“Killed as a result of enemy action.”
Every day, as I took the shortcut to school along the cemetery path, I would stop to read those words, engraved on each grave stone above the deceased’s date of birth and the date of death, often just a few short years apart. Thus, at a tender age, I became aware of the human cost of defeating Hitler. These graves were just a few of the 40,000 British civilian victims of the Luftwaffe.
This was post-war London. We had several bomb sites down our street in Chingford, a sleepy middle-class suburb to the North of the city. The rows of prim gardens and red-roofed semi-detached dwellings were punctuated with bomb sites, like missing teeth in a perfect set of dentures. In the decade or so since the end of the war, the debris from the destroyed houses had been taken away, and the bare plots, still waiting for someone to come and rebuild, were overgrown with high grasses and weeds, hosting many a game of hide-and-seek for the children of the borough. The corrugated iron bomb shelters in the back gardens had also been claimed by my young friends as private play dens.
I’m not sure when I first heard about the Holocaust. Probably it was when I asked my parents why my middle name was Daniel. I was told that I was named after my grandfather’s brother who died in a place called Auschwitz along with thirty-six other members of his family. I imagined that on Daniel’s stone were also engraved the words “Killed as a result of enemy action”, the grave set in a carefully manicured cemetery, not unlike that in my London suburb. Thus, in my child’s mind, I saw little difference between the dead children of London and the dead children of Auschwitz.
With maturity, I would come to understood that the Final Solution, the attempt to make the Jewish people extinct, was a different kind of horror to the bombs that dropped out of the sky and killed children in their beds, but horrors they both were, and in both cases, dead children were the result.
I recently read an article in a prestigious Jewish news outlet, demanding that Prince William, during his upcoming trip to Israel, visit the Ha’apala Memorial to offer his apologies for the acts of the British Mandate in turning Jewish refugees away from the Land of Israel. Maybe he should, but at the same time, I would invite the writer of that article to visit the Carmel mountains, south of Haifa, and to see the now overgrown bunkers that had been built in preparation for the final stand again Rommel’s tank divisions as they swept up through the Yishuv, destroying all in their path. Of course, that onslaught never occurred, and the doomsday bunkers remained unused. It was Montgomery’s desert rats, who, by defeating the Afrika Korps, saved the Yishuv from complete annihilation. There would have been no refugee ships, or any Jews left alive in Mandate Palestine, had the British tanks crews not blocked the advance of Rommel’s desert army.
If it hadn’t been for the stoic resistance of the British Empire, when they stood alone against the Nazis, and if it hadn’t been for the sacrifice of tens of thousands of civilians, and hundreds and thousands of combatants, England’s green and pleasant land too would have been dotted with mass graves, and the Nazi killing machine would have continued it’s tireless work across continental Europe.
Of course, the soldiers and civilians of many nations died in WWII, many with losses fare greater than the UK, but it was Britain’s resolve to stand firm and oppose the might of the German armed forces, that prevented a total collapse before the US intervened and a USSR, betrayed by Hitler, turned on its erstwhile ally.
When I ask myself the question of what it was in the British character that caused them to stand against Hitler, and not sue for peace, I see a vision of the royal family and crowds of flag waving citizens. The House of Windsor represents a stubborn insistence on principle, that helped fire the imagination of the pilots, the sailors, the infantry, the gunners and the tanks crews, who saved Europe from decades of tyranny. It is the alliance between the British working class and their sovereign that is still a major source of Britain’s strength, and it is that strength to which the Jews of Europe and the Yishuv, and their descendants, can be thankful.
In Britain and other western democracies, as the left-wing becomes increasingly a movement of the educated elite, obsessed by racial and gender identity, their rhetoric of blue-collar solidarity has become increasing less convincing, leaving the working class to lean ever more heavily on Great Britain’s history and tradition, as symbolized by their sovereign.
So, when Prince William lands in Israel, I will celebrate, not in honor of his lineage, but in awe of the bond between the wearer of the crown and the hewers of stone, who when called upon, did not fail.