A “posthumous victory for Hitler”?

“Addressing the battle between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and leaders of European countries over whether Jews should move to Israel or stay in their Diaspora homelands, Foxman stated that Jewish departure from Europe would be a “posthumous victory for Hitler, and would fulfill his Judenrein vision.”

The “Foxman” quoted above is Abe Foxman, National Director of America’s watchdog organization for national antisemitism, the Anti-Defamation League. So his word carries much authority; represents credibility in matters threatening the Jewish people. What then make of his warning that should Jews facing increasing antisemitism in Europe leave, that they would provide a “posthumous victory for Hitler”? The admonition sounds hauntingly familiar: In the early 1930’s leaders of Germany’s Jewish community similarly warned that leaving would provide Hitler a “victory” by leaving, proof that Jews were not “Germans.”

Regarding Foxman’s hope that Europe’s leaders, once they experience their “9/11” may awaken to the threat to democracy and freedoms which may result in also extending protection to the Jewish community… is this worth the equally likely opposite, that Europe’s traditional victim, “the Jews,” will remain in place to perform our centuries-long traditional role as vent for our neighbor’s rage? In 1989 I contacted Emil Fackenheim, the Israeli rabbi and philosopher, regarding that which he termed the 614th Commandment. Triggered by Mr. Foxman’s faith that Europe’s leaders might rise to the defense of Jews I strained to recall my discussion with Dr. Fackenheim. “The Jew of today”, he wrote, “is forbidden to hand Hitler yet another, posthumous victory.” Were he alive today would he agree with the ADL director’s call for Europe’s Jews to remain in place as defiance of Hitler? I doubt it. And while Fackenheim was addressing Jewish despair in the wake of the Holocaust and not a current and increasing threat to Jewish survival, to my mind the last thing he would support would be to encourage Jews to remain in place simply to deprive Hitler of his “victory.” Those German-Jewish leaders whose number included another famous Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, failed to appreciate the threat in the early Hitler years. But neither did they have the precedent of Auschwitz against which to measure the threat!

Are conditions in Europe today comparable to Europe in the early 1930’s? No. But public opinion surveys across the continent disclose a sharp rise in antisemitism far exceeding the Muslim populations which seem the source of most physical assaults on Jews today. And while several countries have governments openly antisemitic in rhetoric none, to my knowledge, have yet put forward a program to murder Jews. Still the signs are not promising, and Jews are daily threatened as Jews.

The threat against Jews today, most evident in Europe, is clearly on the rise. Jews in the 21st century have an advantage over our parents during the period of the Third Reich. For us the Holocaust occurred to serve as precedent for the future. The question is, will we today respond to the threat soon enough to avoid the next Holocaust? There is a natural resistance to leaving the familiar, to uproot and start over in another land. People naturally cling to hope, are encouraged to do so by those who assert that the Holocaust was unique and unlikely to happen again. This, unfortunately, is the position of many scholars and artists; this, unfortunately, is the position of the Anti-Defamation League and its director as reflected in his comments above. Rather than “unique,” the Holocaust has a long history of persecution, of millions of Jewish lives victim to centuries of mass-murder. Against this historical background for the head of America’s foremost antisemitism watchdog to advocate ignoring the threat as a matter of “principle” either reflects ignorance or our history, or an irresponsible abandonment of fact in favor of faith.

As Leon Pinsker reminds, “Judeophobia… is hereditary, and as a disease transmitted for two thousand years it is incurable.” If we must err, let us err on the side of life rather than on the doubtful principle of depriving Hitler a posthumous “victory.”



About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.