Arab-Israeli Wars: 60 Years of Conflict
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Start Date: August 25, 1933
End Date: September 1939

A transfer agreement established jointly by the German Third Reich and the World Zionist Organization (WZO) on August 25, 1933, to allow German Jews to take some of their wealth with them when they emigrated for Palestine during the 1930s. Ironically, the greatest support for National Socialist ideas regarding the separation of races came from Zionists. Although the arrangement worked to the financial disadvantage of German Jews, it did allow them to escape with their lives and at least part of their wealth before World War II halted the operation and the Holocaust began.

The National Socialists came to power in Germany in 1933 determined to solve the so-called Jewish question. Nazi leader and new German chancellor Adolf Hitler believed that Jews differed from Christians not because of their religion but because they were a completely separate race. In contrast, most German Jews believed that Jews could be assimilated into German society. A minority of German Jews who were Zionists held similar opinions as the Nazis in that they believed Jews should not try to be assimilated into a larger society but should establish their own homeland. These Zionists believed that they could work with the Nazis to achieve their goal of creating a Jewish homeland. Representatives worked with members of the Nazi Party on ways to convince other Jews that they were Jews and not German citizens. During the 1930s, Zionist organizations received preferential treatment from Nazi leaders who hoped to create a Jewish identity among German Jews. Separate Jewish organizations were created, and the Zionist flag, the Star of David on a blue background, was allowed to be displayed by these groups.

Many Nazis and Zionists were in agreement that the best solution to the problem was for the Jews to leave Germany and settle in another country. Palestine was a natural choice, because Zionist settlements had already been created there and because Jews had emotional and spiritual connections to the land. To encourage emigration for Palestine, Germany allowed Zionists to establish training camps throughout the country. Potential settlers were oriented to the conditions in Palestine and trained in the work they would be asked to do there. Jewish emigration for Palestine was limited, however, because Palestine was under British control. Only a small quota of new settlers was allowed unless they could meet the capitalist qualification of proving that they had $5,000 in wealth. An unlimited number of those certified as capitalists could relocate to Palestine.

The shared goals of Zionists and Nazis led to the Ha-Avara, or Transfer Agreement. Shortly after the Nazis assumed power in Germany, most Jewish organizations around the world declared an embargo on German trade. As a result, the new government instituted strict currency laws to prevent the loss of capital to other countries.

Negotiations were held throughout the summer of 1933 between Chaim Arlosoroff, political secretary of the Jewish Agency, and Nazi officials. The Jewish Agency represented the WZO in Palestine. On August 25, 1933, the two groups signed an agreement establishing the Ha-Avara to promote Jewish emigration and to get around currency restrictions.

The terms of the agreement were relatively simple. Each Jew who decided to emigrate for Palestine deposited money into an account in Germany. The money was used to purchase German-made agricultural supplies including tools, building materials, pumps, and fertilizer. The supplies were then transported to Palestine, where the Ha-Avara Company in Tel Aviv would sell them to Jewish settlers. The emigrant would receive the funds from the sale of goods that equaled the amount he deposited into the German account. Because of varying exchange rates and fees charged by the Germans, the emigrants lost about 30 percent of their funds in the transfer. A later addition set up a barter system whereby agricultural products from Palestine, such as oranges, were exchanged for goods manufactured in Germany. Other arrangements permitted Jewish leaders to pool funds so that emigrants could meet the $5,000 capitalist qualification. The German government organized a separate company called Intria to raise funds in other countries that could then be donated to Jewish organizations in Palestine.

Jewish organizations immediately debated whether the Ha-Avara was a proper action to undertake. It helped to undermine the embargo against the Nazis, but it allowed German Jews to escape from Nazi persecution. The 1933 Zionist Congress in Prague reluctantly approved the agreement after being assured by those involved that it would not help the Nazis.

Two years later, in 1935, the Zionist Congress meeting in Switzerland approved the Ha-Avara by a wide margin. In 1936 the Jewish Agency took direct control over the Ha-Avara. By 1937, members of the German government believed that the Ha-Avara was harming German standing and trade with Arabs. Hitler himself reviewed the agreement before giving his approval to its continuance. Other countries, including Poland and Czechoslovakia, signed similar agreements so that their population could emigrate for Palestine. The Ha-Avara agreement remained in effect until war broke out in September 1939, making further emigration impossible.

The Ha-Avara made it possible for 60,000 German Jews, nearly 10 percent of that population, to emigrate for Palestine between 1933 and 1939. A further 10,000 were ready to leave in September 1939 when World War II began. These settlers brought much technical and financial knowledge to the Jewish population in Palestine. They also transferred considerable capital to Palestine. An estimated $100 million worth of goods flowed into Palestine between 1933 and 1939 because of the Ha-Avara. Ironically, Germany was the largest exporter of goods and capital to Palestine during the 1930s. Much of the infrastructure and industry that existed in 1948 was a result of Ha-Avara transfers, and the possibility of a Jewish state was indirectly tied to the Ha-Avara.

Tim J. Watts

Further Reading
Amkraut, Brian. Between Home and Homeland: Youth Aliyah from Nazi Germany. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2006.; Black, Edwin. The Transfer Agreement: The Untold Story of the Secret Agreement between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine. New York: Macmillan, 1984.; Kampe, Norbert. Jewish Emigration from Germany, 1933–1942: A Documentary History. Munich: K. G. Saur, 1992.; Nicosia, Francis R. The Third Reich and the Palestine Question. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985.

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