Commentary on the Holocaust

After reading the two iconic books, “The Holocaust by Bullets” and “In Broad Daylight,” by Father Patrick Desbois, I have modified my views on the issue of the Holocaust.  I used to believe that the Jews had put up insufficient resistance, and to some extent I still believe that.  Yet, these massacres were so well-organized by the Germans with typical efficiency and so surprising to the victims that there was no way that any effective resistance could have been mounted.  It would have taken many years prior to the advent of WWII for these Jews, living scattered as a minority throughout a huge area and under very repressive governments to have initiated a secret program of training and acquiring weapons to have mounted any kind of resistance.  It was in fact impossible. The combination of German Nazi hatred and organization and Jewish defenselessness and fatalism was a lethal formula.

Yet, where there was a possibility of active resistance, as in the Warsaw Ghetto, and other ghettos, it did arise, Jews fought and sacrificed themselves rather than being simply murdered.  As a source for this I refer to “Flags Over the Warsaw Ghetto” by Moshe Arens.   It was clear that the acquiring of weapons, refused by the Polish National Army, was a limiting factor.  An early narrative of Jewish resistance was “They Fought Back” by Yuri Suhl.  And there was Jewish partisan resistance, as exemplified by the story of the Bielski brothers (see “The Bielski Brothers” by Peter Duffy and the movie “Defiance“).  Also in Western Europe, Jews played a major role in the resistance, for example in France, Suhl (p.181-3) estimated that up to 20% of the members of the French resistance forces (the Maquis) were Jews, including many refugees from Eastern Europe.  On the other hand an acquaintance of mine, Jerzy Lando, who wrote a memoir entitled “Saved by my Face,” because he was a blond Aryan-looking Polish Jew who spoke fluent German, told me, “if you think there could  have been resistance, then you have no idea what it was really like.”

There is a supreme irony in the fact that the Holocaust, the murder of 6 million Jews out of the 11 million in Europe targeted for annihilation at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin in Jan 1942, gave such an impetus for the establishment of the State of Israel, as the sovereign homeland of the Jewish people.  In reality, the basis for the Jewish State in the British Palestine Mandate, was well-established long before  WWII.  There were successive waves of Jewish immigration, that the British initially allowed under the terms of the Mandate.  Also these Jews were Zionists who had come to establish their State, and the British were not going to deter them.  So there was active anti-colonialist resistance to the British long before WWII and the Holocaust.

Further, David Ben Gurion  declared a policy of supporting the British during the War and opposing them afterwards.  As a result, many Palestinian Jews joined the British forces during WWII mostly in Egypt (while the Arabs mainly supported Germany), and eventually formed the Jewish Brigade.  Although the British disbanded the Brigade after the War, these Jews had received valuable military training, which they used to help defeat the British forces in Palestine and then to form the IDF.  The fact is that Jewish DP’s from Europe began arriving in Palestine only around 1948, by which time the die was cast, the British had decided to leave and the Jews were organized and able to defeat all the Arab armies.  The role of the Holocaust in the establishment of the State of Israel was more of a psychological factor among Jews and a strong public opinion around the world against the British and Arab attempts to prevent Jewish self-determination.  What a pity that this has now been turned around by the clever use of propaganda and PR by the losers.

One largely unremarked contribution of the Holocaust to the establishment of the State of Israel was that the annihilation of such a large proportion of the Jewish people (ca. one-third) removed a largely pious, religious and anti-Zionist element from the Jewish population.  Also, the pre-war international “brotherhood” (communist and socialist) or religious arguments against Zionist aims to re-establish a modern Jewish State were untenable in the face of what had actually happened during the War.  Anne Frank’s beautifully expressed liberal views, that have been used so effectively as propaganda by modern anti-Zionists, were written before she was denounced, arrested and brutally murdered without food, water or shelter in a Germans camp.

