Karaites in the Holocaust? A Case of Mistaken Identity

babiyar, Karaites, Holocaust, Mistaken Identity, karaite, jews, nazis, jewish, nazi, karaylar, zajaczkowski, turkic, german, karaim, Karaylar-Karaites, rabbi, anti-SemitesOne of the most common misconceptions about Karaite Jews is that they had a questionable role in the holocaust. It is commonly reported that the Nazis did not consider Karaite Jews to be Jewish and that some Karaite Jews even collaborated with the Nazis. These accusations are completely false. In fact, there were not even any Karaite Jews in Europe at the time of the holocaust, so they could hardly have collaborated with the Nazis! To accuse Karaite Jews of Nazi collaboration is like accusing Ethiopian Jews or Indian Jews of the same offense since none of these groups were present in Europe at the time of the holocaust. So where do these accusations come from? It is quite simply a case of mistaken identity. The problem is that there are two distinct and separate groups who both use the name "Karaite". The first group are Karaite Jews, such as myself. The name "Karaite" means Hebrew Scripturalist (from the old Hebrew "Kara" meaning Scripture). Karaite Jews, or as some prefer the more precise term Karaite Israelites, are Jews/ Israelites who live by the Hebrew Scriptures without addition or subtraction. "Karaite Jew" is not an ethnic designation. Some Karaite Jews were born into Karaite Jewish families, others were born as Rabbanite Jews who repented and embraced the Hebrew Scriptures, while still others were born as Gentiles who joined the nation of Israel ("conversion"). There were no Karaite Jews or Karaite Israelites in Nazi-occupied Europe at the time of the holocaust, quite simply because at that time most of them lived in Egypt, Turkey, and Iraq.

Alongside the Karaite Jews there is a second group who use the name "Karaite" or in their own language "Karaylar" (Zajaczkowski, page 11). These Karaylar-Karaites are an ethnic group originating in Eastern Europe although their exact origins are a topic of much debate. It seems they are in part descendants of Karaite Jews, who left Karaite Judaism in the late 19th or early 20th Century. According to the Karaylar-Karaites themselves, they are descended from Tataric-Turkic tribes and they readily back this up with linguistic and anthropological evidence. Karaylar-Karaites are often confused with Karaite Jews and whenever this happens they are quick to point out that they are not Jews at all.

One characteristic of Karaylar-Karaites is that they profess belief in Jesus and Mohammed as prophets. Warren Paul Green, a noted holocaust researcher explains:

"One aspect of Russian [Karaylar-]Karaism was a recognition of the divinity of Jesus and Mohammed. In a pamphlet published by the Polish [Karaylar-]Karaite community in 1938, the topic of the relationship of [Karaylar-]Karaism to Islam and Christianity was discussed: [Karaylar-]Karaites view Christ and Mohammed as prophets.”" (Green 1978a, page 286 quoting Firkowicz, page 2)

This is confirmed by a statement by Sheraya Szapszal, the leader of the Karaylar-Karaites in Poland who declared in 1936:

"Christ is for us a great prophet but not the Messiah." (Green 1978a quoting Moreau, page 392)

So one characteristic of Karaylar-Karaites which distinguishes them from Karaite Jews, is that the Karaylar-Karaites recognize Jesus and Mohammed as prophets, while Karaite Jews only accept the prophecy of the Tanach (Old Testament).

Clearly, Karaite Jews and Karaylar-Karaites are two distinct and separate groups. One is a Jewish religious movement while the other is a Tataric-Turkic ethnic group with its own unique religious heritage. They are apples and oranges. Or perhaps, a better analogy is grapefruit and oranges since they may have a common ancestry but by the mid-20th century they had evolved into two entirely separate and unrelated entities. To confuse these two groups would be like confusing American Indians and Hindu Indians.

