He dealt with Nazis to save Jews – and may have died for it.
1. He was born in 1899 in Romny, Ukraine. He was known there as Vitaly (the Russian equivalent of Haim); in 1905, he became known as Viktor when, in the wake of pogroms, the family moved to Germany. Also, you might find his last name spelled Arlozorov.
2. He studied economics at the University of Berlin, obtaining a doctorate there. While still a student, he began writing about Zionism. He became a leader of HaPoel HaTzair (Young Workers’ Party) and editor of “Die Arbeit.”
3. In 1919, he wrote “Jewish People’s Socialism.” Much like Borochov (see my blog post of April 10) he advocated a socialism that embraced a national consciousness. He believed that if the Jews had a national homeland, ancient Biblical practices could be incorporated into modern agriculture, including Sabbatical and Jubilee years.
4. In 1921, when visiting Palestine for the first time, he witnessed an Arab riot against the Jews. The experience led him to focus on Arab-Jewish relations. Recognizing the legitimacy of an Arab nationalist movement, he advocated strength-based compromise with the Arabs.
5. In 1923, at the age of 24, he was elected to the Zionist Action Committee at the Zionist Congress. By 1926, he was representing the Jews of Israel at the League of Nations in Geneva.
6. He seems to have had a flair for coming into conflict with other Zionists. When Arab riots broke out around the Western Wall in 1929, he criticized Jabotinsky (see my blog post of December 31) and the Betar movement for inciting the trouble. Repeatedly, he warned against trampling on the rights of Arabs.
7. 1930 found him working on the unification of the two socialist parties, Poale Zion and HaPoel HaTzair, into the new Mapai Labor Party. He became Political Director of the Jewish Agency, initially working with the British Mandatory government to help settle Jews in Palestine. His willingness to work with the British brought him into conflict with David Ben-Gurion.
8. Among the Zionists, Chaim Weizmann was still his close friend. On April 8, 1933, at the King David Hotel, Arlosoroff organized a luncheon sponsored by the Jewish Agency and attended by Weizmann, Arab potentates and British leaders. The idea was to forge cooperative relations among the three groups. Not a popular move, it was much criticized by both radical Arabs and religious Zionists of the Mizrachi party.
9. April 1933 also saw Nazi Germany implementing its first Jewish laws. Arlosoroff immediately directed his efforts to the plight of German Jewry. Now viewing the British Mandate as a stumbling block, he sought to cut a deal with Hitler’s henchmen for the mass transfer of Germany’s Jews and their assets. This was opposed by Jabotinsky, who believed an international boycott by Jews was the way to deal with Hitler. Arlosoroff visited Nazi Germany to negotiate the Ha’avara Agreement, which allowed for emigration of Jews to Palestine along with most of their property – though it did involve the export of German goods, for which Jews would receive the proceeds. It is estimated that ultimately over 60,000 Jews escaped the Nazis directly or indirectly through this agreement. In addition, about $100 million was transferred to the British Mandate, helping build infrastructure and purchasing land for Jewish settlements.
10. On the June 16, 1933, two days after his return from Germany, Arlosoroff was assassinated while walking with his wife along the beach in Tel Aviv. He was 34 years old. Upwards of a hundred thousand people are said to have attended his funeral. But who shot him? His right-wing nationalist critics were immediately suspect, having accused him of treason. Two men of the Zionist Revisionist faction, Abraham Stavsky and Ze’ev Rosenblatt, were arrested. Stavsky was convicted, but the conviction was overturned on appeal.
11. The case has never been solved. In 1982, a judicial commission of inquiry, prompted by a bestselling book, concluded that neither Stavsky nor Rosenblatt had anything to do with the murder. Other theories that were floated at the time of Arlosoroff’s death identified the perpetrators as (1) two Arabs intending a sexual attack upon Arlosoroff’s wife; (2) a possible Soviet connection; and (3) agents of Joseph Goebbels, whose wife Magda had been close friends with Arlosoroff’s sister – it was thought the connection might have been an embarrassment to Goebbels, who in fact ordered his wife’s Jewish stepfather arrested and sent to a concentration camp.
12. A monument eight feet tall commemorates the spot where Arlosoroff was killed. You’ll find it along the beachfront promenade near the Tel Aviv Hilton. Only yards away from it stands a memorial to the fallen warriors of the Irgun, on which you’ll find Stavsky’s name. Stavsky had gone on to rise within the ranks of the Irgun. It was he who procured the ship Altalena, and he died in the 1948 fight over it with the IDF .
Are you an amateur sleuth of cold cases? You can find a summary of the police blotter at crankynotions.com/2012/02/27 chaim-arlosoroff-as-the-story-of-israel/. It’s in their February 2012 archive.