Wonderful, beautiful, inspiring images of Jews as survivors, not victims *UPDATED*

It’s very natural, given what happened to the Jews at Nazi (and Communist and Muslim) hands in just the last 75 years to think of them as victims.  But they’re not.  They’re survivors, and fighters, and people who have created one of the most stable, dynamic, free, creative, prosperous nations in the world.  PopChassid has assembled 20 amazing photographs showing the fierce will to live — before, during, and after WWII — that burns in Jews.

Let me throw in a few wonderful photos to add to that narrative.  

As early as 1930, Tel Aviv was a beautiful, cosmopolitan city:

Ben Jehuda Road 1930

Vibrant young settlers on a kibbutz, late 1930s/early 1940s:

Kibbutzniks 1930s

Exhausted, but still jubilant Israeli soldiers at the Western Wall in 1967, after having liberated it from Arab control (which denied Jews all access to Jerusalem’s Holy Sites):

Israeli-Soldiers-Wall-1967

In a Middle Eastern region distinguished by frequently sadistic, and always demoralizing, misogyny, this is a picture of some candidates in the Israeli Defense Force’s Officer Course for Infantry Command:

Flickr_-_Israel_Defense_Forces_-_Officer_Course_for_Infantry_Command

Of course, there’s nothing new about that. The Haganah already had women in the armed forces in 1948:

ARAB ISRAELI WAR 1948 WOMEN ARMY
In a Middle Eastern region in which gays are routinely tortured, sodomized, whipped, and hanged, Israel has a dynamic gay community, which celebrates with an annual pride parade. Gay Muslims from all over the Middle East try to sneak into Israel to live without fear:

GAY-PRIDE-PARADE-TEL-AVIV

If you have images you like, let me know. I’m not a terribly visual person (words are my thing), so I don’t always know where or how to look for the best images.

UPDATES FROM SADIE:  Enjoying folk dances every Saturday at Haifa Beach:

Dancing at Haifa Beach

The Haifa International Flower Show in 2012:

Haifa International Flower Show 2012

Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem:

Mahane Yehuda Market Jerusalem 5

Mahane Yehuda Market Jerusalem 4

Mahane Yehuda Market Jerusalem 3

Mahane Yehuda Market Jerusalem 2

Mahane Yehuda Market Jerusalem 1

Yom Hashoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is Erev Yom Hashoah, the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.  In Israel, it is a poignant moment honored by every citizen (or at least, every Jewish citizen).  In the rest of the world, it is a moment to be forgotten, ignored, or denied.

Back in the 1930s, no one could believe that the Germans, considered the most civilized and advanced of all Europeans, could become so bestial.

The tragedy today is that, when we look at the Islamists, we’ve already seen how bestial they are, and still nobody believes their oft repeated goal of reinstating the Holocaust.

Yom Hashoah 2

Yom Hashoah 1

Yom Hashoah 3

Yom Hashoah 4

Long ago, Tacitus said “Proprium humani ingenii est odisse quem laeseris. (It is a principle of human nature to hate those whom you have injured.)” Or as people have more recently noted, the Europeans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.

UPDATED: Thanks to Sadie for reminding me that I wanted to include a video showing just how strongly Israelis feel about Yom Hashoah’s two minutes of silence. Can you imagine Americans coming to a halt this way?

Dachau: The bitter fruit of a terrible evil, in full color

Color is an interesting thing.  I long ago realized that the 1920s and 1930s seem further away for me, visually, than the pre-modern era.  The difference is color.  When I think of the Middle Ages or the Renaissance or the Enlightenment, even though the images are frozen, they still are in living color.  Color gives them a vitality that makes them immediate:

Jan van Eyck Virgin and Child

Looking at that lovely Jan van Eyck, don’t you feel as if you could touch the Baby Jesus’s blonde hair or stroke his pink skin, or that you could bury your hands in Mary’s cloak and feel the warm fabric across your fingers?  They may be still, but they’re real.  Van Eyck stopped the moment for you, but you know that, when you’re not looking, their chests will rise and fall, and that the baby will turn towards Mary, and she will wrap her warm, loving arms around him.  Color matters.

Conversely, look at this photograph from the 20s:

1920s flappers
It’s not just the clothes that separate us from those dashing ladies.  It’s also that they’re the wrong color.  They’re not the color of living flesh.  Instead, they’re the colors of death and the grave.  Although the highlights and shades are there to give us dimensionality, they still look peculiarly flattened and unreal.  Their frozen quality will continue long after we turn our eyes away from them.

