Yom Hashoah — In remembrance

When I watch Obama in action, I become very worried that Yom Hashoah, instead of being only a remembrance of things past, will be joined by a Yom Hashoah II, the sequel.  But today, I won’t blog about that.  Instead, I urge you to read this story of a young British man, imprisoned in the “ordinary” part of Auschwitz, and his efforts during that time to learn the truth.

Man’s inhumanity to man *UPDATED*

I’ve long had a conflicted emotional relationship to Poland.  I know that Poland bore the brunt of the first official Nazi invasion in WWII, back in August 1939.  I also know that the Poles suffered horribly under the Soviets.  In the modern era, it was the Poles whose bravery exposed the weaknesses in and started the destruction of the Soviet system, and the Poles have been a staunch American ally in the post-Cold War world.

All that I know, and yet I’ve never been able to forgive them for the fact that Jewish genocide in Poland worked so well because so many Poles were gleeful and enthusiastic participants in the process.  There was a reason why the most successful death camp of all (Auschwitz) was in Poland.  The Germans knew that the local population would be more amenable to its presence than would be true in other nations.  Other nations showed themselves willing to give their Jews away (the French, the Dutch, etc.), but they still might balk at mass slaughter on home ground.  The Poles wouldn’t. (One could say that the other nations were hypocritical, and the Poles were not, but that’s a post for another day.)

Of course, that held true for so many Slavic and Baltic nations — and it turns out that Yad Vashem has been paying attention to all those little, regional killing fields and death camps.  There’s a heart wrenching article in today’s New York Times about a project to document the local killings.  This is an extremely important project because it helps to explain what we still see today:  neighbor turning on neighbor, whether in Serbia or Rwanda, or somewhere else in the world.

UPDATEEric‘s fact-filled comment deserves to be up in the post:

I just had to come to the defense of Poles regarding the Holocaust.  Poles were essentially given a bad rap by the Communist.  I know this is not a prevailing wisdom, especially among my fellow Jews.  But the World War 2 history is a hobby of mine, and I am especially interested in the Jewish resistance.  So, I researched the subject.  The better known ZOB (Jewish Combat Organization) indeed did not get much support from the Polish Home Army.  The ZOB came into being only in mid-1942, and the Poles considered them a bunch of leftist demagogues.  But there was another organization, ZZW (Jewish Military Union).  That one was an integral part of the Polish Home Army, starting from late fall of 1939.  They received weapons and ammo from the Poles.  They were also as big in numbers and much better trained than ZOB.  Unfortunately most of their leaders were killed in action during the Ghetto Uprising.  And the Polish officer to whom the ZZW leader reported was jailed by the Communists after the war.  Just as a side note, his name deserves to be mentioned: Henrik Iwanski.  He lost both sons and a brother in action during the Ghetto Uprising and was heavily wounded himself.  Another interesting tidbit is that the Polish Auxiliaries were not used by the Germans against the Jews during the Ghetto Uprising.  The Germans brought in the Lithuanians.

I would recommend the book “Two Flags” by Marian Apfelbaum, the nephew of the ZZW leader.  Sorry, for the plug, but here is my review of the book:
http://conservativlib.wordpress.com/2007/10/07/two-flags-the-untold-story-of-the-warsaw-ghetto-uprising-and-its-relevance-today/

I suspect that the reason why the majority of the death camps were in Poland was the simple fact that that was where the majority of the European Jews lived.  The French were by far worse than the Poles, and the French Government has finally admitted it recently:
http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/32818_France_Finally_Admits_Role_in_Holocaust

A Holocaust story that’s true

You’ve no doubt read about the false Holocaust love story that’s caused Oprah such anguish.  I have a real story for you.  I knew the players and can speak to their veracity.

Harry’s parents were able to get him out of Germany during the late 1930s.  By that time, he’d already suffered mild brain damage from being beaten by a gang of Hitler youths, but while it impaired his speech, it affected neither his intelligence nor his moral sense.  Harry spent the early war years in England and then joined the British military, spending the later war years fighting the Nazis.

At the end of the war, Harry returned to Germany to find his parents.  He learned that, shortly after the war started, they’d been snatched from their home and taken first to Dachau, where they survived long beyond what anyone would have expected from two middle-aged, middle-class Jews, and then to Auschwitz, where they died in the gas chambers.

