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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

Arizona Shootings Expose Liberal Hypocrisy

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

The shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, along with federal judge John Roll (a Republican appointee) and numerous others, including a nine year-old constituent of the Congresswoman, resulting in the deaths of six (including the judge and the little girl) and brain injury to the congresswoman, prompted the usual ruminations.

While everybody made appropriate noises about the tragic circumstances, the losses, and the apparent madness of a deranged shooter, it wasn’t long before media pundits and many politicians were blaming political adversaries, with the cries going up against the usual suspects: Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Fox News (of course).

Even before we knew much about the shooter (who turned out to be a seeming paranoid who believes the U.S. government is using grammar to control our minds), aggressive, left-leaning pundits like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman blamed those on the right.

Speaking of Congresswoman Giffords, Krugman wrote: “She’s been the target of violence before. And for those wondering why a Blue Dog Democrat, the kind Republicans might be able to work with, might be a target, the answer is that she’s a Democrat who survived what was otherwise a GOP sweep in Arizona . . .”

Thus Giffords, herself conservative on a number of issues, was targeted by bloodthirsty right-wingers, in Krugman’s view. According to Krugman, “Republicans will yell about the evils of partisanship whenever anyone tries to make a connection between the rhetoric of Beck, Limbaugh, etc. and the violence I fear we’re going to see in the months and years ahead. But violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate.”

Somehow forgotten, by Krugman and others echoing comments like his, is all the hate their own side pumped into the discourse over the past decade that contributed to the warming of the current political climate. For eight long years, beginning in 2000, Krugman and his cohorts carried on relentless rhetorical warfare against the Bush administration and Republicans more generally.

George W. Bush, they told us, stole his first presidential election from Al Gore (when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of halting a seemingly endless demand for recounts by the Gore campaign), and his second election against John Kerry, if you believe the more extremist partisans on the left.

Bush, they baldly and routinely proclaimed, was a liar, a draft dodger, a lush, a drug abuser, a dolt and a political poseur scheming to suppress American democracy by subverting the Constitution. He never planned to step down when his terms were done, we were assured. He was a budding dictator preparing a coup d’état against our democracy. And, oh yes, he tortured captured terrorists and kept large numbers of them bottled up in a military prison at Guantanamo, violating their supposed Constitutional rights.

(Meanwhile his administration’s efforts to try those same prisoners by traditional wartime military tribunals were blocked at every turn by critics, enabling them to further claim that Bush was denying them their day in court!)

It’s legitimate in political debate to disagree on policy questions but the criticism of George W. Bush never stopped there. Bush’s opponents on the left labeled him a fascist, another Hitler, a murderer. Journalists were as hostile in their attacks on the president as anyone. The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait famously wrote that he “hated” George W. Bush. And movie makers, left-leaning on balance themselves, were no less visceral in their contempt for the 43rd president, one even making a film about his fictional assassination. Imagine the public uproar if the same thing were done about President Obama.

Recently a friend of mine, a dedicated supporter of our current president, sent me an e-mail lampooning critics of the new healthcare law, slamming such criticism as “racist.” When I wrote back and called him on it he replied that it was racist because the law was being labeled “Obamacare” by its opponents, an attempt, he believed, to demonize the president. He never replied when I asked if this was anything like calling the 2003 tax reductions the “Bush tax cuts.”

In the minds of some, criticism of one’s political adversaries seems reprehensible, even racist, when it’s directed against those they support but not when the shoe is on their foot. Eight years of bitter, overheated denunciations of a Republican president and his administration leave no trace in the political firmament of some who only see the righteousness of their own positions while demonizing their opponents. Worse, many of them see no harm in using such terrible moments to turn disaster into opportunity.

Changes Ahead? American Nuclear Policy And Israeli Strategic Doctrine (Part II)

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Fourth, the Obama anti-nuclear vision does not provide any useful guidance on how to deal with those refractory states and sub-states that may not be subject to ordinary deterrent threats. This brings to mind the perplexing security problem of prospective enemy irrationality.

How, then, should Israel’s own developing plans for dealing with non-rational adversaries be affected by the Obama anti-nuclear vision, especially where these adversaries (e.g., Iran) may soon become irreversibly nuclear?