So it is with too many images of WWII.  Although it took place during the lifetime of many people who are still living, those of us who came of age after the war have a hard time seeing it as more than chilling historic pictures.  We have to keep reminding ourselves that these were real people who fought, and killed, and suffered, and died.  Many of us probably think “That can’t happen here.”  We think this not only because we foolishly believe that our Constitution, without further effort on our parts, is strong enough to protect us from tyranny, but also because a part of our brain says, “Did that really happen anywhere?”  Of course, we know that it happened at a specific place (Europe) and over a specific period of time (1933-1945), but those colorless images distance us from the humanity of the people involved.

Which is why you should watch this short color video showing the liberation of Dachau:

The dead are real people; the Germans dragged into the camp to see what their statist ideology had wrought are real people; the surviving prisoners, with such faint hope in their eyes, are real people.  It’s a terribly disturbing video because it drags us out of our 21st century American complacency and forces us to acknowledge that real people committed unbelievable heinous acts against other living, breathing, full-color human beings.

The New York Times’ dirty history regarding the Holocaust

She’s a high school senior, but damn! if she doesn’t give a stunningly good talk about the way in which the New York Times, despite knowing about the Holocaust, not only downplayed it, but effectively kept American policy away from helping Europe’s besieged Jewish population:

There is no anti-Semite worse than a Jew.  (See als0 Liberty Spirit’s J’Accuse!)

Hat tip:  Richard Baehr

Yom Hashoah

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day that was once a memorial day, a day of looking back, but is now a chilling tocsin of what the future might hold.  Everywhere in the world, antisemitism is on the rise.  Nor is this the cold, clinical antisemitism that once characterized England — the kind where people would sniff at someone and say “Oh, he’s a Jew.”  Jews might be socially ostracized and subject to petty humiliations, but they were not tortured, killed, or denied civil rights by their own government.

All over the world today, including in England, Jews are facing a worldwide rise in violent antisemitism that his not just a “chill,” is a scary, furnace-like heat.  (I keep mentioning England because it has swung more violently than any other European country from an “I don’t care” view of Jews to a blood-thirsty hatred for Jews and Israel.)  I don’t have the heart or the time to detail the attacks.  I will share with you a video showing what happens to Jews when the world turns on them, with the background music being an extremely rare recording of Bergen-Belsen survivors signing the “Hatikvah.”

By the way, David Goldman (Spengler) has the good news, which is that Jew hating-societies are dying off, because off low birth rates.  Jews stand for life (“I say to you, choose life“), so it’s not surprising that these cultures embrace death, their own and other’s.  The problem, of course, is that these dying cultures can still cause a lot of trouble as they grapple with their own convulsive death throes.

With Republicans in their line of sight again, Democrats revert to Nazi tropes

The one thing that’s been nice about Obama’s presidency is the fact that the Democrats ramped down their Nazi rhetoric.  It used to be that you couldn’t open a Leftist web page without hearing that Bush and Cheney were Nazis, and that every Republican policy initiative promised to create a new Holocaust.

Sadly, the impulse to cheapen oneself and the Holocaust in one fell swoop was dormant, not dead.  Now that the Republicans have fielded a viable presidential candidate, the Democrats are once again talking about Nazis and Big Lies and Holocausts.  Jeff Dunetz, at Yid With Lid, explains just how horrible this tic-like comparison is, insofar as it destroys our ability to understand one of the greatest atrocities in history, even while it degrades our own political discourse.

Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) *UPDATED*

As a Jew, the Holocaust is always with me.  When I whine about something (which I often do), I’m instantly stricken with guilt because I know that, 70 years ago, across Europe, women with lives similar to mine (middle-aged, middle-class) were suddenly pitched into a nightmarish maelstrom from which there was no escape.

Am I shlepping heavy groceries from the car?  At least I have food.  Do those new shoes I bought pinch my feet?  Not only am I shod, but my shoes haven’t been stripped from my body as a preliminary to herding me into a gas chamber.  Am I feeling a bit ill or suffering a migraine?  I could be laboring in the quarry at Mauthausen, starved, diseased, abused, and alone.

I don’t have survivor’s guilt.  I have second-generation survivor’s guilt.  On the one hand, I know how lucky I am and how blessed my life is.  On the other hand, I can never, ever escape the mental images of those who thought they had my luck, only to see it vanish as if it had never happened.

We only think we’re not on the volcano’s edge.  We all are.  It’s just that some of us have lives that allow us to pretend the sulfurous fumes aren’t actually rising up around us.  I may not live a Hobbesian life at this moment, but there is actually very little between me and a moral entropy that threatens violence and horrible death.

One day a year, we take the inchoate guilt and anxiety that plague most Jews (and many non-Jews?) and declare it an official remembrance day.  That day is Yom Hashoah.  With every passing year, there are fewer people alive who have first hand memories of the Holocaust.  It is therefore up to us to carry the torch and try, through the act of memory, to beat back the darkness surrounding us.

