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Nahum Goldmann (1895–1982), was the founder and longtime president of the World Jewish Congress.
Nahum Goldmann was born on July 10 1895 in Wischnewo (now Wisziewiec ), Poland, the son of a teaching and writing family, and moved with his parents in 1900 to Frankfurt, Germany. Goldmann studied law, history, and philosophy in Marburg, Heidelberg, and Berlin. He graduated in law and philosophy.
Goldmann was involved in the Zionist movement from an early age. In 1918, while working at the Jewish division of the German Foreign Ministry, he attempted to enlist the Kaiser Wilhelm's support for the Zionist idea. In 1922 he founded the Eschkol-Publikations-Gesellschaft (Eschkol Publication Society), and was involved in publishing a Zionist periodical. In 1929 he started the Encyclopædia Judaica and published twelve volumes (ten in German and two in Hebrew). He was early in predicting the severe and acute threat the Nazi Party posed to the Jews.
During the period of the British Mandate in Palestine, Goldmann was involved in a range of Zionist causes, including negotiations with the British, and when the Nazis seized power in Germany, Goldmann was in Palestine visiting his uncle. In 1935 he was stripped of his German citizenship, and fled to Honduras and later New York City, where he represented the Jewish Agency for several years. He later returned to Geneva to organize and help the flight of Jews across Europe. From 1940 to 1964 he lived as an American citizen in the United States.
Goldmann reported in his 1978 book Das jüdische Paradox (The Jewish Paradox): "The car stopped in front of the porch and at the sight of us, Roosevelt said: 'Just look, [Samuel] Rosenman, [Rabbi] Stephen Wise, and [Nahum] Goldmann are having a discussion. Go ahead, Sam [Rosenman] 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 his advice from the Three Wise Man of Zion.'"
After 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. After the war he worked actively with David Ben Gurion towards the creation of Israel. He was concerned—as it turns out, appropriately—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 1952 he negotiated a Reparations Treaty with Konrad Adenauer of West Germany. 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 co-ordinating 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. 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. He was concerned about Jewish assimilation , and fought to strengthen Jewish education, culture, and institutions outside of Israel. 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. In 1970 he tried to talk to Egyptian president Gamel Abdel Nasser, but was stopped by the Israeli government. 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. Goldmann's vision was to make Israel the spiritual and moral center for all Jews, but a neutral state.
Works by Goldmann
- Nahum Goldmann, Staatsmann ohne Staat (Statesman Without a State, autobiography), 1970, Köln: Kiepenheuer-Witsch. ISBN 3462007807,
- Nahum Goldmann, Das jüdische Paradox — Zionismus und Judentum nach Hitler (The Jewish Paradox: Zionism and Judaism after Hitler), Hamburg. ISBN 3434500073,
- Nahum Goldmann, Mein Leben als deutscher Jude (My Life as a German Jew), 1982, München: Langen-Müller. ISBN 378441771X.
- This article draws heavily on the corresponding article in the German Wikipedia, accessed 5 April 2005.
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