Fifth, long-term, Israeli leaders and strategists must learn to consider seemingly irrelevant literature, real literature, not the narrowly technical or tactical materials normally generated by professional military thinkers, but the genuinely creative and artistic product of writers, poets and playwrights. The invaluable intellectual insights that can be gleaned from this literature may sometimes provide a far better source of authentic strategic understanding than the visually impressive, but very often misleading, matrixes, mathematics, metaphors and scenarios of the “experts.” Regarding limitations of the experts, it would be good for planners to consider the work of the great Spanish existentialist, José Ortega y Gasset, especially The Revolt of the Masses and History as a System.

Sixth, Israeli leaders and strategists should acknowledge and also act upon the occasional and significant advantages of private as opposed to collective strategic thought. Here, they should be reminded of Aristotle’s prescient view: “Deception occurs to a greater extent when we are investigating with others than by ourselves, for an investigation with someone else is carried on quite as much by means of the thing itself.”

There is a correct time for collaborative or “team” investigations, but in certain matters concerning Israeli security, as in science generally, one may sometimes discover optimal reasoning and greater value in the private musings of single individuals. This observation refers with particular relevance to strategic doctrine.

Seventh, Israeli leaders and strategists now need to open up, again, and with even greater diligence and formal insight, the policy question of nuclear ambiguity. Possibly under growing urgings from Obama’s will to denuclearize, perhaps even under very specific pressure to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), they will have to understand that any doctrinal re-examination of the “bomb in the basement” is not just another academic exercise. Rather, such re-examination could come at a time that new American strategic guidance would openly condemn any indispensable Israeli nuclear disclosure.

How, then, should Israel balance its almost ritual obeisance to Washington with its more obvious and indisputably more primary need for survival?

Eighth, again with a very clear view to changing nuclear doctrine in the United States, Israeli leaders and strategists will need to expand their consideration of much wider questions of nuclear weapons and national strategy. Ideally, this would be done in concert with all of the other above-listed strategic requirements. Key issues here would be nuclear targeting doctrine (counter value versus counterforce); preemption, and ballistic missile defense.

Depending upon Israel’s willingness to risk Washington’s displeasure, these strategic postures will be more-or-less impacted by President Obama’s naive and dangerous nuclear vision.

Nuclear weapons are neither good nor evil in themselves. In the case of Israel, such weapons incontestably represent an important instrument of peace. They are, in fact, an utterly critical impediment to regional nuclear war.

With its nuclear arsenal unimpaired, Israel – assuming rational adversaries – could effectively deter enemy unconventional attacks, and also most large conventional ones. While still in possession of such an arsenal, Israel could also launch assorted non-nuclear preemptive strikes against an enemy state’s hard targets. Without its secure nuclear arsenal, ambiguous or disclosed, any such expressions of anticipatory self-defense could trigger the onset of a much wider and more catastrophic war. This is because there would no longer be any compelling threat of an Israeli counter-retaliation.

Israel’s secure nuclear arsenal is required to fulfill essential deterrence options, preemption options, war-fighting options and even the so-called (last resort) “Samson Option.” This arsenal should never be negotiated away in any formal international agreements, especially in the midst of an American-brokered “peace process” and its attendant creation of “Palestine.” This Israeli existential obligation obtains no matter how appealing might be the idealized vision of “a world without nuclear weapons,” and no matter how high the authority of this deceptively attractive vision’s most enthusiastic and visible advocate.

In the final analysis, regrettable as it may seem, the structure of long-term Israeli security must be built upon the recognizable foundations of secure nuclear forces and strategic doctrine, and not on the thoroughly idealized world constructed by an American president.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971), Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, is the author of ten books and several hundred scholarly articles dealing with international relations and international law. Born in Zürich, Switzerland, at the end of World War II, he lectures and publishes widely on nuclear matters in the United States, Europe and Israel. Professor of Political Science and International Law at Purdue, Dr. Beres was the Chair of Project Daniel (Israel).

Israel’s Rebirth ‘A Boring Story’ To U.S. Jews: An Interview with American Zionist Hero Dr. David Gutmann

Monday, March 29th, 2010

In 1947-1948 I lived in Boro Park where, against parental and rabbinic advice, I joined a Zionist group. By 1950 I was packing machine-gun parts for Israel in a home not far from the Young Israel. But what I did as a child does not compare to what my friend and colleague David Gutmann did for love of Zion at that very time on the dangerous open seas.