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The Origins of Israel

Those Western liberals and leftists who accept the Palestinian narrative, that the Jews established Israel by “stealing” their lands, are being sold a simplistic view of history.  It is necessary to go back before the Israeli War of independence of 1948 to understand the true origins of Israel.

After WWI in various conferences, at Versailles, Locarno and Sevres, various treaties were negotiated by the victorious allied powers that redrew the borders of Europe and the Middle East.  For example, Italy was given the German-speaking Southern Tyrol that had been part of Austria.  But, US President Wilson was intent on making sure that areas of the defeated Turkish Empire would not be gobbled up by other imperial powers, specifically France and Britain. This was in fact the liberal, anti-imperialist view.  It is not generally known that Wilson also refused American Mandates for either Turkey or Armenia in order not be become embroiled in ancient territorial conflicts.

A French diplomat came up with the idea of “mandates” to satisfy Wilson.  These would be areas under British or French control, but that were designated to be eventually transferred to the self-government of the local peoples.  So for example, in 1922 the League of Nations (precursor to the UN) gave France a Mandate over Syria, and Britain Mandates over Mesopotamia and Palestine.  It was explicitly stated that Syria and Mesopotamia (Iraq) were to be Arab states and Palestine was to be a Jewish “homeland.”  But France reneged at first on allowing Syrian Arab home rule and they also unilaterally created Lebanon, to protect the Christians.  Although the Palestine Mandate said nothing about an Arab State, Britain unilaterally established Transjordan (later Jordan) and later in 1938, stopped allowing Jewish immigration to Palestine as required by the Mandate.

So if we look at the facts, it was Pres. Wilson who insisted that Britain not incorporate Palestine into its Empire, but was to hold it for some time until the Jews were able to become self-governing and sovereign.  It was indefensible that Britain prevented Jewish emigration from Europe into Palestine just when Nazi Germany started its program of persecution and genocide against the Jews.

After WWII it was not the Arabs but the Jews of Palestine (at that time numbering ca. 650,000) who fought and defeated the British Empire and forced them to turn the Palestine problem over to the UN.  After many debates, the UN proposed a Partition Plan in 1947 to separate what was left of Mandatory Palestine into two States, Jewish and Arab,  The Jews accepted and established Israel, but the Arabs rejected the Plan and attacked.  It is important to note that none of the belligerent Arab States (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia) had any plans to establish a Palestinian Arab State at that time, they intended to capture Palestine for themselves (replacing the British).

It was only because Israel defeated these Arab States time and time again in their attempts to conquer the Land that they eventually gave up and the problem became a  Palestinian Arab problem.  So actually it was only after the defeats of the Six Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, that the Palestinian narrative was born and twisted into an anti-colonialist leftist story.   If you don’t believe me consult a reputable independent history book.  I don’t expect anyone to be pro-Israel, but I do expect people to be honest and base their views of what actually happened, not on some simplistic propagandistic slogans.

The UK is a Racist Endeavour

After the British Labour Party was forced to compromise on its position regarding anti-Semitism recently, hard left elements in the Party plastered London with posters reading “Israel is a racist endeavour.”  Not only was this a case of being bad losers, but it also represents the fundamental view of the Corbyn side of the Party.

Of course, one can argue that Israel is racist because it does not choose to commit suicide and allow the so-called Palestinian Arabs to take over its Land and kill its Jewish inhabitants.  But, aside from that, most countries have been founded on what can only be called racist agendas.  Here are a few examples,

