It seems that Hannah Arendt agrees with Ken Livingstone. In her book about Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem she writes (my emphases):
“it is indisputable that during the first stages of their Jewish policy the National Socialists thought it proper to adopt a pro-Zionist attitude” (Hans Lamm), and it was during these first stages that Eichmann learned his lessons about Jews. He was by no means alone in taking this “pro-Zionism” seriously; the German Jews themselves thought it would be sufficient to undo “assimilation” through a new process of “dissimilation,” and flocked into the ranks of the Zionist movement. (There are no reliable statistics on this development, but it is estimated that the circulation of the Zionist weekly Die Jüdische Rundschau increased in the first months of the Hitler regime from approximately five to seven thousand to nearly forty thousand, and it is known that the Zionist fund-raising organizations received in 1935-36, from a greatly diminished and impoverished population, three times as much as in 1931-32.) This did not necessarily mean that the Jews wished to emigrate to Palestine; it was more a matter of pride: “Wear it with Pride, the Yellow Star!,” the most popular slogan of these years, coined by Robert Weltsch, editor-in-chief of the Jüdische Rundschau, expressed the general emotional atmosphere.
The polemical point of the slogan, formulated as a response to Boycott Day, April 1, 1933 – more than six years before the Nazis actually forced the Jews to wear a badge, a six- pointed yellow star on a white ground – was directed against the “assimilationists” and all those people who refused to be reconciled to the new “revolutionary development,” those who “were always behind the times” (die ewig Gestrigen). The slogan was recalled at the trial, with a good deal of emotion, by witnesses from Germany. They forgot to mention that Robert Weltsch himself, a highly distinguished journalist, had said in recent years that he would never have issued his slogan if he had been able to foresee developments.
But quite apart from all slogans and ideological quarrels, it was in those years a fact of everyday life that only Zionists had any chance of negotiating with the German authorities, for the simple reason that their chief Jewish adversary, the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith, to which ninety-five per cent of organized Jews in Germany then belonged, specified in its bylaws that its chief task was the “fight against anti-Semitism”; it had suddenly become by definition an organization “hostile to the State,” and would indeed have been persecuted – which it was not – if it had ever dared to do what it was supposed to do. During its first few years, Hitler’s rise to power appeared to the Zionists chiefly as “the decisive defeat of assimilationism.” Hence, the Zionists could, for a time, at least, engage in a certain amount of non-criminal cooperation with the Nazi authorities; the Zionists too believed that “dissimilation,” combined with the emigration to Palestine of Jewish youngsters and, they hoped, Jewish capitalists, could be a “mutually fair solution.” At the time, many German officials held this opinion, and this kind of talk seems to have been quite common up to the end. A letter from a survivor of Theresienstadt, a German Jew, relates that all leading positions in the Nazi-appointed Reichsvereinigung were held by Zionists (whereas the authentically Jewish Reichsvertretung had been composed of both Zionists and non-Zionists), because Zionists, according to the Nazis, were “the `decent’ Jews since they too thought in `national’ terms.”
To be sure, no prominent Nazi ever spoke publicly in this vein; from beginning to end, Nazi propaganda was fiercely, unequivocally, uncompromisingly anti-Semitic, and eventually nothing counted but what people who were still without experience in the mysteries of totalitarian government dismissed as “mere propaganda.” There existed in those first years a mutually highly satisfactory agreement between the Nazi authorities and the Jewish Agency for Palestine – a Ha’avarah, or Transfer Agreement, which provided that an emigrant to Palestine could transfer his money there in German goods and exchange them for pounds upon arrival. It was soon the only legal way for a Jew to take his money with him (the alternative then being the establishment of a blocked account, which could be liquidated abroad only at a loss of between fifty and ninety-five per cent). The result was that in the thirties, when American Jewry took great pains to organize a boycott of German merchandise, Palestine, of all places, was swamped with all kinds of goods “made in Germany.”
