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How the Jews Saved the World



A nagging, persistent thought regarding the Second World War and the Holocaust won’t leave me in peace. It’s been bothering me, or shall I say been challenging me, for a long time. And it seems like the right time now, with Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day) upon us on May 5th, for me to formulate my thoughts on the matter. Indeed, as a son of Holocaust survivors, who sucked the Shoah from his mother’s breast (so to speak), and who grew up in a kibbutz in Israel where, literally, there were no grandparents, I thought it is high time for me now to finally dedicate a post to this most terrible event in our history.

First problem for me in doing so is that – especially regarding this specific topic, or the angle I want to explore here – I’m not a historian, though student of history I most certainly am. As well, I don’t consider myself a scholar of the Holocaust, though I definitely have read my share of books on the Shoah, have seen many films about it, and have heard many people talk about it. Second problem is, as much as I searched and googled, I could find no record, or study, a book even, anything that deals with what I am about to write here, or at least suggesting that particular point of view. If by any chance you, the reader, know more about it, or know of such a book or a research, please don’t hesitate to comment here, and enlightened me about it.

To the point. There are many studies as to Hitler’s origin as a man, and his hatred of the Jews in particular. There are equally many theories, too, but no definite answer – almost akin to the question of who came first, the chicken or the egg – as to what came first: Hitler pathological hatred of the Jews, seeing Jewish conspiracy in everything from capitalism to communism, or his megalomaniacal wish to conquer Europe and the world. In other words: conquer the world in order to annihilate the Jewish People, or annihilate the Jewish People in order to conquer the world? From what little I know, I believe the former to be the correct answer. I believe that in Hitler – who had Jewish blood in him, according to some (unconfirmed) accounts – the hatred for the Jews ran deeper. I also believe that his first calling and career ambition was to be an artist; he blamed the Jews and their prominence in the world of art, particularly in Vienna, for his failure as an artist. (He was rejected twice by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, as “unfit for painting”.) You know how it goes today, the “Jews control the Media.” Then it was the “Jews control the Arts”.

We know that Hitler was not even “pure German,” was not even “pure Arian,” by look or by ancestry; and yet, to an “artistic” degree and performance he assumed – and indeed conquered – this persona and identity. One has to see again, as I had done not so long ago, Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece, “The Great Dictator” – remember the hilarious scene where Hitler plays with the globe as if it were an air balloon? – in order to understand the magnitude of his ambition in this regard, and the resemblance of the characteristics at play in his personality. It makes sense, therefore, to theorize that Hitler’s anti-Semitism, and his urge for revenge – that most brutal, and persistent of human tendencies – came first. And of course, he couldn’t have executed his masterplan of annihilating the Jews before governing and ruling Germany and Europe first. And there lay his ultimate failure and demise.

Think about it: He had accomplished, to an extraordinary degree, the initial stages of his plan. He created (or recreated) a political party; he won the elections democratically (there were obstacles along the way, of course, which had only made his resolved stronger); he established a dictatorship over “supposedly” the most culturally advanced people and nation in Europa at the time; he had built a tremendous war machine, unequal up till then; he maneuvered skillfully as head of state to push Britain and Russia aside for the time being; he had started a war which went very well, and according to plan for him, for more than two years. He was controlling most of Europe when he decided to conquer Russia as well, and at the initial stages was successful there too.

What went wrong then? I believe it was his obsession with annihilating and exterminating the Jews. Of course, there was Britain and Churchill, America and Roosevelt (not clear still, when and if, America would’ve joined the war had it not been for the attack on Pearl Harbor); and the Russian winter and Stalin pushed into a corner. Many reasons, for sure. But I’m here writing to suggest that crucial among these factors, and maybe the most decisive of all, was his obsession with the Jews. And that the cost of annihilating the Jews had cost him winning the war.

On the one hand, think about the enormous effort – personnel wise, resources wise, time wise, money wise, military wise – he had put into exterminating the Jews (and of course other minorities too along with them). Building concentration camps, sending trains full of people to crisscross Europe back and forth, exterminating them, guarding them, sometimes fighting against them when they rebelled and took arms. It was an enormous effort and strain on the German people, army, economy, and war machine. It would’ve been simpler just shooting them amass. Instead, had he used all these soldiers and officers, and had he directed these resources toward the war, particularly in Russia (which he too late had tried to do), it might have given him then a decisive advantage and victory.

On the second hand, had he used the Jewish people to his advantage, even if not willingly, his chances of success would’ve been much greater. Just keeping all the great Jewish scientists and engineers in Germany, not forcing them to flee the country, enslaving them or killing them, might have given him the Atom Bomb first. Who knows what would have happened then. Just thinking about it, Hitler possessing a nuclear weapon, makes me shudder. But instead, they built it for America. Yes, able Jews were sent to labor camps – as was the case with my father, who slaved at, and escaped from three of them – but had it been done without the hatred, in a “patriotic” fashion, they would’ve joined the fighting forces, the commanding echelon, the economic war effort, contributing their financial and professional strength. It may be hard to believe and accept, but even after the horrors of the Holocaust, in my kibbutz, those who came from Germany, escaping the purges and war ahead of time, still cherished its “culture” and language very much.

