Everything is Illuminated

 Laban said to Jacob, “Hashem has blessed me on account of you. … Specify your wage to me and I will give it.” But Jacob said to him, “You know how I served you … For the little you had before I came has expanded substantially … and now, when will I also do something for my own house?” Laban asks, “What shall I give you?” And Jacob said, “Let my integrity testify for me in the future when it comes before you regarding my wage; …” (Gen. 30:27-33)

Jacob became exceedingly prosperous. Then he heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, “Jacob has taken all that belonged to our father, and from that which belonged to our father he amassed all this wealth.” (Gen. 30:43-31:1)

Yes, let’s let Jacob’s integrity testify for him — the Jacob who demanded his brother’s birthright for a bowl of lentils. Jacob — who tricked his father into believing he was Esau. Jacob — who, on his wedding night, couldn’t tell the difference between Leah and Rachel! Jacob the interloper had used his knowledge and experience to outsmart (or as some would say, take advantage of) Laban. Jacob tells Rachel and Leah that “it was with all my might that I served your father, yet he mocked me and changed my wage a hundred times.” (Gen. 31:6-7) The gentleman doth protest too much. But then to add insult to injury, Jacob blames it all on G-d: “Thus, G-d took away your father’s livestock, and gave them to me.” (Gen. 31:9) No, it was Jacob, whose knowledge gave him the advantage. Working with the sheep for over 14 years, he had learned their mating habits and knew the probability of the outcome. Laban acknowledged from the beginning that Hashem had blessed him on account of Jacob. Appreciating Hashem’s providence, Laban allowed Jacob to define his wage, to Jacob’s obvious advantage. I know this is not the rabbinic commentary often quoted, but – Thou shall not put a stumbling block in front of the blind.

As I have written often, our Torah of history is as relevant today as it was the day it was first inscribed. “What has been already exists, and what is still to be, has already been.” (Kohelet 3:15) Nothing new under the sun.

A number of years ago, I was on one of the first Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) missions to Israel. In our group of about 25, there was an older man who I became curious about. Although the mission took place in the heat of August, he always wore a long-sleeve shirt. He spoke little, and when he did, it was with a heavy accent. Finally, as the mission was coming to an end, I saw him one night sitting alone in the lobby of the Inbal Hotel, staring out at the beautiful lighted walls of the Old City. I sat down and ordered two drinks. He smiled and nodded. As I ordered a second round, we made small talk, mostly about the mission. After his third or fourth drink, he seemed to relax, and to my surprise, while he continued to look out the window, he unbuttoned his shirt cuff and rolled up his sleeve – and then I understood. There were the blue-black numbers on his forearm. I couldn’t imagine what he was thinking, but I quickly asked, “What do you remember from the camps?” As he continued to stare out the window, he spoke softly:

I was 15. My job was to pick up clothes and other belongings that were left on the train platform and stack them up neatly on a cart that would be taken to a nearby warehouse. Toward the end of the war, a trainload of German Jews arrived. As they walked off the boxcars, the women were told to take off their coats, hats and jewelry, the men their coats and watches. They pleaded with the watchful SS guards, “Ibn nicht Juden! Having forgotten who they were – having possibly even converted – the SS was there to remind them of who they were. Within the next few hours they too would become just more ashes floating from the chimneys.

Then he just got up and walked away. I had more questions, but he was gone. Israel is a land still filled with ghosts of our people’s past misfortunes.

In the play, “The Man in the Glass Booth,” Arthur Goldman, a German-Jewish Holocaust survivor living in New York, finds himself on trial in Israel on charges of being a Nazi war criminal. In his opening defense, he states what often is believed to be the truth of German Jews in the 1930s:

People of the world, let me speak to you of my Führer with love…he who answered our German need…who rescued us from the depths. …To whom did he appeal? To the people. His power lay in the love he won from the people. …His generals lost the war. … While he lived, Germany lived. …We never denied him. And those who tell you anything else lie in their hearts.

In the book Who Financed Hitler, James and Suzanne Pool noted that Hitler’s ability to raise money was key to his success, “acknowledging the ease with which money can subvert the democratic process.”

Other funds came from the most unexpected sources. Germany’s most important Jewish industrialist even gave to the Nazis—to make them dependent on his money… Hitler’s fundraising gave birth to many of the techniques of covert funding and dirty tricks that later became the stock and trade of most major governments. (Ibid., p. 2)

And in another source perhaps even more shocking:

In Germany some Jews even supported Hitler despite his anti-Semitism. … Hans Joachim Schoeps headed the German Vanguard, the German-Jewish followers of Hitler. Max Naumann, the head of the Association of German National Jews, ardently solicited support from the Nazi party after Hitler had come to power, pointing out the national loyalty of his members and their service to the German nation. Gerhart Hauptmann, a Nobel Prize recipient for literature, even voted for Hitler. Many Jews were quite comfortable living in Germany despite latent antiSemitism … (Claude R. Foster, Jr., Historical Antecedents: Why the Holocaust?)