Dr. Gutmann was a 21-year-old Jewish-American volunteer sailor for Aliyah Bet, the name given to “illegal” Jewish immigration into British-controlled Palestine (1934-1948). Hundreds of boats tried to run the British blockade. One was stranded on the Danube and its passengers later sent back to Vienna and executed, another boat was bombed by the Soviets.

Once Hitler was defeated, British disdain for Jews quickly became visible. Some Jews made it, many (more than 1,600) drowned, and most were captured and imprisoned on Cyprus. The British actually sent some boats right back to Europe, to Germany, as was the case with the SS Exodus. This public relations fiasco backfired; my friend Ruth Gruber’s on-board photo of the SS Exodus made the cover of Life magazine.

The Jewish Press recently met with Dr. Gutmann. Although he is no longer young, he is a large and sturdy man, a solid presence. He is also very witty. His generation of heroes is mainly gone but he is still here.

The Jewish Press: How did you become a sailor?

Dr. Gutmann: I served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II.

The ship manifests list you as serving on two ships, the Paducah-Geulah and the Ben Hecht. Were they the same kind of boat? Who served with you?

I served first on the Hecht, after that on the Geulah. I was an engine room oiler on the Hecht, a second engineer on the Geulah. The Hecht was purchased and run by the Irgun. She was a German-built twin-diesel luxury yacht originally named Abril (April). She sailed for the U.S. Navy on anti-sub patrol during World War II.

After the Brits left Palestine, the Hecht/Abril became part of the Israeli navy and was used to launch frogmen against Egyptian naval craft off Gaza. Last I heard, she was running tourists between Naples and Capri.

The Hecht/Abril’s crew was a mix of Jews and non-Jews, kids and veteran seamen, crazies and idealists . We ended up in Acco (Acre).

The Geulah was purchased and run by the Haganah. A twin-screw steamship built around 1905, she served during World War II as, I believe, a gunnery-training vessel on the Great Lakes. She was scrapped in Naples in ’49. The Geulah’s crew was more decorous than the Hecht’s complement. A mix of veteran sailors (Jews and non-Jews), and Zionistic college kids.

We also had a few exiled Spanish loyalist sailors and our second mate was Don Miguel Boeza, who had been high admiral of the loyalist navy. Our captain was Rudy Patzert, an old commie married to a Jew. He wrote a book about the voyage – Running the Palestine Blockade. Our Haganah commander was Moka Limon, a legendary hero of Aliyah Bet who later became admiral of Israel’s navy. He was the guy who pulled off the legendary “boats of Bordeaux” operation. We all ended up in the Cyprus prison camps.

Would you consider writing a memoir?

Depends on the kind of memoir. I wouldn’t want to deal with the whole operation – too much I don’t know. Perhaps something more personal and anecdotal. I’ve got a few good stories.

Are Jews still eager to hear your stories?

Despite the fact that I’m willing to speak without honoraria, even during 2008 – Israel’s 60th anniversary year – the response from heads of congregations was at best tepid. And since then, perhaps one in three rabbis show interest. Some who showed initial interest never followed up. Nowadays, they might suggest 10-minute gigs at men’s club breakfast meetings.

Why the disinterest?

Rahm Emanuel reportedly said, “I’ve had it with Israel.” I think a lot of Jews now feel that way. They’re tired of worrying about Israel, unendingly, from crisis to crisis . The Palestinians are the heroes of our victim-adoring age; accordingly, many liberal Jews have come to believe the Palestinian “Nakba” revision, the lies that turned a miracle into another Jewish blood libel.

But whatever their politics, modern Jews have little sense of history. I speak about the ’48 war, and the lies about it that are now believed by too many Jews. For most U.S. Jews, the ’48 war is an old and perhaps boring story. They saw “Exodus”; they don’t want to see it again. They don’t realize that history is the present, and that [post-Zionist] revisionist history is central to the attack on contemporary Israel. It is one of the manifold attempts to bring it down, first morally and then physically.

Did you stay in touch with others from Aliyah Bet?

Yes. I was one of the founders of the now defunct American Veterans of Israel organization. I held office and attended their reunions in Israel and the States. But that was then. Most of us are dead now, and I haven’t had a drink with an old shipmate in years.

