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Nahum Goldmann signing the Reparations Treaty with Germany 1952

Nahum Goldmann (Hebrew: נחום גולדמן‎) (July 10, 1895–August 29, 1982) was a Litvish Zionist and founder and longtime president of the World Jewish Congress.



Nahum Goldmann was born in Vishnevo, Russian Empire, a shtetl in the Pale of Settlement (now Višnieva, Belarus), the son of a teaching and writing family, whose father was an ardent Zionist. At the age of six, he moved with his parents to Frankfurt, Germany where his father entertained leading Zionists and intellectuals. In 1911, while still in high school, he and his father attended the Tenth Zionist Congress. Goldmann went on to study law, history, and philosophy in Marburg, Heidelberg, and Berlin. He graduated in law and philosophy.[1]

Pre-Nazi Germany

In 1913, he went to Palestine and stayed for four months, and published an account of his impressions the following year in his book, Eretz Israel, Reisebriefe aus Palästina (Eretz Israel, Travel letters from Palestine)[2], which quickly went through two editions[3]. In 1918, while working at the Jewish division of the German Foreign Ministry,[4] he attempted to enlist Kaiser Wilhelm's support for the Zionist ideal. In 1922 he founded the Eschkol-Publikations-Gesellschaft (Eschkol Publication Society), and was involved in publishing a Zionist periodical. In 1929 he and Jakob Klatzkin started the project Encyclopædia Judaica, which reflected the work of the leading Jewish scholars of the day. Eschkol published ten volumes of the Encyclopædia Judaica in German and two volumes in Hebrew.[5][6][7] Goldmann was falsely denounced by the Nazis as a secret communist agent shortly after the Beer Hall Putsch.[8]

Nazi Period

In November 1934, Goldmann petitioned Mussolini's support in relation to the Jews of the Saar, a region about to reunite with what was then Nazi Germany. [9][10] In 1933, by a twist of fate, he managed to escape arrest by the Gestapo, because he was in Palestine for his father's funeral. [11]

In 1935 he was stripped of his German citizenship,[12] became a citizen of Honduras thanks to the intervention of the French Minister Louis Barthou. [11]

Later he moved to the United States, settling in New York City, where he represented the Jewish Agency for several years. In 1936, Goldmann and Reform Rabbi Stephen S. Wise established the World Jewish Congress (WJC).[13]

He is credited with being early in predicting the severe and specific threat Hitler and Nazi Party posed to European Jewry. In the spring of 1942, he said, "Who can foretell what the Nazi regime, once brought into the position of the surrounded killer, will do in the last moment before it goes down to shame?" [14] Addressing the Zionist Organization of America in October of 1942, having heard the reports of genocide, he lamented, "Our generation is in the tragic position that one-half of the generation is being slaughtered before our eyes, and the other half has to sit down and cannot prevent this catastrophe." [14]

Sojourn in the USA

Goldmann took up residence in the United States in June 1940, eventually took out citizenship, and remained there until 1964.

True to the old Jewish adage of "Two Jews, Three Opinions," Goldmann found the Jewish leadership in the U.S. divided, with no cohesive policy in place at a time when unity of "intention and purpose was vital." [2] Deeply frustrated over this divided leadership, he said:

'In all my years in Jewish politics, I have never felt so impotent, so grimly bitter as I did over this. All of us who speak for the Jewish people in those days-- and I emphatically include myself --bear a share of the guilt.'[2]

Both he and Stephen Wise, working closely together, had been exponents of the 'democratization of Jewish life', that is, "an informed and assertive public," but under the stress of wartime conditions, and on the eve of the 1940 American presidential elections, they came to doubt the efficacy of public pressure, preferring a quiet diplomacy behind the scenes as the more effective means of pursuing viable goals.[15] It was this view, shared by Goldmann and Wise, which led them to strongly oppose Hillel Kook's (Peter Bergson) more aggressive and public methods of attempting to rescue Jews. [16]

