The Holocaust inspired many of my generation to vow “Never Again!” Not that it never again will happen because, really, who can assure that? Only G-d, not mortals. But we undertake never again to watch timidly from safety afar as frontline co-religionists pray for action.
American Jews missed the boat during the 1930s and 1940s. Rabbi Stephen Wise ultimately betrayed millions by protecting his unique access to Franklin Roosevelt as a fellow traveler in New York Democrat and labor union politics. When a group of leading distinguished Orthodox rabbis undertook af historic March on Washington days before Yom Kippur in 1943, Wise advised FDR literally to sneak out of the White House before they arrived. Wise zealously guarded his station as Roosevelt’s Court Jew. In our circles, he is not remembered warmly; his memory is despised deeply.
The Anti-Defamation League raised money during those years to help Jews overseas. So did Wise’s American Jewish Congress. So did the American Jewish Committee. So did the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. So did Joint Distribution Committee. Everyone was raising money. No one was raising cain — except Hillel Kook (aka Peter Bergson), Samuel Merlin, and Ben Hecht, whom they recruited from Hollywood. Together those three formed several groups that, though condemned by the larger established Jewish bodies, actually shook Washington enough to help lay the groundwork for the War Refugee Board. The War Refugee Board came awfully late — in 1944 — but it saved perhaps 200,000 Jews. Raoul Wallenberg was its hero and martyr. So many more could have been saved if American Jews had focused on saving lives as Bergson, Merlin, and Hecht did — instead of on turf wars.
Bergson arrived in America in 1940 and found Jews hypnotized to love Roosevelt, who prevented their hundreds of thousands from entering the U.S. America had immigration quotas — not just for Jewish refugees from Hitler but for all immigrants — and FDR’s anti-Jewish bigotry assured those quotas were not filled for 11 of his 12 presidential years. Bergson, Merlin, and Hecht fought him publicly. They were vigorous, published incredibly stirring advertisements in major media, and staged remarkable public events featuring celebrities like Marlon Brando who donated their services. After the Shoah, they applied their skills to advocating for Israel’s founding.
American Jews also feared criticizing FDR. They were conned by their leaders into seeing him as their savior in the fight against Hitler. So much hagiography has been published falsely about FDR. His socialist policies did not save America from the Great Depression but, rather, made things grievously worse. Ironically, it was World War II that revived American industry and saved America’s economy from Roosevelt. Likewise, he fought Hitler because he ultimately had no other choice. Few politicians ever enjoyed so much luck in office as did Franklin Roosevelt. Thankfully, history is catching up with him.
Against this backdrop, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 bears revisiting. It is a defining moment in Jewish history — the ghetto of 300,000 and more Jews where a Nazi commander, Jurgen Stroop, ordered the walled confines to be burned, block by block. Contrary to other Holocaust-era tragedies, the Jews there fought back valorously. Mere civilians facing Nazi military prowess and armaments, they held off the German Nazis for four weeks, an extraordinary accomplishment in the face of the weapons and manpower imbalance.
FDR, Stephen Wise, and how they both betrayed 1940s European Jewry have been discussed popularly and academically in While Six Million Died by Arthur Morse, The Abandonment of the Jews by Prof. David Wyman, and The Deafening Silence by Prof. Rafael Medoff, and elsewhere. The tragedy of Jews during the Holocaust era is like the tragedy of black America today: societal groups facing particular disadvantage, not to mention outright bigotry, hatred, and prejudice compounded by centuries of indescribable persecution like American slavery and the more painful epochs of the Jewish experience, ultimately create organizations to intercede with government and against hate. Initially, those organizations offer precisely the necessary remedy. They attract the disadvantaged group’s leading citizens with the greatest access to presidents, U.S. senators, congressional representatives, state government leaders, and titans of industry. With their money and access, such foundational leaders mobilize effectively for their disadvantaged group, motivated partly by philanthropy, shared group identity, and self-interest: once their demographic group succeeds, they — and their families, descendants, friends, and others so associated — also benefit.