Bob Levitan, our captain, participated indirectly in the breakout from Acco. With his Leica, he took ID-type photos of all the Irgun and Lehi prisoners, and these were later used in the phony ID cards issued to them prior to their escape.

What similarities, if any, do you see between American Jewish attitudes in the 1930s and 1940s and today?

In the 1930s and ’40s, American Jews sanctified FDR. Now they are equally loyal to Obama. Despite their growing awareness of the Holocaust, during World War II American Jews for the most part stayed silent – very few mass protests and very little covert action. “FDR will save the Jews.”

My fear is that too many contemporary Jews are preparing to repeat this pattern. They will not embarrass the great and good Obama with their selfish concerns for what they view as a victimizing country – Israel – that no longer deserves their loyalty. Too many will follow Obama’s lead and stay silent while Israel is weakened or even destroyed.

Understanding Our Global Misfortunes

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009
            In some important respects, Iran is only a microcosm. Whatever happens next within that particularly troubled and troubling country, many of the deepest underlying problems and divisions will remain genuinely global.This is because revolution, despotism, war and terrorism are always generic issues in world politics. In the end – that is, civilizationally – they will need to be understood and confronted on a broadly international level.

 

            “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,” observed the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, and “everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.”  Today’s simmering Iranian instability and belligerence are more a symptom of generic civilizational fragility than merely an isolated (albeit catastrophic) disease. Beneath the surface, all world politics readily reveal a distinctly common and malignant disorder. This is the seemingly irremediable incapacity of many human beings to find both meaning and identity within themselves, as individuals. 

 

            Iran is only a microcosm. From the beginning, all world affairs have been driven by some form or another of “tribal” conflict, by incessant and deadly struggles between more-or-less warring groups. Without a clear and persisting sense of an outsider, of an enemy, of an “other,” whole societies routinely feel lost in the world. Drawing self-worth from their membership in the state or the faith or the race – from what Freud had insightfully called the “primal horde” – these humans often cannot satisfy even the most minimal requirements of interpersonal coexistence.

 

            Every sham may have a patina. Our very obvious progress in the technical and scientific realms still has no real counterpart in basic human relations. Yes, of course, we can manufacture jet aircraft and send astronauts into space and even communicate by “twitter” (whatever that means; I’m not really sure), but before we are allowed to board commercial airline flights we must first take off our shoes. The point of such removal is certainly not to enhance our personal comfort, but rather to ensure that we won’t blow up the plane.

 

            What kind of world is this? Iran is only a microcosm. We humans surely want to be upbeat about the whole world. We are turned off by anyone who speaks candidly about life’s day-to-day vagaries, or about its simultaneously absent ecstasies. Whenever a friend or colleague is asked, “How are you?” the visceral answer must always be the same: “I’m great.” 

 

             What nonsense! In fact, there remains very great pain and loneliness throughout the world.  Further, in certain matters, nothing important ever really changes:plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. In the truly critical issues of mega-survival, we humans may now be living far more precariously than ever before. Of course, this is especially apparent to the always-imperiled people of Israel – imperiled because millions of mortal Arab/Islamist enemies are still guided by the thoroughly atavistic primal tribal dynamics of “the herd.”

 

             What a world! Iran is only a microcosm. The veneer of human civilization is still razor thin, particularly in large portions of the Arab/Islamist world.  However conversant with statistics and science, certain nations in our world can still glance smugly over mountains of fresh corpses, and announce without apology or embarrassment that “God Is Great!” Assorted mass societies greedily suck out the very marrow of human wisdom, reverence and compassion in a deeply misguided dash to “power.”  In the Middle East, among Israel’s existential foes, the ultimate form of sought-after power has absolutely nothing to do with land or territory. It has to do with something that can never be understood in Washington. It has to do with power over death.

 

            Globally, hope exists, to be sure, but it must now sing softly, in an undertone.  The “blood-dimmed tide” creates a deafening noise, but it is still possible to listen for transient sounds of grace and harmony.  We must all quickly learn to pay very close attention to our most intimate human feelings of empathy, anxiety, restlessness and desperation. These feelings are always determinative, and always – ultimately – universal.