Here is my post on the Holocaust, one that looks at those who lived through it, those who escape from it, and those who were pitched into a Pacific, rather than European, Holocaust.

Here is Bruce Kesler’s post about the village that saw his family’s end.

Here is The Political Commentator’s post.

And here is a link to a book that Bruce recommended: Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. The book isn’t actually about Europe as a whole.  It’s about a specific geographic area bounded by Germany and the Soviet Union, but one that tellingly did not include Germany itself or the core Soviet States.  It was in this territory, Belarus, Poland, the Ukraine, etc., that the Nazis and the Soviets put into effect the greatest killing effort in human history, something that would not be seen again until Mao visited his Great Leap Forward on his own hapless Chinese people.

In this geographic area — the Bloodlands of the title — the Soviets and the Nazis systematically starved, shot, gassed, and creatively killed millions of fellow Europeans, many of whom the Nazis shipped in from far-flung geographic points.  The victims’ crime?  They were enemies of the state, whether because they were Jews, gypsies, farmers, POWs from the opposing side’s armies, political dissidents, political ignoramuses, or anything or anyone else the state feared.

The book’s lesson is clear from the first page:  While one can easily find individuals with no conscience, an individual’s reach is limited.  That’s not the case when it comes to a start whose citizens allow it to seize unfettered power.  A state that has no conscience (and when does a state collective ever have a soul?) can too easily become a killing machine.

When savvy people figure out that I’m a conservative, they often ask why.  I think they are surprised when I don’t launch into a long discourse about policies and goals.  I say only one thing:  “I fear anything that consolidates too much power.  The bigger an entity, the more mischief it can do.  I like to keep political power reasonable diffused.  A government should be big enough to be useful, but not so big that it becomes both unstoppable and very dangerous.”

UPDATEBenjamin Netanyahu’s Yom Hashoah speech.

Man’s inhumanity to man *UPDATED*

I’ve long had a conflicted emotional relationship to Poland.  I know that Poland bore the brunt of the first official Nazi invasion in WWII, back in August 1939.  I also know that the Poles suffered horribly under the Soviets.  In the modern era, it was the Poles whose bravery exposed the weaknesses in and started the destruction of the Soviet system, and the Poles have been a staunch American ally in the post-Cold War world.

All that I know, and yet I’ve never been able to forgive them for the fact that Jewish genocide in Poland worked so well because so many Poles were gleeful and enthusiastic participants in the process.  There was a reason why the most successful death camp of all (Auschwitz) was in Poland.  The Germans knew that the local population would be more amenable to its presence than would be true in other nations.  Other nations showed themselves willing to give their Jews away (the French, the Dutch, etc.), but they still might balk at mass slaughter on home ground.  The Poles wouldn’t. (One could say that the other nations were hypocritical, and the Poles were not, but that’s a post for another day.)

Of course, that held true for so many Slavic and Baltic nations — and it turns out that Yad Vashem has been paying attention to all those little, regional killing fields and death camps.  There’s a heart wrenching article in today’s New York Times about a project to document the local killings.  This is an extremely important project because it helps to explain what we still see today:  neighbor turning on neighbor, whether in Serbia or Rwanda, or somewhere else in the world.

UPDATEEric‘s fact-filled comment deserves to be up in the post:

I just had to come to the defense of Poles regarding the Holocaust.  Poles were essentially given a bad rap by the Communist.  I know this is not a prevailing wisdom, especially among my fellow Jews.  But the World War 2 history is a hobby of mine, and I am especially interested in the Jewish resistance.  So, I researched the subject.  The better known ZOB (Jewish Combat Organization) indeed did not get much support from the Polish Home Army.  The ZOB came into being only in mid-1942, and the Poles considered them a bunch of leftist demagogues.  But there was another organization, ZZW (Jewish Military Union).  That one was an integral part of the Polish Home Army, starting from late fall of 1939.  They received weapons and ammo from the Poles.  They were also as big in numbers and much better trained than ZOB.  Unfortunately most of their leaders were killed in action during the Ghetto Uprising.  And the Polish officer to whom the ZZW leader reported was jailed by the Communists after the war.  Just as a side note, his name deserves to be mentioned: Henrik Iwanski.  He lost both sons and a brother in action during the Ghetto Uprising and was heavily wounded himself.  Another interesting tidbit is that the Polish Auxiliaries were not used by the Germans against the Jews during the Ghetto Uprising.  The Germans brought in the Lithuanians.