Most historians maintain that if we go back one hundred years we will find that the ancestors of most Karaylar-Karaites were Karaite Jews. When they left Karaite Judaism in the late 19th century, they took the name "Karaite" with them, but dropped the word "Jew". At this point the Karaylar-Karaites seem to have intermarried with Muslim Tatars and hence adopted their belief in Jesus and Mohammed as prophets. This is somewhat analogous to the way many Jewish Germans (before the holocaust) left Judaism by adopting German culture, along with Christianity. One hundred years may not seem like a long time, but we must consider that before the founding of the PLO in 1964 the word "Palestinian" had never been applied to Arabs. Today there are 5 million people who speak of themselves as "Palestinians" and talk about their 5000-year history. National identities can be created in very short periods of time.

If the Karaylar-Karaites left Karaite-Judaism, why did they keep the name "Karaite" or in their language "Karaylar"? The main reason is that the Karaylar-Karaites spoke an ancient Tataric language called "Karaim" and the name "Karaylar" identified them as speakers of this language and bearers of the associated cultural heritage. A prominent Karaylar-Karaite scholar, Ananiasz Zajaczkowski explains:

"The most important evidence of the ethnogenesis of the Karaims (sic!) is provided by their language. The language used and spoken by the Karaims does point... to their descent (as mentioned above) from the Khazars and Komans." (Zajaczkowski, page 37)

"...the Karaim language belongs to the so-called Kipchak or Kipchak-Koman group, in other words to the North-Western group of the Turkic languages." (Zajaczkowski, page 40)

The fact that the "Karaim" language is a Turkic dialect led Zajaczkowski to conclude that the Karaylar are a Turkic tribe. Zajaczkowski also pointed to the fact that the Karaylar cultural traditions and folklore are Turkic as evidence for their Turkic origins:

"The most important evidence is to be found in the language which is spoken till now by Karaims and which belongs... to the Kipchak-Turkic group. Not without bearing on our theme is also the Karaim folklore and other proto-Turkic traditions..."(Zajaczkowski, page 12)

Zajaczkowski only uses the word "Karaim" because this is the accepted "European" designation for "Karaylar", as he explains:

"...in Karaim language Karay, in plural Karaylar... and in European languages Karaim (Russian and Polish)..." (Zajaczkowski, page 11)

So there was no reason for the Karaylar-Karaites not to use the name "Karaylar" or "Karaim" by which they meant that they were descendants of the ancient Tataric-Turkic culture and speakers of the ancient Tataric-Turkic "Karaim" language.

The official website of Lithuanian Karaylar-Karaites which appeared in 2003 explains:

"Khazar's kaganate, spread over southern territories of contemporary Russia, in the 9 th cent. being at its blossom was famous for its religious tolerance. Karaim missionaries reached the kaganate in 8 – 10 cent. passed their faith to some Turkish tribes (Khasars, Kipchaks-Kumans, and others), living in the southern steppes of Russia and Crimea. Common language and religion united these tribes as a nation for a long time; the name of religion became ethnonym. Contemporary Lithuanian Karaims are the descendants of those tribes."

Karaylar-Karaites have much to be proud of their ancient cultural-ethnic heritage and I do not presume to suggest that they change their name. However, most of the Karaylar-Karaites I have spoken to agree that there needs to be a clear distinction between Karaylar-Karaites and Karaite Jews. It's not that Karaylar-Karaites dislike Jews, but they no more want to be called Jewish than an American Indian wants to be called a Hindu (the religion of India).

National Identities

It is worth noting that some scholars go to great lengths to try and show that the Karaylar-Karaites are not descended from Tataric-Turkic tribes. I think they are missing the point. It's like telling the Arabs in the Land of Israel that they are not really "Palestinians" because their ancestors were actually foreign invaders from Arabia and Egypt. This may be historically true, but it ignores the collective consciousness and national sentiments of the Palestinian people which are very real. Whatever I think of the Palestinians, to deny that they really consider themselves a separate national entity would be to stick my head in the sand. The same could be said about the Italians, the French, and the Germans whose artificial national identities were formed in relatively short periods of time. National-ethnic identity has very little to do with historical fact.

