Wiesenthal Center head attacks WWII rescue of Torah scholars

The Vaad "did not want to leave the fate of the rabbis in the hands of the leaders of the Joint, whose WeltanSchauung [worldview] and lifestyle were so different from their own," Zuroff writes. Meanwhile, the Joint, operating under limited resources, came to see the Vaad "primarily as an unwelcome nuisance which was creating more problems than it solved."

His book, "The Response of Orthodox Jewry in the United States to the Holocaust: The Activities of the Vaad Ha-hatzala Rescue Committee, 1939-1945" (published by Yeshiva University Press and Ktav Publishing House), is based on correspondence, reports and other archival material.

Zuroff analyzes, for instance, why only the Mir Yeshiva survived intact, out of 20 such institutions, and reviews some of the rescue decisions made by the Torah giants of the day and how these decisions affected the fate of their adherents.

Zuroff's premise has been attacked as both unfair and absurd by David Kranzler, a historian and author of several books on rescue during the Holocaust. "The Orthodox leaders' efforts were extraordinary, relative to their social, economic and political power in the U.S. at that time, which was minimal," according to Kranzler.

His 1987 book, "Thy Brother's Blood: The Orthodox Jewish Response During the Holocaust," was attacked in the journal American Jewish History in a review by Zuroff, who holds a doctorate in Holocaust studies from Hebrew University.

According to Zuroff's book, in the Vaad's worldview saving the Torah equals saving the Jewish people. However, he argues that it is hard to justify the Vaad's priorities and its use of scarce rescue funds to permit its scholars to sit and learn once they were out of physical danger, when masses of Jews were being killed daily.