Hanukkah celebrates the triumph of the light of God's Torah over secular Greek culture as well as the victory of the small in numbers Jewish Maccabees against the mighty Greek Seleucid armies. The war between the Jews and the ancient Greeks had its roots in the greater campaign by Alexander the Great of Macedon to conquer the world, which he successfully did in the nations surrounding Greece and in the Middle and Near East and beyond.
The wars between the ancient Greek Empire that Alexander led against the ancient Persian Empire and other powers that he defeated and subjugated was the world war of its time. A global war of world conquest by ancient Greece is thus an underlying motif of the war that broke out between the Jews and the later Seleucid Greeks that resulted in the unexpected victory of the Jews with the help of God and the reestablishment of the Jewish kingdom in Eretz Yisrael under the Hasmoneans. This is what we celebrate on Hanukkah!
It is therefore fitting that at this time we turn our attention to another world war that took place in modern times, the Second World War (1939–1945) that has been called The War Against The Jews by historian Professor L. Dawidowicz. One of the war's surprising and paradoxical main consequences being the rebirth of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948 as well as an unexpected flowering Renaissance of Torah and Jewish religious life and learning in Israel and America in the decades following the European Holocaust.
Like in the war between the Jews and the ancient Greeks 2,200 years ago, there were many surprises along the way. No one could foresee the consequences of going to war and which side would win or lose. Leaders of nations gambled and took bets on choosing and joining the "winning side" but instead found themselves on the losing side and were shown-up to have made disastrous assumptions about which sides they should be with and be on.
Modern Nazi Germany, like ancient Greece, truly believed it could vanquish the world and murder all the Jews it could capture in the process, as seen during The Holocaust. That was the working assumption they gambled on. But from a Jewish Torah point of view they miscalculated badly because they did not factor in that God would ultimately be on the side of Justice and that He would scramble the nations of the world and ultimately be Merciful to the Jews, even as more than Six Million Jews were murdered by the Nazi Germans and their cohorts, yet about double that number of Jews survived mostly in America, Russia and the Middle East.
God's ways are not known to humankind. The prophet Isaiah (55:8/9) says about God: "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways says the Lord. For as the Heavens are higher than the Earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."
All students of the Second World War (1939–1945) know that by the end of the war the Allies, mainly Britain, America, Russia defeated the Axis, mainly Germany, Italy, Japan. As simple and satisfying as that may sound, if Britain, America, Russia, France had their original first choices it would not have been that way at all and the Axis' road to victory may have instead been paved with Allied
Appeasement—namely by the British
Isolationism—namely by the Americans,
Allying with Nazi Germany—namely by Russia,
Defeatism—namely by France.
When Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1st, 1939, the British, French and Americans did not want to go to war to save anyone and were officially at peace with Nazi Germany, while Russia cynically joined with Hitler by invading and devouring the eastern part of Poland when Russian/Soviet forces invaded Poland on the 17th of September, 1939 a mere sixteen days after the German Blitzkrieg smashed into and destroyed western Poland.
Historians have not stopped debating the meanings and murky origins of the Nazi–Soviet Pact, also known as the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact signed in Moscow on the 23rd of August, 1939 nine days before Germany notoriously triggered the outbreak of World War Two by attacking Poland. Russia, or more officially the USSR, under dictator Joseph Stalin made a Machiavellian deal with Hitler to unite and attack Poland together and to divide the Polish spoils of war between themselves.
Now how bizarre and evil is that? A union between Hitler and Stalin, between the German Wehrmacht and the Russian Red Army, between the arch-Fascist Nazis and the arch-Communist Soviets to go to war together against Poland, a peaceful country, that was also home to over 3,300,000 Polish Jews, that did not in any way pose a realistic military or strategic threat to them, on the contrary all Poland wanted was peace with its two arch-enemies, the Germans and the Russians!
It is truly a wonder that the British and French did not only declare war on Nazi Germany as both Britain and France did on September 3rd, 1939 but why did they not declare the same total war against the USSR/Russia as well?! Britain and France had been caught unprepared for somewhat different reasons. The British prime minister at the time Germany attacked Poland was Neville Chamberlain (1869–1940) who had spent his life and whatever political capital he had at his disposal to appease Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, while France believed it was safe and invulnerable behind its static outdated Maginot Line fortifications against Germany, which Germany eventually outmaneuvered and circumvented by attacking the French, as well as attacking Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg through the unfortified but dense Ardennes Forests on May 10th, 1940.