The Holocaust

Clearly the role of Karaylar-Karaites in the holocaust has nothing whatsoever to do with Karaite Judaism or Karaite Jews. I myself am a Karaite Jew of "Rabbanite extraction" who repented by embracing the Hebrew Scriptures. My Rabbanite ancestors hailed from Lithuania although much of the family left for America during the Russian Civil War. But my grandmother's aunts and cousins were left behind and perished in the holocaust along with her husband's aunts and uncles. When I was in High School I made a pilgrimage to Poland where I saw the bone-strewn fields and the bodies still in the ovens. Even as I am writing this more than 10 years later the memory still brings me to tears. So I would be the first one to condemn anyone who collaborated with the Nazis in the holocaust. But having said that, let's look at what really happened with the Karaylar-Karaites in the holocaust.

The best sources concerning the Karaylar-Karaites in the holocaust are the studies published by the American holocaust researcher Warren Paul Green and the Israeli holocaust researcher Shmuel Spector both of whom talked to actual survivors and examined the actual Nazi documents written in German.

Karaylar-Karaites Were Not Considered Jews

The first accusation I always hear about "Karaites" in the holocaust is that they denied they were Jews. As already mentioned, the Karaylar-Karaites, about whom we are speaking, denied being Jewish decades before the holocaust. At first this did not help them since the Nazis hunted down anyone who had Jewish ancestry, even those who converted to Christianity. So the Karaylar-Karaites faced a very real and tangible danger from the Nazis. Green explains that when the anti-Jewish Nuremburg laws went into effect there were a total of 18 Karaylar-Karaites living under Nazi rule. These 18 Karaylar-Karaites petitioned the Nazis to exempt them from these oppressive anti-Jewish laws. Green reports that the request was eventually granted:

"The efforts of the German [Karaylar-]Karaites came to fruition on 5 January when Serge von Douvan, leader of the German [Karaylar-]Karaite community, received a letter from the Leiter der Reichsstelle für Sippenforschung."

Green then quotes from the actual Nazi decree stating that the Karaylar-Karaites were not to be recognized as Jews:

“Concerning your submissions of 5 September and 10 October 1938 to the Reichsminister of the Interior, we inform you of the following.

The [Karaylar-]Karaite sect should not be considered a Jewish religious community within the meaning of paragraph 2 point 2 of the First Regulation to the Reich's Citizenship Law [=Nuremburg Laws]. However, it cannot be established that Karaites in their entirety are of blood-related stock, for the racial categorization of an individual cannot be determined without further ado by his belonging to a particular people, but by his personal ancestry and racial biological characteristics.”" (Green 1978b, pages 37-38)

In other words, the Karaylar-Karaites were officially exempted by the Nazis from the initial persecutions, although the Nazis still suspected that the Karaylar-Karaites may have had some Jewish genetic ancestry. The above decree became known as the "Decree of 5 January 1939".

Jews Masquerade as Karaylar-Karaites

It's interesting that the Karaylar-Karaites are often criticized for asking the Nazis for this exemption, even though it eventually saved thousands of them from Nazi extermination. Ironically, many Jews saved themselves by masquerading as Karaylar-Karaites. Green writes:

"...an unknown number of Jews took advantage of the fact that a [Karaylar-]Karaite and Tatar community resided in Poland and Lithuania. These Jews were able to save themselves from an inevitable death by assuming the identities of Polish [Karaylar-]Karaites and Tatars." (Green 1978b, page 41)

In other words, many Jews took on the identity of Karaylar-Karaites in order to save themselves from the Nazis. This was very widespread and was even used by Jewish leaders. Green explains:

"This means of escape is best exemplified by the exploits of Mordechai Tenenbaum, a pre-war Polish Zionist leader and organizer of resistance activity in the Warsaw, Vilna and Bialystok ghettoes. While a student at the University of Warsaw, Tenenbaum studied Turkic languages. With the outbreak of war, he was able to obtain forged documents that identified him as Jozef Tamarof, a Polish Tatar from the Vilna region. With these papers, and the protection of the [Karaylar-]Karaite and Tatar minorities, Tenenbaum travelled freely throughout German-occupied Poland carrying out resistance activities. Until his death in the Bialystok Ghetto revolt Tenenbaum and other members of his resistance group were able to save an unknown number of Jews by forging papers certifying that the holder was of [Karaylar-]Karaite or Tatar descent.

