly: first by highlighting the Jewish issue as a political matter, then by creating an excuse for the nations not to take in Jews as refugees, since they had a place of their own. Moreover, the fact that attention was focused on the political arena caused the existential problem of the Jews of Europe during the war to be neglected. Zionist politics held the creation of the State in higher regard than the task of saving Jews, and thereby contributed to the success of the Nazi endeavor. Finally, the Satmar Rebbe accuses the Zionists directly of having prevented attempts at saving European Jews owing to various political interests. In short, according to the Satmar view, the Holocaust was both the result of Zionism and a punishment for it. Rabbi Teitelbaum asserts:
(110) No one takes note of the fact that six million Jews were killed because of these [Zionist] groups, who drew the hearts of the nation [to their cause] and violated the oath of hastening the end by claiming sovereignty and freedom before the time. For aside from this being the bitter punishment set forth in the Gemara for [violating the oaths] – "I shall abandon your flesh…" - and by oath they and the whole world are punished, and no punishment comes to the world except on account of the wicked, nor does it begin except with the righteous. But they also performed terrible actions to bring this about; for aside from the fact that even at the very beginning of their establishment for many years they "informed" terribly on the Jews to the nations, and spoke of them badly to the authorities, as though [the Jews] were highly dangerous to the nations and they had to be expelled from their countries, [which the Zionists did] thinking that it would thereby be easier for them to carry out their scheme to come to the land of Israel and to organize a government there. We saw already then, in their letters, that great rabbis were greatly, deathly fearful that [the Zionists'] informing would bring about that which, for our many sins, did come to be afterwards.
Aside from this, there are verified reports of several cruel actions that they performed that indirectly brought about the entire terrible catastrophe. Concerning Hungary some of these activities came to light in the court case that was held in Eretz Yisrael in this regard [i.e. the Kastner trial], and thus there were several clear actions throughout that period, because they thought that they would thereby achieve more of their aim of obtaining government.
But I do not wish to elaborate on this here, for my intention in this booklet is only to clarify Halakha, and I write this only in order to show that it is clear that the impure idea of establishing a State prior to the proper time has caused us all of tribulations and troubles that have come upon us, aside from the tens of thousands of Jews who have been killed needlessly in [the Zionists'] wars.
Furthermore, among those who have moved to Eretz Yisrael in these times, most of the immigrants from Arab countries were living peacefully and tranquilly in their countries, lacking nothing, until the establishment of the heretical kingdom in Israel. Through the establishment of that State they began to suffer hatred and persecution in their countries, and the Zionists themselves aided this through their wiles, so as to increase the persecution until they would be forced to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael, destitute and with nothing, and they glorified their saviors, but the truth was the opposite – that [the Zionists] had brought about all of the destruction in the first place. (Va-Yo'el Moshe 123)
Although the decree of exile is a difficult one, and the reality of suffering in Jewish exile is not necessarily the result of the actions of one or another group, Am Yisrael is also promised salvation, and when the sword descends in one place, a door opens elsewhere – as has always been the case. The destruction of the Holocaust was particularly severe because there was nowhere to escape: all gates were locked, and Europe turned into a death-trap. In the Satmar Rebbe's view, this reality was a result of Zionism, on both the historical and the spiritual level:
At the end of Ramban's comments on the verse "then the camp that is left shall escape" (Bereishit 32:9) in parashat Vayishlach, he writes: "This, too, hints that the children of Esav will not decree the erasing of our name; rather, they will do evil to some of us, in some of their countries. One of their kings will make a decree in his land concerning our money, or our lives, while another king will have mercy and will save those who escape. And thus it is written in Bereishit Rabba: 'If Esav would come to one camp and strike it' – this refers to our brethren in the south [of Israel], 'then the camp that is left shall escape' – this refers to our brethren in the Diaspora. Our Sages viewed this as a lesson for future generations, as well." What this means is that Yaakov was promised, in the verse, "And the camp that is left shall escape," that whenever there would be a time of distress for Yaakov, in any country, there would be other countries that would save those who escaped. And anyone who reviews the history books can see that this was always the case. Clearly, we were also deserving of this blessing, but these wicked ones arose to ruin it, throughout the world, in that they sought only a State, not salvation, and it is difficult to be saved from one who has free choice, as it is written in the Holy Zohar – that Reuven meant to cast Yosef into a pit in which there were snakes and scorpions, for one may be saved from snakes and scorpions, but not from a person with free choice. (ibid.)