As I was saying from the outset, I’m not a historian. But it seems to me that among all the factors contributing to Hitler’s defeat, his obsession with the “Final Solution” of the Jews was indeed decisive. Had it not been for that, and for the urge to annihilate all the Jews, the story of Europe – indeed of the world – would’ve been very different. But then again, he couldn’t help it. His obsession with them ran deeper than anything else. And his obsession with not just killing them, but exterminating them, probably killed his chances of winning the war and conquering the world. In that respect, as of course in many others, we should be thankful to all the victims of the Holocaust and their survivors. They died and suffered so that we can live and prosper. They saved us all.

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The Purity of Weapon



An oxymoron, you might suggest. But when I joined the Israeli Defense Forces, and began serving my mandatory army service, no expression; no term; no ideal; no two words (in Hebrew it reads: טוהר הנשק) were stronger, more important. And no two words were hammered into us young soldiers more often, and more fiercely, as an example of what the Israeli army, in charge of defending the young state was all about. How I came to think about it, and to reminisce about it; how it so purely (yes, purely) exemplified the spirit, and the essence of Israel and its army back then, came to me so unexpectedly due to a recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. I almost wish I hadn’t read it. I have enough memories as it is.

Anyway, in this article, titled “Breaking the Silence, The Poem That Exposed Israeli War Crimes in 1948” – please keep on reading, and don’t jump too quick into false conclusions – the author, the Israeli professor Yair Auron, a scholar of genocide studies and genocide education, writes this, or as Haaretz put it in its one-sentence forward: “A poem published by Natan Alterman during Israel’s War of Independence criticizing human-rights abuses was lauded by Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, who even distributed 100,000 copies of it among soldiers; other such testimonies were made to disappear.”

You see, I couldn’t resist reading it. After all, it’s about a great poet, and a great leader, and how they reacted to atrocities, even if committed by their own soldiers. Because, I assumed right away, they were not afraid of criticism. Indeed, the long article describes in details what brought the poet and playwright Alterman to write it. Since it was written in 1948, and was published in full first in the Israeli newspaper “Davar” on Friday before Shabbat – where, incidentally, on that same paper, and on Friday too, an anti-war poem by yours truly (a minor and unimportant not-even-poet) was published as well in 1982, following the first Lebanon War – I take the liberty of posting here the first stanza of that short, three-stanzas-long poem, as published in the Haaretz article, in the translation of Ralph Mandel.

Across the vanquished city in a jeep he did speed –

A lad bold and armed, a young lion of a lad!

And an old man and a woman on that very street

Cowered against a wall, in fear of him clad.

Said the lad smiling, milk teeth shining:

“I’ll try the machine gun”… and put it into play!

To hide his face in his hands the old man barely had time

When his blood on the wall was sprayed.

Here the thing, though, my friends: Ben Gurion was not afraid. He was not afraid to declare Israel independence; he was not afraid of war with the surrounding Arab countries; and he was not afraid of criticism. And even though the poem dealt with atrocities committed by the nascent Israeli army under his command – specifically against the Arab population in the “massacres perpetrated by Israeli forces in Lydda (Lod) and in the village of Al-Dawayima” – and even though back then Israel was fighting for its independence, and survival, and faced, unlike today, true existential threats, he was so touched by the poem that he wrote the poet a letter. Get that?!… He asked his permission to distribute the poem it to the soldiers, so that they would learn from it. So that they will keep the oath of the “Purity of the Weapon,” meant to defend the country and its people. Not to kill people at will and at random, without proper cause.

But that was back then, you see. Nowadays the story is totally different. The poets are not silence, I assume, but I don’t hear them from here. Maybe it’s my fault, not reading enough poetry as I used to, now that Yehuda Amichai is long dead. And maybe the Hebrew poets are indeed afraid. Because this Prime Minister, and this government, are doing all they can to silence any sign of dissent, protest and criticism. What are they afraid of, you may ask? The truth, obviously. That’s why they are trying so hard to silence the brave Israeli officers and soldiers who fought to defend the country, and who are now fighting for the soul of that army to remain pure, and clean its ranks of human rights abuses. As is the case with the NGO “Breaking the Silence.”

Dictators are always afraid of the truth. The truth voiced by poets and authors. And Prime Minister Netanyahu is very close to being a dictator now. And his regime is very close to being a dictatorship. Not there yet, true, but close enough. That’s why they want to outlaw “Breaking the Silence.” That’s why there is now a theater play in Israel about the true case of a teacher who was fired for his “Leftist Views.” The Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is working on a law directed against NGOs, demanding of them to reveal their financial support from “foreign political entities,” which the American administration labeled as undemocratic. There are other instances, such as Netanyahu’s plan to allow elected members of Knesset to be ousted by a majority of other members of parliament (directed, naturally, against the Arab members). There are more such attempts, but you get the picture. The writing is on the wall, my friends. And it’s not a thoughtful poem any longer, or a thought-provoking play. It’s an upfront slogan against democracy; a rude attack against the human ideals Israel was built upon. And built its army on. Among them the “Purity of the Weapon.”

* The “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.


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