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Fourth International, March 1946


Review of the Month

The Plight of the European Jews


From Fourth International, March 1946, Vol.7 No.3, pp.70-72.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


So ghastly is the plight of the Jews in Europe that the suffering of this persecuted minority stands out even amid the welter of horror, devastation and universal misery on that agonized continent. In a report to the United Nations Organization, the American Jewish Committee stated: “Today the majority of the prewar Jewish population is dead.” All available information indicates that such is indeed the case.

Apart from the territories of the USSR, the Jewish population at the outbreak of World War II in 1939 numbered approximately seven million, with about 300,000 of this number living in Great Britain. Today, less than one million are alive in continental Europe. If we add the Jewish population of Britain, the total comes to less than 1,250,000 souls.

The fate of the European Jew is succinctly summed up in a table, compiled by us from the best available sources. This table covers 15 European countries in which the overwhelming majority of the prewar Jewish population lived. In each case, we have chosen the most conservative estimates. Far from exaggerating the situation, the figures are in all likelihood an understatement.

The breakdown by countries is as follows:


No. of



































































These cold and impersonal figures speak for themselves. They denote a mountain of corpses, a systematic physical annihilation of 5½ million adults and children who were either tortured and killed or left to die slowly of cold, starvation and disease. Such a wholesale butchery of a persecuted minority is unequaled in the bloodiest annals of savagery or barbarism. It remained for the Twentieth Century and the regime of capitalism to set this “record.”

But the table is incomplete, for it does not show the “peacetime” sequel to the wartime handiwork of the Nazi executioners. It is a fact that the lot of the wretched survivors remained virtually unaltered by the “liberation” of Europe. In the British, French and American zones of Austria and Germany, the majority of the 100,000 surviving Jews remain in Nazi concentration camps, including such vicious ones as Bergen-Belsen. They wear the old prison garb, eat much the same hunger rations and live in the same crowded, unsanitary conditions. Some among them have been incarcerated for as long as 12 years. The death rate is high. For example, out of 23,000 burials since “liberation” at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, 90 per cent were Jews.

All this is confirmed by an official report to President Truman. The author of this report is Commissioner Earl G. Harrison who was sent to Europe in order to investigate conditions among the “displaced persons,” especially the Jews (New York Times, September 30, 1945).

“Liberation” for the Jews

According to Commissioner Harrison these unfortunates cannot help but draw “comparisons between their treatment under the Germans and ‘in liberation’.” This comparison, continues the Commissioner, leads them to “wonder” and frequently “ask what ‘liberation’ means?” A perfectly legitimate question.

In the same Austrian and German areas, Jews outside the concentration camps likewise face death through malnutrition or disease. A February 4 Vienna dispatch reports the spread of tuberculosis among one fourth of 127 Jewish children who “have survived here out of the pre-war population of 185,000.”

Death and the Woman - Kaethe Kollwitz

Elsewhere in Europe, anti-Semitism remains strong. Reports of reprisals against Jewish repatriates have come from France, Holland, Yugoslavia.

Poland and Slovakia likewise continue to witness pogroms. Everywhere the same familiar pattern unfolds: bodily attacks, stores and homes pillaged. Among the sufferers are many recently released from Nazi concentration camps.

Prospects of amelioration are rendered all the dimmer by the fact that general living conditions in this first “peace” winter in Europe are likely to prove the worst in history. The situation is especially grave in South-eastern Europe and the Balkans, where there has been an unprecedented drouth. Perhaps, worst of all is Poland. Europe, which is now virtually a death trap for millions, can hardly offer any avenues of escape for pitiful handfuls of Jewish survivors.

The road of emigration remains barred. On this entire planet no room can be found for a few hundred thousand human beings. The richest country in the world – U.S. imperialism – cannot afford to grant the right of asylum to a hounded minority. Instead, the President of the United States mouths pious phrases and passes the buck to Great Britain. The latter in turn, ruling over the world’s greatest colonial empire, pleads inability to do more than open a narrow crack for immigration to Palestine, permitting a dribble of 1,500 a month. The frontiers of the USSR, where Stalin is once again boasting of the marvels of “socialism in one country,” remain hermetically sealed.

From a practical standpoint, one of the most feasible immediate solutions to the Jewish problem in Europe would be to offer all those who wanted to come a haven in this country. We Trotskyists raised this slogan long ago, demanding before the war that the bars be let down to admit all victims of fascist persecution. Our appeal met with little response. Among the reasons for this were (1) the domestic unemployment problem of Wall Street and (2) the existence of a strong undercurrent of native anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism Not A National Characteristic

And here we touch the nub of the problem. Nothing is falser than the idea that anti-Semitism is rooted in national characteristics. Anti-Semitism is not peculiar to the German people or Europe generally. Like all race-hatreds, anti-Semitism really stems from the ruling class, or more accurately, a ruling class that has exhausted its progressive mission in society and is able to maintain its rule only through the most ferocious methods. Race hatreds are as old as minority class rule. Reactionary ruling classes have always sought convenient scapegoats on whom to unload the evils of their own misrule.

Owing to the peculiarities of their historical development, the Jews, primarily urban dwellers, have for centuries supplied a most suitable target for reaction. They were integrated without any great difficulties in flourishing slave and feudal societies. But when the latter decayed, they were subjected to harshest persecution. Capitalism is reproducing the same pattern on a higher historical stage.

In its period of ascent, the most favorably situated sections of the bourgeoisie found it possible to assimilate the Jew, embellishing its “democracy” by granting Jews all civic rights, up to and including naturalization. Capitalist Germany, even under the rule of the Hohenzollerns and the Junkers, was no exception. On the European continent Germany was once among countries according the most liberal treatment to the Jews. With the decline of capitalism, not only in Germany but throughout the world, the “civilized” bourgeoisie reveals its true bestial physiognomy. When the American bourgeoisie completely unmasks itself, it, too, will confront the Jewish people as a mortal enemy.

The secret of the age-long survival of the Jews as a persecuted minority lay in their ability to make alliances with or serve as camp-followers of the progressive classes in society. What made this possible was their character of city-dwellers. Only in the cities could they have come in contact with these progressive forces.

Today this is the only road open to them. In modern cities, in the era of capitalist death-agony, there is only one genuinely progressive force, the working class. Failing an alliance with workers and their struggle for socialism, there is no salvation for the Jews.

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