We learn from survivors that this means of escape was used extensively in the Vilna area. Many such "Karaites" escaped from the Vilna Ghetto and lived in the Aryan section of the city untouched by all the persecutions which affected the Jews in the ghetto." (Green 1978b, pages 41-42)

I think it's interesting that the Karaylar-Karaites are criticized for "betraying" the Jewish people (which they never considered themselves a part of anyway) for asking the Nazis not to kill them. I cannot imagine anyone foisting the same accusation on those thousands of Jews who masqueraded as Karaylar-Karaites in order to save their own lives. Apparently what's good for the goose is not good for the gander.

The Karaylar-Karaites were not the only group of Jewish origin to be considered non-Jewish by the Nazis. Green explains:

"The preferential treatment accorded the [Karaylar-]Karaites should not be viewed as an isolated incident. In the course of my research, I have uncovered no less than six documented cases of exemptions being granted to groups of "Jewish" origin. In all cases, spokesmen for these communities argued that they were not of "Jewish" origin and that in the past they had had little contact with the Ashkenazi Jews. These groups, which originated in Southern Russia, Central Asia, Eastern and Western Europe included the Judeo-Tats, Georgian Jews, Jugutim, Subbotniks, Judeo-Celts and the Nahomine. The Germans consciously tempered their racial zeal in deference to military and political considerations. As a result of this acquiescence to political expediency, an estimated 70,000 such persons were theoretically exempted from extermination." (Green 1978b, pages 43-44)

Green specifically notes that the Georgian Jews, a Rabbanite group from the Caucasus region, better known as Gruzinim, actively petitioned the Nazis to be recognized as non-Jews. (Green 1978b, page 38) I have never heard anyone accuse the Georgian Rabbanites (Gruzinim) of betraying the Jewish people for saving themselves in this manner. Nor should they!

Karaylar-Karaites Saved Jews

Unlike the Georgian Jews (Gruzinim), the Karaylar-Karaites were not just thinking about saving themselves. Green informs us that they did their best to try and help the thousands of Jews masquerading as Karaylar-Karaites. Green even found eyewitnesses to this who are only alive today because of the efforts of these Karaylar-Karaites:

"While conducting my research, I met a couple, living in New York, who escaped death by posing as [Karaylar-]Karaites. During the war, Nechemiah and Ida Glezer who were originally from Vilna, assumed the identity of the [Karaylar-]Karaites Jakob and Ema Adryowicz. For a short time they lived in a relative state of security until they were caught in a police raid. The police imprisoned them and sent them to Warsaw for further interrogation. During their internment, they were questioned by Ananiasz Zajaczkowski, a noted [Karaylar-]Karaite Turkologist who was serving as a liaison between the Polish Karaite community and the Germans. Zajaczkowski told the couple that he knew their true identity, but that they should not worry because he was not going to reveal it to the Germans. He made one request - that they disappear immediately after their release." (Green 1978b, page 42)

Zajaczkowski's heroism, risking his own life to save a Jewish couple, is to be applauded. I have to emphasize that this still has nothing to do with Karaite Judaism. Zajaczkowski was not a Karaite Jew! He was a Karaylar-Karaite.

