The Holocaust and its Causes
Among devout followers of the liberal left-wing, it is widely accepted that the Holocaust occurred due to the absence of the foundations of equality and democracy in Germany, its allies, or in the countries it occupied. Such an approach views the Holocaust of the Jewish nation as an example of a terrible disaster caused by the lack of these values. Consequently, the main challenge presently facing humanity is to impose the values of democracy and equality on all of the countries in the world.
However, if we honestly wish to examine whether this approach indeed ensures desirable behavior, we need to analyze the positions of the two meticulously democratic countries – the United States and Britain. Their response to the Holocaust is immensely important in examining the significance of democracy in protecting the values of life and human dignity, inasmuch as even during wartime, concurrent to emergency regulations, all democratic institutions such as the parliament and government operated in an orderly fashion. In America, elections were held for the President, Senate, and Congress as scheduled, despite the country being involved in World War II from the beginning of 1941.
Values worth Fighting For, and the Jewish Holocaust
The British and Americans repeatedly proclaimed, with all the tools at their disposal that they were fighting on behalf of ideals, for the sake of humanity, and against the inhumane Satan. Such declarations are extremely important, but they are also morally binding.
Indisputably, the most horrific barbarity perpetrated was against the Jews. The Nazis gathered them into ghettos, depriving them of their freedom, dignity, and property. The Nazis confined the Jews in dreadful conditions, causing many of them to die of hunger, thirst, cold, and disease. In the end, they transported them in cattle cars, under appalling conditions, to be mass-murdered in the death camps. Nothing can be more diabolical than this.
Perhaps the difficulty in requesting a country – even one that declares all its war efforts are on behalf of rescuing human morality – to open an additional front and sacrifice thousands of soldiers for the sole purpose of saving millions of foreigners, can be understood. However, at the very least, it could have been expected that they would have carried out two minimal actions to save the Jews: issuing temporary visas, and bombing the death camps. But the two glorious democracies refused to do even this.
One of the most effective methods of saving Jews was by issuing temporary resident visas to one of the countries not controlled by Germany. Tens of thousands of Jews were saved by means of such visas, which righteous diplomats– such as the Swedish Raoul Wallenberg in Hungary, and the Japanese Sugihara in Kovno (Kaunas) – agreed to issue. However, what a handful of diplomats were willing to do under personal risk, seeing as they acted in contradiction to their government’s positions, liberal countries refused to do, legally.
Bombing the Death Camps
There was another means of saving Jews: disrupting the method of extermination, namely, bombing the death camps, and railways leading to them. In the final two years of the war, delaying trains for two or three days meant postponing the murder of tens of thousands of people. Bombardment of the camps could have hindered the mass-murder for an even longer period of time. Had they bombed repeatedly, they could have disrupted the majority of the murderous operations in the camps. It can be assumed that in this way, over a million Jews could have been saved.
However, representatives of the democratic countries claimed that bombing the camps would have entailed diverting aircraft from attacking military targets to other aims. In reality though, a very large number of bombs were earmarked for civilian and industrial targets, but their damage to Germany’s industry was minimal since the majority of factories were underground. The Americans and the British realized this immediately, but nevertheless, refused to divert their planes to the death camps. For countless nights, thousands of planes departed to bomb all through Germany and Poland, but not one of them was sent to bomb the death camps and the railways.
Why didn’t they Bomb?
For years, American representatives claimed they did not have accurate information about the location of the death camps. When survivors of the death camps testified that they saw American and British planes pass overhead flying to other destinations, they claimed the survivors had mistakenly identified the planes, and that in truth, only German aircraft flew overhead. This was a lie. After the archives were opened, it was discovered that British and American planes departing from British territory, bombed industrial targets eight kilometers from Auschwitz. They flew over Auschwitz, photographed the camps, saw the smoke billowing from the furnaces – but did not have even one bomb to save the Jews.
During the war years, Jews living in the United States and Britain, and representatives of the Zionist movement, tried to persuade their leaders to act on behalf of the Jews, but they were given the runaround. The “Bergson Group”, led by Hillel Kook, deviated from the accepted policy of the Jewish leadership. They appealed directly to public opinion – bypassing the administration and the Jewish establishment – utilizing the mass-media, such as movies, plays, and rallies in which they described the terrible suffering of the Jews. As a result, the governments could no longer remain silent, and announced the convening of a conference in Bermuda on the topic of “political refugees.”