These first-generation Jewish defense groups were founded in 1906 (American Jewish Committee), 1913 (Anti-Defamation League), and 1918 (American Jewish Congress). They were right for their moment, and great leaders founded them. Thirty years later, though, they were in the hands of bureaucratic hacks, mediocrities more concerned about preserving organizational primacy and attaining personal favorable mentions in the New York Times. They all are forgotten.
They opposed public street demonstrations against Hitler, boycotts of German goods, and anything that made noise. Their slogan: “Sha! [Be Quiet!] Demonstrations? Boycotts? You’ll end up making things worse!”
The Shoah could have gotten worse?
The failure of American Jewish leadership during the 1940s traumatized much of my 1970s college generation. The record of petrified 1940s American Jewish silence persuaded us to disregard the “Jewish establishment” and to launch the aggressive 1970s movement to free Soviet Jewry. Since then, more than one million Jews have bolted out of Communist Perdition where Bernie Sanders honeymooned and praised bread lines. Indeed, Sanders epitomizes the alternative manifestation generated by the Nazi Holocaust trauma: rather than embracing his heritage, he flees from its essence, not knowing a page of Talmud from a sour pickle, unable to cope with all that the aggregated Jewish experience demands. So instead, he lights a Christmas tree, cavorts with Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, and picked oranges on a socialist kibbutz until it was not Marxist enough.
Do not expect self-interested “leaders” from the Jewish periphery to speak out against a potentially disastrous impending Iran Deal. They are too busy fighting man-made climate change that is not man-made and that is cyclical and always will be. They are too busy posing for photos at “Black Lives Matter” events. And their road to Hell not only is bad-intentioned, but also they can’t even pass an infrastructure bill to pave.
The recent Putin invasion of Ukraine has prompted me to think a great deal about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. It proceeded for four weeks. The Jews never had a chance. The martyrdom of the 13,000 who fell in the ghetto while throwing Molotov cocktails at Nazi tanks and firing pistols at Nazi stormtroopers with machine guns is remembered annually on the day we Jews call “Yom Ha-Shoah v’Ha-G’vurah” — the Day of Holocaust and Strength. But they went down.
I can’t help but wonder what end can await Ukraine if we do not at least facilitate their access to offensive weapons so they can fight back. They have proven readiness and a willingness to fight. Zelensky asks for weapons, not for free rides. Amid the first Trump impeachment, Democrats cared so much about Zelensky and Ukraine. Remember? What was her name? Marie Yovanovitch? And the Vindman Brothers? Joe Biden took such pride as Obama’s point man on Ukraine. Hunter, a key player in the Biden Crime Family, was paid $50,000-$83,000 a month to help guide Burisma in oil and energy. Now he paints by other numbers.
Where are their passions for Ukraine now? Crickets. Can Ukraine survive three more weeks of methodical shelling and invasion if they are denied the wherewithal to fight back? Are people in cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv 2022 now experiencing the solitude of Warsaw 1943? We should not send them our boys, but what message do we send when we restrain Poland from sending them prior-generation fighter aircraft while we protect Putin’s energy markets by circumscribing oil and gas exploration at home?
Many had expected Russia would have bulldozed Ukraine in a few days. Ukraine disproved that, demonstrating they are not a Russian colony but a country with a history dating back centuries. Accordingly, there is a parallel to the Warsaw Ghetto. The battle is in the news daily, and demise is lurking. Although Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan have taught us the foolishness of undertaking nation-changing adventures as the world’s policeman, it is wrong to restrain Poland from privately sending those fighter aircraft to Zelensky.
Obama had eight years to prepare for this day and failed. Like FDR, he also had fabulous luck in Washington, coddled by the left-wing media, but history is catching up with him, too. Obama did not even supply Ukraine with sufficient javelin anti-tank missiles or funding. Ukrainians have proven they deserve offensive weapons, too. Biden’s approach — defense with no offense, a strategy that cannot win in sports or in life — condemns them to be finished off in only a few weeks like the Warsaw Ghetto while we watch. They have earned a fighting chance.
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