Nahum Goldmann, who passed on in West Germany Aug. 30, was an early champion of Zionism and a later champion of Jewish reconciliation with Germans and with Arabs. No one who had any contact with him can ever forget his commitment or his compassion.
He was a key figure in the struggle to found Israel. He was a major architect of the postwar West German restitution to Israel and to individual Jewish survivors of the holocaust. He was a founder of the World Jewish Congress and served for many years as its president. He was also for many years president of the World Zionist Organization.
Mr. Goldmann was born in a small town in Russia before the turn of the century. His family emigrated to Germany while he was still a child. As a schoolboy he became an ardent Zionist, giving a speech on this cause at his own bar mitzvah. He visited Palestine as a teenager. Soon after receiving his PhD in law and philosophy from the University of Heidelberg he founded the Eshkol publishing house in Berlin and became the copublisher of the Encyclopedia Judaica.
In the 1930s Goldmann was one of the earliest to sense the dangers in the Nazi rise - and the Nazis early considered this Zionist activist a threat. With a death sentence on his head, Goldmann left Germany in 1933 to become the representative for the Jewish Agency for Palestine at the League of Nations in Geneva. Subsequently he moved to Britain, then to the United States, to promote the concept of a Jewish state in Palestine. In Washington he implored President Roosevelt - in vain - to bomb the Auschwitz extermination camp.
After the war Goldmann joined the Zionist delegation to the United Nations session that finally did establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Typically, even in this moment of victory he sought - in vain - to delay the birth of Israel long enough to get guaranteed lands for Arabs as well, and voluntary Arab consent to the new Jewish state.
In the postwar years, too, Goldmann served as a go-between to bring Israel Premier David Ben Gurion and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer together in an agreement on West German payments to Israel and to survivors of Hitler's holocaust.
In his later years this world citizen - he possessed eight passports - turned his energies to the Sisyphean task of seeking real reconciliation between Jew and German and between Jew and Arab. He lectured eloquently on the sometime affinity of Jews and Germans and on the central role of Jews in German cultural history. He consistently urged Israelis to be generous toward Palestinians and bluntly condemned Israel's turning of them into second-class citizens and Israel's encroachments on Arab lands.