Germany had lost World War I and had agreed to the economic penalties imposed on her through the Treaty of Versailles signed on June 28, 1919. Drafted by Britain and France, the treaty was a disaster for Germany’s economy. “The Allies claimed that since Germany was responsible for the war, she was liable for the costs and damages incurred by the victors. The total indemnity [in 1919 dollars] was to be set at $32 billion plus interest, plus a 26 percent tax on all imports, a technique to make Germany less competitive in world markets.” (Ibid., p. 179). The German economy was in shambles. The German leaders were humiliated and looking for someone to blame.

To be fair, things in the United States and Western Europe weren’t much better. Anti-Semitism was rampant. “The restrictions under which German Jews had lived in the 1920s were little different from those Jews faced in the United States and England. … Many hotels and resorts refused to admit them. … Advancement in many careers was denied Jews. Violence often erupted. Anti-Semitism existed at all levels, in the country club and at the corner bar.” (Leonard Baker, Days of Sorrow and Pain, p. 221)

In 1928, Jews represented 0.74 percent of the population of Germany. Included in this number were not only German Jews who had been born in Germany, but also Jews who had more recently come to Germany from Poland, Hungary and Romania after the war, looking for work and greater opportunities. Most German Jews were living in the big cities, and this was also where the foreign Jews came to try to start their new lives. It became apparent early on that German Jews did not appreciate their eastern European (and more religious) brethren coming to Germany, which they felt reflected poorly on themselves.

“Jews were more visible than their numbers might indicate because they were concentrated in big cities,” noted Sarah Ann Gordon in Hitler, Germans and the “Jewish Question.” They were overrepresented in business, commerce, medicine, the judiciary, and public and private services, according to Gordon, and although less than one percent of Germany’s population, Jews represented 25 percent of all individuals employed in retail business.

Jews were very active as wholesale traders. They owned 41 percent of iron and scrap iron firms and 57 percent of other metal businesses. Jews were prominent in private banking, where they represented 23 percent of all private banks. By 1928, Jews comprised 80 percent of the leading members of the German stock exchange. Jews comprised 27 percent of all lawyers, 10 percent of all apprentice lawyers, five percent of court clerks, and up to 30 percent of all higher ranks of the judiciary. Furthermore, almost 12 percent of the instructors at German universities were Jewish, and an additional seven percent were Jewish converts to Christianity, so almost 19 percent of the instructors at German universities were of Jewish origin.

Jewish students comprised 25 percent of the law and medical students and 34 percent of the graduate students in philosophy. Between 1905 and 1931, ten of the 32 Germans who received Nobel Prizes for contributions to science were Jews. The higher level of scholarship and entrepreneurial skill of Jews brought them average incomes that were higher than non-Jews. By 1933, 44 percent of all Jews had married non-Jews. Conversion, intermarriage and loss of children through mixed marriages were seen as significant problems by German Jews. Despite concern among Jewish leaders, the process of assimilation accelerated. (Ibid., pp. 11-17) What jumped out at me was that German Jews were converting to Christianity in order to acculturate into German society. This was to become an obsessive political focus for the Nazi program of Aryan racial purity.

In the German elections of 1928, the National Socialist (Nazi) Party received just over two percent of the vote. By the election of 1932, the National Socialist Party, with Hitler as its leader, received over 37 percent of the vote. With the economy in a severe depression, with over 30 percent unemployed, these four years were crucial to what lay ahead for Europe and its Jews. In America, these were the years of the Great Depression as well. In Europe, much the same had occurred. Hitler at first blamed the Versailles Treaty and the other European countries for Germany’s economic depression. But while the average German suffered through the economic downturn, there was one visible group within German society with whom everyday Germans had almost daily contact and who were perceived to have suffered significantly less—the Jews. The average annual salary of a German in 1938 was about $1,600, while the average annual salary of a German Jew was almost $3,800. In scapegoating, it is said, the secret to success is knowing whom to blame for your failures.

It has been estimated that Adolph Eichmann enabled as many as 180,000 Jews to leave Germany for Palestine, netting Germany over 11 billion marks (an estimated $2.6 billion) in exit fees from German Jews between 1932 and 1938. The windfall was staggering, but came to an abrupt halt with Britain’s passage of its White Paper of 1939, effectively closing the gates of rescue to Palestine.

Between 1932 and 1938, it is estimated that over 300,000 of Germany’s 500,000 Jews had left Germany, while the 164,000 German Jews who remained, would be murdered in the Shoah. It’s a story that’s been repeated at other times and in other countries where Jews at one time felt comfortable as loyal citizens and contributors to the larger community. In Megillat Esther, when the edict to kill the Jews went out, the Jews of Sushan were perplexed. In our people’s history, the past has too often been prologue.

Shabbat Shalom, 11/18/16 Jack “Yehoshua” Berger

 

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About the Author
Educated as an architect with a Masters in Architectural History, Jack Yehoshua Berger became a practicing architect and real estate developer. In his late 30's he met a Rabbi who turned him on to the miracle of Israel and he began learning how the amazing country, against all odds, came to be the miracle of the modern world.
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