Survivors of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz arrive to the former camp in Oswiecim..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The most poignant connection between my recent Jewish heritage tour of Poland, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and the darkening clouds of an imminent, deceptive nuclear arms deal with Iran, were the empty, straight-backed and simple chairs at Plaz Bohnterow Getta, the Jewish ghetto in Krakow, Poland. Some 40 such chairs, serving as a monument, are spread over the square from which the city’s Jews were shoved into cattle cars and deported to Auschwitz.
Why symbolize the death camp trip with empty chairs? According to our South African- born Israeli rabbi guide, these empty chairs represent the murdered Jews no longer here to occupy them. More practically, he said, these chairs, carried upside down, were the means of transportation for Jews schlepping their meager possessions from their former homes to the newly established, cramped ghetto across the Vistula River. Personally, I remember using empty chairs many years back to illustrate the plight of refusenik Soviet Jews; the missing fifth son at the Passover Seder.
Three themes marked this tour, sponsored by the AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel) – the 1,000-year record of Polish Jewry, the Holocaust, and efforts to renew Judaism in Poland.
As a political scientist preoccupied with the horror that a nuclear Iran spells for Israel and the West, I saw the metaphor of these empty, nondescript chairs sitting in the Krakow Ghetto deportation square as once again sending a message of Jewish abandonment and loss. In our day, we see the prospect of Israel deceived, tossed aside by an appeasing world, declining into an ownerless, has-been chair on the floor of history.
As the trains chugged to Auschwitz, the world looked away from the wretched, pathetic cargo who once owned and sat in their own chairs in the comfort of their own homes.
Today, the individuality and strength symbolized by these Jewish-owned chairs is, for the first time since Hitler’s Reich, being attacked by an entity committed ideologically to its destruction, the destruction of Israel, seeking attempting to implement a new Final Solution. As forthrightly as possible, Iran announces its non-negotiable desire to rid the world of Israel, the “festering Zionist tumor.”
“Peace in our time,” was the cry of appeasement responsible for the empty commemorative chairs found in Krakow.
Today, the “good guys,” particularly in a Washington retreating from history, use equally deceptive, lying terms, such as “snap-back sanctions,” “flawless inspections” and “nuclear research and development for peaceful purposes,” to mask the threat of the State of Israel becoming another of those Jewish empty chairs among the nations.
After standing in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and touching the wheelbarrows from which the corpses were thrown into the crematoria, and staring at the indecorously covered pits holding children under 10 years of age, who were tossed there after being shot in the head, how could one not be vigilant against self-righteous tricksters spurring more Jewish empty chairs?
Despite rhetoric about protecting all ethnicities, religions, genders and transformed genders, where is the world’s humanist conscience when it comes to enabling Iran to drop over Tel Aviv, one sunny afternoon, a bomb killing 100,000 people in a nuclear first strike? During the week of my Polish trip, at least four events occurred which will one day probably be documented in some PhD dissertation carrying a title such as “The Diplomatic Road to a Nuclear Iran (Obama’s Legacy Goals Notwithstanding).”
US Vice President Joe Biden threatened that in the absence of a nuclear deal with Iran, the Islamic Republic would shortly produce eight nuclear bombs. Similarly, Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that the US almost every day fights some sort of political/ diplomatic battle on behalf of Israel. The message? Jews, stop kvetching about the nuclear deal. No similarities here to FDR’s refusal to believe reports about Auschwitz atrocities? Thirdly, the Senate rejected the eminently rational proposal that before the US drops sanctions Iran must recognize the existence of Israel. The main opponent of this amendment, arguing that its passage would tie the hands of President Barack Obama in negotiations, was a Jewish senator.
Fourthly, the man making the case that financially Iran would conform and not cheat on the deal was another Jew, the secretary of the treasury, this time an Orthodox Jew, who prays at a synagogue in Riverdale, New York.
May God deliver us in this generation from the threats of both professed and shadow enemies, which seek to once again pull our chair, the existence of Israel, from the table of history.The author is a senior political scientist at CUNY. His most recent book is
A Jewish Professor’s Political Punditry (Syracuse University Press, 2013).