Op-Ed: Nip Evil in the Bud: Lessons of WWII
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
As a result of the sour end to “Operation Pillar of Defense”, there is room for some reflection on the important and bitter historical issue of World War II. The Torah commands us: “Remember days long gone by. Ponder the years of each generation” (Deuteronomy 32:7).
History does not repeat itself. Every generation has the responsibility to deal with its new challenges. Nevertheless, there are some challenges which repeat themselves, and when failed to be dealt with – result in calamity. The struggle against the wicked is the most notable among them.
Despite the significant difference between the Nazi’s and the P.L.O. and Hamas, drawing conclusions from the difficult story of the outbreak of World War II are called for, as former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon saw fit to compare the international pressure on Israel to establish a Palestinian state, to the world’s pressure on Czechoslovakia to relinquish Sudetenland to the Nazi’s.
The Restrictions Imposed on Germany
The First World War was more devastating than all previous wars; approximately ten million people were killed, and another twenty million injured. After the war, there was a strong feeling that events could not continue in this way, and all must be done to ensure such a terrible war would never break out again. To this end, the victorious powers – France, Britain, and the United States, set severe restrictions on Germany, who, in their opinion, was solely responsible for the outbreak of the war, in the Treaty of Versailles.
Germany promised to establish a democratic regime that would safeguard human rights, not to develop heavy military industry, not to form an army, and to surrender territories under dispute with its neighbors. Furthermore, huge payments were imposed on Germany, which, in effect, were not collected, but served as a threat to compel the German’s to fulfill their agreements.
It was also agreed to establish the “League of Nations” to resolve disputes peacefully and to prevent wars, with the founding nations vowing to use their powers to prevent military aggressions.
Germany after World War I
After a few years of recovery, an accelerated process of economic, scientific, and cultural development began in democratic Germany, to the point where it became Europe’s leading power. Being the most developed European country, many Jews emigrated there.
In spite of this, many German’s felt humiliated by losing the war, and the severe restrictions imposed on them. Incidentally, to a certain extent they were correct; it is difficult to conclude that Germany was the only country to blame for the outbreak of the First World War.
Crisis and the Rise of the Nazi’s
About twelve years after the war, Germany, together with the entire Western world, found itself in an economic crisis, and with massive unemployment. In addition to this, the German government suffered from instability, seeing as it had no democratic tradition.
Under these circumstances, the Nazi Party rose to power, promising the German’s stability and respect. In 1932, they received 37% of the vote, thus becoming the largest party in the parliament. The Democrats, who feared the Socialists and the Communists more, favored joining a coalition with the Nazi’s, and thus Hitler, may his name be blotted out, became the Chancellor of Germany.
The First Missed Opportunity
In concurrence with the agreements signed at the end of the First World War, this was the stage where the superpowers should have intervened and removed the Nazi’s from power, because it was obvious to all that the positions of the Nazi party were diametrically opposed to the values of democracy, peace, and human rights.
Intervention at that time might have also involved employing a more limited military force, because Germany did not yet have an army, and in all likelihood, the fear of going to war against the superpower’s would have quickly brought down the Nazi regime.
But the fear of war, even a small one, involving a number of losses, deterred the Allied leaders, who preferred trying to work with the Nazi regime through diplomatic means (roughly similar to the concessions made to the P.L.O. after breaching all its agreements, from the first day they arrived in Gaza).
Developing the Military Industry
The Nazi regime continually grew stronger, abolishing all democratic rights, and in 1935, announced the cancellation of the Versailles Treaty, the renewal of the arms industry, and the formation of an army.
In 1936, the emerging German army, which was still small, entered into the Rhineland, which, according to the agreements, was meant to be demilitarized.
In the meantime, the Nazi’s signed a pact with Mussolini’s Italy, and Japan. Both of these countries were under totalitarian and expansionist regimes – Italy in Africa, and Japan in China.
The Nazi’s aim in building an army was clear to all: the first stage was to conquer the territories that Germany had lost, and the second stage was to realize the vision of the Third Reich, according to which Germany must rule over Europe, with the non-Aryan nations required to serve the superior Aryan race.
However, although the racist Nazi ideology was known, the Nazi’s obscured their plans, declaring their interest in peace, alongside border adjustments and the restoration of German honor, which had been damaged as a result of the previous war.
The Second Missed Opportunity
Following such a flagrant violation of the agreements, the Allied countries should have gone to war against Germany. This was their commitment upon signing the agreements, and the threat against them was clear. Even at this stage, the war against the Nazi regime should not have been difficult, because the German army was still small, and the alliance with Italy and Japan could not challenge the military might of the Allies.
