Arrows in the Dark: David Ben-Guri­on, the Yishuv Lead­er­ship, and Res­cue Attempts Dur­ing the Holocaust

Tuvia Friling; Ora Cum­mings, trans

  • Review
By – August 15, 2012

In prose that simul­ta­ne­ous­ly hor­ri­fies and mes­mer­izes, Tuvia Friling recounts and ana­lyzes the com­plex, coura­geous, often futile attempts by the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of Pales­tine to save Euro­pean Jews from destruc­tion by the Nazis. Friling, direc­tor of the Ben-Guri­on Research Cen­ter at Ben-Guri­on Uni­ver­si­ty in Israel, details the activ­i­ties car­ried out at the behest of David Ben-Guri­on and the Yishuv lead­er­ship in Palestine. 

Dar­ing attempts to extract Jews from Nazi-occu­pied lands, ran­som plans, and pro­pos­als for direct nego­ti­a­tions with the mur­der­ous regime are described in exhaus­tive detail gleaned from offi­cial and unof­fi­cial doc­u­ments, news­pa­per accounts, his­tor­i­cal research, jour­nals, let­ters, inter­views and testimonials.

Out of the chaos of the era, the author mas­ter­ful­ly orga­nizes the mate­r­i­al into three main parts. Part one, Con­fronting the Infor­ma­tion,” tells what Ben-Guri­on knew about the unfold­ing mas­sacre, how he knew it, and how he used the infor­ma­tion to help his brethren and warn the world. The Zion­ist leader’s role is often described in prophet­ic terms. 

Part two focus­es on res­cue plans, with par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to the plight of Jew­ish chil­dren in Europe. The author’s descrip­tion of attempts to res­cue Hun­gar­i­an Jews is espe­cial­ly riv­et­ing. Part three explores the financ­ing of res­cue attempts, includ­ing the finan­cial maneu­vers of Ben-Guri­on and Eliez­er Kaplan, trea­sur­er of the Jew­ish Agency. The title of this two-vol­ume paper­back set comes from a quote from Kaplan: The Jew­ish Yishuv in Pales­tine must shoot an arrow in the dark, it must grasp at every oppor­tu­ni­ty, no mat­ter how weak, to save Jews from annihilation.” 

Author of many schol­ar­ly arti­cles on Ben-Guri­on, the Holo­caust, and Israeli his­to­ry, Friling has been Israel’s state archivist since 2001.

Robin K. Levin­son is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and author of a dozen books, includ­ing the Gali Girls series of Jew­ish his­tor­i­cal fic­tion for chil­dren. She cur­rent­ly works as an assess­ment spe­cial­ist for a glob­al edu­ca­tion­al test­ing orga­ni­za­tion. She lives in Hamil­ton, NJ.

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