  • Australia decimated and massacred the Aborigine inhabitants who had lived there for thousands of years
  • New Zealand subjugated the Maoris
  • White South Africa decimated the Blacks and now the reverse is happening
  • Sweden subjugated and persecuted the Sami (Lapp) people
  • The US committed genocide against the native American (Indian) tribes and persecuted the Blacks under slavery and even until today
  • Russia defeated the Tartars and subsequently persecuted them and destroyed the Siberian cultures
  • For centuries the French and Germans fought over Alsace-Lorraine and hated each other
  • Hungary and Austria fought each other, as well as Hungary and Roumania, and Poland and Russia, and of course the Germans hated all of them
  • The Arabs decimated and forced all minorities that were within their various Empires to convert to Islam
  • The Chinese conquered Tibet and have persecuted its people
  • The Burmese have massacred the Rohingya (Muslim) people and expelled hundreds of thousands to Bangladesh
  • The UK conquered and suppressed the Welsh, the Scots (called euphemistically “the Highland clearances”) as well as massacring the Irish and denying them sovereignty until very recently.  And that’s not to mention the many terrible crimes the British inflicted on the many native  peoples in their Empire around the world, some of which still exists.

Since almost every country has a history of racist conquest, suppression and persecution, why is it that the British Labour Party singles out Israel for such a public lambasting.  If they only single out Israel, isn’t that a clear case of anti-Semitism.  Whereas in fact Israel is a stable, liberal democracy.  They should put their own house in order before they point the finger at others.

German Military Disasters

When I was a child it was common to rank countries according of their supposed fighting ability.  The Germans were always ranked first, even before the British.  But, reality and experience show that this was an illusion.  Here are two good examples.

In WWI, after 4 years of stalemate of trench warfare, the German Generals running the war, Gens. Ludendorff and Hindenberg, saw their opportunity.  In 1917, the revolution in Russia took them out of the war, so the Germans moved a million troops from the eastern front to the western front to take the initiative.  They decided on a major breakthrough named Operation Michael in the center of the French Front between the main French and British defensive positions, in an area where there was no strategic objectives and so the British defences were weakest.

Indeed when they struck they broke through and advanced more in 3 days than they had done in 4 years.  Ludendorff thought this would win them the war, before the Americans arrived on the Allies side.  This seemed like a good idea at the time, but then things went wrong, the German troops advanced so fast against little resistance that their supplies could not catch up with them, they ran out of ammunition and food, so they took to looting from the French citizens and British supply depots.  This lead to a lot of German drunkenness and loss of discipline.

Also, there was no specific objective to this massive attack.  Under pressure from his officers, Ludendorff, almost on the point of collapse, decided that they should take the town of Amiens, that was a major train junction.  But the French then brought up their army and decided to make a stand at Amiens.  They held off the Germans, who had great losses, and then the British and Americans arrived on the scene and the Yanks attacked with tanks, that was the first major tank success in military history.  The battle of Amiens in 1918 turned out to be a major disaster for the Germans, without adequate supplies of ammunition and food, they were defeated.  German losses in both Operation Michael and the Battle of Amiens were ca. 350,000 dead, while combined Allied losses were ca. 250,000.  The Battle of Amiens brought about the surrender of the German forces and the end of WWI.  So it was not the Jews who lost them the war, it was heroic German General Ludendorff.

In WWII, in 1944 Hitler expected a major Russian attack and assumed it would be in the central front in open tank country, as had been the case at Kursk in 1943.  So he moved his major remaining army south, and then Gen. Zhukov with the main Russian army outflanked them and attacked in the north, thus breaking through towards Berlin.  Anticipating the need to defend Berlin against the possibility of a Russian attack from the east, Hitler had built three defensive lines.  When the Russians did attack they faced these defensive lines with an army of ca. 1 million men.

The first defensive line on the heights of the west bank of the Vistula River held out for several  weeks, but eventually fell in February, 1945.  In April, the Russians attacked the second line of defence at the Seelow Heights.  Here a massive series of underground bunkers were connected by tunnels about 130 m below ground.  The turrets were made of 10 inch thick steel and the construction was of reinforced concrete.  But, it fell in only 3 days, because the Germans could find only 10,000 soldiers to man it when it was intended for 26,000.  This was because Hitler had refused to allow German troops to retreat on several fronts and so they were either surrounded or destroyed.  In this way it is estimated that some 200,000 Germans troops were killed, and they were not available to defend Berlin.