Nevertheless, the Allies preferred to negotiate with the Nazis, in an attempt to resolve their demands through peaceful means. Consequently, they indirectly acknowledged the validity of the Nazi demands, both the return of lands taken from them during the war, and their right to maintain an army and fulfill their professed ideology.
In other words, the erosion of the Allies position was twofold:
1) A concession on compliance to the agreements, and
2) a concession on the moral principles underlying the agreement.
There were two causes for this erosion: pacifism, and fear of the spread of Communism.
The Pacifist Movement
In Europe, in the years following the First World War, a fervent pacifist movement arose (similar to the current ‘Peace Now’ movement in Israel), particularly amongst intellectuals and authors. The pacifists believed that every war must have two sides, and if one side advocates disarmament and peaceful dialogue, there can be no war. Even intellectuals such as Einstein, for example, espoused this bizarre position.
In such an atmosphere it was difficult to maintain the strength of the army, let alone employ it, to compel the Nazis to fulfill the agreements.
In just a few weeks after World War II broke out, the Nazis had occupied Western Europe. France was captured within forty days. The primary reason the pace of conquest was not quicker was the slow-moving tanks. The tragic result of the pacifist movement was revealed: true, there cannot be an actual war without two sides, because the side prepared for war easily conquers the unprepared side (roughly similar to the idea that granting the Palestinian’s a state and army would lessen their aspirations of war against us).
Fear of Communism
At the same time, the free world was extremely concerned about the rise of communism. In Russia, an evil regime arose which tried to dispatch satellites to every possible place in the world, while using subversion and violence with no inhibitions whatsoever.
The liberal forces in Germany initially preferred an alliance with the Nazis to prevent the rise of communism. The leaders of the European countries had hoped that a strong Nazi regime, totally opposed to communism, would fight Russia, thus exempting the West from having to go to war head on with “red” superpower (roughly similar to wanting to reach an agreement with the P.L.O., so they can deal with the terror and Hamas instead of us, since, in Rabin's now ludicrous but famous line, the P.L.O. will take care of them “without ‘Bagatz’ (the High Court), and without ‘B’tzelem’ (a pro-Arab, human rights organization)).
Once again, it became clear that fear of war played a major factor in shaping the acquiescent policy of Western countries.
The Extraordinary Talent of the Wicked
The extraordinary talent of every criminal, let alone when talking about wicked people on a global scale such as Hitler and Stalin, is that they know how to sense the fear of their victim, and exploit it. If they sense no fear, they prefer to retreat so as not to get caught up in failure. Since everything for them is based on power; failure is usually the end of their career, since they lose the foundation upon which they rely.
Apparently, if Hitler had feared that France and England would go to war against him, he would have restrained himself, in order to at least maintain his rule in Germany. But he sensed that even though he was working against them, they preferred to adopt an optimistic view – as long as they did not have to bear the brunt of war. Thus, he was able to intensify the dreadful German war machine, without the military intervention of the Western countries to stop him.
The Claim over Sudetenland
After a few years the German regime was completely totalitarian. In 1938, Austria was annexed to Germany under the pretext of unification of the entire German people, by means of force and threats – albeit, with the support of many Austrians.
In the same year, Germany launched a claim to annex the Sudetenland which had belonged to Czechoslovakia, since the majority of its inhabitants were German speakers.
This claim was the greatest violation of the agreements with Germany. Moreover, the Western powers were guarantors to the territorial security of the new states established in Central Europe.
The Czechs hoped that the Western European countries would stand on their side. They were ready to fight for their lives with their relatively small, but modern-equipped army, and could have made a significant contribution to the war against Nazi expansionism.
But the leaders of France and Britain once again preferred to surrender to the Nazis, and without including the Czechs in the negotiations on their fate, relinquished the Sudetenland in their name, when it was clear that the Czech Republic was being abandoned to its fate and would soon be completely conquered (roughly similar to what would later be called “victims of peace” here in Israel).
This agreement, which was completed in Munich, was presented with a triumphant declaration that, indeed, the diplomatic effort had achieved its goal – the welfare of Europe, no less!
The Pact with Russia – Ribbentrop Molotov
The Western countries’ hopes that the Nazis would fight their battle against Communist Russia, proved false. Suddenly it became clear that secretly, an alliance had been struck between Russia and Germany, whereby the two countries would conquer Poland and divide it between themselves, while agreeing not to fight one another for ten years.
Stalin, who had already murdered millions of Russians in a non-ending series of ‘cleansings’, completed at that time a military ‘cleansing’, by executing most of the senior officers. He needed several years to strengthen the army, and therefore preferred that the Germans fight the West, not he.
Although according to his racial concept, Hitler should have first conquered Eastern Europe, thereby enslaving the Slavic people as servants of the Aryan race, he sensed the weakness of the West, and conversely, the determination of Russia. Therefore, he chose to launch his conquests on the western front, providing himself territory, a developed industry, notoriety in the world – and more importantly, pride among his own people, who still remembered the humiliation of the First World War.
