Lessons of the Holocaust

One of the chief lessons of the Holocaust is that any minority group, and especially the Jews, must protect itself against the potential for destruction and massacre by a hostile majority. This is especially true when that majority, or even a minority, controls the power of the State. Although this particularly applied to the Jews of Europe who were powerless against the Nazi State, it also applies to other minorities in similar circumstances, such as the Tutsis in Hutu-controlled Rwanda, the non-communists in Khmer Rouge-controlled Cambodia, the Albanians in Serbian-controlled Kosovo, etc., etc. It is a mistake to rely on the “kindness of strangers.” When living among wolves one must act as a wolf or be eaten.

Guns were difficult to obtain and were expensive before WWII, but compared to the wealth of European Jewry they were cheap. It was the lack of will power and of international Jewish identification that prevented the Jews of Europe from even attempting to minimally protect themselves. The Warsaw Ghetto, heroic as it was, only proves that with the right will power and a few guns what could have been achieved. It is as well to remember that the Warsaw Ghetto, with minimal arms, held out against the might of the German army longer than the armies of France and Poland. It was mainly the passive Jewish culture, learnt over hundreds of years of persecution, that prevented any widespread Jewish resistance.

Those who regarded themselves as Germans first and Jews second were the ones who were the most shocked by the murderous intent of their fellow Germans. They felt betrayed, more than those who identified as Jews first. At first the German Jews, and Jews of other nationalities, tried to pass themselves off as patriotic, and of course this was a mistake, since they wasted precious time in not separating themselves from the gentiles. Jews tried to portray themselves as not having dual loyalty, but such a tactic cut no ice with the Germans. It is easy to say this in retrospect, but once your life and that of your family is at stake, its best to quickly change you ideas and adapt to the new situation. Even more, because of the persistant anti-Semitism that had prevailed in Germany for centuries it was a strategic error not to either leave or arm against it. Many Jews felt that German culture was superior to Jewish culture, but they failed to realize that this was not so, German culture was exclusivist and violent while Jewish culture was more inclusive and liberal. One of the advantages of Israel is that we can leave behind the old diaspora separations of being German Jews, Hungarian Jews, Polish Jews, French Jews or British Jews and in a few generations we will all only be Israeli Jews.

There are currently few Jews left in central and eastern Europe and also in the whole Arab world. We have come together for mutual protection and safety. Unfortunately the lesson of history is that safety is only to be found with a Jewish army in a Jewish state. Survival dictates that.

About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.