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Saturday, June 23, 2012

What Jews Did During World War I

Nadene Goldfoot 
World War I started; the axis (Germans, Austrian-Hungary, Ottoman Empire) against the allies the rest of the Western powers, ie Great Britain, USA, etc.)  What was the cause of the war?  Not the Jews.  Long-term causes of the war included the imperialistic foreign policies of the great powers of Europe, including the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, the British Empire, the French Republic, and Italy. The assassination on 28 June 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by a Yugoslav nationalist, (Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb)  in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina was the proximate trigger of the war.

 Jews lived in Germany. In 1910 there were 615,021 Jews.   The World Zionist Organization 's center was in Berlin, so they decided at the beginning of the war to have a liaison office in Copenhagen, Denmark, which was neutral.  Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire at that time. In the beginning of the war Jews found themselves on both sides of the war.   The supporters of the allies or "alliance" between England and France were in a minority but included Chaim Weizmann in London and Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who got busy and established a Jewish Legion in the British army.  Pinhas Rutenberg went to the USA to  do the same thing in the American army, Baron Rothschild in Paris and Joseph Trumpeldor, who with Jabotinsky created the first auxiliary unit in the British army and were known later as the Zion Mule Corps.

Chaim Weizmann invented acetone, important in making explosives,  as a chemist which helped Britain to win the war.  The importance of Weizmann's work to the ongoing war effort encouraged Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to issue the Balfour Declaration of 1917 in support of Weizmann's Zionist objectives as Weizmann ascended to the presidency of the British Zionist Federation.

On 2 November 1917 the British government sent a declaration of sympathy with Jewish-Zionist aspirations and approved it and published it as the Balfour Declaration after its author, Lord Balfour.  The government approved the declaration on October 31, 1917, the same day the British attacked southern Palestine which led to the conquest of this area and of Jerusalem within 6 weeks.
In 1917 the British had 2 new Jewish battalions in the army that would fight on the Palestine front:  one from England with Ze'ev Jabotinsky  and the other from the USA by David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi.  By 1918 a 3rd battalion was in Eretz Israel.

The Jews in Palestine, called the Yishuv, lost many people and suffered a lot.  The population went down from 85,000 to 56,000 because of people leaving, deportations, economic situation and disease.  Turkey had told all foreign nationals in Palestine to take out Turkish citizenship or leave on October 30, 1914.  That began the Jewish exodus.  The Balfour Declaration was published and that along with the British forces conquering Jerusalem was thought to be a part of the Messiah's coming.

Finally 400 years of Turkish rule came to an end in September 1918.  The British military regime replaced it and the Jews thought that soon, because of the Balfour Declaration, its promises would come to fruition.

On June 4, 1918, Weizmann met with Emir Feisal in south Transjordan to discuss cooperation between the Jewish and Arab national movements.

August 20, 1918, a delegation of doctors and nurses from the Hadassah Organization of America arrived in Eretz Israel with medical equipment to help Yishuv members who needed medical attention from the effects of World War I.

November 11, 1918, end of WWI.  Chaim Weizmann became Israel's first president on February 1, 1949.

Reference:  Jewish population in Germany, listed by dates

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