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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Anatomy of Genocide

In Broad Daylight” by Father Patrick Desbois, a French Catholic priest, describes how the Germans carried out their campaign of genocidal massacres of Jews throughout Eastern Europe in WWII from 1941-3, known as “the Holocaust by Bullets.”  It is estimated that 2.2 million Jews were murdered in this way.  Why was it so easy for the Germans to kill so many Jews in such a short period of time?  The reasons the Jews of Eastern Europe were murdered in their thousands in towns and villages all over the vast area were many.  Here is a list of some reasons:

  1. During WWI the Jews regarded the Germans who invaded Eastern Europe and Russia as civilized liberators compared to the Slavic peasants they lived amongst.  The Jews were not badly treated by the German invaders then. This made them less afraid than they should have been in WWII, when major changes had occurred in Germany.  Unknown to the Jews of Eastern Europe the Germans in WWII intended to kill all Jews due to racial hatred and the political propaganda of the ruling Nazi party.
  2. The Jews of Eastern Europe had no means of defence, they had no military training and no weapons and they were essentially at the mercy of any armed forces.  The Jews were inured to violent hatred and had developed a culture that made them resigned to their fate.
  3. Their Jewish religion attributed everything that happened to God’s will, they were .  fatalistic. Also, with a particularly humanistic religion they could never imagine that any people would massacre other humans beings in such a way.
  4. The Jews were mostly peasants, small farmers, shopkeepers and small businessmen.  Like other people in this huge region, they had no means of communication, there were few newspapers and very few radios.  They may have heard that there was a war on, but they thought that it was thousands of miles away from them and they did not expect the Germans to arrive and to bother with them.
  5. The German forces were well-organized and prepared for their task of massacring all the Jews of Eastern Europe (some 5 million people).   They invaded the area of Soviet Russia captured by the German forces in 4 main mobile commando groups (Einsatzgruppen).  They were well-armed and briefed for their task of murdering Jews on a large scale.
  6. The Germans meticulously organized these thousands of local massacres, killing up to tens of thousands of people in one go (in Baby Yar in Kiev they massacred 34,000 Jews in two days).  From direct eyewitness accounts Desbois sets out the steps of the massacres, from the initial planning (they had Soviet lists of all people in the areas), to cordoning off the Jewish areas or moving the Jews into a Ghetto area that was surrounded by barbed wire with armed Ukrainian guards.  All Jews were warned to remain in their houses while the Germans prepared for the massacre, including selecting the site for the ditches (the size depending on the number to be murdered) and requisitioning local Ukrainians to dig the ditches.
  7. Then the night before the murders the Germans would go into the Ghetto and with the help of local Ukrainians identify wealthy houses and those with young girls.  They would get drunk, steal from the wealthy, and shoot everyone in the house, they would rape young girls in the street or in their houses and shoot anyone including their family who tried to interfere, then they would shoot the girls.
  8. The morning of the massacre, the Jews were told to assemble and told that they would be going to Palestine or to another Ghetto, they were told to bring food for the day and some clothes.  They were either lined up and marched to the massacre site if it was close or transported in requisitioned wagons or in trucks, rented from German trucking companies.  There were armed guards on each wagon or truck who shot people for any reason or for none.  The local Ukrainians knew the Jews  were going to be massacred, because they had dug the ditches, but the Jews did not know.  It was only when they reached the ditches with Germans lined along the side with guns, that they realized the terrible truth.
  9. The Jews were told to disrobe, sometimes they allowed them to keep their underwear but often not.  Anyone who did not do so quickly was shot. Then in groups of 4-20 depending on how many shooters there were, they were force marched into the ditch or onto a plank crossing the ditch.  Then they were shot. To cover the noise of the shooting and screaming of the victims, the Germans had locals banging metal pots.  Some Jews tried to escape, but they were quickly shot. German soldiers usually smashed the heads of babies or they were simply thrown into the pit.
  10. Ukrainians or other locals were used to position the dead bodies, remove any gold teeth from the corpses and also collect and sort any valuables and clothes they had left.  The Germans took the best, the rest was transported to a central location and sorted and the bulk transported to Germany.  Then Ukrainians covered the bodies with sand and lime and finally covered the massacre site with sand and earth and tamped it down so that there was no sign that a massacre had taken place.  Sometimes they burnt the bodies and sometimes shot them next to a river.
  11. Half-Jewish children of mixed marriages (mischlings) were also collected and shot. Often their non-Jewish parent did not know about this until after the event.
  12. Then the mobile killing unit moved on to the next village or town to repeat the procedure.  In this way from 1941-3 some 2.2 million Jews were massacred.  The rest of the Jews trapped in the area were later murdered more efficiently in concentration camps, like Auschwitz.
  13. Desbois makes the point in his book after interviewing thousands of eyewitnesses that they fall into two categories.  Those who talk about seeing “the Jews” massacred, or describe parts of the process or incidents that happened, but always refer to “The Jews.”  And those who refer to individuals by name, like “I saw them take away Josef who was in my class,” or “they shot the Friedmans and the Gross family, all of them” and these people relate to the murdered as people, as individuals that they knew.  What makes the difference between these two types of witnesses.  At the time they were all curious children, but some saw the whole massacre as a kind of macabre entertainment, because they knew they were safe.  While others saw it as a terrible act, the murder of people who they knew and even cared for, and in a way also felt vulnerable.