Shmuel Spector brings another account of a Jew saved by Karaylar-Karaites in Crimea:

"In Crimea itself, it is known that Mina Fischheut was saved from extermination. In her words: 'I was saved thanks to the fact that just before the registration my friends brought me an identity card given to me by my [Karaylar-]Karaite friend - Dr. Neuman; this had been her sister's who was killed in the bombing." (Spector, page 107)

Szapszal's List

Eventually the Nazis caught onto the fact that thousands of Jews were escaping by masquerading as Karaylar-Karaites. The Nazis informed the Karaylar-Karaites that they had to prepare a list of all their members and anyone not on the list would be murdered. Green explains:

"In order to put an end to this state of affairs, the Germans instructed that a list of all Karaites in Poland be compiled" (Green 1978b, page 42)

Of course, the Karaylar-Karaites had no choice but to prepare this list. Interestingly, the list was submitted to the Nazis by Sheraya Szapszal, the same Karaylar-Karaite leader who in 1936 proclaimed Jesus to be a "great prophet" (see above), so he can hardly be mistaken for a Karaite Jew (Green 1978b, page 42). The preparation of this list by Szapszal is the source of one of the main accusations against Karaylar-Karaites. Critics argue that Szapszal's list was a "list of death" because it condemned all those Jews masquerading as Karaylar-Karaites to death. Of course, from Szapszal's perspective this was a "list of life". Anyone not on the list was as good as dead. Szapszal could have refused to prepare the list but it would have meant the lives of hundreds if not thousands of more people. In the movie Schindler's List no one accused the Jewish accountant in the movie, Itzhak Stern (played by Ben Kingsley), of preparing a "list of death". Like Szapszal, Stern made a list of names in which everyone on the list would be saved and everyone not on the list would be murdered. Yet Stern has been praised as a hero for saving about 2000 people while Szapszal is accused of being a Nazi collaborator, even though he saved perhaps as many as 9000 people (Spector, page 91). This seems to me to be a great hypocrisy.

Atrocities of French Jews Against Karaylar-Karaites

One strange chapter of the Karaylar-Karaites in the holocaust took place in Vichy France. After the Nazis conquered France they set up a pro-Nazi French regime in the city of Vichy. These French Nazis were just as vicious as their German masters and sometimes even more so. One of their tasks was to register every Jew in the country to eventually round them up and send them off to the death camps. Although the Karaylar-Karaites had been exempted by the Nazis back in 1938, the Vichy French authorities accused them of having Jewish ancestry and ordered them to register as Jews for eventual "deportation" (to the death camps). The Karaylar-Karaites in Vichy France realized this would mean their certain death, so they petitioned the French authorities to exempt them from this decree. They cited the previous German decision declaring them to be non-Jews. At this point the Jews of France decided that if they were going to be sent off to their deaths, the Karaylar-Karaites were going to come with them. Spector explains:

"The French Jews opposed these claims [of the Karaylar-Karaites denying they were Jews], and in August 1942 published a series of articles in the Bulletin of the 'General Alliance of French Israelites' (UGJF), in which they rejected the arguments of the [Karaylar-]Karaites, and instead declared that they were a Jewish sect of Jewish extraction." (Spector, page 93)

It seems that even the French Jews confused the Karaylar-Karaites with the Karaite Jews, and this almost cost the Karaylar-Karaites their lives. But confused or not, it is curious why the French Jews would do such a thing knowing that they were endangering the lives of the Karaylar-Karaites.

To put the behavior of the French Jews into context, it's worth considering the actions of Jews in Eastern European towards the Karaylar-Karaites. When the Nazis asked three separate panels of Jewish scholars in the Warsaw, Lvov, and Vilna Ghettoes to submit reports on whether the Karaylar-Karaites were Jews, these scholars all independently informed the Nazis that the Karaylar-Karaites were not racially Jewish. Ironically, one of these scholars was a Jewish professor by the name of Meir Balaban who had carried out an ongoing debate with Sheraya Szapszal before the war. Szapszal was not just the leader of the Karaylar-Karaites in Poland, he was also a linguist and university professor. Before the war, Szapszal had argued based on linguistic evidence that Karaylar-Karaites were descended from Tataric tribes. Balaban had opposed Szapszal's theories and tried to prove through historical documents that the Karaylar-Karaites were in fact of Jewish descent. But when the Nazis came and asked Balaban about whether or not the Karaylar-Karaites were Jews, he changed his tune 180 degrees and submitted a report roughly based on Szapszal's theories, even though he believed it to be false. Balaban had the good sense to value human life above academic debates (Spector, pages 91, 97-98).