Of greater importance for Eichmann were the emissaries from Palestine, who would approach the Gestapo and the S.S. on their own initiative, without taking orders from either the German Zionists or the Jewish Agency for Palestine. They came in order to enlist help for the illegal immigration of Jews into British-ruled Palestine, and both the Gestapo and the S.S. were helpful. They negotiated with Eichmann in Vienna, and they reported that he was “polite,” “not the shouting type,” and that he even provided them with farms and facilities for setting up vocational training camps for prospective immigrants. (“On one occasion, he expelled a group of nuns from a convent to provide a training farm for young Jews,” and on another “a special train [was made available] and Nazi officials accompanied” a group of emigrants, ostensibly headed for Zionist training farms in Yugoslavia, to see them safely across the border.)
According to the story told by Jon and David Kimche, with “the full and generous cooperation of all the chief actors” (The Secret Roads: The “Illegal” Migration of a People, 1938-1948, London, 1954), these Jews from Palestine spoke a language not totally different from that of Eichmann. They had been sent to Europe by the communal settlements in Palestine, and they were not interested in rescue operations: “That was not their job.”
They wanted to select “suitable material,” and their chief enemy, prior to the extermination program, was not those who made life impossible for Jews in the old countries, Germany or Austria, but those who barred access to the new homeland; that enemy was definitely Britain, not Germany.
Indeed, they were in a position to deal with the Nazi authorities on a footing amounting to equality, which native Jews were not, since they enjoyed the protection of the mandatory power; they were probably among the first Jews to talk openly about mutual interests and were certainly the first to be given permission “to pick young Jewish pioneers” from among the Jews in the concentration camps. Of course, they were unaware of the sinister implications of this deal, which still lay in the future; but they too somehow believed that if it was a question of selecting Jews for survival, the Jews should do the selecting themselves.
It was this fundamental error in judgment that eventually led to a situation in which the non-selected majority of Jews inevitably found themselves confronted with two enemies – the Nazi authorities and the Jewish authorities.
As far as the Viennese episode is concerned, Eichmann’s preposterous claim to have saved hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives, which was laughed out of court, finds strange support in the considered judgment of the Jewish historians, the Kimches: “Thus what must have been one of the most paradoxical episodes of the entire period of the Nazi regime began: the man who was to go down in history as one of the arch-murderers of the Jewish people entered the lists as an active worker in the rescue of Jews from Europe.”
Eichmann’s trouble was that he remembered none of the facts that might have supported, however faintly, his incredible story, while the learned counsel for the defense probably did not even know that there was anything to remember. (Dr. Servatius could have called as witnesses for the defense the former agents of Aliyah Beth, as the organization for illegal immigration into Palestine was called; they certainly still remembered Eichmann, and they were now living in Israel.) Eichmann’s memory functioned only in respect to things that had had a direct bearing upon his career. Thus, he remembered a visit he had received in Berlin from a Palestinian functionary who told him about life in the collective settlements, and whom he had twice taken out to dinner, because this visit ended with a formal invitation to Palestine, where the Jews would show him the country. He was delighted; no other Nazi official had been able to go “to a distant foreign land,” and he received permission to make the trip. The judgment concluded that he had been sent “on an espionage mission,” which no doubt was true, but this did not contradict the story Eichmann had told the police. (Practically nothing came of the enterprise. Eichmann, together with a journalist from his office, a certain Herbert Hagen, had just enough time to climb Mount Carmel in Haifa before the British authorities deported both of them to Egypt and denied them entry permits for Palestine; according to Eichmann, “the man from the Haganah” – the Jewish military organization which became the nucleus of the Israeli Army – came to see them in Cairo, and what he told them there became the subject of a “thoroughly negative report” Eichmann and Hagen were ordered by their superiors to write for propaganda purposes; this was duly published.)
Eichmann remembered only moods and the catch phrases he made up to go with them; the trip to Egypt had been in 1937, prior to his activity in Vienna, and from Vienna he remembered no more than the general atmosphere and how “elated” he had felt. In view of his astounding virtuosity in never discarding a mood and its catch phrase once and for all when they became incompatible with a new era, which required different moods and different “elating” phrases – a virtuosity that he demonstrated over and over during the police examination – one is tempted to believe in his sincerity when he spoke of the time in Vienna as an idyll.
Because of the complete lack of consistency in his thoughts and sentiments, this sincerity is not even undermined by the fact that his year in Vienna, from the spring of 1938 to March, 1939, came at a time when the Nazi regime had abandoned its pro-Zionist attitude.