In September 1946, Ernst Janning, one of the German defendants in the post-World War II Nuremburg trials, requested permission to address the court. The hearings were almost at an end and chief judge Dan Haywood gave Janning permission to speak.
His testimony is worthy of review as the world sits by watching the continued raping and pillaging of some of the cities of the sovereign nation of Ukraine under the direction of the monster of Moscow.
Janning said: “I am aware. I am aware! My counsel would have you believe we were not aware of the concentration camps. Not aware. Where were we? Where were we when Hitler began shrieking his hate in Reichstag? Where were we when our neighbors were being dragged out in the middle of the night to Dachau? Where were we when every village in Germany has a railroad terminal where cattle cars were filled with children being carried off to their extermination? Where were we when they cried out in the night to us? Were we deaf, dumb, blind?”
These are questions that we in the free world need to consider today, lest they be asked of us as well by our grandchildren 30 years from now. They will read how a powerful despot intent on restoring his warped sense of the glory that was Russia, decided to invade a neighbor that had not provoked him.
They will read how this lunatic leveled city after city, destroying everything in the path of his military, and killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians while forcing more than four million others to become refugees. In addition, they will ask us, “What did you do to stop this from happening? Did you simply feel bad about it all or did you act?”
Janning continued: “My counsel says we were not aware of the extermination of the millions. He would give you the excuse: We were only aware of the extermination of the hundreds. Does that make us any the less guilty? Maybe we didn’t know the details. But if we didn’t know, it was because we didn’t want to know.”
This time we will not be able to see we did not know the details. Because this time it is 2022 and we are watching the war in real time on our smart phones. We are watching civilians shot dead in front of their homes, as they walk to the super market to buy milk. We are watching buildings used as shelters with the word “CHILDREN” printed in big Cyrillic letters in the parking lot, bombed and levelled, killing so many who took refuge inside. Maybe we do not know all the details but if we do not know, it is because we do not want to know.
Then Janning concluded saying he was “worse than any of them because he knew what they were, and he went along with them. Ernst Janning: Who made his life excrement, because he walked with them.”
So, you think, we will be excused because, unlike Janning, we were not part of it. We did not participate, we were not there, we are guiltless. Do we really believe that? Do we really believe that what is happening over there does not affect us and that there is nothing we can do about it? Have we completely forgotten the promise of Never Again?
How do we, who made that promise, force ourselves to act, to do something meaningful, to take the promise seriously?
At a minimum, every thinking citizen should undertake the following actions:
As citizens living in a democratic society we have an obligation to urge our respective governments to take an active position condemning the unwarranted invasion of Ukraine by Russia regardless of the political consequences that may come to our countries as a result. There is no excuse not to do so. History has taught us, of all people, that keeping a low profile does not protect us.
As members of the human race who believe in the fundamental right of every human being to live in peace and tranquility, we, individually, should do whatever we can financially, morally and personally as volunteers to assist both those Ukrainians living under threat, as well as those who have fled for their own safety.
Finally, we need to internalize the fact that this is not Russia’s first seizure of territory (remember Crimea in 2014), nor will it be their last and that time is not on our side. Putin asserted then that he believes Russia has a right and an obligation to defend Russian speakers in any country where they might be threatened (without defining what threatened means).
In an article in The Atlantic in March, 2014 Marko Mihkelson, who was then chair of the Estonian parliament’s foreign policy committee, tweeted, “If [the] West does not wake up to Russian aggressive foreign policy, tomorrow will be too late.” Sadly, that may already be the case. We are now paying for our lack of attention to the signs and signals sent out loudly eight years ago.
This time, let us not be embarrassed by the questions our descendants will ask us 30 years from now. Rather, let us hope that the leadership of the Western world, weak as it seems to be, will make it possible for us to answer them with pride and not with shame. After all, this time we will not be able to say we did not know.
The writer has lived in Israel for 38 years, is CEO of Atid EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem-based international business development consultancy, former national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, immediate past chair of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and president of Beit Knesset Ohel Nechama in Jerusalem.