Massacre of Karaylar-Karaites in the Ukraine

Although the Nazi's declared the Karaylar-Karaites to be non-Jews, this did not save all of them from the holocaust. When the Nazi's invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 they sent in alongside their military units another force called the Einsatzgruppe or "special units". The Einsatzgruppe were quite literally death squads that rounded up Jews and murdered them en masse. Some of the Karaylar-Karaites fell victim to these Einsatzgruppe as Green explains:

"During the course of my research I have uncovered an incident when the decree of January 5, 1939 [exempting the Karaylar-Karaites from Nazi persecution] was not enforced. A. Anatoli (Anatoli Kuznetsov) relates in his historical novel Babi Yar that a group of Karaites were included among the 33,771 Jews of Kiev who were executed by the members of the Einsatzgruppe C, Sonderkommando 4A under the command of SS Colonel Paul Blobel on September 29-30, 1941:

“. . . .It was said that the Karaim had passed somewhere (I had never heard the word before, but I realized that they must have been some sort of sect) old men in loose garments reaching their heels. They had spent the night in their synagogues. In the morning they had come out chanting, “Children , we are going to our deaths. Prepare yourselves! Let us meet death bravely, as Christ did.”" (Green 1978a, page 284 quoting Kuznetsov, page 61.)

As mentioned above, one of the major differences between Karaylar-Karaites and Karaite Jews is that the former recognize Jesus and Mohammed as prophets while the latter do not. Obviously Anatoli was talking about Karaylar-Karaites who said, "Let us meet death bravely, as Christ did", something a Karaite Jew would never say. The massacre of Karaylar-Karaites at Babi Yar is also mentioned by Spector who writes:

"Apparently the commanders of the Einsatzgruppe were not supplied with instructions on how to deal with the [Karaylar-]Karaites. Therefore, in Kiev whose Jews were the first to be mass exterminated in the Soviet Union, some [Karaylar-]Karaites were included amongst the Jews that were murdered at Babi-Yar on 29-30 September 1941. Presumably, the small Karaite concentrations in the northern part of the district of Odessa, and perhaps also Cherson, were also harmed by the Einsatzgruppe." (Spector, page 93)

While I feel for the Karaylar-Karaites murdered at Babi Yar and elsewhere, this clearly has nothing to do with Karaite Judaism or Karaite Jews. Well, at least not any more than the murder of other non-Jewish groups. The suffering of the Karaylar-Karaites in the holocaust should be recognized as a human tragedy, even if they were not Karaite Jews.

Building Bridges in the German Army

One of the most serious accusations against the Karaylar-Karaites is that they were actually members of the dreaded SS. This seems somewhat surprising in light of the massacre at Babi Yar, but there is a grain of truth in this. Green explains:

"From a letter dated 27 September 1944, from Gerhard Klopfer, Staatssekretär in the Party Chancery, to SS Standartenführer Dr. Karl Brandt, we learn that an estimated 500-600 Crimean [Karaylar-]Karaites were serving in the Wehrmacht, Waffen-SS, and Tatar Legion! These [Karaylar-]Karaites most probably served with the 5,000-20,000 Crimean Tatars who served in the six German-officered Tatar battalions. Klopfer writes in this communiqué that “in respect to the close relations between the Crimean Tatars and the Crimean [Karaylar-]Karaites, no steps should be taken against the latter because it would upset the Tatars.”"

