What more could Jews have done during the Holocaust?


THIS ICONIC photo shows Jews being captured by the Nazis during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in May 1943 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
THIS ICONIC photo shows Jews being captured by the Nazis during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in May 1943
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27), people around the world will be pounding their chests over arguably the greatest crime committed against humanity: Hitler and Nazi Germany’s quest to extinguish as many Jews as possible.
It’s funny how one of the main lessons of the Holocaust is “Never Forget.” As if Jews could really forget such attempted genocide. But the target of “Never Forget” is often not Jews, but non-Jews.
The idea is that Jews can’t let the world forget because it might do it again. If we keep reminding everyone about the Holocaust, keep telling our sob stories of the pain and destruction, keep shoving pictures at them of starving Jews in ghettos and Jewish corpses in ditches, maybe they’ll feel bad enough to stop Jews from getting killed again.
Once in a while, we’ll hear rare stories of heroism, of Jews fighting back, like the brothers who groomed and led Jewish partisans in the fight against Nazis in German-occupied Poland, dramatized by the movie Defiance; or the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which has yet to be dramatized by Hollywood. We’ll hear even more stories of the Righteous Among the Nations, which is what made Schindler’s List so beloved, so more non-Jews will be inspired to be like them.
Constantly hammering “Never Forget,” and its twin sister, “Never Again,” evinces a deep, subconscious fear that it will happen again, and herein lies the problem: it should have never happened to begin with.
Judaism itself was a religion created on the legend of freedom from slavery. The basic premise of Judaism is never again. Never again slaves. Never again lack of freedom. But it was precisely the people who brought the message of liberty to the world who became the most pathetic, literal slaves the modern world has ever seen.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day often focuses on genocide: the round-ups, medical experiments, crematoria, death marches, and, of course, Auschwitz. But in this parade of Jewish death, we complain less about the slavery that foretold it. As if only Jewish massacre deserves outcry. Disenfranchisement: Jews should expect that. Property looted: That’s been going on for centuries. Being forced into ghettos: Jews like to live in communities. In the ghettos, Jews could at least hold Passover seders.
The people who annually consecrate freedom with Passover… became slaves. The people who annually consecrate redemption from genocide with Purim… became picture-perfect victims of genocide. Jews are commanded never to forget the eternal specter of Amalek – the terrorist nation hell-bent on destroying the Jewish people that reincarnates in every generation. But they always seem to forget, even though they annually read in synagogues: “And you shall blot out the name of Amalek.”
In the end, the American, British and Russians blotted out the name. What we will never hear asked on Holocaust memorial days is: What more could the Jewish people have done? What more could the “light unto the nations,” the freed slaves of Egypt, the victors over the evil Haman, have done to stop Germany-Amalek?
Jews will complain about what other nations could have done. Why didn’t the Allies bomb Auschwitz? Why didn’t the Americans let more Jews in? Why did the British limit Jewish immigration to Palestine? Everyone was expected to be heroes, except the people whose Holy Book was supposed to groom a nation of heroes.
When I pose this question to Jewish friends, they’re outraged.
• “How can you blame the victim?”
• “Hitler employed too much psychological manipulation for them to even notice.”
• “When the Gestapo picked them up, they thought they were just being ‘resettled.’”
• “Polish Jews never imagined that Hitler’s occupation would reach them.”
• “If they fought back, they would’ve been shot right away!”
This means that Jews had no choice but to die. Their fate was determined. No Jewish action could have prevented the Holocaust. If we absolve Jews from action, then we must also absolve Germans who say, “If we didn’t serve Hitler, we would have been executed!”
So you might ask what exactly Jews could have done. Retroactive strategy is beyond my scope (although the Bielski brothers provided one answer). But there must have been something – 100,000 dead Jews: shame on the perpetrators; 500,000: shame on the world; six million! Shame on the Jews. That’s a fighting force!
Nowadays, Jews subconsciously realize they could have done more. That’s why they’re overcompensating, mostly with copious Holocaust education and, worse, the sanctification of the Holocaust so that no single being on this earth will ever, ever, ever forget. No wonder a German parliamentarian recently suggested that Muslim refugees visit concentration camps, so that they, too, will learn “Never Again” (when, actually, some might get inspiration for genocidal fantasies).
Some Jews and non-Jews are fighting Nazis retroactively. Easy now, because Nazis are universally hated and, in truth, no longer exist. So they’ll also fight racism, the far Right, white supremacism, and, of course, militant Zionism. Now that the Holocaust has become so hallowed, it’s being manipulated by people who secretly admire Germany-Amalek. These days, any act of militaristic nationalism is a pending Holocaust, except one kind: Arab-Muslim militaristic nationalism against Israel.
In the meantime, the latest incarnation of Amalek, embodied in the Palestinian cause set out to destroy Israel, is not only unopposed by many Jews, but given credence by Israel. And when Palestinians murder Jews in the streets of Israel with as much zeal as the Nazis, Jews beg the world to be “righteous” and do something. But what?
Israel cannot dream of delegitimizing the Palestinian cause.
• “What will the world say if we don’t give the Palestinians a state?”
• “If we remove the Palestinian Authority, we’ll get Hamas!”
• “If we annex the settlements, then Jews won’t be a majority!”
It’s as if Jews are destined forever to live among murderers and not be able to do anything about it. In which case, maybe the Jewish people are an eternal people – but not the most viable. In its current form, they will continually live in intellectual and at times financial prosperity, with moments of heroism, eventually to get murdered every so often, only to outsource their safety and self-respect to the “world.”
The writer is an Israeli-American journalist and author based in Berlin. Her latest novel, Underskin, is a novel on German-Israel relations. She holds a master’s degree in Bible and Jewish thought.