This is what Wikipedia says about appeasement:
"Appeasement in an international context is a diplomatic policy of making political, material, or territorial concessions to an aggressive power in order to avoid conflict. The term is most often applied to the foreign policy of the UK governments of Prime Ministers Ramsay MacDonald (in office: 1929–1935), Stanley Baldwin (in office: 1935–1937) and (most notably) Neville Chamberlain (in office: 1937–1940) towards Nazi Germany (from 1933) and Fascist Italy (established in 1922) between 1935 and 1939. Under British pressure, appeasement of Nazism and Fascism also played a role in French foreign policy of the period, but was always much less popular than in the United Kingdom.
At the beginning of the 1930s, appeasing concessions were widely seen as desirable—due to the anti-war reaction to the trauma of World War I (1914–1918), second thoughts about the perceived vindictive treatment by some of Germany in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, and a perception that fascism was a useful form of anti-communism. However, by the time of the Munich Pact—concluded on 30 September 1938 between Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy—the policy was opposed by the Labour Party, by a few Conservative dissenters such as future Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for War Duff Cooper, and future Prime Minister Anthony Eden. Appeasement was strongly supported by the British upper class, including royalty, big business (based in the City of London), the House of Lords, and media such as the BBC and The Times."
Which simply means that the vast majority of the British people and its leaders, basically the whole British establishment spent the late 1920s and the entire 1930s, the very time when Hitler and his Nazi hordes had overrun and overtaken Deutschland, trying to make nice and appease the Nazis who firmly controlled Germany from 1933 onwards. At the same time anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom ran very deep. For example, it is well known that the new British King Edward VIII of 1936 and his soon to be wife were openly Nazi sympathizers. While in the decade preceding the outbreak of World War Two, Britain was constantly trying to befriend Germany even to go so far as to first give up parts of Germany that had been taken away such as when the Nazis marched in to grab back the Rhineland.
"After the Nazis took power in 1933, Germany began working towards rearmament and the remilitarization of the Rhineland. On 7 March 1936, using the Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance as a pretext, Chancellor and Führer Adolf Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht to march 20,000 German troops into the Rhineland, which caused joyous celebrations across Germany. The French and the British governments, unwilling to risk war, decided against enforcing the treaties. The remilitarization changed the balance of power in Europe from France and its allies towards Germany by allowing Germany to pursue a policy of aggression in Western Europe that had been blocked by the demilitarized status of the Rhineland."
This was followed by allowing Germany to conquer and annex entire countries such as Austria on March 13th, 1938 during what is known as the Anschluss ("joining" in German—an obvious political euphemism for a brutal dictatorial takeover of a peaceful neighboring country) and cutting up Czechoslovakia on October 1st, 1938 by annexing the Sudetenland in effect destroying a peaceful small country.
Together with Nazi Germany annexing the Sudetenland at that time in 1938, Hungary that was an ally of the Nazis, annexed part of Czechoslovakia and to top it off, Poland that would itself become the victim of Nazi aggression in 1939, joined in with Nazi Germany in 1938 to grab a chunk of Czechoslovakia as well!
The world had gone mad as so called "civilized" nations lunged at each other and gobbled each other up, something Nazi Germany would carry through to an extreme as it would eventually conquer most of Europe.
So the British, and French, were not just guilty of the passivity of appeasement during all of the 1930s but both the British and French also stood by silently as Hitler and the Nazis ordered the German army to march into and retake the Rhineland that Germany lost after World War One, and then, before World War Two had even started, during 1938 Germany conquered Austria and sliced up Czechoslovakia and in the latter case Hungary and Poland jumped in like greedy vultures to bite off other chunks of Czechoslovakia for themselves.
Add in all of that while the world was appeasing and allying with Nazi Germany during the 1930s, from the moment the Nazis came to power and Hitler became the Fuhrer of Germany introducing the most rabid and racist (against German Jews) vicious anti-Semitic decrees, laws and acts against all German Jews who numbered more than 560,000 when the Nazis took over Germany in 1933.
Germany's Jews were mostly highly assimilated and many had intermarried with non-Jewish German men and women. German Jews, after they were offered equal rights in the previous century, ran in droves to become "more Catholic than the Pope" and "more German than the Germans"! Those assimilated German Jews gave their lives by the tens of thousands as loyal soldiers in the Kaiser's German army during World War One (1914–1918).
In spite of the loyalty of German Jews to the German Fatherland, when the Nazis took control of Germany in 1933 they quickly launched anti-Semitic attacks against Jews in the media and on streets all over Germany that culminated with the cruel racist and discriminatory anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws starting from September 15th, 1935 and culminating with the catastrophic November 9/10th, 1938 Kristallnacht riots against the Jews burning down or damaging more than 1,500 synagogues in Germany and Austria (that had been annexed by Germany by that time), smashing and destroying over Jewish-owned 7,000 stores and businesses, arresting and imprisoning over 30,000 German Jews and violently murdering close to one hundred Jews on the streets of Germany for no other reason that they were deemed to be "untermentschen" ("sub-human") Jews!