Consistent in his view that "in exerting policitical pressure at home, one must always be cautious and tactful or risk incurring the hostility of influential diplomatic figures,"[15] neither Goldmann, nor the Jewish leadership around him, mounted a public campaign against the American immigration quota system, even as European Jewry were seeking refuge from Nazism. Some American Jews, including Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter did try their hands at quiet diplomacy with some success, such that the quotas were being filled by 1939. The worsening of the refugee problem after the Anschluss in 1938, however, created additional pressure, leading President Roosevelt to call for an international conference known as the Evian Conference which met in France in July of that year. The conference goal was to find homes for the hundreds of thousands of displaced Jews. Goldman attended as an observer for the World Jewish Congress.[17] Of the 32 nations that attended, only the Dominican Republic agreed to accept additional refugees. [18]

In such circumstances, efforts were mainly directed towards the old programme of 'rehabilitating Palestine'. One veteran member of the Zionist Organization of America, Bernard A Rosenblatt, believed that Hitler's persecution would ultimately make a success of Jewish Palestine.[19].

Goldmann with David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann called for an extraordinary Zionist conference in 1942 to form a cohesive strategy to attenuate the devastating effects of Nazi policies on European Jews, and the outcome was the Biltmore Program, which called for, among other things, unrestricted Jewish immigration to Palestine.[20] In his address to the conference, Goldmann warned his audience that Nazi rhetoric was to be taken seriously, and that there were foreseeable genocidal consequences for European Jews, were the Nazis to press on with their policies.[21] At the May 1943 American Emergency Committee meeting Goldmann, along with Abba Hillel Silver, was an advocate of the rationale that the struggle against the MacDonald White Paper was a step in the establishment of the Jewish commonwealth.[22]

In January 1945 Goldmann was instrumental in the creation of a committee combining the efforts of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency for the rescue and rehabilitation of the remnants of the Jewish people in Europe.[23]

Goldmann later recounted a humorous episode from that period of intense informal negotiations (1945).

'The car stopped in front of the porch and at the sight of us, Roosevelt said: "Just look, Sam Rosenman, Rabbi Stephen Wise, and Goldmann are having a discussion. Go ahead, Sam will tell me what I have to do on Monday". His car started and Roosevelt had it stop again to say: "Could you imagine what Goebbels would give to have a picture of this scene. "The President of the United States is getting advice about how to behave from the Three Wise Men of Zion".' [24]

Post World War II

Goldmann had long supported the creation of two states in Palestine, one Arab and one Jewish; his view was that independence was more important than controlling a specific territory, and his definition was that the aim should be to create 'a viable Jewish state in an adequate area of Palestine’.[25]. After the war he worked actively with David Ben Gurion towards the creation of Israel,[26] although he, with Moshe Shertok, advised Ben-Gurion, in vain, that the declaration be delayed in order to allow more time for reaching a diplomatic entente with the Arabs.[27][28][29]. He was concerned that an Arab-Israeli war would break out after the British left their Mandate and the State of Israel was proclaimed.

From 1951 he was the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Jewish Agency. In that year, he convened a meeting in New York City of 23 major Jewish national and international organizations to address the task of negotiating an agreement with the West German government for the reparations of Jews with respect to losses caused by Germany through the Holocaust. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (also known as the Claims Conference) was the organization that emerged from this meeting. On September 10, 1952, after six months of negotiations, a reparations agreement between the Claims Conference and Konrad Adenauer's government of West German was reached. Noting the historic import of the agreement, David Ben-Gurion said in a 1952 Dr. 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.” In 1954 a similar treaty was signed between Austria and Israel.

Goldmann served from 1948 to 1977 as president of the World Jewish Congress, the coordinating body for many Jewish societies outside Israel. He supported Israel in other countries, even though he was a profound critic of official Israeli policies. From 1956 to 1968, Goldmann served as the President of the World Zionist Organization.[20] In that capacity Goldmann was openly critical of the Israeli Government's actions in the abduction of Adolf Eichmann and urged using an international court.[30] He became a citizen of Israel in 1962, and of Switzerland in 1969. He never took up permanent residence in Israel, dividing his time between Israel and Switzerland. During his life he had seven citizenships, and lived the last part of it in Paris, France.

Though a strong supporter of Israel, Goldmann was also a strong supporter of the idea of a healthy Diaspora as Goldmann felt that a Jewish state would not answer all the needs of the Jewish people.[31] He was concerned about Jewish assimilation, and fought to strengthen Jewish education, culture, and institutions outside of Israel.[32][33] He also took up other causes, including that of Soviet Jewry, and founded the Conference of Jewish Organizations (COJO).

