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Nahum Goldmann

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5082 | Film ID: 3865, 3866, 3867

Born in the Russian Empire (now Belarus) in 1895, Nahum Goldmann received a law degree and PhD from the University of Heidelberg. He was President of the World Jewish Congress from 1948 to 1977 which he founded with Stephen Wise. He was a Zionist activist but was often critical of Israeli public policy. He was instrumental in creating the Jewish Material Claims Conference. Goldmann wrote an autobiography called "Sixty Years of Jewish Life" in 1969. He died in 1982. In this interview shot in Israel, Lanzmann and Goldmann discuss Stephen Wise, when the Jews realized the reality of the Final Solution, the Jewish Council, and the Arendt controversy. The interview was likely shot in Jerusalem from February 3-10, 1975 during the World Jewish Congress conference at which Gerhart Riegner was present.

FILM ID 3865 -- Camera Rolls #1-3
Lanzmann interviews Nahum Goldmann. They talk about his writing, in which he condemns the outside world for its ability to see the inevitable catastrophe of the Holocaust and take any decisive action to save the Jews. They talk about the differences between the Jewish world and leadership between then and now - how it is more united today than before because of the existence of Israel and the successful representation of the World Jewish Congress. Goldmann says that the Jews are incredibly optimistic, which is how they’ve survived 2,000 years of diaspora, but that this can be dangerous. He says that in the early 1930s, German Jews did not take the threat of Hitler seriously enough. However, he says that the American Jews, who were and are the most influential group, were the worst in terms of evaluating the threat of Nazism. He is convinced that if the world Jewry had united to fight Hitler in the mid 1930s before Nazis consolidated power, hundreds of thousands of Jews could have been saved. They discuss Roosevelt’s idea to appoint Stephen Wise as the ambassador to Germany, as well as Goldmann’s own denaturalisation by Goebbels after his establishment of the WJC’s boycott on Germany.

(12:00) Goldmann thinks that the power of the Jewish community is greater today because of general global guilt over a lack of preventative action during the Holocaust, but that this won’t last. He describes a growing sentiment, particularly amongst the younger German generation, that they were not responsible for what occurred. However, he does express the opinion that Roosevelt was a champion of underdogs, both a moral figure and a great politician, and that he did endeavor to help the Jews but bureaucracy prevented him from being successful.

(15:38) Lanzmann points out what he perceives to be a paradox in their discussion: that the non-Jews were much more confident in the power of the Jewish community than the Jews themselves. Goldmann agrees. He says that Jews were much more concerned with patriotism and assimilation than consolidating community because of their fears of anti-Semitism. For example, the Alliance Israelite Universelle, a French Jewish organization, was very against the establishment of the WJC. They question if German Jews were overly patriotic and did not have foresight in assessing the Nazi threat.

(21:52) Lanzmann asks what could have been achieved with specific action. Goldmann responds that when Hitler came to power, there was a peace treaty with Poland which gave Jews in Upper Silesia equal rights as a minority. The Nazi laws violated this treaty. The League of Nations then passed a resolution that Hitler could not enforce anti-Semitic laws because there was an international treaty guaranteeing equal rights. Subsequently, for the remainder of the treaty’s duration, the Nuremberg laws did not apply to Jews in Upper Silesia. He says that this international action shows that the Nazis could be forced to give in. If there had been a united Jewish action or boycott, he believes non-Jews would have joined them and decisive prevention could have occurred.

(27:03) Lanzmann expresses the idea that the main factor of unification of the Jewish world at the time was Zionism. Goldmann responds that Zionist groups did not have much influence on the government in Europe, but that they were the most dynamic force. The founders of the WJC were 90% Zionist. They discuss the nature of Zionism at the time and its relationship with the WJC. Goldmann describes immigration to Palestine in the 1930s, including negotiating with the Nazis on the emigration of German Jews while preserving their personal wealth. The interview cuts off abruptly, with Goldmann asking, “Oh, is it finished?”

FILM ID 3866 -- Camera Rolls #4-6
Continuation of Lanzmann interview with Nahum Goldmann. Goldmann talks about a debate at the Zionist conference over which he presided in Lucerne. He says he prevailed and thousands of German Jews were able to emigrate using capitalist visas. Goldmann says the great crime of the Zionist movement was the 1937 rejection of the English partition plan. Per Goldmann, if the partition would have been accepted, hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives would have been saved.

(5:30) Conversation moves to the ‘American Period’. Discussion on how the news of the extermination plan reached Goldmann and how Goldmann communicated about this with the State Department. Conversations were had with Sumner Wells and Sommerville. There was initial skepticism about the killings but confirmation was received through the Vatican network of priests. Goldmann says that American Jews did not take this report too seriously. Goldmann gives two examples of the impact of this skepticism including a delay in saving Romanian Jewish children that resulted in them being sent to Poland. Goldmann discusses his own lack of action, along with American Jews, including failing to advocate strongly enough for the bombing of the concentration camps.

(18:00) Goldmann discusses how neither he nor others knew the extent of the destruction of the European Jews and the idea for the Nuremberg trials and reparations. He goes on to talk about a meeting with Major General Dill(?) where he requested the bombing of the camps but was told the bombs were needed for the war effort.

(26:20) Goldmann discusses the Evian conference in London of Jewish Zionist and non-Zionist organizations. MacDonald told Goldmann and Weitzman that it would be easy to transport and settle 700,000 Jews mostly in Palestine and the United States plus a few other countries. Overall, Goldmann says it was a terrible conference with all governments coming up with reasons why they couldn’t take any Jewish refugees.

FILM ID 3867 -- Camera Rolls #7-8
Continuation of Lanzmann interview with Nahum Goldmann, who expands more on the Evian Conference and the poor outcome particularly given that it was after the Holocaust. Lanzmann and Goldmann discuss the book ‘Politics of Rescue’ by an Austrian Jew named Feingold.

(3:00) Goldmann discusses his personal experiences in Germany and how he received urgent calls from Weiss and Weitzman to leave Germany immediately when Hitler came to power as he was in danger. Goldmann did not sense the urgency. However, he left Germany in late March 19??. to visit his father who was ill in Palestine. Goldmann was forced to take smaller trains as the larger trains had too many guards. His father died shortly after and Goldmann did not return to Germany as he believes he would have been arrested by the Gestapo and likely killed.

(6:00) Goldmann talks about how he came close to being arrested by the Germans during his travels. (8:00) He continues describing how he was reported to have died in Tel Aviv and why his father-in-law, who owned a big department store in Germany, was saved because he sold goods to high ranking officials on installment.

(11:00) The picture ends but Goldmann continues talking about how manuscripts and documents were taken by the Germans, which he eventually retrieved in an amusing way.

(13:21) The picture returns without sound with silent shots of Lanzmann sitting in a chair interviewing Goldmann on the couch. Ends at 17:42.

Event:  February 3-10, 1975
Production:  1985
Jerusalem, Israel
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Record last modified: 2022-07-28 22:02:26
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