Their survival in Dachau was because of their shop girl.  When they were arrested, Lotte, a German girl who loved them dearly, moved to the town nearest Dachau and found work there.  Every day, she gathered together food and, at extraordinary risk to herself, smuggled it to Harry’s parents.

When Harry learned what Lotte did for his parents, he vowed to care for her.  Since he was young, healthy and a skilled mechanic, there was every reason to believe he could fulfill this vow.

Harry finally located Lotte living in some distress in the chaos that was post-war Germany.  Although she was a good decade older than he was, and he remembered her only vaguely from his childhood, he married her immediately and cared for her to the end of her days.

When I met them, they were in their 50s, and presented at first as a rather typical, ponderous German couple.  There was nothing to distinguish them from any other older Germans you might meet touring America.  The only truly noticeable things about them were (a) how much older she was and (b) how solicitous he was.  It was only later, when I Iearned their true story, that I realized I’d been in the presence of moral greatness, his and hers both.

Proportionate response *UPDATED*

With regard to Iran, Israel is currently facing two options.  It can launch a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, which will allow Israel to survive intact while inflicting minimal loss of life or property against Iran.  Alternatively, it can allow Iran to take a preemptive strike against Israel (which would be a nuclear strike), which will result in the complete destruction of Israel and her people.  Faced with that choice, what would you do?

I’m thinking of that because my friend the Bald-Headed Geek directed my attention to Bob Federman’s article about the situation facing Israel.  Whether in the old paper media or the new blogosphere, there are regular articles about the existential risks facing Israel, but everybody in European and American politics seems to ignore them.

I’m sure they’ll ignore this one too (pity, really), but that probably won’t matter to Israel.  Federman’s point is that, with Olmert gone, Israel will almost certainly act on the two lessons she learned from the Holocaust:  When a nation says it intends to destroy you, believe it; and you can’t trust anyone other than the Jews to take care of the Jews — and that’s true no matter how well-intentioned others are.  America, for example, is a good friend to Israel, as are most American citizens.  Nevertheless, without feeling the existential pressure that is an everyday feature of Israeli life, it’s almost impossible for America to respond appropriately to Israel’s security needs.

I leave you with some of Federman’s thoughts:

As each day passes, it becomes more obvious that Iran’s real intention is to develop nuclear weapons. Why does Iran need nuclear weapons? Iranian leaders have given us the answer- they seek the destruction of Israel- yet the world has chosen to ignore it.

Unfortunately, some analysts naively believe that Iran’s threats to Israel are a recent innovation of the current President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The truth is that the goal of the destruction of Israel has long been a fundamental pillar of Iran’s foreign policy. Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, said in a sermon on Iranian television on December 15, 2000, “Iran’s position, which was first expressed by the Imam Khomeini and stated several times by those responsible, is that the cancerous tumor called Israel must be uprooted from the region.”

However, there is no doubt that Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has taken this madness to a new level. His repeated calls to “wipe Israel off the map” were also accompanied by a government sponsored conference titled “A World Without Zionism” (October, 2005). His most recent outrage was calling Israel “a stinking corpse” on the occasion of its 60th birthday.

Israelis cannot ignore these threats and for good reason. They know that Iran backs its threatening words with deeds. This became evident during the summer of 2006. Following the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, proceeded to fire 4,000 rockets into the cities of northern Israel. These rockets, which were supplied by Iran, sent a clear message to every Israeli: When Iranian leaders speak of the destruction of Israel, they need to be taken for their word.

UPDATE: Just to remind you what Israel is dealing with when it comes to Iran and nuclear weapons.

Rest in Peace, oh Righteous One

From today’s news:

Irena Sendler, a Polish woman who saved thousands of Jewish children during World War Two by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto, died in the Polish capital on Monday after a long illness, local media said.

[snip]

Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev said: “Irena Sendler’s courageous activities rescuing Jews during the Holocaust serve as a beacon of light to the world, inspiring hope and restoring faith in the innate goodness of mankind.”

Using her position as a social worker, Sendler regularly entered the ghetto, smuggling around 2,500 children out in boxes, suitcases or hidden in trolleys.

The children were then placed with Polish families outside the ghetto, created by Nazi Germany in 1940 for the city’s half a million strong Jewish population, and given new identities.

But in 1943 Sendler, who led the children’ section of the Zegota organization which helped Jews during the war, was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo.

