The Struggle Goes On
By James R. Cook
What will the twentieth century be remembered for above all else? Will it be the computer, the automobile, penicillin, landing on the moon? What will stand out for future centuries the way we remember the Black Plague in the fourteenth century? It’s the Holocaust. That darkest of deeds, the murder of six million Jews, will forever stain the history of the twentieth century.
Nobody needs to have their memory jogged to remember this brutal persecution. But they do need to emotionalize it occasionally. In her book “When I was a German,” the Englishwoman, Christabel Bielenberg wrote about a fair-haired little Jewish boy who had been marched out with his mother to be shot by the Germans. She had kept the truth from him and told him to stand up straight. The story was told to the author on a train in 1944 by an SS member whose guilt had become unbearable.
“Do you know what it means – to kill Jews, men, women, and children as they stand in a semicircle around the machine guns? I belonged to what is called an Einsatzkommando, an extermination squad – so I know. What do you say when I tell you that a little boy, no older than my youngest brother, before such a killing, stood there at attention and asked me ‘Do I stand straight enough, Uncle?’ Yes, he asked that of me; and once, when the circle stood round us, an old man stepped out of the ranks, he had long hair and a beard, a priest of some sort I suppose. Anyway, he came towards us slowly across the grass, slowly step by step, and within a few feet of the guns he stopped and looked at us one after another, a straight, deep, dark and terrible look. ‘My children,’ he said, ‘God is watching what you do.’ He turned from us then, and someone shot him in the back before he had gone more than a few steps.”
The Israelis who know these stories well must surely question the attitude of the nations of the world who universally condemn them today. Did their memories fail? Most especially the Israelis must be offended by the European countries, some of whom betrayed their Jewish populations or assisted in their murder. It’s hard to believe that elements of anti-Semitism are not still at work when the world kicks up a fuss about the Israelis defending themselves against the murder of their children in pizza parlors and on buses.
The Israelis and other Jews in the world have suffered for centuries. The world should heartily endorse their nation and support their defending themselves as a kind of moral reparation. For the Israelis it’s an old story. Eighty years of indignities and mayhem throughout the titanic struggle for their nation, resisted at every turn by virtually everyone. Instead of the universal applause they deserve, they get censure. The world judges Israel differently.
A Palestinian leader recently suggested that there was plenty of room in the U.S. for six million Israelis. They should move to North America. That was his solution to the current strife. It’s not such a bad idea. The Israelis would be a great plus for any nation. Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia will never be what they could have been without their Jewish populations. What a different and better place Cuba would be had they let the St. Louis embark its passengers and then continued to accept Jewish refugees. Of course, an Israeli migration to the U.S. won’t happen. No other nation can be trusted to permanently treat its Jewish population fairly and honorably. In the U.S. we’ve begun to accomplish that. Yet a mild form of anti-Semitism still exists in the U.S. It’s not the virulent hatred of the Arab world, but it is something.
Years ago I wrote down this thought: We will never stamp out anti-Semitism until we stop blaming Jews for behavior that everyone exhibits. I heard it just the other day. Someone told me that an antique dealer was more interested in the money than the antiques because he was Jewish. Never mind that virtually all dealers I’ve ever dealt with are quite the same. No one mentions any other race when we talk about human shortcomings.
Someone is always trying to make the Jews out as different. But they are not different. In 1971 I went to Miami with a new franchise for selling drinking water through vending units in high-rises and condominiums. I worked from Miami Beach to Hallandale, an area that had a large Jewish population. In one day I would talk with more Jews than I had in my entire lifetime. Many of these people were from New York and were especially targeted by racial stereotyping. I was pioneering a new concept that was the defining business struggle of my life. It required I make hundreds of cold calls. I could not have been treated with more courtesy, warmth or fairness. When I sold the business a year and a half later I scratched my head about the roots of anti-Semitism. I concluded that it’s nothing but a lie; a lie that needs to be confronted. Whenever we hear such comments, we need to speak up and correct them.
The world has turned its back on the Jews too many times for it to be coincidence. That’s why the Israelis must keep their own council. When they act forcefully in their own self interest, it’s because nobody else will. We ask the world’s Jewish population to be more patient, understanding and forgiving than anyone else. It’s a lot to ask.