An Historical Lesson for Today

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

I write this article as the media is reporting Israel has sent several battalions to its Syrian and Egyptian borders with other of its battalions on alert.

Every so often the History Channel re-airs its unique program, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” which contains, in addition to official government movies made by the Allies and the Nazis, movies taken by journalists, as well as home movies taken by German citizens. I watch it, each time re-witnessing an otherwise sophisticated and cultured people become entranced by a madman. The glowing faces of absolute devotion of the thousands upon thousands watching Hitler as he spoke, the women totally enraptured by Hitler their hands thrust forward in the Nazi salute, the children marching for Uncle Adolf in their gardens with little helmets and toy guns, the contents of their affectionate letters sent to their Fuhrer – it shocks and terrifies me. All the sociological and psychological answers given for this collective madness never seem, to me, to adequately explain how this could have happened; how an entire nation, statesmen, physicians, clergy, professors, musicians, artists, authors, factory workers and farmers, all, could descend to such depravity.

Each time I watch this macabre panorama, I find yet another aspect if it draws my attention. This year it was the approach the allies took toward the citizenry of Germany.

Prior to bombing Berlin, the British dropped thousands of flyers warning its citizens that, if they did not remove the Nazi regime, German cities would be laid waste. And that is exactly what the British and Americans did. Under the unrelenting bombing attacks by the British and American air forces, the Brits bombing by night and the Yanks by day, Berlin became a massive pile of rubble. Its citizens, mostly women, children and old men, were left to their own resources. Starving, no water, no shelter, rooting about in the wasteland that was Berlin, digging up the corpses of their loved ones, these German non-combatants were shown no mercy by the allies. No relief was forthcoming. Berlin was left to die. This was the approach of the United States and Great Britain. Nary a voice rose to condemn this callousness, as this is the price of war.

When the American troops entered Dachau, they gathered the citizens of the City, marched them through the Death Camp so that they might see and smell for themselves the rotting emaciated corpses still piled high waiting their turn in the crematoria, some of the crematoria still ablaze. Boxcars filled with the corpses of dead Jews who, at the last moment, were murdered by the fleeing Nazis, their luggage strewn about, were yet another stop on this macabre tour of death and horror. Then the citizens of Dachau were forced to dig communal graves, depositing these victims of the Nazi evil in their final resting place, burying them with shovels provided by the troops. The narrator reminds the viewer in a somber and condemning tone that the citizens of Dachau overwhelmingly voted against the Nazis coming to power, yet were GUILTY, as they did nothing to stop the atrocities being performed in their collective backyard.

No specifics were even hinted at as to what the residents of the City of Dachau could have done against the massive military might of the Third Reich. They were guilty, pure and simple, because, as all Germans, they were held responsible for the actions of their government whether they supported that government or not. There was no distinction drawn between the Germany of the government and the Germany of the people. The allies waged war against the German nation – its people and its government.

Women and children, homeless, starving, left to their own devices in a destroyed city, civilians who, through their votes, refused to support the Nazis, condemned for their silent complicity in Nazi atrocities – this was the approach of the allies in World War II. How the world has changed!

Today, even those civilians who support the actions of their government, aid and abet its military, are considered innocent non-combatants. Terrorists who do not differentiate between the military and civilian population of their perceived enemy, favoring to wage their terrorist attacks upon the civilians rather than the military, who make a mockery of the “rules of war” embodied in the Geneva accords, must nevertheless receive, upon their capture, the gentlest of care without fear of any rigorous effort on the part of their captor to elicit vital information from them, while they in return, visit a life of suffering and agony upon those they capture.

And when it comes to Israel, the situation goes from the ridiculous to the sublime. Israel is condemned after dropping leaflets on the “civilian” population of a community targeted for attack, in addition to contacting the residents by phone warning of the coming attack and having no intention of attacking these “innocent” folks, when one of their number, who ignored the warnings of Israel, is hurt during the ensuing battle.

Who are these “innocent civilians” we are speaking of? Unlike the citizens of Dachau, they enthusiastically endorsed the rise of the terrorists to official government status by overwhelmingly voting for them. Unlike the citizens of Berlin, these “innocent civilians” provide locations for terrorist forces from which the terrorists bomb Israel, often using their children and their ill as human shields to protect these locations located near schools and hospitals in their cities, unlike Berlin, which have become fortresses for the terrorist attackers.

When Israel asserts its right to control food and medical materials entering enemy territory, the right to search ships in their territorial waters claiming to carry food and other supplies for these “innocent civilians,” Israel is condemned. When Israel enables such supplies to be given to these “innocent civilians” it is declared as not enough. And, most ironic, when Israel wishes to close its border to protect its citizens from terrorist entry, thereby limiting the accessibility of these “innocent civilians” to enter Israel proper to be gainfully employed, Israel is condemned for persecuting these people.

It gives one pause to consider how our own nation and its allies approached the issue of a war mounted by an enemy on the conventional battlefield by military forces, committed to our domination, not our extinction and how the world expects Israel to approach terrorist attacks mounted by its enemies amidst its civilian population, committed to its domination and the extinction of its population.

During the coming weeks let us not forget this reality for our Jewish Homeland.