 

             As Jews, we already understand that life on earth must ultimately be about the individual. In essence, therefore, we see that the time for “modernization,” “globalization,” “artificial intelligence” and “new information methodologies” is already over.  To survive together, all residents of this endangered planet must first rediscover an authentic human life that is detached from meaningless and corrosive distinctions (“us” and “them”), banal conformance, shallow optimism and contrived happiness. Only in this vital expression of an awakened human spirit may we finally learn that agony is more important than astronomy, that cries of despair are more serious than the disembodied powers of technology, and that our tears have a much greater significance than robotic smiles. “The man who laughs,” commented the poet Bertolt Brecht, “has simply not yet heard the horrible news.”

 

             Iran is only microcosm. The true and persisting instabilities and barbarisms of life on earth can never be undone by improving global economics, by building larger missiles, by fashioning new international treaties, by spreading democracy or even by periodic revolutions.  We inevitably interrelated humans still lack a tolerable future not because we have been too slow to learn, but because too many among us have stubbornly failed to learn what is truly important.

 

LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton  (Ph.D., 1971) and is Professor of International Law at Purdue University.  Born in Switzerland at the end of World War II, he is the author of many books and articles dealing with world politics, law, literature and philosophy. Professor Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Commemorating The Start Of World War II

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

 

    The official beginning of World War II was September 1, 1939. On that day German soldiers invaded Gdansk after bombarding the city with a military warship. As part of the Polish Government’s official series of events marking seven decades since the start of World War II, Poland’s Jewish community and the Jerusalem-based “Shavei Israel” organization held a special ceremony yesterday in the Gdansk synagogue to commemorate the outbreak of the war, which paved the way for the Holocaust.

 

     Well-known Jewish dignitaries who participated in the ceremony included President of Poland’s Jewish communities, Piotr Kadlcik; President of the Gdansk Jewish community, Michal Samet; and “Shavei Israel,” Chairman Michael Freund. In addition to the aforementioned, senior Polish and foreign government officials were also present.  

 

     The initiative behind the ceremony came from “Shavei Israel” Chairman Michael Freund, who has played a key role in strengthening Polish Jewry by dispatching young rabbis to serve in Warsaw, Krakow and Wroclaw and sponsoring seminars and educational trips to Israel for young Polish Jews.

 

 

Synagogue in Gdansk (Danzig) Poland, one of the first cities to fall to Germany, in WW II

 

 

   Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, recited a memorial prayer for the six million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust, and recalled the Jewish soldiers who served in the Polish Armed Forces and died while fighting the Nazi invaders. A number of young Jews from across Poland, many who have just discovered their Jewish roots, took part, which highlighted the ongoing revival of Polish Jewry. Therefore, the slogan, “70 years later we are still here,” was the banner under which the ceremony took place.     

 

     In his remarks at the ceremony, Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund said: “It is incumbent upon us to mark this sad day, to ponder its consequences and to internalize its lessons. But we cannot and must not lose hope – a Jew is not allowed to despair. The participation of young Polish Jews in this ceremony, many of whom have only recently returned to their Jewish roots, is compelling proof that the Nazis and their collaborators ultimately failed. Seven decades after the Holocaust, the Jewish spark is once again coming to life here in Poland.”

 

 

Rabbi Michael Schudrich speaking at the ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939.

 

 

    “Israel and world Jewry must rise to the challenge and facilitate this process of reconnecting young Poles with their Jewish roots. Shavei Israel is proud to be partnering with Poland’s Jewish community and helping to foster this historic rebirth. Seventy years later, Polish Jewry is still here,” said Freund.

Commemorating The Start Of World War II

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

 


    The official beginning of World War II was September 1, 1939. On that day German soldiers invaded Gdansk after bombarding the city with a military warship. As part of the Polish Government’s official series of events marking seven decades since the start of World War II, Poland’s Jewish community and the Jerusalem-based “Shavei Israel” organization held a special ceremony yesterday in the Gdansk synagogue to commemorate the outbreak of the war, which paved the way for the Holocaust.

 

     Well-known Jewish dignitaries who participated in the ceremony included President of Poland’s Jewish communities, Piotr Kadlcik; President of the Gdansk Jewish community, Michal Samet; and “Shavei Israel,” Chairman Michael Freund. In addition to the aforementioned, senior Polish and foreign government officials were also present.  

