Wednesday, June 10, 2009
[Photograph in a letter sent home by a German solider. It was intercepted by the Polish Home Army. The back of the photo is inscribed “Ukraine 1942, Jewish Aktion, Ivanogrod”]
According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, a miracle means “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs”. In that sense, I believe that the Holocaust was clearly a miracle, although an extremely painful one.
On January 20, 1942 15 leading German government officials, the majority of whom were holders of doctorates, gathered in Berlin to organize the systematic and complete extermination of European Jewry. This was done at the direction of German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. During the next three years, until May 7, 1945, approximately five million innocent, unarmed Jews would be murdered, in addition to the one million who had already been killed previously by the German authorities. This seems to have been a unique event. There may be no comparable example of coolly premeditated mass murder.
The strangeness of the Holocaust cannot be overstated.
First of all, Germans were on the average highly educated and civilized. They were very cultured people. They were not superstitious savages. Prior to 1933, there had been no anti-Semitic violence in Germany since 1819. German Jews had been granted legal equality in 1871. Twelve thousand German Jews gave their lives for the Fatherland from 1914 to 1918. Many German Jews had converted to Christianity, intermarried and had family ties with gentiles. Few were conspicuously observant.
Secondly, in 1942, Germany was in the midst of a tremendous battle for survival, fighting on all fronts against the USSR, England and America. It would lose this battle three years later. The idea of committing precious administrators, troops, trains, fuel, weapons, ammunition, etc to the pointless murder of civilians, civilians who could have worked productively, was not only criminal, it was inexplicable.
The Holocaust is so unbelievable that one can begin to understand the logic behind Holocaust Denial.
Yet we know it happened - but why?
I my humble opinion, there is only one plausible explanation.
The Jewish Enlightenment began in Berlin in 1783 with the publication of a translation of the Pentateuch into German by Moses Mendelssohn. From there it spread across Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, causing the most flagrant, voluntary abandonment of Jewish observance in history. Millions of Jews embraced secular Zionism, Communism and Socialism.
As the Torah predicts, devastation followed. Beginning in Berlin, spreading across Europe but primarily eastward, the war against the Jews spread, just as the Jews’ war against God had spread.
One rabbi, who was later murdered, commented “Because people no longer believe in hell, God brought hell to this world.”
Regarding the over one million children who were killed in Holocaust, the rabbis have taught “minors may die by their fathers sin, by Heavenly decree” Sifre, Devarim 24:147. Also, a child may be a reincarnation of a adult who sinned in a previous life.
While it is true that many Jews, especially those in Poland, were still observant, however even in Poland observance seems to have been weak. Poland had a pre-war Jewish population of 3.3 million. Of those, to the best of my knowledge, no more than 100,000 voted for the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel party in the pre-war Polish Parliament. The secularist Zionist and Bund were far more numerous. And in many cases God may punish the righteous because they did not make sufficient efforts to influence the evil.
On the other hand, in the ultra-Orthodox strongholds in the rural regions of Hungary and Romania I believe that a large percentage, especially young adults and rabbis, did escape the Nazis. Their deportation to Poland began in the spring of 1944 and many survived until the war ended. Many Lithuanian rabbinical students also survived. Many of them fled to Shanghai, China or were deported to Siberia by the Soviet government in 1941, where most survived the war. These groups, together with their descendents, make up the bulk of Orthodoxy today.
North African Jewry was far less affected by the Jewish Enlightenment and also far less affected by the Holocaust.
The Jewish communities in America and Israel, although also mostly irreligious, were not affected by the Holocaust, perhaps because God does not wish the Judaism to be entirely extinguished and therefore He has left these countries as safe havens. Additionally, they were new communities, which were not yet deserving of such a terrible fate on a communal level. Let us hope that we all soon repent and avert any future catastrophes, God willing. We must not forget for a moment the enormity of our responsibilities and the horrendous consequences of failure. Ever action is ultimately rewarded or punished, in this world or in the next world. The Holocaust was simply a case where it clearly happened in this world.
Important to note as well, the perpetrators did not escape without punishment. The number of Germans who perished during the war (counting only those who lived within the pre-war borders of Germany) seems to approximately equal the number of Jews killed by the Germans. What goes around comes around.
It is true that I am implying that generally the victims of the Holocaust were sinners who were deserving of their fate however I believe that this is in fact obviously true and we will honor their deaths by learning from this.
In my opinion, the Holocaust is one of the strongest proofs of the truth of Judaism.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 7:38 AM