Goldmann tried to negotiate between Israel and the neighboring Arab states, and was critical of Israel for what he saw as an over-reliance on military might, and for not making more concessions after the 1967 Six-Day War, advocating a position that the only chance of long-term survival for Israel was to accept the rights of the Palestinians as a people.[34][35] In early 1970 he was invited to talks by Egyptian president Gamel Abdel Nasser, but was stopped by the Israeli government.[36][37] Attempts to contact Palestine Liberation Organisation leader Yasser Arafat in 1974 were even seen as high treason. Goldmann thought this behavior to be foolish. In 1982 he called on the Israeli Prime Minister not to reanimate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism with the campaign in the Lebanon.[38]. Consulted by a senior figure of the PLO during the siege of Beirut, he set forth five political principles that would prove conducive to securing the PLO's political battle on a firmer footing. (1) Abandon Beirut (2) put an end to terrorism (3) relocate in Tunis, the only area where the Palestinian leadership could enjoy real political liberty (4) set up a provisory government, which would immediately be recognized by at least 150 countries (5) recognize Israel. If these measures were taken, Goldmann advised, the PLO would establish the basis for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside that of Israel[11]

Goldmann's vision was to make Israel the spiritual and moral centre for all Jews, also a neutral state, somewhat on the model of Switzerland, with international guarantees of its security, existence and borders, and perhaps even a permanent symbolic international presence. This was intended as a step towards defusing Cold War rivalries and even more, the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In his later life Goldmann had extensive conversations with David Ben-Gurion. In his book The Jewish Paradox, Goldmann recalls a late night conversation he had with Ben-Gurion in 1956 about ‘the Arab problem’. Ben-Gurion told Nahum Goldmann:

“Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, it’s true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their [the Arab’s] fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that? They may perhaps forget in one or two generations’ time, but for the moment there is no chance.” (Nahum Goldmann, The Jewish Paradox: A Personal Memoir of Historic Encounters that Shaped the drama of Modern Jewry, Grosset & Dunlap, 1978, p. 99)

Goldmann died in Bad Reichenhall, Germany. He was buried in Jerusalem's Har Herzl National Cemetery in the plot of presidents of the World Zionist Organization.

Works by Goldmann

  • Nahum Goldmann, Erez-Israel - Reisebriefe aus Palästina 1914.
  • Nahum Goldmann, Von den Weltkulturellen Bedeutung und Aufgabe des Judentums (Of the world-cultural meaning and task of the Jews) München 1916
  • Nahum Goldmann, Staatsmann ohne Staat (Statesman Without a State, autobiography), 1970, Köln: Kiepenheuer-Witsch. ISBN 3-462-00780-7
  • Nahum Goldmann (Fall 1978). Zionist Ideology and the Reality of Israel, Foreign Affairs.
  • Nahum Goldmann (1969). The Autobiography of Nahum Goldmann;: Sixty Years of Jewish Life. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. ISBN 0-03-081337-9.  
  • Nahum Goldmann (1978). The Jewish Paradox. Grosset & Dunlap. ISBN 0-448-15166-9.  
  • Nahum Goldmann, Mein Leben als deutscher Jude (My Life as a German Jew), 1982, München: Langen-Müller. ISBN 3-7844-1771-X.
  • Nahum Goldmann (1970). "The Future of Israel". Foreign Affairs 49: 51–69.  


