The impact of the Holocaust on world Jewry, either on contemporaries
of the horror or on succeeding generations, cannot be exaggerated.
The scope of Hitler's genocidal efforts can be quickly summarized.
In 1939 about 10 million of the estimated 16 million Jews in the
world lived in Europe. By 1945 almost 6 million had been killed,
most of them in the nineteen main concentration camps. Of prewar
Czechoslovakia's 281,000 Jews, about 4,000 survived. Before the
German conquest and occupation, the Jewish population of Greece
was estimated to be between 65,000 and 72,000; about 2,000 survived.
Only 5,000 of Austria's prewar Jewish community of 70,000 escaped.
In addition, an estimated 4.6 million Jews were killed in Poland
and in those areas of the Soviet Union seized and occupied by
The magnitude of the Holocaust cast a deep gloom over the Jewish
people and tormented the spirit of Judaism. The faith of observant
Jews was shaken, and the hope of the assimilationists smashed.
Not only had 6 million Jews perished, but the Allies, who by 1944
could have easily disrupted the operation of the death camps,
did nothing. In this spiritual vacuum, Zionism alone emerged as
a viable Jewish response to this demonic anti-Semitism. Zionist
thinkers since the days of Pinsker had made dire predictions concerning
the fate of European Jewry. For much of world Jewry that had suffered
centuries of persecution, Zionism and its call for a Jewish national
home and for the radical transformation of the Jew from passive
victim to self-sufficient citizen residing in his own homeland
became the only possible positive response to the Holocaust. Zionism
unified the Jewish people, entered deeply into the Jewish spirit,
and became an integral part of Jewish identity and religious experience.
Data as of December 1988