The Holocaust by Bullets – a “Sacred Purpose”

I avoided reading this book, entitled “The Holocaust by Bullets,” when it was published in 2013.  Perhaps I felt understandably over-exposed to the suffering of Jews in Europe during WWII.  But, this book by Patrick Desbois and its successor “In Broad Daylight,” the English translation of which has just been published, reveal a unique insight into the murders of European Jewry before the gas chambers and the ovens of Auschwitz and the other extermination camps had been conceived and built.

There are two unique aspects of this book, first the author is a French Catholic priest, not the usual author of books about the Shoah.  Second, he has done original and extensive research into the program of extermination of the Jews in the lands occupied by the Germans early in WWII, in the period, 1941-43.

When The Germans occupied Poland in 1939 they started killing Jews, but they needed to consolidate their conquests and they needed Jewish labor to continue and expand their war effort and so they left the intended exterminations until later when they could get organized.  But, by the time they launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, by then they were ready, they had a plan, they were organized to carry out genocide.

The program consisted of four mobile Special Commando units (Einsatzgruppen) that fanned out across the Soviet Union days after the German troops advanced.  They each consisted of from 500-1000 German personnel, drawn from the SS and various Wehrmacht groups, under the orders of Heinrich Himmler.  They were quite simply death squads, their job was to round-up and massacre Jews wherever they found them.  This much was known, but exactly how they went about their task, how they carried out the executions, how they disposed of the bodies, and so on, very little was known.  There were even daily reports that were found in the German archives from the four groups detailing their locations and the number of Jews they had murdered, but there were very few eyewitnesses, mainly because nearly all the Jews were dead, and the Germans were under orders to carry out the murders in secrecy.

Father Desbois explains how he became involved in the subject of the Shoah.  His grandfather was in the French forces and was captured by the Germans and interned in a camp just over the Polish border in Ukraine, called Rawa-Ruska.  He intimated to his grandson that he had suffered there, but he always said that the Jews suffered much worse.   When Patrick grew up and chose to be a priest he wondered what his grandfather had meant.  He set out to learn about Judaism and eventually managed to visit the site of Rawa-Ruska, where he learnt the terrible truth.  In visiting this place he came across people who were actually eyewitnesses to what happened there, to the massacre of the Jews.  Later he realized that this was true all over Ukraine, there were local old people, villagers, still alive who had witnessed the terrible massacres.  “When we asked them if people had come to the village since the war to talk to them they told us ‘no, you are the first’.”  He gradually realized that this was an untapped source of details of one of the greatest crimes in human history.

