My wife and I are inveterate bibliophiles (and my attainment of a Master’s Degree in Library Science has only served to feed into it). The books we brought along with us when we made our Aliyah easily exceeded one thousand in number, and a quantity no lesser was necessarily and painfully disposed of in the course of our pre-Aliyah downsizing. But following our relocation, we have acquired additional books relevant to our respective professions, pleasure reading, and, of course, Judaica.
During Shabbat and holidays, when we do not use our respective computers (or any other devices whose electrical on/off status we would need to modify), we read the old, conventional ink-on-paper books. Of course, I read the weekly Torah portion and relevant commentaries at such times, but I also read books on Jewish philosophy and Jewish history.
Though this is not intended to be a book review, it is necessary to note that a little more than five years ago I found myself at a book sale held by the English-Speaking Residents Association. Among the books I purchased there was the three-volume set of “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust,” Shmuel Spector and Geoffrey Wigodor, editors. The three volumes contain more than 1,500 pages (exclusive of the indices and glossary and other reference aids) of listings of Jewish communities in Europe and North Africa that were affected by the Holocaust. I would read a few pages at a time each Shabbat or holiday, because that was all I could process.
On the first day of Sukkot I finally finished reading the three volumes cover-to-cover. It was a very emotionally draining and painfully burdensome process. Here are some generalizations and trends noted in recapitulating and summarizing the text thus read:
- The reading odyssey drove home an enhanced appreciation of the sweeping enormity of the Nazi atrocities. Visiting Yad Vashem took a heavy emotional toll, (barely) second only to a visit 30 years earlier to the Dachau concentration camp. The concentration camp names inlaid on the floor of Yad Vashem’s Hall of Rembrance were not the only places where Hitler’s henchmen worked to carry out their “final solution;” there were many local facilities where mass murders of Jews and others occurred.
- Jedwabne was not the only locale where Poles, while their own country was overrun by German and/or Russian soldiers, still found the time and means to kill the Jews living among them. And Kielce was not the only locale in Poland where the Poles massacred Jews even after Germany had been vanquished and World War II had ended. Nor were the Polish people the only ones who had propensities towards the wholesale murder of Jews; similar mass homicides were done by Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Slovaks, Bosniaks, and Croats (among others) in their own countries. The ancestral hometowns of each of my grandparents all were the scenes of pogroms that occurred within a few years following their respective departures to America.
- Jews first arrived at many if not most of the listed cities and towns after the year 1750. In some settlements the Jews first arrived after the year 1900. The Jewish population in most places peaked in the second half of the Nineteenth Century, during which time many of the listed communities had significant Jewish pluralities if not majorities. By Krystallnacht (9 – 10 November 1938), the Jewish population of just about every listed locale had dwindled to a fraction of what it had been following the end of the First World War.
- Most of the cities and towns had one or more periods of general economic prosperity which coincidentally ended following the imposition of restrictions upon the local Jewish community. Of course, the Jews were almost always singled out as objects of blame for the economic downturns.
- In the larger cities (and even in some of the smaller ones), the Jewish physicians and lawyers suddenly were knocked into chaos when their professional licensures and permits were restricted and/or terminated; even the individuals who were grudgingly allowed to continue their practices because their services were considered scarce and necessary suffered from restrictions.
- The universities, many already having numerus clausus policies to limit their Jewish student enrollment, expelled their Jewish students and dismissed their Jewish professors as the Nazi regime’s influence grew.
- Even in the smaller towns of Eastern Europe, one of the first orders of business following the arrival of the German army was to set up a Judenrat, whose duty was to carry out the diktats of the German military administration, including and especially the delivery of individuals for forced labor and/or deportation. Though some Judenräte officials did assert some resistance to the Nazi demands, the fact is that every Judenrat was functionally an arm of the German “final solution” initiative.
There are obvious parallels between the events and trends chronicled in the Spector-Wigodor collaboration and the current state of affairs in America and other diaspora lands. Instances of Jewish communities being founded, growing, peaking, and then declining are legion (although occasionally, a Jewish community that has dwindled down has experienced a revival). And the hostility towards Jews on American college campuses is certainly reminiscent of that in Nazi Germany (not only against students, but against faculty members as well).
In analyzing these parallels, it must be borne in mind that the Third Reich’s official governmental policy was to exterminate the Jews, while the United States has laws that specifically guarantee equal rights to all, including its Jewish citizens.
I am not so naïve as to believe that the equal protection laws have ever totally ended governmental discrimination against Jews. Indeed, when I received a promotion to a supervisory position at a Defense Logistics Agency activity it was understood amongst the Jewish contingent that we were at a disadvantage, and I heard congratulatory comments from Jewish coworkers such as “Mazal Tov! It is very rare that a Jew ever gets a break around here.” But at least the American courts have granted corrective redress to Jewish employees who have been discriminated against by the United States government (including discrimination by the Defense Logistics Agency).
No, the U.S. government does not discriminate against the Jews as in Nazi Germany. In America, the discrimination against Jews is done largely by non-governmental entities, who, Civil Rights Act notwithstanding, are not quite as obligated to follow the anti-discrimination laws. Private corporations can even structure their systems to take money from their customers based upon whim alone, without any of the Constitutional due process guarantees.
Analogously, at the American colleges and universities it is usually not the college administration that exercises and implements hostile policies towards Jews and Israel, but rather, the student organizations (including student-run campus newspapers) and faculty unions. And because these entities are not official college administration instrumentalities, the best that the college administrations can do is to pitifully issue lame pronunciamentos to distance themselves from the unruly mobs, while appealing to the humanitarian ideals of groups and individuals who totally lack any degree of decency. Though the mechanism is different, the practical result is still the same – discrimination against Jewish students and faculty.
With due regard to the differences between Twenty-first Century America and the Third Reich, there are two areas of concern that warrant attention of those concerned for the safety of American Jewry and of Jews in other diaspora nations.
Firstly, there is the situation on the college campuses. Jewish students on the college campuses are subject to daily verbal (and sometimes physical) attacks upon their persons. Even without such personal attacks, the Jewish student is subject to adverse academic consequences for daring to disagree with the anti-Israel politics of a course instructor. If universities effectively bar Jews from enrolling, let alone successfully completing their academic degrees, then this has obvious consequences for the learned professions requiring advanced academic degrees.
Secondly, the modern version of the Jewish collaborators differs from the Judenräte and the concentration camp kapos of the Nazi era. Today, there are many Jews among Israel’s detractors, especially on the college campuses. If history is any indication, the enemies of the Jewish people will eventually turn upon them, just as Stalin turned upon Grigory Zinoviev and Leon Trotsky. [Though there are distasteful views towards referring to such individuals as “JINOs” or “self-hating Jews,” there is an undeniable element of self-loathing in someone who purports to champion the national aspirations of some other group while denying the national geographic aspirations of his or her own group.]. Until that happens, such collaborationists pose a danger to Jewish security.
The situation in America and elsewhere in the diaspora, then, is in many respects potentially at least as dangerous as in Germany during the 1930’s. And it all centers upon the university campus.