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June 29, 2016 / 23 Sivan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘heroes’

The Holocaust: Many Villains, Few Heroes

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials, at which selected Nazi leaders were placed in the dock, we must ask some disturbing questions about those who were never tried for their complicity in the world’s worst genocide. It would have been impossible to carry out the mass murder of so many people without the complicity of so many governments, groups, and individuals. Perhaps there were too many guilty parties to put them all on trial, but it is not too late to hold the guilty morally accountable for what they did and failed to do.

To be sure, the guiltiest individuals were the Nazi leaders who directly planned and implemented the final solution.  Their goal was to in gather Jews from all over the world in order to kill them and to destroy what they regarded as the “Jewish race”.  They came very close to succeeding, wiping out nearly all of Europe’s Jews in a relatively brief period of time. These Nazi leaders had the help of many “willing executioners,” both in Germany and in the countries under its control.  Among the worst culprits were individual Lithuanians, Latvians, Hungarians, Slovakians, Poles, Ukrainians, and others.

There were some heroes among these groups and they are justly remembered and honored.  But the number of villains far exceeded the number of heroes. Then there were the guilty governments that cooperated and helped facilitate the deportations and round-ups.  The French government deported more Jews than the Nazi’s demanded.  Other governments, including those of Norway, Holland, Austria, Hungry, also helped the Nazis achieve their genocidal goal. Bulgaria, on the other hand, declined to cooperate with the Nazi genocide and its small Jewish population was saved.

There were also the countries that refused to accept Jews who might have escaped the Nazi’s had they been permitted to enter.  These countries include the United States, Canada, and many other potential places of asylum that shut their doors.  In the United States and Canada too, there were heroes who pressed their leaders to do more, but for the most part they failed.

Many Arab and Muslim leaders also played ignoble roles, siding with the Nazi’s and conducting their own pogroms against local Jews.  The leading villain in this regard was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who joined Hitler in Berlin and played a hands-on role in sending Jews to their deaths and in keeping the doors of Palestine closed to Jewish refugees.

Could more have been done by Britain and the United States to end the genocide?  Could they have bombed the rail lines to Auschwitz and other death camps?  These are complex questions that have been asked but not satisfactorily answered since 1945.

There were also the actions of those who pardoned and commuted the sentences of Nazis convicted at Nuremberg, and those who helped Nazis escape prosecution after the war ended.  That list too is long and disturbing.

The Nuremberg trials, by focusing narrowly on Nazi leaders and their direct henchmen, implicitly exculpated those who played important, but less direct, roles by their actions and inactions.  By their nature, courts are limited in what they can do to bring to justice large numbers of individuals who belong on a wide continuum of legal and moral guilt.  But historians, philosophers, jurists and ordinary citizens are not so limited.  We may point fingers of blame at all who deserve to be blamed, whether or not they were placed on trial at Nuremberg, or at subsequent legal proceedings.

There will never be perfect justice for those who helped carry out the Holocaust.  Most of the guilty escaped prosecution, lived happy lives and died in their beds, surrounded by loving family members.  West Germany prospered as a result of the Marshal Plan and many German industrialists, who had benefitted from slave labor, continued to benefit as a result of the perceived needs of the Cold War.  The scales of justice remain out of balance.  Perhaps this helps to explain why more than 6 million people have been murdered in preventable genocides — in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur and other placed — since the world pledged “never again.”

There is, of course, the risk that by blaming all, we blame none.  It is important to calibrate the responsibility of those who played very different roles in the Holocaust. This is a daunting task, but it must be undertaken if future genocides are to be deterred.

Alan M. Dershowitz

Redeeming Relevance: Parshat Achrei Mot: Nameless Heroes and the Holy Path

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

Parshat Achrei Mot represents a transition in the book of Vayikra. We now go from the first half with its emphasis on Aharon and his sons to the second part which is generally addressed to the Jewish people as a whole. It goes from the model of Torat Kohanim (The Law of the priests) to that which is extrapolated from it – that which I call Torat Mamlechet Kohanim (The Law of the nation of priests).