This realization led to a series of trips, eventually accompanied by a team, that literally went from village to village from town to town, gathering eyewitness testimony to the crimes the Germans has committed, and how they had carried out and organised the massacres.  What he discovered, and what was not known until then, was that the Germans had a prearranged plan, depending on the situation.  If the number of Jews in any given location was small, they often had them dig their own graves and then simply shot them.  But, if the number was larger, or if they were going to bring together Jews from several locations to be murdered together, then they usually requisitioned locals, peasants, farmers, shopkeepers, children, to carry out necessary tasks.

First they would have them dig the trenches (the Germans themselves rarely did this), then they would have them wait until the Jews were brought, under guard in either trucks or carts. At this point the Jews were forced to undress, and the Germans took what they wanted and the rest of the clothes, jewelry, etc. was collected by local people, sorted and transported in requisitioned carts to a central location where it was packed up and sent on further, and what was left behind was left for the peasants.   Then  the Jews were forced to go to the edge of the pit, or walk into the pit, and they were shot in groups of 4-20, depending on how many shooters there were in the firing squads.  When one layer of the pit was covered with bodies, the locals went into the pit and covered the bodies with a layer of sand and lime.   They also used Ukrainian children to run across the bodies to tamp them down, they were called “pressers.”  Not every one was dead, some people were only wounded, and to avoid wasting bullets, Jewish children were often just thrown into the pit.  Then the process was repeated until the pit was full.  Then the locals covered the top with sand and earth, and the whole thing disappeared, except that it continued moving for up to three days, until everyone was dead.

The locals were not paid for their work, but they were given chits that enabled them to come and go, and which enabled them to retrieve their carts, horses or whatever the Germans had requisitioned.  The Germans evidently trusted the local Ukrainians to keep their secret.  This may have worked during the war, but when the Soviets recaptured the territory, they held enquiries that focused on who had collaborated with the Germans.  In most villages and towns the local police were arrested and executed.  But, the local people kept their secrets, until now.

In this way, crisscrossing the whole of the Ukraine, Desbois discovered massacre sites, some of which were previously unknown.  At the edge of one village a man told Desbois that the Germans had dug three big trenches in the forest behind his house and had brought Jews there in trucks from surrounding villages and the shooting went on for months.  They estimated that ca. 90,000 people were buried in these mass graves, including some Soviet and Italian POW’s.  It is now a small park inside the city of Lviv, where people stroll and have picnics.  There are no markers to show what  happened there.

It should be noted that the Germans who carried out these massacres were not all hardened SS men.  They were mostly ordinary Germans, who nevertheless did their task with dedication.  We learn from the book “Ordinary Men” by Christopher Browning that these men did not like shooting people face to face, hence the use of trenches where the shooting was anonymous and the bodies could be covered easily.  After a hard day’s work killing Jews the perpetrators had a hearty meal using requisitioned cooks and food from the houses of the Jews and even slaughtered cows from the farms of the Jews they had slaughtered.  They drank vodka and sang sentimental German songs.  They also set aside pretty young Jewish girls, and usually requisitioned a house where they raped them and kept them sometimes for months, until they were pregnant, and then had them shot elsewhere.

The ideas of concentrating the Jews from various locations and killing them in one central place as a more efficient solution than shooting them all over led to the idea of concentration camps. This was formulated at the Wannsee Conference in Jan 1942 in Berlin by SS and German Govt. officials.  As the war progressed and things did not look so good for the Germans, the SS decided to cover up the evidence of their crimes.  In Operation 1005 under SS Col. Paul Blobel (who had carried out the Baby Yar massacre) they organized units to go into the Ukraine and follow the routes taken by the einsatzgruppen, and using excavators or forced labor dig up all the bodies (each body was counted) and burn them.  The Germans were so meticulous that they experimented with the best way to burn thousands of bodies and found that alternating the corpses with wood to form a pyre on a metal (rail) base was best.  Then they took the ashes and using requisitioned agricultural equipment they ground the ashes into dust.  The idea of gassing the Jews and cremating the bodies directly also made the whole process more efficient.