Once they had overcome the Seelow Heights, the only defence between the Russians and Berlin were the available defenders.  There were ca. 100,000, who consisted mostly of Hitler youth, older men of work battalions and untrained cadets.  They were overcome by the Russian forces with a 10:1 advantage and ca. 90% of them were killed.  Hitler then committed suicide and the City was taken and the War ended in May.

Of course, Hitler committed several elementary mistakes.  He moved his last major defensive army south without sufficient intelligence, relying on his intuition.  He refused to allow intact armies to withdraw thus reducing any chance of defending Berlin, and he sacrificed young and old rather than surrender.  Luckily for us he was a lousy General, who allowed his early successes against unprepared armies to foster his sense of invincibility.

PS. Dear friends: I am going to be busy with my son’s visit for a few days, so will return to blog later,  Best Jack

Short Trips Around Small Countries: Israel

I first visited Israel in 1963, lived here as a student in 1964-6 and again on sabbatical in 1976-7.  I visited many times over the years, since my in-laws were living here since 1985 and my daughter and family since 1991.  My wife and I moved here in 1996 after I retired in the US. I could write reams about Israel. Let me say that Jerusalem is a unique experience and that everyone should visit Jerusalem at least once in their lifetime. As far as I am concerned it is the most amazing city, even more so than Rome or Athens. But, I will try to completely avoid the major cities of Israel, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, and write about some of the less well-visited places.

Starting in the far north, there is the settlement and nature reserve of Dan, that is the main source of the Jordan river.  The Hula Valley south of Dan is a lush swampy area that was once drained to fight the mosquitoes, but since their eradication (Palestine was the first place in the world to be sprayed in the 1920’s) it was subsequently re-flooded and is the stopping off point for millions of birds making the annual migration from the far north to Africa. This is a premier bird-watching location.

On both sides of the Hula Valley there are mountains, to the east the Golan Heights, and to the west the hills of upper Galilee.  By the way, the name Galilee comes from the Hebrew word for wave, gal, evoking the rolling hills of Galilee.  On the Golan Heights is the impressive Nimrod’s Castle, thought for many years to be a Crusader fortress, but now known to be of Arabic construction.  Also further south in the Golan are the ruins of the biblical city of Gamla, that was mentioned by Josephus in his “Jewish Wars,” describing the capture of Judea by the Romans, in which Gamla was the first Jewish city besieged and put to the sword.  It was constructed of black basalt rock that is found locally on the Golan.

To the west of the Hula is a winding road that leads to the heights above, where there is the fortress of Metzudat Koach (Strong Fortress).  This was one of the many Taggart Fortresses (about 70), named after the architect Charles Tegert, built by the British Occupation force around Palestine during the Mandate (1922-1948), with which they expected to control the country.  This fort was considered impregnable, but was captured by the Jewish forces in 1948 during the War of Independence with the loss of 28 lives.  It is a memorial and historical museum now.

Picturesque route 899 meanders along the Lebanese border thru Sasa to the Mediterranean coast.  On the coast adjacent to the border are the famous sea caves of Rosh Hanikra, that can be reached by a cable car.  Just south is the pleasant seaside resort of Nahariya, where German can still be heard spoken by the founders and their descendants.

Further south along the coast is the major port city of Akko (Acre). This has the huge impressive Crusader fortress that was used by the British as a major prison for the Jewish and Arab rebels.  The famous break-out in 1947 through the adjacent old Turkish bathhouse (Hamam) was shown in the film “Exodus.”  Nearby is the entrance to the underground Crusader city.  The story goes that when Saladin recaptured Acre from the Crusaders, instead of destroying the city they had built, he buried it in sand, thus inadvertently preserving it.  This underground city is definitely worth visiting, including the huge Hall of the Knights and the escape tunnel they built to the port.

