(photo credit: AP [file])
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad isn't the first bloody-minded tyrant to propose that Jews just go away, elsewhere, even to Alaska.
In his day Hitler tauntingly invited the world's democracies to take his Jews, if they were so concerned about them. He knew that for all their high-minded rhetoric, these countries wouldn't accept his provocative challenge. After 1938's Anschluss, their representatives met in Evian-les-Bains, on Lake Geneva's French shore, to decide what to do with Nazism's desperate victims, pounding on their gates in search of asylum. They never even called them Jews, lest they incur the Fuehrer's wrath.
It turned into a great Jew-rejection fest. Britain bristled at any suggestion of allowing Jews into Eretz Yisrael, mandated to it to administer as the Jewish National Home. Forerunners of today's Palestinian terrorists made sure endangered Jews wouldn't be sheltered here and His Majesty's government appeasingly acquiesced. The vast empty spaces of Canada, Australia and New Zealand were likewise off-limits. American humanitarianism consisted of tossing the undesirable hot potato into the international arena, because the Jews weren't wanted in the Land of the Free either, Indeed FDR toyed with the notion of shipping German Jews to Ethiopia or Central Africa. The UK favored the jungles of Venezuela or Central America.
The competition was on: who'll suggest a more remote and less hospitable exile in which to dump those whom the British Foreign Office labeled "unwanted Jews." The motivation wasn't much more beneficent than Hitler's initial choice of Madagascar.
Mussolini was the one who changed direction northwards. Instead of exposing Berlin's urbane Jews to the rigors of the tropics, he opined that the Siberian Arctic might be a preferable hardship. Coincidentally or not, Washington soon thereafter launched plans to deposit Jews in Siberia's adjacent neighbor, Alaska - then an American territory. The fact that Alaska wasn't a state theoretically offered a technicality via which to circumvent immigration quotas for 10,000 refugees who'd be put to work in wilderness-development projects.
Some decried this as a glorified penal colony - perhaps something along the lines Ahmadinejad had in mind when he recently expanded on his earlier relocation promotions. Beyond initial German and Austrian real estate, Ahmadinejad now adds the compelling attractions of Alaska.
Again, now as then, Alaska is proposed as a dumping ground. Ahmadinejad may not give a hoot about the first attempt to unload Jews in Alaska, but for the record it ought to be noted that the well-intentioned bill, sponsored by Utah Senator William King and California Congressman Frank Havenner in March 1940, failed to save a single Jew.
It was vehemently opposed by Alaska's only (non-voting) delegate to Congress Anthony Dimond on the grounds that "foreigners cannot be assimilated in Alaska and will constitute a threat to our American civilization."
Dimond conceded that Alaska hungered for manpower and public works, but made it clear that the ethnicity of the proposed candidates for admission was problematic.
The staunch hostility of Alaskans nipped the King-Havenner bill in the bud.
It never even came up for debate and Congress took no action on it.
Prior to the Alaskan fiasco, New York Senator Robert Wagner sought to save children under 14, assuming they'd arouse less antagonism as they could hardly excite the specter of economic competition. Even he refrained from specifying that the 20,000 juvenile refugees he had in mind were Jewish, defining them merely as hailing from Germany. He couldn't imagine that patriotic organizations - from the American Legion to the Daughters of the American Revolution - would go on the warpath "to protect American youth from foreign invasion." His initiative too was scuttled.
English youngsters evacuated to America during the Blitz, however, were welcomed with open arms. Different strokes for different tykes.
Talk of alternatives to Jewish sovereignty isn't new - the supposed substitutions just never worked. In May 1939 America turned back to Europe the German luxury liner St. Louis with 907 distraught Jewish refugees on board, most of whom subsequently perished in the Holocaust. In 1942, due to unrelenting Arab pressure, Britain refused entry to Eretz Yisrael for the nearly 800 Jews on the rickety Struma, docked in Istanbul. All but one refugee drowned.
Hitler was mindful of these events and numerous others. After Evian he reportedly stated to his cabinet ministers: "We have just been given the Green Light by the world to do with the Jews what we like. No one wants them any more than we do."
That's precisely Ahmedinejad's perception. If nobody else would have Israel's Jews, then he's entitled to destroy them.
What Hitler failed to finish in the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad might try with nuclear warheads. His threat is as potent as Hitler's was. Indeed, now as then, the world - sanctimonious speechifying notwithstanding - excels in passing-the-buck maneuvers.
"In those days before the war," Chaim Weizmann recalled international vexation with the Jews, "our protests were regarded as provocations. Our very refusal to subscribe to our own death sentence became a public nuisance."
Words that could have been spoken today.
This also goes for Weizmann's warning to Anthony Eden: "The fire from the synagogues may easily spread to Westminster Abbeyâ€¦ If a government is allowed to destroy a whole community which has committed no crimeâ€¦ it means the beginning of anarchy and the destruction of the basis of civilization. The powers which stand looking on, without taking measures to prevent the crime, will one day be themselves visited by severe punishment."