The Holocaust by bullets murdered 2.2 million Jews in the former Soviet Union.  Most of the archives were not available until after the fall of the Soviet Union.  Some people are skeptical of the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust they say that 6 million is unimaginable.  If you think this then you must read this outstanding book on a terrible subject.  Together with the 1.2 million murdered at Auschwitz and the ca, one million murdered in the other camps (Belzec, Treblinka, etc.) that alone makes a total of 4.4 million.  As Desbois states in the book “My work is primarily an act of justice towards the dead,” and “a sacred purpose.”

The only quibble I have with this book is that all the Ukrainian peasants that Desbois interviewed had some form of remorse or repressed suffering about the tragic massacres they had witnessed.  Not one of them states explicitly that they were glad the Jews were murdered, or that they participated in the process willingly.  This is strange given that the Ukrainians were notoriously anti-Semitic, that their Government, such as it was, was anti-Soviet and welcomed the Germans, and that there were large numbers of Ukrainian volunteers who worked for the Germans and the SS, and they were even considered to be more sadistic than the Germans themselves (in Auschwitz the SS complained about the Ukrainians).

This reminds me somewhat of the story of Margaret Mead, the sociologist who visited Samoa and wrote a book based on what she was told by the young women about their sexual adventures.  A generation later it was revealed that they had made up these stories. I have no doubt of the authenticity of the revelations of these Ukrainian peasants, which have been checked against the German archives and archaeological investigations.  But, that none of them were outright anti-Semites seems strange. However, in the second book “In Broad Daylight,” that I am reading, he does show that the “requisitioned” Ukrainians took more of an active role in the terrible crimes than they often wanted to admit.

 

Poland Amends Holocaust Law

The Polish PM and Government supported a law to make it a punishable crime to refer to “Polish Concentration Camps,” or in any way to state or write that Poland was responsible for the Holocaust.  The negative reaction to this travesty from Israel, the US and some other countries was sufficient over time for the Polish Authorities to reverse themselves and they have now rescinded part of the law that makes such statements punishable crimes.

While it is a fact that the Concentration camps on Polish soil were built and organized for the industrial scale murder of Jews by the Germans, and while it is also true that the Germans murdered many thousands of Poles and treated them as Slavic untermenschen, nevertheless there is also no doubt whatsoever that the Poles were instrumental in the murders of a large proportion of the Polish Jews.  There were savage attacks on Polish Jews by their Polish neighbors, and it has been estimated that ca. 3 out of 5 Jews who were murdered were turned in by Poles, either for the reward or merely out of hatred.  It was really taking a risk for your life for a Jew to trust a Pole.  Then there were also the Polish massacres of Jews that took place during the War for, example at Jebwadne in 1941, and after the War was finished when Jews tried to return to their homes, for example in Kielcs in 1946.  To maintain that the Poles had nothing to do with the Holocaust is a deliberate distortion of history.

On the other hand, there were Poles who acted in a most humane way and helped Jews to survive.  Some examples come to mind, “The Zookeepers Wife” Antonina Zabinski saved the lives of hundreds of Jews by hiding them in the cellars of the Warsaw Zoo, after it had been largely destroyed during the bombing and the fighting.  Irena Sendler was a social worker who had access to the Warsaw Ghetto and managed to smuggle out dozens of Jewish children.   I once met Jan Karski, the Polish Army officer who was chosen to be smuggled into Auschwitz and who then wrote  a report of conditions there which in 1943 he took to London and submitted to Winston Churchill and then to Washington to Pres. Roosevelt.  He was angry that his report was not acted upon by the Allies.  There are many other stories and many Polish “righteous gentiles” honored at Yad Vashem. But, this in no way negates the responsibility of the Polish nation for their virulent anti-Semitic activities during WWII.

Yom Hashoah (Israel Holocaust Remembrance Day)

Being a Jew means being eternally vigilant.  In Europe it is astonishing how many groups, tribes and nations took the opportunity during WWII to turn on their Jewish neighbors and kill them, usually for money (and we were called money grubbing).  Here is a short list: Germans, Poles, Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians, Ukrainians, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Dutch, Belgians, French, Italians, Greeks, Norwegians, Swedes, Croats, Bosnians (Muslims), and so on.  If you are a member of any one of these groups you owe a debt to humanity and to the Jewish people in particular.

