To get an idea what the situation of the Jews was like in Europe during Hitler's rise to power, I'm taking quotes from the book Eim HaBanim Sameichah, by HaRav Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal of saintly memory, who wrote it while on the run with his family from the Nazi hordes.
From The Author’s Preface:
My dear brothers, after presenting you the words of our brilliant and holy ancestors, you can clearly see that as early as eighty years ago [1862-63] a holy spirit arose within our exalted and glorious anointed ones, the leaders of the generation, to return to our mother’s bosom and no longer embrace the bosom of the foreigner. They urged us to devote our strengths, our blood, and our money to the Holy Land, in order to raise it from the dust, establish it, perfect it, and elevate the dignity of our “king.” It is well known from the Kabbalistic works that Eretz Yisrael is in the sefirah of Kingship (Malchut), the highest sefirah, and Kingship is the mother of Israel. She awaits us and cries for us to return to her bosom.
In the same vein, in the year 5660 , the holy gaon, our mentor, R. Hillel of Kalamoya, published a manifesto calling and urging our Jewish brethren to buy the Land of Israel from the Ishmaelites (Arabs). It was an opportune moment, for the sultan was at war and needed money. He was willing to sell Eretz Yisrael, Transjordan, and Syria for almost nothing. This holy man [R. Hillel] saw this as a divine visitation and called out vigorously in the streets to persuade the people of Israel to swiftly redeem our “king” from foreign control and from the hands of the impure….
Due to our numerous sins, however, his words fell upon deaf ears. They hovered in the air, unable to find a place in the hearts of our Jewish brethren in which to rest. The Orthodox Jews made silence their virtue and clung to the principle, “It is preferable to sit and do nothing, as has always been their policy.” The irreligious extremists were swayed by the new era which ushered freedom into the world. They said, “Here, I will dwell, for I have desired it.” They expected to find tranquility here in the lands of exile, seeing that they had received equal rights like all other citizens. In the meantime, they let our sacred mother [Eretz Yisrael] wallow in the dirt and remain in ruins….
After some years passed in this new era of freedom, known as “The Golden Era,” hatred sprang forth against the Jews in exile. Each time it occurred in a different location, until its flames spread so greatly that it endangered the entire community. We went from bad to worse until we reached the terribly dreadful state in which we find ourselves today [in 1942-43].
[He describes how the irreligious saw the error of their thinking and began to return to the land and build it up.]
…Those who tremble at the word of HaShem, however, stood on the side and refrained from sharing in the work. They stood by their age-old claim, “It’s preferable to sit and do nothing.” In the meantime, these “initiators” began rebuilding our Holy Land (so may it continue and prosper), while the Orthodox Jews and the tzaddikim stood aloof. It is clear that he who prepares prior to the Sabbath, will eat on the Sabbath, and since the Orthodox did not toil, they have absolutely no influence in the Land….
Now, what will the Orthodox say? I do not know if they will ever be able to vindicate themselves before the heavenly court for not participating in the movement to rebuild the Land, and for not heeding the call of these tzaddikim of the generation. These tzaddikim were renowned as completely selfless, holy men of God, and all their utterances were as complete and true as the Torah of Moshe from the Almighty. And since this awakening came from such holy mouths, they should have listened and joined in this sacred task. Had the God-fearing, religious Jews been involved in this undertaking, our Holy Land would have a completely different, more sanctified appearance and form than it has now. …Now that they kept themselves at a distance, they should not wonder or question the situation, for they are at fault.
Furthermore, if all of Klal Yisrael would have agreed to rebuild the Land, it would have already been built-up and perfected enough to absorb a large portion of the Diaspora Jews. A great number of our fellow Jews who were recently killed (due to our numerous sins) would have been saved, for they would have already been in Eretz Yisrael.
If this is true of the Orthodox, then what of the “enlightened” and the “reformed?”
From the Historical Introduction of Eim HaBanim Sameichah:
…Enlightenment philosophy can best be described as the belief that all people are equal. As such, great Enlightenment thinkers…believed that even Jews should be granted rights as equal citizens in gentile societies.
Consequently, the Jews created their own type of enlightened thought to grapple with the problem of dual loyalty. They sought ways to preserve their Jewishness while becoming equal citizens of the host country….
The upper class Jews of Germany and Austria had a different solution. Instead of trying to integrate their Jewish and universal commitments, they attempted to compromise between them. The result was the Reform movement, which tried to make Judaism resemble Christianity as much as possible….
…Reform leaders renounced almost all ties to their ancestral Homeland. They rejected the idea of reestablishing Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael, for they saw it as a major threat to their dreams of integrating into gentile society. Thus, they removed from the liturgy most references to Zion, Jerusalem, and Eretz Yisrael. Instead, they developed a new motto: “Berlin [or Paris or London or Vienna] is our Jerusalem.”
So, let's evaluate.
* preferred Berlin [Paris, London, Vienna. etc] over Yerushalayim;
* opted to subjugate themselves to the gentile nations rather than respond to God's call to return to their land;
* replaced the Beit Ha-Mikdash with the local synagogue.
Yes, they turned everything upside down alright! But, has anything changed today? Have we finally learned our lesson?
Sequel - Part 7