Birthday of Nahum Goldmann, 1895
On This Day in Jewish History: July 10, 1895
#OTDJH: July 10, 1895 On this day in 1895, Nahum Goldmann, President of the World Zionist Organization and Founder of the World Jewish Congress, is Born. Nahum Goldmann was born in Vishnevo. He is best known for his Zionist work which included attempting to gain the German Kaiser's support for the Jewish state. In 1913, he visited British Mandated Palestine for 4 months and published his thoughts and impressions in his book "Eretz Yisrael, Travel letters from Palestine." During World War I, he worked for the German Foreign Office, focusing on combating British and French influence in the Ottoman Empire amongst Arabs and Zionists, encouraging the Kaiser towards Zionism as a means of promoting German interests in the region.
Goldmann assisted Jakob Klatzkin and Ismar Elbogenin's efforts in the creation of a definitive Jewish encyclopedia. 10 volumes were published in German and 2 in Hebrew before the project was halted by the Nazis. The Nazi rise to power led Goldmann to flee Germany in 1935, whereupon he became a citizen of Honduras. In the same year he became the Zionist representative to the League of Nations. There, Goldmann strongly advocated for a partition of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. In 1936, in collaboration with Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, Goldmann founded the World Jewish Congress in Geneva. The World Jewish Congress aims to be "the diplomatic arm of the Jewish people." Since then, the World Jewish Congress has fought for Jews worldwide, advocating for Holocaust victims and Soviet Refuseniks and fighting antisemitism and the de-legitimization of Israel. The World Jewish Congress is currently headed by President Ronald S. Lauder. Through the World Jewish Congress, Goldmann hoped to lobby nations around the world to deal with the Jewish refugee problem caused by the Holocaust. Eventually, in 1938, President Roosevelt called for an international conference known as the Evian Conference, which met in France in July of that year, to try to find homes for the displaced Jews. Of the 32 nations that attended, only the Dominican Republic agreed to accept additional refugees.
This led Goldmann to advocate for unrestricted Jewish immigration to Palestine, where Jews could look after other Jews, rather than be dependent on the other nations of the World. According to his obituary in The New York Times, Goldmann claimed, “I can hardly say when I became a Zionist. Even as a child I was a Zionist without knowing it.” However, Goldmann was heavily critical of the State of Israel and of Zionism. He criticized Israel's expansion in the Six Day War and treatment of Palestinians. In October 1967, he met Josip Broz Tito, dictator of Yugoslavia, to discuss peace agreements with Communist and Arab nations. In 1970, he was invited to talks by Egyptian president Gamel Abdel Nasser but was stopped by the Israeli government. In 1982, Goldmann called on the Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, to end the invasion of Lebanon, which he believed would ignite a wave of antisemitism.
In 1952, representing Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Goldmann negotiated with West German Chancellor Konrad Adenaur on a reparations agreement for the Holocaust. The talks resulted in payments of 822 million USD to Israel and the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Goldmann, along with others involved in the negotiations, faced fierce opposition for the deal, with many arguing that accepting reparation payments was the equivalent of forgiving the Nazis for their crimes. The debate over reparations was fierce and nuanced, but is best encapsulated by quotes from both sides. Yaakov Hazan of Mapam said in the Knesset: "Our army, the Israel Defense Forces, will be in the same camp as the Nazi army, and the Nazis will begin infiltrating here not as our most terrible enemies, but rather as our allies.” Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion wrote to Goldmann, “For the first time in the history of the Jewish people, oppressed and plundered for hundreds of years…the oppressor and plunderer has had to hand back some of the spoil and pay collective compensation for part of the material losses.”
Goldmann became a citizen of Israel in 1962, but despite frequent visits, never became a permanent resident, dividing his time primarily between Switzerland and Israel. Goldmann passed away in Germany in August 1982 at the age of 87. Yasser Arafat sent condolences, stating that "The Palestinians mourn the death of Nahum Goldmann. He was a Jewish statesman of a unique personality. He fought for justice and legitimate rights for all peoples." No official statement of grief was issued by the Israeli government. He was buried in Jerusalem's Mount Herzl National Cemetery in the section reserved for leaders of the World Zionist Organization.