The only peoples on record that did anything to protect their Jewish citizens were the Danes (who ferried them across to neutral Sweden), Bulgarians, and Albanians (who are Muslims).  The Swedes were supposedly neutral, but cooperated with the Nazis, selling them iron ore and safe-guarding their stolen gold.  Switzerland was neutral, but readily returned Jews who managed to desperately cross the border into their territory.  The Italians protected some of their Jews and the Spanish also, even though Franco was allied with Germany and similarly with the Finns.  Although many Russians were anti-Semitic, the Red Army included many Jewish soldiers and they were very helpful to the starving decimated Jews as they defeated the German Army (Wehrmacht).

And so far I have not mentioned the Arabs and the Muslims in general, who are anti-Semitic from Mohammed and the Koran, apart from European influence.  It’s not a  pretty picture,  and as many reports attest, its getting worse again.  The Turks attack the Kurds, but there are no liberal-leftist demonstrations in the West, the Burmese attack the Rohingya, but ditto.  But, the Palestinians attack Israel and there are demonstrations against – Israel.  Yes, the only safe place for Jews, notwithstanding all this animosity, is Israel.

Today is Yom Hashoah in Israel, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  I went to Netanya on Tues to hear my friend Eddie Bielawski talk about how he and his family of 10 survived for 3 years in hiding in (1941-4) in Poland.  The story is told in the book he wrote and I edited entitled “Invisible Jews: surviving the Holocaust in Poland.”  One anecdote tells it all, he and his mother were travelling by train from Poland to Austria after the War.  Polish police got on the train to check everyone’s papers.  Seven people were identified as Jews.  They were taken off the train and shot.  Even as a child he knew not to draw attention to himself.

Six million Jews were murdered, most in very horrific ways.   They were part of the overall ca. 50 million people murdered during WWII.  Most of them were innocent civilians.  But, the toll for the Jewish people was most terrible.  Some anti-Semites argue that we make too much of the Holocaust.  I argue that we do not make enough of it.  They want to forget it, or even deny it.  We must never forget or diminish the historic impact of the most terrible crime in history.

Polish Complicity in the Shoah

There is currently a controversy raging over the degree of Polish complicity in the Shoah, the Holocaust of European Jews during WWII.   This was initiated by the passage of a law going through the Polish Parliament and supported by the Government of the ruling nationalist Law and Justice Party.  The Law seeks to absolve Poland from any official guilt in the murder of its Jewish citizens and to ensure that the many concentration camps that operated on Polish soil will not be termed “Polish Concentration Camps” but rather “Nazi or German Concentration Camps in Poland.”  The difference may be subtle but is important to Poles.

It is true that as a nation the Poles fought the Nazi Germans and that their Army was decimated at the beginning of WWII.  Subsequently Poland was divided and to a large extent opposed Nazi rule.  Polish President Andrzej Duda stated “there was no systematic support from the Polish side for the Holocaust.”  However, the Germans located most of the major camps, including the death camps, Auschwitz, Sobibor, Treblinka and many others in Poland for two reasons.  Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe, over 3 million Jews, and also the Poles were renowned for their anti-Semitism.  Many pogroms had taken place in Poland from the Middle Ages through to WWI and therefore the Germans could be confidant that the local population would cooperate in the murder of its Jewish neighbors.  Of course, the Poles were only marginally more anti-Semitic than their neighbors, the Ukrainians, the Lithuanians and Hungarians and others. One might ask why, if these peoples were so virulently Jew-hating, why so many Jews continued to live there for so long?

I happen to be in a good position to have seen both sides of this argument.  I had a friend in London who died a few years ago named Jerzy Lando, who wrote a book called “Saved by my Face,” obviously his blond hair and blue eyes saved him.  He described how many Polish people helped him, how he was an officer in the Polish Home Army and fought in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 and how he managed to survive.  However, this is somewhat deceptive, because his father was a wealthy fabric manufacturer who had many Polish friends and who paid  them to hide and feed his son.  Also, when he was ordered to fight for the Home Army he carefully disguised the fact that he was Jewish, in case his fellow Poles murdered him.  Nevertheless, he was an active member of the British-Polish Friendship League.