  1. ^ Jewish Heritage online Magazine Nahum Goldmann Biography index
  2. ^ a b c Nahum Goldmann, Honorary World Citizen, Kenneth Libo, Phd, and Michael Skakun, Center for Jewish Studies
  3. ^ Erez-Israel - Reisebriefe aus Palästina 1914.Rückblick nach siebzig Jahren von Nahum Goldmann
  4. ^ Hans-Peter Schwarz (1995) Konrad Adenauer: A German Politician and Statesman in a Period of War, Revolution and Reconstruction Berghahn Books, ISBN 1571818707 p 645
  5. ^ Selwyn Ilan Troen (1992) Organizing Rescue: National Jewish Solidarity in the Modern Period Routledge, ISBN 0714634131 p 144
  6. ^ Commentary Magazine December 1972
  7. ^ Ludwig Lewisohn (2007) Rebirth - A Book of Modern Jewish Thought READ BOOKS, ISBN 1406748579 p 166
  8. ^ Herbert A. Strauss (1993) Hostages of Modernization: Studies on Modern Antisemitism 1870-1933-39 Germany - Great Britain - France, Walter de Gruyter, ISBN 3110107767 p 223
  9. ^ David Vital (1999) A People Apart: The Jews in Europe, 1789-1939 Oxford University Press, ISBN 0198208057 p 893
  10. ^ Michele Sarfatti (2006) The Jews in Mussolini's Italy: From Equality to Persecution translated by John Tedeschi, Anne C. Tedeschi University of Wisconsin Press, ISBN 0299217345 p 77
  11. ^ a b c Bruno Segre, 'Nahum Goldmann: il profeta dimenticato'
  12. ^ Itamar Rabinovich, Jehuda Reinharz,Israel in the Middle East: Documents and Readings on Society, Politics, and Foreign Relations, Pre-1948 to the Present,UPNE, 2008, ISBN 0874519624 p.591
  13. ^ World Jewish Congress Collection, Agency History
  14. ^ a b Aaron Berman (1990) Nazism, the Jews, and American Zionism, 1933-1948 Wayne State University Press, 1990 ISBN 0814322328 pg. 96
  15. ^ a b Allon Gal, David Ben-Gurion and the American Alignment for a Jewish State,Indiana niversity Press, 1991, p.115
  16. ^ The protocol of Nachum Goldman's meeting at the State Department requesting the deportation or drafting of Hillel Kook can be found in an appendix to Professor David Wyman and Dr. Rafael Medoff's Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, America, and the Holocaust. W.W. Norton, 2002 ISBN 156584761X
  17. ^ Nahum Goldmann, The war years Jewish Heritage Online
  18. ^ [1]United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Emigration and the Evian Conference
  19. ^ Aaron Berman (1990) Nazism, the Jews, and American Zionism, 1933-1948 Wayne State University Press, 1990 ISBN 0814322328 p 22 & pp 31-33
  20. ^ a b Mitchell Geoffrey Bard and Moshe Schwartz (2005) 1001 Facts Everyone Should Know about Israel Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 0742543587 p. 9.
  21. ^ Aaron Berman, Nazism, the Jews and American Zionism, 1933-1948, Wayne University State Press 1990 ISBN 0814322328 pp.96-7
  22. ^ Jeffrey S. Gurock (1998) American Zionism: Mission and Politics Taylor & Francis, ISBN 0415919320 p 348
  23. ^ Menahem Kaufman (1991) An Ambiguous Partnership: Non-Zionists and Zionists in America, 1939-1948 Wayne State University Press, ISBN 0814323707
  24. ^ The story is given in Peter Grose, Israel in the Mind of America, Knopf, New York, 1983 ISBN 0805207678 p.116, and was related by Nahum Goldmann in his Le paradoxe juif , Paris, Stock, 1976: German version Das jüdische Paradox; Zionismus und Judentum nach Hitler, (The Jewish Paradox) 1978, reprinted 1992 ISBN 3434500073.'Das Auto hielt vor der Terrasse, und bei unserem Anblick sagte Roosevelt: "Sieh an, (Samuel) Rosenman, (Rabbi) Stephen Wise und (Nahum) Goldmann bei einer Diskussion. Macht nur weiter, Sam (Rosenman) wird mir Montag sagen, was ich zu tun habe". Sein Wagen fuhr an, und Roosevelt ließ noch einmal halten, um uns zu sagen: "Könnt Ihr Euch vorstellen, was Goebbels dafür gäbe, ein Foto dieser Szene zu bekommen: Der Präsident der Vereinigten Staaten empfängt Verhaltensmaßregeln von den drei Weisen von Zion".'
  25. ^ Evan M Wilson, William B. Quandt, A Calculated Risk, The U.S. Decision to Recognize Israel, Menasha Ridge Press, 2008 p.190
  26. ^ Israel Goldstein (1984) My World As a Jew: The Memoirs of Israel Goldstein Associated University Presses, ISBN 0845347802 p 331
  27. ^ Howard M. Sachar, The Course of Modern Jewish History, Dell 1977 ISBN 0679727469 p.478
  28. ^ Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, rev ed.1999 Pluto Press, London ISBN 0920057217 p.97
  29. ^ Ofira Seliktar, Divided We Stand: American Jews, Israel, and the Peace Process, Greenwood Press, 2002 p.13
  30. ^ Time magazine Justice on Trial Monday, 13 June 1960
  31. ^ Ha'aretz 27 December 2002 A Jew without borders By Tom Segev
  32. ^ Nahum Goldmann Fellowship Program was named in his honour; The men and women supported by the Foundation’s Scholarships and Fellowship programs represent a mosaic of Jewish cultural and religious leadership around the world. Even more significant, these recipients represent the new generation of scholars, writers, academics, rabbis, researchers, intellectuals and artists that replaced the generation of the Jewish cultural elite that were decimated in the Holocaust. The replacement of the generation of cultural leaders that perished in the Shoah is the primary mandate of the Foundation.
  33. ^ New York Times Jewish Odyssey is Recalled in Tel Aviv; by Margaret Croyden Published: January 2, 1983 Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora
  34. ^ From Foreign Affairs, April 1970 The Future of Israel by Nahum Goldmann
  35. ^ The Frankel-Hexter draft report on the Political, Educational and Social Problems [in Palestine] to the World Zionist Organization...relations between Arabs and jews were threatened by the persistent belief among many Zionists "that the Arab is an interloper instead of having equal civic rights with the Jews" Rafael Medoff (2001) Baksheesh Diplomacy: Secret Negotiations Between American Jewish Leaders and Arab Officials on the Eve of World War II Lexington Books, ISBN 0739102044 p 18
  36. ^ Mordechai Gazit (2002) Israeli Diplomacy and the Quest for Peace Routledge, 2002 ISBN 0714652334 pp 79-80
  37. ^ Peter Y. Medding (1989) Studies in Contemporary Jewry: State and Society, 1948-1988 Oxford University Press US, ISBN 0195058275 p 390
  38. ^ New York Review of Books Volume 29, Number 15 October 7, 1982 Where Is Israel Going? By Nahum Goldmann


