The influential Newark rabbi was a confidante of Martin Luther King, but he’s been all but ignored by history
On the evening of June 26, 1937, thousands of Berlin Jews packed the city’s grand Brüdervereinshaus to bid farewell to Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who had been ordered by the Gestapo to leave Germany immediately or face an almost certain death sentence for political subversion. Prinz had been the most popular, outspoken, and inspirational champion of Jewish national rights and Zionism in the dark years since the Nazis’ rise to power, preaching to overflow crowds at Berlin’s most important temples about the need to leave Germany and immigrate to Palestine. By the summer of 1937 he had already been arrested a half-dozen times by the Gestapo, but he always managed to elude deportation. This time, however, he was warned by his “friend” and informant, Gestapo Obersturmbanführer Kuchman, that his days were numbered, and he reluctantly decided to emigrate to the United States, sponsored by his friend and patron Rabbi Stephen S. Wise. Among the uninvited guests at Prinz’s farewell was a Nazi functionary, Adolf Eichmann.
Eichmann’s presence was to have important legal ramifications more than two decades later. In the initial discovery proceedings to establish Eichmann’s identity before his 1961 trial in Jerusalem, Benno Cohen, the foremost Zionist leader in pre-war Berlin, positively identified the defendant, testifying as follows:
We held a valedictory meeting to take leave of Rabbi Dr. Joachim Prinz who was leaving the country. He was one of the finest speakers, the best Zionist propagandist in those years. The large hall was packed full. The public thronged to this meeting. Suddenly, as chairman of the event, I was called to the door and my office clerk told me, "Mr Eichmann is here." I saw this same man, for the first time in civilian clothing, and he shouted at me, “Who is responsible for order here? This is disorder of the first degree." ... I watched him the entire time from my place in the chair.
After I left the Seminary, it was time for me to go and address a luncheon given in my honor by three Zionist groups. I was greeted by the people in charge of the affair and shortly thereafter one of them said to me, "I hear that you visited that nigger at the black seminary and even invited the nigger to dine with you tonight." I was completely speechless. But I managed to respond that it was true that I visited with a great scholar and had a very interesting time with him. But I could not help adding that I was shocked to hear such words from a Jewish group welcoming a Hitler refugee. ... I asserted that what was evidently happening to the black people of America was the very same thing that was happening to the Jews of Europe. There was an embarrassed silence ... after which one of the Jews asked me: "Would the rabbi care for a drink?" ... I immediately responded that I would like nothing better, hoping for a stiff alcoholic drink, not merely intoxicating but anaesthetizing for a pain I can hardly describe. Someone then brought me a glass of Coca Cola. That was the first time, and the very last time in my life that I drank Coca Cola. In all the forty years that have elapsed since 1937, Coca Cola was for me a symbol of hatred and prejudice with which I did not want to be identified.
Less and less do the lists of the peace movements and the movements of urban reform and those crying out against injustice and inequality for the Black community contain Jewish names. Most of the people, particularly you rabbis, have withdrawn into their comfortable ghettos. Instead of leading the people, you are following. Jews are among the most bigoted people in the world. Jewish leadership, instead of reprimanding them for it and cursing them up and down, as did the ancient Prophets, has followed their ranks.
My Jewish emptiness, which was caused by the perfunctory and assimilationist Jewish attitude of my community, including my own father, left a void inside me that made me search for something to fill it. It was at that time that I began to discover that there was something in Jewish life that was new, but rejected by the vast majority of the Jewish people. It was the Zionist movement. I ordered Theodor Herzl’s The Jewish State from our bookstore, since the library of the Jewish community did not carry it. I read it feverishly, including the last sentence: "If you will it, it will not be a fairy tale.” … In speaking with my rabbi about it he warned me against such a foolish idea that could only lead to a Jewish disaster and create … a betrayal of the German patriotism to which we were all wedded.
a nightmarish vision of America’s anti-Semitic fury roaring Eastward and surging onto Liberty Avenue straight into our alleyway and on up our back stairs like the water of a flood, had it not been for the sturdy barrier presented by the gleaming bay haunches of the horses of the Newark Police force, whose strength and speed and beauty Newark’s preeminent rabbi, the nobly named Prinz, had caused to materialize at the end of our street.
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