Today is Holocaust Heroes and Martyrs Remembrance Day in Israel where time is taken to assure that the Holocaust is never forgotten. This year it falls on the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against the Nazis where half-starved Jews with almost no weapons other than a few handguns and rifles stood against an entire battalion of the Nazi army and held them at bay for over a month before the entire ghetto was annihilated. This desperate final stand was a response to the planned slaughter of the Warsaw Ghetto by the Nazis which had been scheduled for the first day of Passover in order to celebrate the Jewish holiday of liberation with what the Nazis saw as a celebration of the denial of G0d and the promises to the Jewish People. Throughout the years since the Holocaust there have been many lessons drawn that mainly lead to the one singular goal, the promise Jews must revere and keep to themselves and their posterity, “Never Again!” There has always been one manner of keeping that promise which has always seemed of paramount importance which I will try to explain.
Before the horrors that were the Nazi execution of plans to conquer the world and reshape it in their own image, Germany was the leading country of the modern world with the best minds and most advanced culture. The majority of the world’s leading scientists resided there, especially in the disciplines of physics. Germany was viewed as the new renaissance with benevolent governance under the Weimar Republic. Germany was the leading republic of freedom and thought making their society the envy of many. But there was a problem with this near perfect scene that lay underneath it guaranteeing it would fail in a drastic manner. Germany was suffering under punitive laws placed on her after World War I which undercut her economic health. This eventually led to the printing of monies in order to meet payments levied against the German government. These payments along with large outlays of “investments in the future” led to runaway inflation as the German money became devalued. This led to a cycle which eventually caused unemployment and economic strife which the Nazis promised a solution and blamed it on the outside world and the plotting of those who wished to destroy the German race. Germany had also bought wholesale into the eugenics movement which had blossomed in the United States and spread through Europe. Take all these individual difficulties and social upheavals, shake well, and you do not get a happy ending.
Once in power the Nazis began to implement purity laws which were more about punishing the impure than it was about aggrandizing the pure or master race. This, of course, was not supposed to be possible in the country which a few short years earlier had been the most liberal and socially advanced nation in the history of the world. The overriding thought to many while the initial plots were being enacted by the Nazis was one of, “It cannot happen here,” Nowhere was this denial of reality stronger than in the assimilated Jews of Germany. Many of these Jews had arrived from Russia where they suffered the pogroms under the Czars and then persecution under Stalin and the Communists. Upon their arrival in Germany the Jews tried to assimilate and weave themselves into the German society attempting to be as much like their non-Jewish German neighbors as they could. Assimilation was the answer to pogroms as they happened because the Jews had lived separately from the Russian society preferring to keep amongst themselves. It was the otherness that had caused the pogroms, not the fact that they were Jews. True, there were still some religious Jewish communities which attempted to live apart from the rest of society much as exist today in areas of Europe and the United States. But the Jews in Germany had lived assimilated and integrated into the German society more so than in previous European societies. The Jews lived lives the epitome of, “It cannot happen here.” Yet somehow it happened here in a way beyond anything that had ever come before. One of the first steps taken by the Nazis was to pass laws forbidding the Jews and other undesirables from owning firearms. They went from house to house disarming those determined to be part of the “other” in German society. Yet even this disarming of the Nazis’ future victims did not alarm anybody as they accepted that this was just being done to make society safer by removing guns. It was all done for a better tomorrow and to save the children etc.
I had mentioned that many of these Jews had fled Russia and the Czarist and Communist pogroms. One would tend to believe that these Jews who were but one or at most two generations removed from experiencing the pogroms would have been more sensitive to what befell the Jews starting in Germany and spreading throughout Europe. But what about the Jews from the Russian pogroms, why did they not realize and see the warning signs? Was it because of their separateness? Unlikely as many of the Jews provided needed skills for the Russian people amongst whom they resided. But where had these Russian Jews arrived from? Many of the Russian Jews came to Russia via numerous places throughout Europe which could be traced back to a series of singular events which inevitably nudged and shoved them to Russia. For many of these Jews the previous residence had been Germany, Britain, France, Italy and lastly, Poland. In each and every one of these countries the Jews had faced persecution. One could trace these families’ history simply be tracing where they had faced persecution and managed to get out before the final cleansing and they would flee to the nearest, or sometimes the farthest, safe haven where Jews were not persecuted. This would increase the presence of the Jews in the new country which inevitably led to the next persecution as soon as disease or hard economic times gave way to finding the others who were to blame. This was the coming to fruition of the worst of all curses which were prophesized to inflict the Jewish People. The verse is well known as it is taught in every Jewish Bible study as it is one of the most frightful passages in the Torah.
Leviticus 26:36-38 As for those of you who are left, I will fill their hearts with anxiety in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf will frighten them, so that they will flee as one flees from the sword and fall when no one is pursuing. 37 Yes, with no one pursuing they will stumble over each other as if fleeing the sword — you will have no power to stand before your enemies. 38 And among the nations you will perish; the land of your enemies will devour you.
This history of being chased from persecution to persecution where once Jews had fled the country or province in which they were being hunted or even slaughtered as a reaction to times of trouble had one thing common to all of these troubles and persecutions, the Jews were not permitted to own weapons. Originally the laws against owning weapons were applied to entire groups or classes of societies. Only the nobles and those in their employ were permitted weapons even if one could afford such luxuries. Eventually weaponry became affordable and everybody could own them. This is when governments began the real exercise of disarming the citizenry. When the peoples under a ruler were disarmed, it was not always universal. Still, unless everybody was permitted to own weapons, the Jews were usually among those disallowed such privilege. The two most known cases were in Czarist Russia and Nazi Germany where Jews were explicitly disallowed to possess weapons and their homes and businesses searched and all weapons removed some time before the actual persecutions were begun. That is the lesson that the Holocaust and all of the similar persecutions, pogroms, purifications, inquisitions, and other oppressions throughout the ages have taught me, never allow myself to be disarmed and that if such should become the law of the land and I am not living in the Jewish homeland, move. It is that simple and I choose not to even discuss the supposed realities and niceties which always come along with those who will disarm the people before enslaving the people or worse. I forbid my continuing to reside amongst those who would disarm me. It is that simple, a lesson learned.
Beyond the Cusp