In the above excerpt we also find an explanation on the theological level for the possibility of the Holocaust happening: obviously God left Am Yisrael the possibility of being saved. If this possibility was not realized, it must be because we (i.e., the Zionists and their helpers), in our wickedness and our mistaken beliefs, blocked the paths of salvation that had been opened from Above.
Therefore these wicked ones, through their evil choice of arrogance and heresy, heaven forefend, caused all of the Jewish nation all of the troubles and tribulations; that they would have no rest in any country, and they caused all the doors of the countries to be closed, for the nations also claimed that there was no necessity to give refuge to the Jews, since a State was already being given to them, and they could go there. And the Zionists – who were perceived in the eyes of the nations as the leaders of the Jews – also made sure to go to no other country other than Eretz Yisrael, and it is clear without any doubt that were that were it not for that country, we too would have seen the promise to Yaakov realized – that Am Yisrael would have a place of refuge in peace. So while they caused our suffering, they still glorify themselves as our saviors. Concerning the refugees from Egypt, some two years ago, did they not again glorify themselves as having saved them, even though everyone knew openly that it was they who had caused all of their troubles and their expulsion? … And in recent times it has become public knowledge how they begged some governments not to allow in Jewish refugees.
In Eretz Yisrael, too, while the British still ruled there, the reason why the English closed the gates of the land, so as to prevent an influx of Jews, was because of the Zionists, because they saw that [the Zionists] wanted to seize government for themselves. Anyone who remembers how things developed knows clearly that were it not for the Zionists, with their impure idea of seizing government, the gates of the land would have been open, and an immeasurably great number of Jews could have been saved there, but they themselves caused our suffering. Even when the kingdom of Yishmael still ruled over Eretz Yisrael [i.e. the Ottomans], the reason why they closed the gates of the land, so that Jews would not go there, was out of fear of the Zionists. The Zionists themselves, who controlled the number of certificates that the English government issued each year for immigrating to Eretz Yisrael – they themselves did not wish to issue certificates to anyone except those who followed their ways and accepted their views – the Zionist path of heresy and apostasy, heaven forefend. Anyone who wished to go to Eretz Yisrael had to flatter them and their ways.
Scripture says, concerning heresy – "Keep distant from the entry to her house" (based onMishlei 5:8). It is especially dangerous for those who have to ingratiate themselves and do as they do, as was the case, for our many transgressions, that many tens of thousands of pure Jewish souls were thereby ensnared in heresy. Many great ones fell, all those who were killed, who had been ensnared in heresy by the false pretense of love for Eretz Yisrael. For this reason many God-fearing Jews avoided coming to Eretz Yisrael, for those who are fearful for God's word are more fearful of a path that involves danger of heresy than they are of any other danger in the world. Space does not allow a list of even the smallest part of the troubles and tribulations that came upon Am Yisrael because of them. (Va-Yo'el Moshe 124)
Finally, we come to the Zionist argument that it is only by virtue of Zionist activity that Jews everywhere came to have a safe haven, and that were it not for the early settlement in the land and the modern State, the antisemites would have left no survivors. According to the Satmar Rebbe, this claim is a hypocritical and contemptible one coming from those very people who caused the disaster in the first place, and then pride themselves on saving Jews. He offers the following caustic metaphor:
In my youth I heard from a certain great sage a fitting metaphor concerning the Zionists. There was once a man who was wicked and cruel, vengeful and grudging. He wanted to take revenge on his neighbor by burning all of his wealth and his property. He hired a ruffian who was an expert in such operations, and sent him to carry out his mission in such a way that the victim would not know who had caused him this damage. Since he knew that the neighbor was a hospitable person, he went to him in the evening, disguised as a guest, and asked for a place to sleep. The man immediately gave him a place. In the middle of the night, the ruffian saw that the man and his family were all asleep and would not notice anything. He went quietly and placed a burning reed in a hidden place, and then went right back to his place and pretended to be asleep.