In other words, the Nazis tolerated the presence of Karaylar-Karaites in their armed forces because the Karaylar-Karaites were allied with the Crimean Tatars. These "Crimean Tatars" were Muslims who had extensively intermarried with the Karaylar-Karaites. The Muslim Tatars had suffered horribly under communist rule and when the Nazis came they allied themselves with them in order to fight the Soviet Red Army. Green mentions that some of these Muslim Tatars and Karaylar-Karaites served in the "Waffen-SS". Actually the Waffen-SS is not the same as the regular SS which ran the death camps. The Waffen-SS was a sort of Nazi "foreign legion" made up of non-Germans who joined up to fight the communists. Even in the Waffen-SS the Karaylar-Karaites were not quite fighting soldiers. Green quotes another Nazi communiqué, dated November 24, 1944 in which the Nazis explain to their commanders in the field that the Karaylar-Karaites were not to be trusted with weapons:

"Discrimination against the [Karaylar-]Karaites is unacceptable, in consideration of their racial kinsmen (the Turkic peoples). However, so as not to infringe the unified anti-Jewish orientation of the nations led by Germany, it is suggested that this small group be given the opportunity of a separate existence (for example, as a closed construction or labour battalion) and that their existence be kept secret from the public as far as possible." (Green 1978b, page 41)

So the Karaylar-Karaites served in the German armed forces as "a closed construction or labour battalion". In other words, they built bridges and roads or whatever, more or less as a slave labor unit, sort of like those poor Brits in the movie "Bridge on the River Kwai", although perhaps under somewhat better conditions.

It may seem incredible that the Karaylar-Karaites, who according to most historians had Jewish ancestry, served in labor battalions in the Nazi army. Yet in the overall context it is not so surprising. Recently a holocaust scholar named Bryan Mark Rigg has published a book entitled Hitler's Jewish Soldiers. In this book Rigg documents the fact that overall some 100,000 Jews served in the German armed forces. Some of these Jews even attained high ranks such as Erhard Milch who served as a Field-Marshall, the Nazi equivalent of a four-star general. No doubt most of the Jews who served the Nazis as fighting soldiers did this to save their own lives. If we judge them it must be in this context.

Atrocities at Lutzk

One accusation against the Karaylar-Karaites is that they oppressed the Jews in the Lutzk ghetto. Green explains:

"In the city of Lutsk, the local [Karaylar-]Karaites acted as liaisons between the Germans and the Lutsk Judenrat. Jacob Eilbert, a survivor of the Lutsk Ghetto, testified to the [Karaylar-]Karaite anti-Jewish activity. He recounted that the [Karaylar-]Karaites would enter the ghetto and beat up women and children. On other occasions they would extort huge sums of money from the Lutsk Judenrat. Eilbert also testified to the fact that the [Karaylar-]Karaites assisted the Germans and Ukrainians in the liquidation of the Lutsk Ghetto in August 1942. My research, however, indicates that the strained [Karaylar-]Karaite-Jewish relations described by Eilbert appear to be an exception." (Green 1978a)

I see no reason to doubt Eilbert's account. Apparently there were some Karaylar-Karaites who committed atrocities in the holocaust just as there were Jews (some of them Rabbanites) who committed atrocities in the holocaust. Eilbert mentions the "Judenrat". The Judenrat were Jews appointed by the Nazis to run the ghettoes. One of the jobs of the Judenrat was to provide the Nazis with lists of Jews for "deportation" to forced labor camps and eventually to death camps. It is sad to think that there were Jews who actually cooperated and filled this function, facilitating the Nazis to kill far more Jews than would have been otherwise possible. Unfortunately most of these Judenrat criminals have escaped justice. I sincerely hope that those Karaylar-Karaites and Judenrat Jews who really did collaborate with the Nazis are hunted down and brought to justice, even now after 60 years. However, it must be emphasized that according to Spector there were only about 50 Karaylar-Karaites in all of Lutzk out of a total of 9000 throughout Europe (Spector, page 91). We can hardly cast blanket blame on all Karaylar-Karaites for the atrocities of a few in Lutzk who were according to Green "an exception". This would be like blaming all Rabbanites for the atrocities of the Judenrat or blaming all Muslims for terrorism. A few rotten apples cannot condemn the whole bunch. An interesting epilogue is that Eilbert, the witness from the Lutzk ghetto, ended up saving his own life along with his brother's life by using forged papers identifying them both as Karaylar-Karaites (Spector, page 106)!