Before speaking about the priestly service on Yom Kippur which is told from the perspective of atoning for the various impurities that this section culminates, the Torah engages in an unusually stylized flourish. It tells us that these laws were given after the death of the Aharon’s two sons. Of course, this could be just a time marker, though there would be other ways to denote such a marker; for example, “In the second week of the operation of the Mishkan.” That it does not use such a phrase, strikes us a clear maneuver to recall and emphasize one of the Torah’s most dramatic and difficult events. Before we get to that, it is worthwhile to not only note the fact that the event is mentioned, but also how it is mentioned.
We have often pointed out that the Tanakh artfully describes people in different ways depending on what it wants to emphasize. Here Nadav and Avihu are described without their names but solely as Aharon’s two sons. Each word is carefully chosen here. Their identity is that they are Aharon’s sons. Moreover, there is an implication is that they are his only sons, or at the very least his main ones. (Finally the fact that they are two sons is something that we already know, hence the word, two, here is also presumably meant to add significance.)

So why is it that they are identified as Aharon’s sons? It is well known that Aharon was more popular than Moshe. As such, he may have been the most popular man in the nation, certainly the most popular senior leader. This is easily understood. He had been Moshe’s public figure and in charge of speaking to the people. And, paradoxically enough, his failure at the golden calf might have added to his popularity, rather than taken away from it: He was the man on the spot and tried hard to bridge the people’s needs with God’s demands. There was no easy way out and he showed the people his willingness to take great personal risks to maneuver through an untenable situation..

Now we understand the significance of their being called Aharon’s sons. Sometimes we care about a person more for their parents than for themselves. Given Aharon’s popularity, Aharon’s tragedy was no doubt one that the entire people felt on a very personal level. And if they were his main sons, all the more so. It is thus no doubt the fact that it was Aharon’s sons that were the ones taken by God that affected the people so profoundly.

This brings us back to the point of mentioning this detail now in the middle of Vayikra, several chapters after it occurred. There are many laws that the Torah will now discuss that are related to earlier laws in the book of Shemot. And there are even more laws that could have easily found their place there, along with all of the other particulars that one finds in Parshat Mishpatim. Yet the Torah waited with all of these, because the Jews were not yet ready to hear about the importance of detail for their national mission. Some laws, primarily dealing with civil law had, to be heard right away for the smooth ordering of their society and these were already recounted in Shemot. But when it came to going beyond the ethical into the realm of the holy, the Jews needed to wait for certain things to happen This is because it is not intuitive that attention to detail can make us a holy people. And yet, on some level, this is what the laws addressed to the Jewish people in the book of Vayikra are all about.

Because the spiritual dimension of attention to detail it is not intuitive, it needed particular emphasis. The Torah does this by showing us that the greatest and most beloved Jews tried the road of not paying attention to detail. If it would have worked for anyone, it should have worked for them. The fact that it didn’t should tell us that there is truly only one road.

Millennia later, we all know that attention to detail is at the heart of the Jewish experience. It can even be described as Judaism in a nutshell. Moreover, this did not start with the rabbis. It started with a seminal tragic event necessary to put the holy nation on track for that very special historical mission that is taught in this book of Torat Mamlechet Kohanim.

Rabbi Francis Nataf

Goodbye Columbus, Goodbye America

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

Columbus may have outfoxed the Spanish court and his rivals, but he is falling victim to the court of political correctness.

The explorer who discovered America has become controversial because the very idea of America has become controversial.

There are counter-historical claims put forward by Muslim and Chinese scholars claiming that they discovered America first. And there are mobs of fake indigenous activists on every campus to whom the old Italian is as much of a villain as the bearded Uncle Sam.

Columbus Day parades are met with protests and some have been minimized or eliminated.

In California, Columbus Day became Indigenous People’s Day, which sounds like a Marxist terrorist group’s holiday. While it’s tempting to put that down to California political correctness, in South Dakota it was renamed Native American Day.

The shift from celebrating Columbus’ arrival in America to commemorating it as an American Nakba by focusing on the Indians, rather than the Americans, is a profound form of historical revisionism that hacks away at the origins of this country.

No American state has followed Venezuela’s lead in renaming it Día de la Resistencia Indígena, or Day of Indigenous Resistance, which actually is a Marxist terrorist group’s holiday, the whole notion of celebrating the discovery of America has come to be seen as somehow shameful and worst of all, politically incorrect.

Anti-Columbus Day protests are mounted by La Raza, whose members, despite their indigenous posturing, are actually mostly descended from Spanish colonists, but who know that most American liberals are too confused to rationally frame an objection to a protest by any minority group.