Afterwards, when the fire broke out, the whole family awakened in great panic; they all saw that a disaster had occurred, and everything was burning. They tried to salvage whatever they could, but in their great sorrow and anguish and fear and panic, they could not think properly how to go about saving anything. Then this cruel guest, who had caused the fire, so that they would not connect the disaster to him, also pretended to be awakening in panic in his bed, and he quickly went to help the householder to salvage what he could. And since he was thinking calmly, seeing that his actions had borne fruit, he was able to organize the salvation operations better, and managed to save some furniture and some household wares, which was more than the householder himself was able to do.
Then, the next morning, when the man went off to the beit midrash, angry and bitter, he told his friends and acquaintances of the terrible disaster that had befallen him in the night, leaving him destitute, and that he had no idea how to go about finding himself somewhere to live and a source of income. In the midst of this he expounded on the greatness of the mitzva of hospitality, for owing to the fact that he had taken in a guest for the night, at least he had some small salvation, for the guest had managed to salvage some furniture and had seized some of the household wares [from the fire]. Then they asked him, Who was this guest? And he told them what the man looked like. They recognized him as a cruel and wicked person who was accustomed to performing such acts. They told him, "Beware and take care; know that were it not for that guest, you never would have had a fire. He was a destroyer, not a savior. Do not allow him to step into your home again, for if you have anything more to do with him, he will have even more schemes and in the end, heaven forefend, he will not leave you alive."
The meaning of the metaphor is clear: that the Zionists, through their sins and their actions, bring about all the troubles and the tribulations, and then make themselves out to be saviors. Those people who do not make the effort to ascertain the truth believe them to be saviors. (Va-Yo'el Moshe 124-125)
The success of the Zionist enterprise, despite the rebellion against the Kingdom of Heaven and faith in the redemption, and the shameful claim (in Rabbi Teitelbaum's view) that it is only thanks to them that Am Yisrael is still alive, makes the experience unbearable. Not only are we suffering terrible troubles, and not only do we have to contend with heresy, but the heresy prospers and claims that only it is capable of saving us from the suffering! In his book Va-Yo'el Moshe, the Satmar Rebbe seeks to expose the lie and the deceit. The test of revealing the monstrous fraud of the "sitra achra" (literally, the "other side" – the forces of evil) and taking a courageous stand against it, is the greatest and most difficult challenge facing the generation of the "footsteps of the Messiah":
The crux of the matter is that the sitra achra blinds everyone's eyes to the fact that through this they are caught up into heresy and blasphemy, heaven forefend. It may be demonstrated that in every detail of their actions they bring only destruction – but this would require a separate work in its own right, and I have already written that it is not my intention to elaborate, in this booklet, on the clarification of such matters, but rather to point out the principle. One who seeks to know the truth – God will show him the true path. But this is the final test, which is more difficult than all the tests that have confronted us. The birth-pangs of the Messiah are as great as our capacity for suffering, and we need Divine mercy to help us strengthen ourselves with true faith in the blessed God, and in His holy Torah, and in His servants who served Him with all their hearts and souls in the preceding generations.
Translated by Kaeren Fish
 This unquestionably refers to information that came to light during the Kastner trial, as well as claims by Rabbi Weissmandel in his book, Min ha-Metzar. We will discuss these further in the next lecture.