South of Haifa is the small town of Atlit.  There is a Roman ruin there, but it can’t be visited because it is the site of the Israeli submarine base.  At the entrance of Atlit is the detention camp that was used by the British to imprison Jews who entered Palestine illegally.  It was so similar to the German concentration camps that it was detested by the Jews, although Jews were not deliberately murdered there. There was a major break-out in 1945 and the camp was abandoned by the British.  It is now a Museum and has a visitor’s center.  Inside there is also one of the ships that was used by the Jewish underground to transport illegal immigrants into Palestine.   One of the best fish restaurants in Israel is the Ben Ezra that is tucked away inside the secluded town.

Further south along the coast is the main seaside resort of Israel, Netanya.  It has magnificent beaches and cliff walks, but no historic remains, being a new city founded in 1929.  But, it has plenty of hotels and restaurants.  One notable incident that occurred there was the kidnapping of two British sergeants in 1947, when the British were pursuing a strongly anti-Jewish policy and had been flogging and executing captured members of the Jewish underground.  Under the orders of Menachem Begin, leader of the Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Armed Organization) the two sergeants were hung in a forest in the eastern side of Netanya and the forest has been preserved and is known as the Horshat Ha’Sargentim (Grove of the Sergeants).

Further south on the coast is the resort of Ashkelon, where there is a national park containing the ruins of the ancient biblical city of Ashkelon, that was a capital of the Philistines.  In the center of the Negev desert is the city of Be’er Sheva, famous in the Bible as the place where Abraham finally settled and dug a well (be’er).  It was the site of the famous 1917 battle, that proved to be the turning point in WWI between the British and Turkish forces (with German officers).  The famous charge of the ANZAC light horsemen is considered to be the last horse charge in history.  They captured Beer Sheva and this opened the way to the capture of Jerusalem by Gen. Allenby’s British Army, the first Allied Victory of WWI.  There is a bust of Allenby in a small park in the Old City, and in 2017 on the centenary of the battle, a museum was opened by the PM’s of Israel and Australia that is a gem to visit, adjacent to the British war cemetery.

I’ll finish this short synopsis of sites to visit in Israel outside the three major tourist cities by describing one of the main geological sites in Israel, the Ramon Crater.  South of Beer Sheva is the town of Mitzpe Ramon (View of Ramon) that sits on the northern edge of this amazing huge crater.  At the edge is a modern luxury hotel called Bereshit (Beginning) and in the town is the Ramon Inn.  The Exhibition Center on the crater edge is a must visit, and there is a movie about the Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon who died in the Columbia space disaster.  The view from the top of the crater is magnificent.

Short Trips Around Small Countries: Jordan IV

Quite separately from my previous experiences visiting Jordan in 1995, my wife and I visited Petra in 1998.  We drove down to Eilat and had a short vacation there, then crossed the border at the Eilot border crossing and were picked up by a bus on the Jordanian side and driven to Aqaba.  We toured Aqaba, visited the old palace, captured by Lawrence of Arabia in 1917.  Then we drove into the desert, visited the so-called Seven Pillars at Wadi Rum, a series of massive red sandstone pillars in a wide desert valley.  Lawrence’s book was entitled “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” based on this monument and the seven tenets that Islam is based upon.

Then we drove north to the small town of Wadi Musa that is adjacent to the ruins of the famous Nabatean city of Petra.  This is named after Moses, who the Arabs believed took this route to Mt. Nebo further north, where he is said to have died.  We stayed overnight there and early the next morning walked into the Petra National Park and thru the amazing very narrow canyon that leads directly to the famous so-called Treasury that is carved out of the sandstone rock.  Excavations under this have revealed a series of caverns and tombs and now it is thought to have been a burial site for the elite of the city.

The Nabateans were a tribe that controlled the so-called spice route across the desert from Arabia to Egypt and the Mediterranean.   They had cities that are now in Israel, Avdat and Mamshit in the Negev Desert.  From this transport they earned a lot of money and were able to build these cities.  But, they depended on the water supply, that in Petra came from outside the city thru a series of small channels.  The Romans were able to conquer Petra easily by cutting off their water supply.