There has long been a confusion between two separate and unrelated groups, the Karaite Jews and the Karaylar-Karaites. Karaite Jews are Jews who believe that the Hebrew Scriptures alone are the word of God and attempt to live by its instructions. On the other hand, Karaylar-Karaites believe themselves to be a Tataric-Turkic nation who speak the Karaim language and preserve the Karaim culture. The former is a Jewish religious movement while the latter is a Turkic ethno-cultural group.

All accusations against "Karaites" in the holocaust refer to the Karaylar-Karaites, not the Karaite Jews. To lay these accusations on Karaite Jews would be like blaming American Indians for waging war against Pakistan! Of course, in the interest of historical truth it is important to look at the history written by holocaust historians who examined the original documents and spoke to survivors. When we do this we find that the accusations against the Karaylar-Karaites have in fact been misstated or misrepresented. Karaylar-Karaites were officially exempted from Nazi persecution during the holocaust, just as the Georgian Rabbanite Jews and four other quasi-Judaic groups. However, this did not save the Karaylar-Karaites from massacres by Nazi death squads in the Ukraine. At the same time, thousands of Rabbanite Jews saved themselves from the Nazis by masquerading as Karaylar-Karaites, often with the direct help of the Karaylar-Karaites themselves. It is true that some Karaylar-Karaites served in labor units in the German army, although the same (or worse) could be said of as many as 100,000 Jews (many of them Rabbanites). There were also a handful of Karaylar-Karaites who perpetrated atrocities at Lutsk. But the number who participated in this – even if we assume that every Karaylar-Karaite in Lutsk was involved (including old people and small children) – was less than 1% of all Karaylar-Karaites in Europe.

Karaylar-Karaites continue to insist that they are not Jews to this day and often suffer at the hands of Rabbanites or anti-Semites who refuse to believe them. The Karaylar-Karaites said this before the holocaust, during the holocaust, and till this very day. It is high time people recognized the difference between Karaylar-Karaites who are an ethno-cultural group who self-identify with their ancient Turkic cultural and linguistic heritage and the Karaite Jews who are a Jewish religious movement that advocates a return to the pure Hebrew Scriptures.


9 thoughts on “Karaites in the Holocaust? A Case of Mistaken Identity

  1. On the subject of Nazi religious persecution, there was apparently another group that was given over to the concentration camps. According to one account I recently read, their persecution began in 1933. Around 10, 000 were sent to the death camps and half that number died. They were made to wear purple triangles but given the opportunity to renounce their beliefs, but most remained resolute. One of their core beliefs was pacifism, the other was in the name of the God Of Israel. They were members of the church called Jehovah’s Witness. Yahovah will have vengeance in his own time and he knows the guilty parties.

  2. You might want to replace the word Christ for Jesus, because Christ is Messiah in Greek. So when you say “Christ is not the Messiah” its like saying “Abraham is not Avraham”, it doesn’t make sense. Hope this helps to avoid confusion.

    • Nehemiah is correct. The interview was in French where the word Messie (which was translated into English as Messiah) is equivalent to Messias (from Hebrew Moshia’ מוֹשִׁיעַ) not Christ (Mashiakh מָשִׁיחַ).
      In fact the same is commonly true in English.
      See here

      So Shapshal was saying that they accept him as a Mashiakh but not as Ha-Moshia’ which is certainly a reference to Hosea. This is a very Nestorian theology which Christ is very clearly and definitively distinguished from the Father.

  3. Wonderful, I had no idea, I love the true history. Thankyou

    If a ger would like to become a Karaite, what would you suggest?
    You and your team are the only karaites I know of, I. Sure there are more. Have fun with this one.

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