Last month, US President Donald Trump called for a European Summit to begin reorienting the continent against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Thus far, a number of European nations – England, France and, ironically, Germany chief among them – have proven hesitant to back Trump’s departure from the flawed and dangerous P5+1 agreement, which not only rewarded Iran with $150 billion but also essentially paved their path to a nuclear weapon after the expiration of its sunset clauses in less than seven years.
Poland agreed to host the summit. I traveled to Warsaw to join Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the leagues of delegates from the across the globe coming together to confront Iran.
Admittedly, Warsaw, which I have been to many times and which I enjoy, is always a tough visit for me.
The city, once known throughout Europe as “the little Jerusalem,” saw the world’s greatest-ever decimation of a Jewish community. In 1938, the Jewish population of Warsaw hovered close to 300,000. Following the German occupation of Poland in 1939, the population would balloon to 400,000. Jews from in and around the city were forced to live inside an area consisting of less than one and half square miles, known as the “Jewish Residential District of Warsaw” – or, as we know it today, the Warsaw Ghetto.
There was an average of 9.2 people per room in the ghetto; malnourishment and disease would claim nearly 100,000 lives. Some 300,000 more would be killed by bullets and gas, with 250,000 of them being sent to their deaths in Treblinka in the summer of 1942 alone. If you’ve done the math already, you know: almost none survived.
Today, little of the old Warsaw remains. Following the polish Home Army’s heroic uprising in the summer of 1944, the German Nazis would destroy more than 80% of all of the city’s infrastructure – more than 10,000 buildings – including roughly all of Warsaw’s bridges, hospitals, factories, cultural centers and monumental structures.
Still, fragments of the past have lasted. Visitors can still see portions of the ghetto wall, Janusz Korczak’s original orphanage, the last remaining synagogue (which is active and in use), and Umschlagplatz, the square from which those hundreds of thousands of Jews would be sent to their deaths in Treblinka.
Perhaps the most moving part of any Jewish visit to the city, however, is the mass grave at Mila 18, headquarters of the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – and where its heroic commander Mordechai Anielewicz and his comrades would take their lives on what is assumed to be May 8, 1943 (there were no surviving eyewitnesses).
Since then, more than 75 years have passed. Amazingly, the threats facing the Jewish people have not.
JUST DAYS ago, yet another member of Iran’s top brass threatened to murder hundreds of thousands if not millions of Jews. Speaking to a rally marking the fortieth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Yadollah Javani, deputy head for political affairs for the regime’s Revolutionary Guard, declared to eager crowds that if the United States dared “shoot a single bullet at us… we will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground.” Apparently, the Iranians would hope to see Warsaw become the world’s third largest site of Jewish communal destruction.
Thus, even as I visit the city more and more, the bleakness and horror of its history never seem to fade. After all, the German Nazi monsters who wrought this slaughter have found malign inheritors to carry their dark and blackened flame.
This time, however, the city finally felt different. In February of 2019, the world – at last – is not content to sit idly by as a sinister enemy of the Jews plots their demolition. Led by the United States – the world’s sole and moral superpower – and the government of Poland, nations from across the globe gathered to counter the menace known as the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose disregard for human life is matched only by the vitriol with which they threaten to annihilate the Jewish state.
Shortly before his meeting with Netanyahu, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared in no unclear terms, “You can’t achieve peace and stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran.” At the helm of a department that often prefers to plumb the region’s complexities, the simplicity of America’s top diplomat on this moral issue was especially welcome: without “pushing back” against Iran’s malignant influence in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq, peace in the greater Middle East was “just not possible.”
“The three H’s – the Houthis, Hamas and Hezbollah – these are real threats,” Pompeo explained, referencing three of Iran’s adopt-an-army projects currently sewing death and extremism across the Middle East.
THE HIGHLIGHT of the conference, however, was the speech delivered by Pence. In an address that made the hair in every Mullah’s beard stand, Pence presented the Trump administration’s resolve in crippling Iran’s economy until it ceases to radiate violence across the region.
Speaking at a Middle East conference in Poland, Pence accused Iran of being the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, adding that it was the “greatest threat to peace and security in the Middle East.” Most importantly, the vice president explicitly called out Iran for plotting a “new Holocaust,” echoing the Mullahs’ own genocidal rhetoric in his accusations.
Harsh words were also meted out for those American allies who have astonishingly chosen to sidestep American sanctions against Iran, establishing special mechanisms two weeks ago that will allow them to maintain trade links with Iran. Speaking quite clearly to France, England and Germany, Pence warned that their actions would only “strengthen Iran, weaken the EU and create still more distance between Europe and the US.”
With every crucial word, Pence augmented the power of his nation and position with the moral power of his message.
Through the three long years that former president Barack Obama and former secretary of state John Kerry negotiated the Iran nuclear agreement, neither ever condemned Iran for its genocidal incitement against Israel. Though the United States is a signatory to the 1948 United Nations Anti-Genocide Convention, which expressly prohibits genocidal rhetoric against any nation, neither American leader dared condemn Iran for promising to slaughter another six million Jews.
Pence, in a single speech in Warsaw where so many Jews died in the Holocaust, corrected that horrendous moral omission. In so doing, he showed that America’s commitment to the pledge of “Never Again” is rock solid and not to be trifled with.
The writer, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the international bestselling author of 32 books, including his most recent, The Israel Warrior. He served as rabbi at Oxford University for 11 years, where Cory Booker was his student president. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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