About half of Germany's Jews who were able to get the right papers managed to escape before the outbreak of war in 1939.
The nations of the world debated what to do about the Jewish refugee "problem" and even met at a special Evian Conference during July 6–15, 1938 held in France to find a solution to the Jewish refugee crisis, and yet the same Western nations had a zero tolerance policy of accepting Jewish refugees from anywhere entering their own countries before and throughout the war.
All this was front page headline news in the democratic Western countries (not the NYTimes, though): The Nuremberg Laws, Kristallnacht, Nazi hate and persecution of the Jews all over Germany and in annexed Austria, even a going-through-the motions-but-doing-nothing-in-the-end Evian Conference acknowledging the suffering of the Jews who wanted to escape from the Nazis, but nevertheless appeasement with Germany remained the top priority, and definitely not saving Jews.
If giving away countries like Austria and Czechoslovakia to the Nazis by the West was no problem, so then why would they deem the problems of a small Jewish religious minority scattered all over Europe as being worth a second thought? As one book about the Holocaust written by Professor M. Penkower puts it: "The Jews Were Expendable".
While the British and French were appeasing the Nazis, the Russians were literally in cahoots and in bed with them as they connived to invade and dissect Poland, and who knows what else they had in mind to do in unison in the future after attacking Poland together?
With the outbreak of war in September of 1939 it was Germany and Russia that were "allies" in invading and destroying Poland!
The British, and the French, who were the first of the so-called "Allies" to declare war on Nazi Germany. The French were forced to do so because of the Franco-Polish Alliance, but by practicing appeasement of Nazi Germany for so long they had all along shown their true intentions of never wanting to go to war with the Germans (they had enough of it from World War One and couldn't stomach another round of bloody fighting) and on the contrary the British and French were eager to befriend and remain close to the Nazi regime as long as they possibly could!
As great as the horror and tragedy of Nazi Germany invading Poland on September 1st, 1939 was, that then in turn set the stage for the annihilation of over three million Polish Jews during the Holocaust, yet somehow even the most ominous, darkest, thickest, blackest cloud has a hidden peculiar silver lining.
Even the greatest tragedy has in it the seeds of redemption and victory and so it came to be that all the British and French appeasement of the Nazis came crashing down when Hitler (naturally) reneged on his so-called treaties and promises and went ahead with his plans to conquer the world regardless of what the world might think, and indeed he was not wrong to think that the world would appease Germany all the way as they had been doing from the 1920s all the way through the 1930s until to Hitler's great surprise (or maybe he was not surprised at all) Britain and France and their colonies declared war on Germany as a result of Germany's invasion of Poland.
Britain and France would soon feel the brunt of Germany's aggression, especially during the Battle of France (May 10 – June 25, 1940) that France would unfortunately lose to Germany, and the Battle of Britain (July 10, 1940 – May 11, 1941) that the British would fortunately barely scrape through.
But while France was occupied and humiliated, Britain and the British Empire would manage to inflict the first major strategic humiliating blow to Germany at the famous Battle of El Alamein in Egypt, July 1 –November 4, 1942 that stopped German General Rommel's Afrika Korps from entering the British Mandate of Palestine in the Jews' Holy Land of Eretz Yisrael where over 500,000 Jews were living by 1944 and who were therefore saved from the Holocaust! The Mufti of Jerusalem, a Nazi cohort, had already planned concentration camps for the valley of Dotan!
The British would, with the passage of time and with the guiding Hand of God, go on to be joined by the Russians and the Americans to defeat Nazi Germany and in turn end the Holocaust and prevent it from taking place in countries were Jews had found refuge and survived, mainly in America, Russia, Britain and the Jews in Arab countries.
God's ways are mysterious, but with the passage of enough time one can see all sorts of Divine Patterns emerging as Britain and France were turned from friends of Nazi Germany and of its Fuhrer into his enemies starting the formation of the real Allies that would eventually unite to defeat Hitler, Nazism and Germany by the end of the Second World War in 1945.
Next: The bizarre story of how Russia went from being allied with Hitler and Nazi Germany to then joining the Allies, and becoming mortal enemies of Hitler, to finally defeat Nazi Germany once and for all.
Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers College–Columbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach – Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 1988–1995, a Trustee of AJOP 1994–1997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 1995–2015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York. He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy.Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at[email protected]