Signals from History

May 14, 1941: About 4000 Jews are deported from Paris, most to a camp at Pithiviers, France. [1]

May 15, 1941: Polish Jews who have traveled from Biala Podlaska Jewish POW camp to Konskowla are murdered after the Nazi overseers discovered that four of the POWs have escaped. [1]

“It was in vain that we locked them up for several hundred years behind the walls of the Ghetto.  No sooner were their prison gates unbarred than they easily caught up with us, even on those paths which we opened up without their aid.”
—  A. A. Leroy Beaulieu, French publicist, 1842

Looking Back

May 8, 1945 was the date when Germany surrendered to the Allied Forces at the end of World War II. I found myself in Northern Germany on the Baltic Sea with the Second Russian Army. I was a young man, twenty-five years old. On that day, I dared to dream that after all the years of destruction, bloodshed, six million Jews perished plus over 20 million others, mostly non-combatants, that humanity had learned its lesson and would never even contemplate, no less permit, anything like this to occur again. With painful regret I am realizing that the world we find ourselves in right now is facing daily atrocities of a different kind, leaving me desolate.

Consider two events just in the past week. In Nigeria, close to 300 girls have been abducted by a terrorist group, taken to a camp deep in the forest, and reportedly forced to serve as slaves and prostitutes. The leader of Boku Haram has claimed responsibility and is now making the dastardly claim that he has a mandate from Allah to sell the girls. And in Afghanistan, three volunteer physicians were killed by their guard in the hospital where they worked to save lives.

These events should have been enough to provoke outrage throughout the world. But with minor exceptions, the world has shown total indifference, allowing the news cycle to sweep these horrific events off the front page and out of the evening news. There has been almost no mass outrage, only a few demonstrations in a few isolated cities. Yet when a cartoonist in Denmark published a cartoon that was considered disrespectful to Muslims, fatahs were proclaimed against the artist and thousands rioted all over the world.

As a survivor of the Holocaust, and as one who witnessed the rise of Hitler in Germany, I would like to remind you of some of the events of those years which clearly predicted the horrors to come.

  • In 1935 the Nuremburg Laws were enacted, stripping Jews of German citizenship, making it a crime for Aryans to marry Jews, and ordering many other draconian restrictions.
  • In 1936, the Germans marched unopposed into the Rhineland, an area that had been demilitarized by the Versailles Treaty.
  • In March 1938, German-speaking Austria was incorporated into the Reich, with all anti-Semtic decrees immediately applied to Austrian citizens.
  • In September, 1938 in Munich, Great Britain and France agreed to allow Germany to occupy the Sudetenland, a German-speaking portion of Czechoslovakia. Prime Minister Chamberlain returned to England to proclaim that he had brought “peace in our time.”
  • And finally, all became clear in November, 1938 on Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), a nation-wide pogrom against Jews in Austria, Germany and the Sudetenland.  Hundreds of synagogues were destroyed, thousands of Jewish shops were looted and 30,000 Jewish men were deported to concentration camps.

The lesson we should have learned: when you sign non-aggression agreements with dictators and do not respond forcefully to the first violations, prepare for war.  Hitler’s writings and rantings and actions were ignored by other world leaders, and when there was an opportunity to save German Jews, the world powers chose to turn a blind eye.

I dedicate this posting to my wife Malka on this anniversary of her passing, seven years ago on May 7. As a young girl, she was separated from her family and was the only person in her family to survive. In her life she demonstrated love for all people, unlimited dedication to helping children grow and acceptance of every human being as God created them. She would be in pain to see the world as it is now.  All who knew her still miss her greatly, and I wish she were here to help us find a way to come to terms with the current harsh realities.