  • This article draws on the corresponding article in the German Wikipedia, accessed 5 April 2005.
  • Bard, Mitchell Geoffrey and Schwartz, Moshe (2005) 1001 Facts Everyone Should Know about Israel Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 0742543587
  • Berman, Aaron (1990) Nazis, the Jews and American Zionism, 1933-1948, Wayne University State Press ISBN 0814322328
  • Chomsky, Noam Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, rev ed.1999 Pluto Press, London ISBN 0920057217
  • Mordechai Gazit (2002) Israeli Diplomacy and the Quest for Peace Routledge, ISBN 0714652334
  • Grose, Peter (1983) Israel in the Mind of America, Knopf, New York, ISBN 0805207678
  • Gurock, Jeffrey S. (1998) American Zionism: Mission and Politics Taylor & Francis, ISBN 0415919320
  • Kaufman, Menahem (1991) An Ambiguous Partnership: Non-Zionists and Zionists in America, 1939-1948 Wayne State University Press, ISBN 0814323707
  • Medding, Peter Y. (1989) Studies in Contemporary Jewry: State and Society, 1948-1988 Oxford University Press US, ISBN 0195058275
  • Medoff, Rafael (2001) Baksheesh Diplomacy: Secret Negotiations Between American Jewish Leaders and Arab Officials on the Eve of World War II Lexington Books, ISBN 0739102044
  • Patai, Raphael (2004) Nahum Goldmann: His Missions To The Gentiles University of Alabama Press, ISBN 0817350950
  • Sachar, Howard M. (1977) The Course of Modern Jewish History, Dell ISBN 0679727469
  • Troen, Selwyn Ilan (1992) Organizing Rescue: National Jewish Solidarity in the Modern Period Routledge, ISBN 0714634131
  • Wyman, David S., Medoff, Rafael. (2004) A Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, America, and the Holocaust. New Press. ISBN 156584761X

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