While Another Six Million Are Dying

From the moment Hitler came to power in 1933 till the end of World War II 12 years later, the United States government not only did nothing to help the victims of Nazi oppression, it impeded efforts to rescue them. Great Britain did save thousands with the Kindertransport and some other refugee programs; but by keeping the gates of Mandate Palestine shut to refugees, it condemned many more to certain death.

This is old news now; but it wasn’t when Arthur D. Morse published While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy in 1967. It was shocking to learn that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom most American Jews revered, had been one of the main culprits. In the 1960s, Americans marched for the civil rights of Black people. The women’s movement gained strength. At the end of the decade — 50 years ago last month — was the Stonewall uprising that catalyzed the Gay liberation movement. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 marked not just the last battle of the Civil War, the delayed victory of the American Revolution. It emancipated American Jews from the numerus clausus and the many other institutions of genteel anti-Semitism. Historians felt emboldened to study the Holocaust without regard for the face-saving lies of the establishment. One of these was the fiction that America had saved the Jews from Hitler.

My parents are moving into assisted living; and my brother and I have been selecting books from the large family library in the process. Morse’s book, with its dismal dustjacket depicting the Statue of Liberty with her torch extinguished, arrived at my home in Fresno a day or two ago, and I’ve been re-reading it. What is worst is that some ways nothing has changed since it was written in 1967: in Biafra genocide proceeded unimpeded the next year. That was followed by the Cambodian genocide, which ended only when North Vietnam invaded and defeated the Khmer Rouge. Nobody else lifted a finger. In 1994, President Clinton ordered that reports of genocidal murder in Rwanda be kept off his desk, so he might have plausible deniability and not have to do anything. (France, meanwhile, was arming the Hutu murderers of the Tutsis.) Many years later, Clinton apologized. Gee, what a great guy.

A few years ago, thousands of Yazidi Kurds were besieged on a mountain by ISIS. Capture would have meant certain death. I wrote a letter to President Obama explaining what the Yezidi religion and Kurdish culture are, in the context of the Near Eastern and human heritage. I pointed out to him that hitherto American administrations had deliberately done nothing to forestall or stop genocides, while sanctimoniously taking the moral high ground to condemn them once they were already over. I mentioned that no American president has ever kept his campaign promise to accord official recognition to the genocide of the Armenians in 1915. (The Yazidis, by the way, were classified as Armenians by the Ottoman government.) At the time the Armenian genocide was in progress, US Ambassador Morgenthau, an American Jew, had resigned his post at the Sublime Porte in protest against this country’s inaction. In conclusion I asked the President to make a U-turn in his Iraq policy, to help the Yezidis. Mine must not have been the only letter he received; but a day or two later, when Obama announced that U-turn and sent a rescue mission, which succeeded, there were bits of my letter in his speech. Every moral act counts, kind of like being the tenth man in a Minyan. Yes, there are nine others, but every one makes the difference.

That is why I am writing now about the treatment of the Uighurs in China. The Uighurs speak a Turkic language, and are inheritors of the rich Central Asian cultures, including those of the Eastern Iranians of antiquity— the civilizations of the Silk Road. For a brief time in the eighth century their empire adopted the dualist Manichaean religion— they were the only state ever to do so. They wrote their language then in the cursive Aramaic script of the Sogdians that went on to become the literary alphabet of Mongolian. The Uighurs are now Muslim and write their language in a modified form of Arabic. Their country, once called Chinese Turkestan, now bears the official name Xinjiang. I’ve met some Uighurs. They tend to be pleasant people. They grow delicious melons. They like shish kebab. Their music is lovely.

The Chinese government, with its strongman president Xi (whom a confused newsreader on the Indian Doordarshan TV once delightfully called “President Eleventh”), has been constructing vast concentration camps across Xinjiang to eradicate the Uighur people. At least a million Uighurs have been arrested and detained in them for no crime except being who they are— Muslim in religion, and not Han in ethnicity. BBC correspondents have been shown model camps where the inmates were coached on what to say. So what? The Nazis used Theresienstadt to the same purpose, and only somebody wanting to be fooled would be. The BBC was not fooled. Now the BBC is publishing credible reports of the next stage of China’s Endlosung, Final Solution, of the Uighurfrage, the Uighur Question.
“Boarding schools” are being readied for hundreds of thousands of Uighur children. First the adults vanish and are never heard from again. Then, when it’s clear the world acquiesces, they come for the children.

Yes, we know it is Realpolitik (tellingly, another German word) to do business with people you don’t like, and China is a very important player in the world economy. So was Nazi Germany. IBM made plenty of money selling the Germans the card-computation systems that made the Holocaust possible. Professor Deborah Lipstadt, the greatest living scholar of the Holocaust, complained in these pages the other day about the Israeli government making nice to right-wing, anti-Semitic governments in Eastern Europe. Standing up to the Chinese regime is a much bigger deal than arguing with the leaders of Hungary or Poland. I say “regime”, not “people”, because the Chinese people are also victims of tyranny. I remember Tienanmen.

While another Six Million are dying, how can one be a believer in the one God and be silent? Would it not be the ultimate apostasy? A’udu bi-Allah min ash-shaitan ar-rajim. I take refuge in God from the accursed Satan. As a Jew I stand with my Uighur Muslim brothers and sisters. So should the United States. So should the State of Israel. So should you.

About the Author
James R. Russell is Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University (semi-retired), Distinguished Visiting Professor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a part-time Lecturer in Jewish Studies and Biblical Hebrew at California State University, Fresno. He is on the Editorial Board of the journal Judaica Petropolitana, St. Petersburg State University, and a founding member of the International Association for Jewish Studies, chartered in the Russian Federation. His PhD is in Zoroastrian Studies, from the School of Oriental Studies of the University of London; and he taught Ancient Iranian languages and religions at Columbia University from 1982-1992.
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