I would recommend the book “Two Flags” by Marian Apfelbaum, the nephew of the ZZW leader.  Sorry, for the plug, but here is my review of the book:
http://conservativlib.wordpress.com/2007/10/07/two-flags-the-untold-story-of-the-warsaw-ghetto-uprising-and-its-relevance-today/

I suspect that the reason why the majority of the death camps were in Poland was the simple fact that that was where the majority of the European Jews lived.  The French were by far worse than the Poles, and the French Government has finally admitted it recently:
http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/32818_France_Finally_Admits_Role_in_Holocaust

A Holocaust story that’s true

You’ve no doubt read about the false Holocaust love story that’s caused Oprah such anguish.  I have a real story for you.  I knew the players and can speak to their veracity.

Harry’s parents were able to get him out of Germany during the late 1930s.  By that time, he’d already suffered mild brain damage from being beaten by a gang of Hitler youths, but while it impaired his speech, it affected neither his intelligence nor his moral sense.  Harry spent the early war years in England and then joined the British military, spending the later war years fighting the Nazis.

At the end of the war, Harry returned to Germany to find his parents.  He learned that, shortly after the war started, they’d been snatched from their home and taken first to Dachau, where they survived long beyond what anyone would have expected from two middle-aged, middle-class Jews, and then to Auschwitz, where they died in the gas chambers.

Their survival in Dachau was because of their shop girl.  When they were arrested, Lotte, a German girl who loved them dearly, moved to the town nearest Dachau and found work there.  Every day, she gathered together food and, at extraordinary risk to herself, smuggled it to Harry’s parents.

When Harry learned what Lotte did for his parents, he vowed to care for her.  Since he was young, healthy and a skilled mechanic, there was every reason to believe he could fulfill this vow.

Harry finally located Lotte living in some distress in the chaos that was post-war Germany.  Although she was a good decade older than he was, and he remembered her only vaguely from his childhood, he married her immediately and cared for her to the end of her days.

When I met them, they were in their 50s, and presented at first as a rather typical, ponderous German couple.  There was nothing to distinguish them from any other older Germans you might meet touring America.  The only truly noticeable things about them were (a) how much older she was and (b) how solicitous he was.  It was only later, when I Iearned their true story, that I realized I’d been in the presence of moral greatness, his and hers both.

Proportionate response *UPDATED*

With regard to Iran, Israel is currently facing two options.  It can launch a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, which will allow Israel to survive intact while inflicting minimal loss of life or property against Iran.  Alternatively, it can allow Iran to take a preemptive strike against Israel (which would be a nuclear strike), which will result in the complete destruction of Israel and her people.  Faced with that choice, what would you do?

I’m thinking of that because my friend the Bald-Headed Geek directed my attention to Bob Federman’s article about the situation facing Israel.  Whether in the old paper media or the new blogosphere, there are regular articles about the existential risks facing Israel, but everybody in European and American politics seems to ignore them.

I’m sure they’ll ignore this one too (pity, really), but that probably won’t matter to Israel.  Federman’s point is that, with Olmert gone, Israel will almost certainly act on the two lessons she learned from the Holocaust:  When a nation says it intends to destroy you, believe it; and you can’t trust anyone other than the Jews to take care of the Jews — and that’s true no matter how well-intentioned others are.  America, for example, is a good friend to Israel, as are most American citizens.  Nevertheless, without feeling the existential pressure that is an everyday feature of Israeli life, it’s almost impossible for America to respond appropriately to Israel’s security needs.

I leave you with some of Federman’s thoughts:

As each day passes, it becomes more obvious that Iran’s real intention is to develop nuclear weapons. Why does Iran need nuclear weapons? Iranian leaders have given us the answer- they seek the destruction of Israel- yet the world has chosen to ignore it.

Unfortunately, some analysts naively believe that Iran’s threats to Israel are a recent innovation of the current President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The truth is that the goal of the destruction of Israel has long been a fundamental pillar of Iran’s foreign policy. Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, said in a sermon on Iranian television on December 15, 2000, “Iran’s position, which was first expressed by the Imam Khomeini and stated several times by those responsible, is that the cancerous tumor called Israel must be uprooted from the region.”

However, there is no doubt that Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has taken this madness to a new level. His repeated calls to “wipe Israel off the map” were also accompanied by a government sponsored conference titled “A World Without Zionism” (October, 2005). His most recent outrage was calling Israel “a stinking corpse” on the occasion of its 60th birthday.

Israelis cannot ignore these threats and for good reason. They know that Iran backs its threatening words with deeds. This became evident during the summer of 2006. Following the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, proceeded to fire 4,000 rockets into the cities of northern Israel. These rockets, which were supplied by Iran, sent a clear message to every Israeli: When Iranian leaders speak of the destruction of Israel, they need to be taken for their word.

UPDATE: Just to remind you what Israel is dealing with when it comes to Iran and nuclear weapons.