She only escaped execution when Zegota managed to bribe some Nazi officials, who left her unconscious but alive with broken legs and arms in the woods.

Yad Vashem makes pictures available on the internet

Today’s news about yesterday:

In honor of Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day, marked in Israel on Thursday, Yad Vashem expanded its Internet presence this week by opening an online database containing nearly two-thirds of the 200,000 photos in its archives.

[snip]

Earlier this week, Yad Vashem launched two YouTube sites. The English version includes sound bites from President Bush and French President Nicholas Sarkozy on their visits to the memorial.

“I would hope that as many people in the world come to this place, it would be a sobering reminder that evil exists and a call that when we find evil we must resist it,” President Bush says.

The YouTube clips also includes short video testimonies of survivors, among them Zanne Farbstein. She and her two sisters were among 1,000 women who were the first Jews to arrive at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

Auschwitz was the Nazis’ largest concentration camp. It is estimated that up to 2.5 million people were murdered or died there.

“I worked sorting clothes and I found Father’s prayer shawl. There were five crematoria. They burned day and night. Transports kept arriving and there was no room in the crematoria, so the children were thrown into pits and burned – little children…Alive!” Farbstein recalled in one video.

“We were all sick, so we would drag each other to work. Until one morning my older sister Edith said: ‘You know what? I can’t go on any more. Enough!’

“I cried. I shouted. Nothing helped. I had torn shoes. She had good shoes. She said to me, ‘Let’s exchange shoes.’

“So we went to work. When we returned, she was no more,” Farbstein said. She and her other sister were in Auschwitz together for three years, waiting for death every day, she said. “That was the worst part: the fear.”

Farbsten says she never would have believed that she could live a normal life – marrying and having children and grandchildren. “Sheer joy!” she says.

You can find the photo archive here.

Judge not lest you be judged

A few days ago, I posted about the rise in antisemitism around the world. One of my readers, whom I know is a good and kind woman, decried this trend, but then said something interesting: “And now many Jews insist that we hate Muslims to support them. [snip.] [E]very anti-Islamic article posted makes it that much harder to side with the Jews. No one should be forced to side with one ethnicity over another.” In other words, if I understand her correctly, by bad-mouthing Muslims, Jews are making themselves look bad and are therefore less sympathetic.

(This statement is not unique to this reader, and I don’t want any of you to pick on her. She’s part of a larger trend, and this trend definitely deserves consideration. Indeed, I am grateful to her for being honest so that we can discuss this matter. Any personal attacks against her are strictly off limits and I will delete them as soon as I can.)

The view my reader expressed seems to be a variation on two Biblical principles: “Judge not lest you be judged” and “turn the other cheek.” I’ve always understood these doctrines to apply to the individual, not to the state, and to mean that, within a civilized society, people have to avoid the sins of hypocrisy and should strive to get along with their neighbors. Multiculturalism, however, elevates these Biblical precepts to national policies that insist that victims of threats or aggression may not defend themselves. As one commentator said, in many circles, it is now worse to judge evil than to do evil. (I’d like to give attribution to that speaker, but I can’t find his name anywhere. He’s a British lecturer, if that helps any of you come up with his name.)

I’m actually happy to judge evil — because I know, with certainty, that I am not evil. That is, I don’t have to worry that, in judging others as evil, I might in turn be judged. I can cast rhetorical stones because, while I have my petty sins (I’m lazy, a bit hot-tempered, and I’m greedy when it comes to chocolate), I am not evil. The same holds true for Jews. As a group, they have the same foibles as the average run of citizens, but they are not, collectively, evil. They do not aim their guns intentionally at children, they do not use children to hide their own guns, and they do not revel in the deaths of children. Jews can judge those Muslims who got what they asked for (Gaza) and then launched more than 5,000 rockets into Israel, with the intent to kill civilians. Jews can judge those Muslims who have as their religious doctrine the requirement that the desired end of days be triggered, in part, by the slaughter of Jews. We are allowed to judge when we see evil.

I actually attribute this naive belief that all people are innately good — a belief that, in the modern era alone, should have given way in the face of the Nazi death camps, in Pol Pots killing fields, in Mao’s Great Leap Forward, in the Soviet Union’s lengthy auto-genocide — to a surprising source: Anne Frank. Since the 1950s, every single reasonably educated American has read Anne Frank’s luminous diary. And most American teachers — certainly mine, when I was in junior high school — spent an inordinate amount of time reiterating to us Anne’s most famous words, written on July 15, 1944, exactly two years after she and her family went into hiding to escape the Nazis:

It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. [Emphasis mine.]