As later became clear, the purpose of the conference on the island of Bermuda, was to diffuse public pressure. In the conference’s deliberations, Britain and the U.S. claimed they could not issue numerous visas to Jews because, at the very most, they were able to absorb no more than a thousand people a month! In all of the British Empire, which included India and several countries in Asia and Africa, they couldn’t find a place to rescue more than a thousand people! Britain refused to grant entry visas even into the Land of Israel – the location agreed upon by the League of Nations to serve as a national home for the Jewish people. The yishuv ha’Yehudi (the Jewish community living in the Land of Israel at the time) was willing to accept any number required, but the British refused to alter in any way whatsoever, the severe restrictions on the entry of Jews to Israel. Britain and Churchill did not want to save Jews! The Americans, as well, refused to issue entry visas to countries under their control – eventemporary visas until the war was over.
A deal to exchange trucks for Jews was proposed, but since it was decided against negotiating with the Nazis at all, the proposal was shelved. In the meantime, representatives of the extolled democracies raised concerns that if the Nazis agreed to release millions of undesirable people, the democratic countries were liable to find themselves in an extremely difficult situation, inasmuch as they would be required to find them a place to live, and maybe even feed them. So, it was better they die…
It is important to note that the ‘Bermuda Conference’ was convened in the spring of 1943, when it was already presumable that the Germans would lose the war. It took place after their defeat in Stalingrad, and just before their defeat in Kursk. Subsequently, the Germans were in retreat. Nevertheless, in these two years, over three million Jews were murdered.
During the war years, Henry Morgenthau, the Jewish U.S. Treasury Secretary, also tried to rescue his brothers in Europe. Morgenthau was the one who saved America from the Great Depression since Roosevelt had no knowledge of economics. The only privilege granted Morgenthau was managing economic policy. All his pleas on behalf of the Jews fell on deaf ears. Roosevelt did not want to save Jews!
Only towards the end of the war as a result of public pressure, was it agreed to allocate a significant amount of money for Morgenthau to rescue Jews. He worked alone, without cooperation from the Department of Defense or the C.I.A. Roosevelt apparently gave instructions not to cooperate with him; only middle-level agents agreed to assist. Despite this, the money reached its destination via secret agents, and was used to bribe local German officials and organize escape routes from areas were Jews still remained (mainly from Hungary). According to estimates, approximately 200,000 Jews may have been saved through these rescue operations.
The Cause of Indifference: Antisemitism
Devout followers of the democratic religion are unwilling to accept this, but the Holocaust was the result of only one thing: generations of antisemitism, lead with monstrous brutality by the Nazis – but with far too many partners, even among democratic countries. True, the local residents of the occupied countries also had a stake in stealing property. But among the Allied governments, senior officials, and army commanders, it was a deep-rooted, pathological, and irrational antisemitism that caused numerous people in the U.S. and Britain to refrain from taking any action that might rescue Jews.
How great it would be if democracy and liberalism could rectify the world. However, the problems are much deeper. Just as democracy failed to help the U.S. and Britain to save Jews, so too, democracy will not be useful in solving any substantial conflict, anywhere in the world.
The Only Solution: Absolute Divine Morality
While it is true that antisemitism is the gravest moral disease, yet it shows us that moral problems have deeper roots. Superficial equality is not the answer. The solution must be based on a foundation of morals and values, stemming from a passionate and absolute belief in the values of truth and goodness, including a profound appreciation for man created in the image of God, together with great respect for differences between individuals, nations, and cultures.
Just as the Communist formula of economic equality failed to cure the world, so too, democratic equal rights will fail. Only education towards values and morality will cure the world.
Equality and democracy are meaningful only to the extent they are based on a true, moral foundation.
The Case for Democracy
Indeed, there is an important advantage to democracy. Thanks to freedom of speech, the “Bergson Group” was able to influence American public opinion until eventually, towards the end of the war, succeeded in leading a significant rescue operation. Today as well, thanks to American public opinion, the U.S. administration is forced to adopt a pro-Israel policy.
This demonstrates that it is forbidden to lose hope in people, especially those who share in principle these values, like so many people in the United States. Antisemitism, nonetheless, is still alive and kicking in Europe and around the world. If, God forbid, we were faced with a similar situation today, seemingly the government policies in democratic countries would not be any better towards us. However, on the other hand, public opinion could be influenced.
Unfortunately, the Israeli government fails to act in this field at all. Instead, they are busy equating spraying graffiti on walls to murderous terrorist attacks. In such a situation, even without any adversaries, we will lose the war of public opinion.
This article was written based on a class given in Yeshiva Har Bracha by my good friend, Rabbi Ze’ev Sultanovich.