Once inside Petra the area opens out impressively into a wide valley with many buildings carved into the rock and built onto it.  The architecture is clearly different from the common form of Arab/Muslim building.  The erosion of the striations on the red rock were beautiful.  We took a tour around the site and up to a height where there was an old Arab man living, who served us coffee. I must say that Petra was one of the most impressive archaeological sites I have ever visited.  On the way out we were so tired we hired a donkey and cart to drive us out, it was quicker, but quite stinky.  The following day we returned to Eilat.

 

 

 

Short Trips Around Small Countries: Scotland

One day in 1990 I received an unexpected visit from the Director of the Institute where I worked (National Cancer Institute) and he had with him an elderly, distinguished-looking gentleman.  He asked me if I could accommodate this gentleman, who was Professor Sir Patrick Forrest from Edinburgh, in my office.  My name came to mind for two reasons, first I was from the UK, although from London, and second I was known to have several computers, and he urgently needed access to one.  Under such circumstances who could say “no,” but I was pleased to be of help to the visitor.  It turned out that the Director had made no arrangements in advance for Sir Patrick, so I was “it.”

Sir Patrick was Chairman of the UK Committee to decide whether or not British women should be screened for breast cancer, and their Report was just about to be published in the UK  (“Breast Cancer: the decision to screen,” Sir P. Forrest, Nuffield Trust, 1990).  I gave him a computer and he immediately sat down to write various letters.  He shared my office for several weeks and in that time we became friends.  I showed him what I was doing, studying breast cancer cells grown in culture and he toured the labs to meet other scientists.  When he left he made me promise to go and visit him in Edinburgh, hence this visit to Scotland.

With my wife, we took the fast train from London to Edinburgh and there rented a car.  We found Sir Pat’s home situated in a suburb of Edinburgh.  It was a small castle built of gray stone, as all Scottish castles seem to be, with a small turret and with a bright green hilly lawn.  We took various tours of Edinburgh, including the famous Castle, but even in the summer it was quite chilly.  I had to buy a tartan scarf on Prince’s Street against the wind. We had great meals and a party with Sir Pat and many guests that he invited.  I still treasure a copy of his Report with a nice inscription inside thanking me.

From Edinburgh we drove north, across the famous bridge of the Firth of Forth, then through the city of Perth, and through the hilly Cairngorms National Park.  We were surprised at how bald and tree-less the hills were, but it is quite far north.  On the way we saw a small castle that was in the travel guide, so we stopped.  The gentleman mowing the lawn in his kilt was the owner, so he gave us a personal tour.  We stayed overnight in Inverness, arranging B&B’s by telephone on the way.

Then we circumnavigated Loch Ness, the long thin lake south of Inverness.  No sightings of Nessie.  Nearby is the site of the battle of Culloden, 1746, the last battle fought on British soil, between the Jacobite supporters of the Stuart claimants to the throne of England and the English forces.  The Scots, mostly Highlanders, were badly beaten and afterwards they were massacred, known euphemistically as the “Highland clearances.”

From there we headed west to picturesque Kyle of Lochalsh, the ferry access to the Isle of Skye.  This was where Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Stuart pretender to the English throne, escaped after the Battle of Culloden, as in the song “Sweet bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing, onward the sailors cry, carry the lad that’s born to be King, over the sea to Skye.”  He lived a life of luxury and decadence at the court of his cousin the King of France, and never did come back again.  We chose not to cross over.  We bought beautiful local knitted sweaters for our family there.

Then we drove down the west coast of Scotland, in extreme summer heat, through beautiful rugged scenery for miles down a one-lane road, though Glenfinnan, Oban and past Loch Lomond (no sightings there either), and eventually to Glasgow.  In Glasgow we stayed in a B&B that was an 18th century house that had been modernized, and since we were the only guests we had the run of the place.  We drove into the center of Glasgow and wandered around and ate in an  interesting pub (the name long forgotten).  From there we drove back into England and went to visit my cousin in Leeds.