Thanks to those words, just about every Western school child learns that “people are truly good at heart.” I think it was that sweet sentiment that my reader had in the back of her mind when she left her comment. In that world view, if everyone is good, it does indeed lessen the virtue of one group of people if they imply that another group of people may not, in fact, be “truly good at heart.” The problem is that Anne Frank was completely and totally wrong.

Before I get into the global wrongness of Anne’s position, it’s useful to understand the context in which Anne wrote those words, as well as to remember what happened to Anne within days of writing them. As Anne freely admited in the next sentence following her famous thought, she wrote those words because she needed to give meaning to a life spent in hiding and a world that had devolved into sadistic chaos.

Two weeks after writing her homage to human kind’s innate goodness, because of a tip from an informer, the Annex’s residents were rounded up by the Nazis and shipped off. Here’s what happened to them: Mr. Van Daan was gassed immediately on his arrival in Auschwitz. Mrs. Van Daan was shuffled from Auschwitz, to Bergen-Belsen, to Buchenwald, to Theresienstadt, and finally to another unknown camp where she apparently died shortly before war’s end. Peter van Daan survived a death march from Auschwitz to Mauthausen, only to die three days before the camp was liberated. Mr. Dussel, after having spent time in either Buchenwald or Sachenhausen, died in Neuengamme a few months after being arrested. Mrs. Frank died in Auschwitz from starvation and exhaustion. As for Anne and Margot:

Margot and Anne Frank were transported from Auschwitz at the end of October and brought to Bergen-Belsen concentrationton camp near Hanover (Germany). The typhus epidemic that broke out in the winter of 1944-1945, as a result of the horrendous hygienic conditions, killed thousands of prisoners, including Margot and, a few days later, Anne. She must have died in late February or early March. The bodies of both girls were probably dumped in Bergen-Belsen’s mass graves. (From the Afterward to The Diary of a Young Girl : The Definitive Edition, published by Anchor Books Doubleday in 1996)

Anne Frank did not die peacefully or gracefully. Instead, her last days on earth were a nightmare of cold, hunger, loneliness and fear:

Anne was briefly reunited with two friends, Hanneli Goslar (named “Lies” in the diary) and Nanette Blitz, who both survived the war. They said that Anne, naked but for a piece of blanket, explained she was infested with lice and had thrown her clothes away. They described her as bald, emaciated and shivering but although ill herself, she told them that she was more concerned about Margot, whose illness seemed to be more severe. Goslar and Blitz did not see Margot who remained in her bunk, too weak to walk. Anne said they were alone as both of their parents were dead.

Why am I emphasizing all this? Because I want to make it clear that Anne Frank was wrong. People are not innately good. Her words were whistling in the dark, written to give herself faith and courage under terrible circumstances. They cannot and should not be used as a yardstick for measuring humanity’s natural state. And for Liberals to cling to this “ideology” moves beyond optimism into self-destruction.

Anyone who has children knows that, while they have a tremendous capacity for love, and have within them the seeds for reason and kindness, their innate state is more Lord of the Flies than anything else. Children are naturally violent, greedy and jealous. What tempers children is a society’s externally imposed value system. And these value systems don’t spring out of whole cloth. They are the results of centuries of give and take, violence, refining, and thought.

In a chauvinistic way that I’m not even going to bother to defend, I think our modern Judeo-Christian value system is one of the best ever created — and it’s not innate, it’s learned. I’ll go even further here: I don’t like the current fundamentalist Islamic value system, with its denigration of women, Jews, and non-Muslims, and its obsession with visiting extreme physical violence (and I include beheading and other slaughters) on those so denigrated.

I don’t think we in the West are innately good, or that those in the fundamentalist Islamic Middle East are inherently bad. I do think, however, that we have the better value system, and that it’s terribly dangerous for people to put their faith in Anne Frank’s touching but misguided words about humans’ innate goodness. Worse, this is not merely the misguided approach of a single good and kind person. Instead, a vast portion of the American population has bought into a teenage girls’ “whistling in the dark” musings and now tries to impose this naive view on American (and Israeli) foreign policy, hampering those countries’ ability to protect themselves against those whose value system calls for its enemies subjugation and death.