 

     The initiative behind the ceremony came from “Shavei Israel” Chairman Michael Freund, who has played a key role in strengthening Polish Jewry by dispatching young rabbis to serve in Warsaw, Krakow and Wroclaw and sponsoring seminars and educational trips to Israel for young Polish Jews.

 

 


Synagogue in Gdansk (Danzig) Poland, one of the first cities to fall to Germany, in WW II

 

 

   Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, recited a memorial prayer for the six million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust, and recalled the Jewish soldiers who served in the Polish Armed Forces and died while fighting the Nazi invaders. A number of young Jews from across Poland, many who have just discovered their Jewish roots, took part, which highlighted the ongoing revival of Polish Jewry. Therefore, the slogan, “70 years later we are still here,” was the banner under which the ceremony took place.     

 

     In his remarks at the ceremony, Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund said: “It is incumbent upon us to mark this sad day, to ponder its consequences and to internalize its lessons. But we cannot and must not lose hope – a Jew is not allowed to despair. The participation of young Polish Jews in this ceremony, many of whom have only recently returned to their Jewish roots, is compelling proof that the Nazis and their collaborators ultimately failed. Seven decades after the Holocaust, the Jewish spark is once again coming to life here in Poland.”

 

 


Rabbi Michael Schudrich speaking at the ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939.

 

 

    “Israel and world Jewry must rise to the challenge and facilitate this process of reconnecting young Poles with their Jewish roots. Shavei Israel is proud to be partnering with Poland’s Jewish community and helping to foster this historic rebirth. Seventy years later, Polish Jewry is still here,” said Freund.

Invited Remarks to Swiss Task Force on World War II Delivered in Bern, Switzerland, June 23, 1998 (Conclusion)

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Ten years ago, Professor Beres – following publication of his memoir in The New York Times − was invited by Swiss Ambassador Thomas Borer to present personal testimony before the specially constituted Swiss Commission on World War II. Here, now, is that testimony – still a poignant reminder of yet other critical aspects of the Holocaust continued from last week

In the United States – my own country and a country, which first prevented my parents’ entry back in 1938 – effective neutrality did not end until December 7, 1941, and even fewer Jews were ultimately admitted than were allowed entry in Switzerland.After the war, the U.S. Government encouraged entry of certain Nazi war criminals and Nazi scientists (Operations Ratline and Paper Clip) while consciously excluding Jewish concentration camp survivors. I say this now as a loyal and patriotic citizen of the United States, not with any malice or mean-spiritedness, but simply as an objective recitation of historical events. America was not innocent.

Let me now shift from the historical to the philosophical. In the final analysis, no nation is either good or bad. Nations are always comprised of individuals, and it is only the individuals who are either good or bad.

Nations are abstractions; it is an elementary error of logic to ascribe human qualities (goodness or badness) to an abstraction.

Recently I bought a book on the art of Paul Klee, who − I learned − began and ended his career right here, in Bern. I gather, from much of his great work, that Klee understood the overriding importance of The Individual, and that the very serious and terrible harms that human beings so often inflict upon other human beings is related to the disappearance of The Individual in the “Crowd” (a term likely used first in this way by Kierkegaard; later by Nietzsche as the “Herd”).

“Ultimately,” said another Swiss − Carl Gustav Jung − “everything depends on the quality of the individual,” what the German scholar Martin Heidegger examined in his discussion of (but surely did not actually live up to) Das Man.

Says Jung in The Undiscovered Self: “The individual becomes morally and spiritually inferior in the mass, and for this reason they do not burden themselves overmuch with their real task of helping the individual to achieve a…rebirth of the spirit…It is, unfortunately, only too clear that if the individual is not truly regenerated in spirit, society cannot be either, for society is the sum total of individuals in need of redemption.”

“The sum total of individuals in need of redemption.” This is an absolutely wonderful and insightful definition of society, of every society. The indispensable task for every country, then, is to emphasize the individual and to demystify the mass.

As World War II and the Holocaust revealed emphatically, the most dangerous mass is always The State (again, understood early on by Nietzsche) − not in the sense that every state is inevitably sinister (which is clearly a foolish notion) but in the sense that any state can create the conditions that bring forth a uniquely great evil.

The strength of Switzerland as a state lies always in the strength of its people as individuals. To the extent that Switzerland nurtures and sustains a sense of individualism amongst its citizens it can make the very greatest contribution to a decent and just world order.