I also have a friend, Eddie Bielawski, with whom I published a book entitled “Invisible Jews: Surviving the Holocaust in Poland,” which describes how his father and his brothers managed to hide a family of ten people for 3 years in order to survive the War.  During this time they were very clever and also lucky to be able to avoid being turned in and/or murdered by the vast majority of hostile anti-Semitic Poles.

The fact remains that over 3 million Jews lived in Poland before the War, and barely 50,000 survived until its end.  This terrible program of murder and destruction of Jewish men, women and children by the Germans could not have been accomplished without active and enthusiastic Polish participation.  That there were numerous massacres of defenceless Jews by Poles during and after WWII is an established fact.

International Holocaust Day

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, that commemorates the liberation by the Allies of the concentration camp at Auschwitz during WWII, we should reflect on the causes of that great tragedy for the Jewish people.  Certainly the overwhelming cause was the deeply ingrained hatred of Jews that permeated European societies.  This had its roots in Christianity and racial animosity.  There was a prevalent belief among the competitive European national tribes (Germans, Hungarians, Lithuanian, French, Poles, etc.) that the Jews were an untrustworthy and vulnerable group that could be blamed for their problems.  The complexity of the situation has been analyzed in numerous books, of which I highly recommend “The Pity of It All: A Portrait of Jews in Germany 1743-1933” by Amos Elon (2002).

However, in any objective analysis of the then contemporary situation one must conclude that part of the blame lay with the Jews themselves.  We must face the unpalatable facts.  This is not an attempt to transfer the blame to the victim, that has so often been the case in the past, or to ignore the many acts of Jewish defiance, resistance and heroism, for example described in the book “They Fought Back: The Story of Jewish Resistance in Nazi Germany” by Yuri Suhl (1967).  Such groups as “The White Rose” and the Bielsky Brothers have been documented and many found ways to survive under extreme circumstances, see for example “Invisible Jews: Surviving the Holocaust in Poland,” by Eddie Bielowski and Jack Cohen (2017).  But, in fact there was no organized Jewish resistance on what we might call a national or tribal level.

The reasons for this are of course complex.  One major reason was that the Jews were called disloyal by other national groups, and to have organized resistance to them would have confirmed that belief.  This is a common reaction by minorities to accusations of disloyalty, as shown by Japanese Americans during WWII in California (although surprisingly not in Hawaii) where they accepted being transferred to concentration camps (although they were not destined to be murdered).

The Jews were a “liberal” people in the sense that they depended on the brotherhood of man as a defense against precisely the kind of fate that awaited them in Europe.  One of the major factors that inured them to their situation was their religion.  Judaism, like all religions, was an opiate, it emphasized pacifism over aggression, acceptance of fate as a manifestation of God’s will.  Due to their minority status in every country, Judaism and Jewish society became especially and unavoidably complaisant.  The general rubric was “don’t rock the boat,” don’t stick your head above the parapet, “shtil.”  Many will argue that it was impossible under the circumstances for the Jews to organize effective resistance, but the fact of the matter remains that throughout Europe no established Jewish community organization set up an armed resistance group.

A German once told me that the Jews suffered because “when you live among wolves, you must act like a wolf.”  This is the Darwinian view of the situation, “the survival of the fittest.”  In the many nature films seen on TV these days, nature is not a benign and peaceful kingdom, but one in which survival is always at stake in the most violent of ways.  A male lion gets to mate with the females if he can defend himself against all competitors, but in return he must protect his females and his offspring.  Otherwise they will be taken away from him and his cubs killed.  Not all species act like this, some pair off and mate for life.  But, whether or not this Darwinian view is true, the Jews who survived learnt the terrible lesson of the Holocaust.  To be passive in one’s defense is a death sentence.  To accept one’s own national or tribal status and protect it at all costs in this world is essential.  That is the lesson that the Jewish people in their homeland took to heart and hence the IDF is a recognized and fearsome force.