Pointedly, after the Nazi’s conquered France, they made a point to hold the signing of the agreement of surrender in the same railway carriage in which German representatives signed the agreement of surrender at the end of the First World War.
The Last Missed Opportunity
The German invasion of Poland was the most offensive violation of the Munich Agreement, in which the Western countries had conceded the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in exchange for a stable peace, and an assurance of all future agreements.
Indeed, France and England immediately declared a state of war against Germany, but in reality, refrained from any act of war. They still hoped the Nazis would be satisfied with Poland.
Had the French and British gone to war against Germany, their armies could have been utilized in the most convenient way, from their perspective. Even if at the time they could not defeat Germany, as the German army was large, strong, trained, and equipped with superior weapons, they could have caused the Nazis significant damage, and achieved a cease-fire request from the Germans, under conditions preventing Germany from continuing to grow stronger.
But even then, they were afraid to take an offensive action, preferring to wait in defensive positions. Thus, within a few weeks, Germany conquered one country after another, while on every occasion, the Allies stood by, astonished at the aggression and audacity of the Germans. (This is reminiscent of the astonishment of our “experts”, who suddenly realized that Hizbullah and Hamas have tens of thousands of missiles, and are ready to use them against the densely-populated cities of Israel. They are also surprised at the build-up of terrorist organizations, and the U.S. is surprised at the radical Islamic nature of the “democratic” revolution of the “Arab Spring”).
The conquest of Western Europe ended earlier than expected. The German troops remained intact, since they faced almost no armies in battle. On the contrary, Germany became enriched by means of the conquests, and could further intensify its war machine.
Thus, the Nazis were tempted to open another front against Soviet Russia. The Russians, not yet recovered from the ‘cleansings’ of the top military brass, suffered terrible defeats. Tens of thousands of weapons and millions of soldiers were captured. Within a few months, territory belonging to Russia in Europe was almost completely occupied.
The painful truth must be told: After the Western countries had not prepared themselves to stop the Nazi monster, it became clear that in the face of Nazi dictatorship, the only opposition was the brutal Soviet dictatorship.
The Soviet government evacuated millions of people to the east, employed at work around the clock, renewing the arms industry. A delay of three minutes arriving to work could end in a death sentence.
A soldier taken captive was considered a traitor, punishable by death, or a long prison sentence. A soldier who deserted or retreated without orders – was killed.
Millions of soldiers were sent to the frontline in order to stop the German’s with their bodies, while, in advance, it was clear they would only be able to temporarily halt the progress of the Nazis.
Within a year the Soviet efforts began to bear fruit. Factories produced tens of thousands of guns, tanks, and new models of aircraft. Millions of young soldiers were recruited from all over Russia and sent to bloody battles; they were the ones who finally broke the Nazi army.
Even after the Americans and British finally managed to invade Normandy in the summer of 1944, at a terrible price, eighty percent of the German army was still mobilized to fight Russia on the eastern front, and they are the ones who actually defeated Germany.
The Americans fought in North Africa, as well as bitterly and bravely on yet another front against the Japanese and defeated them.
Even then, in the midst of the war, the leaders of the Western European countries thought that it was a good thing that Germany and Russia weakened each other. Consequently, they took their time about opening of a second front in the west, so that Communist Russia would be significantly weakened.
In the end, the harsh result was that the mighty and victorious Russian army captured all of Eastern Europe, and part of Central Europe, and governed the area with ruthless communism. The Western European countries were forced to relinquish all these countries (Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, East Germany, and others) which were previously under their auspices, while their governments-in-exile still waited in London for the fulfillment of the promises made to them after Germany was defeated.
Had they opened the western front two years earlier, as the Russians begged them to do, they could have ensured democratic and liberal governments in most countries of Eastern Europe, and might have had a positive impact on the Soviet Union. Only after the collapse of the Soviet Union, forty-five years later, were these countries liberated.
For the Jewish people, these failures were disastrous. A third of our nation was eliminated by means of terrible murders that had not been seen in human history, and the survivors carry with them scars that will take generations to heal.
A Bitter Lesson and a Warning for the Future
Due to moral weakness and cowardice, and because of the influence of the Pacifist movement, Western countries have replaced liberalism with defeatism, the love of peace with widespread submissiveness to evil and the wicked.
This is what we have learned concerning the Mashiach (Messiah), who, in the future, will restore the strength of justice, and initially, will wage war against the wicked – “…and he will smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked”, and afterwards “The wolf also will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid” (Isaiah 11:1-6).
This column was written with the assistance of my colleague and friend, Rabbi Ze’ev Sultanovich.