The Swiss Task Force on World War II exists because of the crimes committed by the quintessential mass state − history’s most glaringly “de-individualized” (to use Jung’s own terminology) state − on its northern borders from 1939 − 1945. The weighty issues with which the Task Force must now concern itself are the direct consequence of a corrupted German society that came to loathe the individual, any individual, and to celebrate only the mega-herd of non-persons (a herd foreshadowed and celebrated in German philosophy by Hegel).

The Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, once remarked: “There is no longer a virtuous nation, and the best of us live by candle light.” But there has never been a virtuous nation, only more or less virtuous individuals who comprise the nation. The ultimate point, for Switzerland and for every other country concerned with justice after World War II, is to encourage a national spirit that is patriotic, but that is also human-centered. The point here is to acknowledge that national collectivities (such as Switzerland) do have responsibilities, both legal and moral, but that only individuals− those who have resisted the enormous temptations of becoming mass − can nurture and sustain a decent country.

Permit me to end with apt references to another important Swiss thinker, the marvelous (and controversial) playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt. As a sensitive Swiss citizen, Durrenmatt − and perhaps also Max Frisch − acknowledged guilt for having “been saved.” Max Frisch described the situation of the postwar Swiss generation in this way: “We lived at the brink of a torture chamber, we heard the shrieks, yet we were not among those who screamed; we remained without the depth of suffering endured, yet we were too close to suffering to be able to laugh.”

Switzerland, as understood by both Durrenmatt and Frisch, was not only the place of refuge for Lenin and Joyce, for Thomas Mann and Bertoldt Brecht, for the Dadaists and the anti-Fascists, but also a country of objectionable smugness and self-satisfied prosperity. Durrenmatt’s characterization of a small Swiss community in his masterpiece, THE VISIT (Der Besuch der alten Dame) is, for him, likely a microcosm of the Swiss state as a whole. Yet, Durrenmatt’s Switzerland is also the very model of direct democracy, and the very best case of a country that exists by general tolerance and civility. And on this idea of democracy, Durrenmatt sides with the classical liberal vision that the State exists for its citizens; the citizens are not there for the benefit of the State.

This is a good anti-Hegelian vision; but it doesn’t really go far enough. For the future, Switzerland – and every other State on this planet – should strive for a society in which every citizen is preeminently an individual, and in which each citizen’s individuality is ultimately more important even than his or her citizenship. In the final analysis, it is the universal human desperation to belong that creates all crowds, all herds, including States − even the very best States − and it is the demands associated with such desperation (as we saw from Jung) that can give rise to war and genocide.

A country that nurtures the sacredness of each individual person − a sacredness that goes well beyond that of any form of membership − will inevitably emerge as the very highest form of State.

I believe that Switzerland can be such a country. If it follows this path, Switzerland will truly and reasonably stand above criticism on future matters concerning justice and human rights. If it follows this path, Switzerland – that is, its individual citizens − will have learned the vital lessons of World War II.

Copyright © The Jewish Press, July 18, 2008. All rights reserved

Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press. His formal testimony to the Swiss Commission on World War II, offered ten years ago this month in Bern, offers both a personal and a philosophical view of Switzerland’s controversial position during the Holocaust. Professor Beres was born in Zurich on August 31, 1945.

Invited Remarks to Swiss Task Force on World War II Delivered in Bern, Switzerland, June 23, 1998 (Part I)

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

Ten years ago, Professor Beres – following publication of his memoir in The New York Times− was invited by Swiss Ambassador Thomas Borer to present personal testimony before the specially constituted Swiss Commission on World War II. Here, now, is that testimony – still a poignant reminder of yet other critical aspects of the Holocaust.

My parents arrived as Austrian Jewish refugees in Switzerland almost exactly 60 years ago, on August 1, 1938 − the day of their own liberation coinciding with an anniversary of Switzerland’s day of independent statehood. It was also less than 12 hours after their wedding day. Today, my wife Valerie and I are in Switzerland on the exact day of our 30th wedding anniversary, an anniversary that would never even have been celebrated had it not been for the safe refuge that Sigismund and Margarete Beres found here, following their 1938 marriage in Vienna.