About the only thing sillier than a group of people emphasizing their collective identity as a Spanish speaking people, and denouncing Columbus as an imperialist exploiter is Ward Churchill, a fake Indian, who compared Columbus to Heinrich Himmler. Ward Churchill’s scholarship consists of comparing Americans in past history and current events to random Nazis. If he hasn’t yet compared Amerigo Vespucci or Daniel Boone to Ernst Röhm; it’s only a matter of time.

The absurdity of these attacks is only deepened by the linguistic and cultural ties between the Italian Columbus Day marchers and the Latino Anti-Columbus Day protesters with the latter set cynically exploiting white guilt to pretend that being the descendants of Southern European colonists makes them a minority.

If being descended from Southern Europeans makes you a minority, then Columbus, the parade marchers, the Greek restaurant owner nearby and even Rush Limbaugh are all “people of color.”

Italian-Americans are the only bulwark against political correctness still keeping Columbus on the calendar, and that has made mayors and governors in cities and states with large Italian-American communities wary of tossing the great explorer completely overboard. But while Ferdinand and Isabella may have brought Columbus back in chains, modern day political correctness has banished him to the darkened dungeon of non-personhood, erasing him from history and replacing him with a note reading, “I’m Sorry We Ever Landed Here.”

But this is about more than one single 15th century Genoan with a complicated life who was neither a monster nor a saint. It is about whether America really has any right to exist at all. Is there any argument against celebrating Columbus Day, that cannot similarly be applied to the Fourth of July?

If Columbus is to be stricken from the history books in favor of ideological thugs like Malcolm X or Caesar Chavez, then America must soon follow. Columbus’ crime is that he enabled European settlement of the continent.

If the settlement of non-Indians in North America is illegitimate, then any national state they created is also illegitimate.

It is easier to hack away at a nation’s history by beginning with the lower branches.

Columbus is an easier target than America itself, though La Raza considers both colonialist vermin. Americans are less likely to protest over the banishment of Columbus to the politically correct Gulag than over the banishing America itself, which was named after another one of those colonialist explorers, Amerigo Vespucci. First they came for Columbus Day and then for the Fourth of July.

The battles being fought over Columbus Day foreshadow the battles to be fought over the Fourth of July. As Columbus Day joins the list of banned holidays in more cities, one day there may not be a Fourth of July, just a day of Native Resistance to remember the atrocities of the colonists with PBS documentaries comparing George Washington to Hitler.

These documentaries already exist, they just haven’t gone mainstream. Yet.

We celebrate Columbus Day and the Fourth of July because history is written by the winners. Had the Aztecs, the Mayans or the Iroquois Confederation developed the necessary technology and skills to cross the Atlantic and begin colonizing Europe, the fate of its native inhabitants would have been far uglier. The different perspectives on history often depend on which side you happen to be on.

To Americans, the Alamo is a shining moment of heroism. To the Mexicans who are the heirs of a colonialist empire far more ruthless than anything to be found north of the Rio Grande, the war was a plot to conquer Mexican territory. And neither side is altogether wrong, but choosing which version of history to go by is the difference between being an American or a Mexican.

A nation’s mythology, its paragons and heroes, its founding legends and great deeds, are its soul. To replace them with another culture’s perspective on its history is to kill that soul.

That is the ultimate goal of political correctness, to kill America’s soul. To stick George Washington, Patrick Henry, Jefferson, James Bowie, Paul Revere, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and all the rest on a shelf in a back room somewhere, and replace them with timelier liberal heroes. Move over Washington, Caesar Chavez needs this space. No more American heroes need apply.

This is how it begins. And that is how it ends. Nations are not destroyed by atomic bombs or economic catastrophes; they are lost when they lose any reason to go on living. When they no longer have enough pride to go on fighting to survive.

The final note of politically correct lunacy comes from a headline in the Columbus Dispatch about the Columbus Day festival in the city of Columbus, Ohio. “Italian Festival honors controversial explorer with its own Columbus Day parade”.

Once the great discover of America, Columbus is now dubbed “controversial” by a newspaper named after him, in a city named after him .And if he is controversial, how can naming a city after him and a newspaper after the city not be equally controversial?

Can the day when USA Today has a headline reading, “Some cities still plan controversial 4th of July celebration of American independence” be far behind?

Daniel Greenfield

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/sultan-knish/goodbye-columbus-goodbye-america/2013/10/15/

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