On August 1, 1938, my very young parents (my mother not yet 18 years old) entered Switzerland as a just-married couple, without any money, without any status, without any friends, without any nationality, and without any idea of a future. Today, their son speaks to a distinguished group of Swiss officials, headed by AMB. Thomas Borer, as a citizen of the United States of America, as a professor of international law with Ivy League university degrees, and as an honored guest of that very same country of Switzerland.

It is a moment that would have made my parents very proud; I am sorry that they didn’t live to see it.

My parents spent a year or two in a labor camp near Lugano − I never learned the exact amount of time, or the precise name of the camp − but after that internment they were able to move off to Zurich and live happily and quite comfortably. In Zurich, they were befriended by several Swiss families − both Christians and Jews − who did a great deal to help them become self-sufficient. This kindness of strangers they never forgot.

I was born in Zurich on August 31, 1945, an event for which I am understandably grateful. Had my parents not been allowed to stay on in Switzerland immediately after their marriage I would not be in Bern today, with Valerie, to celebrate my 30th wedding anniversary.

Had it not been for Switzerland, I would never have been born.

So, my reason for being here today, for accepting Ambassador Borer’s thoughtful invitation, is simple enough. My personal debt to Switzerland is obviously very great. It could not possibly be greater. When I now look at my own child, my own 24-year-old daughter, Lisa Alexandra, I acknowledge that my parents’ good fortune in this beautiful country 60 years ago made her life possible as well.

Had it not been for Switzerland she would never have been born.

Yesterday, we left our good Swiss friends in Oberlunkhofen, Canton Argau. Christel, the wife and mother, is the daughter of a Swiss Catholic couple that assisted and befriended my parents during the war. Christel was born two years after me, also on August 31 − exactly the same birthday as mine. Her son’s middle name is Alexander; my daughter’s middle name is Alexandra. We discovered this coincidence of middle names only a few days ago.

My parents, especially my father, always loved Switzerland. When I was a child I was raised, in part, with the stories of William Tell. When he returned to Europe on vacation he always went first to Switzerland. When he returned to the U.S. he brought back a bag full of Swiss flags as souvenirs. This was not what one would expect from a refugee who had any sad or angry recollections of his war years in Switzerland.

When the article I had written about my parents’ Swiss experience for The New York Timeswas reprinted recently in the NZZ (Neue Zuricher Zeitung), I received about a dozen letters from elderly Swiss people − none of them Jewish − who remembered my parents and simply wanted to tell me some nice things about them. Some telephoned me as well.

So, it is not difficult to understand why I am here today. My wife, Valerie, also cares for this country − not exactly in the same way as I (her own family having much longer roots in the United States), but certainly as an American tourist who appreciates magnificent mountains, wonderful cities and the company of good Swiss friends.

She has been here with me several times already, over almost 30 years, on various vacations that we remember with considerable affection and pleasure.

But now we need to be entirely honest about Switzerland in World War II. Not all Jewish refugees had the good fortune to be rescued here. There were grave mistakes, very grave, and also examples of complete indifference.

To be sure, thousands of other Jews did not share my parents’ relative good luck. Many were not the beneficiaries of the same relatively benign work camp experience. And thousands of others did not experience the same comforting history of particular Swiss friendships and concerns.

We know also, of course, that the Swiss banks and insurance companies often held on to money that was not properly theirs, and that they dealt commercially with Nazi Germany in ways that prolonged the war and the Holocaust. No one has any right to excuse these wrongs. No one!

But, this is not a perfect world, hindsight is always easy, and there is no real justice in identifying Switzerland as in some way uniquelydelinquent.

If anything, at least in a substantial number of cases, Switzerland was altogether decent − mistakes and indifference notwithstanding – and, ironically, the far greater wrongdoings of other nations are today sometimes more eagerly overlooked. Recently, a Jewish neighbor of mine in Indiana commented: “The Swiss were even worse than the Germans.” This is an outrageous remark, not only for its inexcusable penchant for generalization, but also because of its total and obvious inaccuracy.

(To be continued)

Copyright © The Jewish Press, July 11, 2008. All rights reserved

Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press. His formal testimony to the Swiss Commission on World War II, offered ten years ago this month in Bern, offers both a personal and a philosophical view of Switzerland’s controversial position during the Holocaust. Professor Beres was born in Zurich on August 31, 1945.

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