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Comments about Their Comments
by Lawrence Bush
I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed. I’m telling you there is a reason these dictatorial people take guns first.” —Ben Carson on CNN
WHEN THE BIALYSTOK Ghetto uprising began on August 16, 1943, there were only 25 rifles and 100 pistols in the hands of 300 young Jewish fighters. When 500 Jewish slave laborers rebelled in a concentration camp in Lutsk, Ukraine on December 11, 1942, they used axes, knives, iron bars, bricks, and a few small firearms to throw back Nazi soldiers three times. When “Uncle Misha” Gildenman and his son Simkha led 16 Jews to the forests from the Korets, Ukraine ghetto on September 25, 1942, they were armed only with two guns and a butcher knife; they had to ambush police stations to build an arsenal and arm their partisan band.
Dr. Ben Carson is not entirely wrong, then, in suggesting that had the Jews of Europe been armed, “the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished.” As it was, Jewish resistance to the Nazi campaign of ghettoization, starvation, disease, and suicidal despair between 1939 and 1941 forced the Nazis to expend enormous resources to murder Jews more systematically after 1942. Had more Jews been better armed and better trained in the use of arms, they might have slowed the “Final Solution” even further than they did.
This would hardly have been adequate, however, to stop Hitler, with the vast German military machine at his back, in his obsessive pursuit of his race war against the Jews. To suggest otherwise, to believe that more pistols and rifles in the hands of a persecuted minority group could have made a real mark against the Nazi military, is to have a grossly distorted understanding of the reality the Jews faced.
The fact is that there were hundreds of acts of armed resistance by Jews against Nazism. We have detailed some of that resistance in our Autumn 2015 issue, and analyzed some of the reasons why the memory of it has been repressed. The scope of the resistance is truly breathtaking: Along with uprisings in the Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Sobibor death camps, there were ghetto uprisings, large and small, bombings and other acts of sabotage, attacks on transport trains en route to death camps, uprisings in slave-labor camps, partisan battles in the forests, and much more, in every country where the Nazis did their damage.
Yes, weapons were always scarce; in the well-known Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 19, 1943, it was pistols and Molotov cocktails against tanks and warplanes. Unfortunately, however, Dr. Carson’s glib comment has done nothing to spread knowledge about Jewish resistance to Nazism — resistance that was led, he would probably be appalled to know, largely by young people of the left, socialists, communists, and Zionists. Instead, by implying that an armed Jewish population could have undone the German Wehrmacht, he has simply fed the popular “sheep-to-slaughter” mythology about the Holocaust.
Even worse, he has invoked conditions of dictatorship, genocide and world war in order to provoke fear about gun control of any kind in today’s United States — as though our government were fascistic, and as though there were sensible parallels to be drawn between such common-sense measures as background checks at gun shows and Nazi demands to surrender all weapons on pain of death. Such a crackpot, paranoid analogy should be beyond the pale of a serious presidential candidate, as it is offensive to all people who understand the difference between American democracy and the Nazi system our democracy helped to defeat, at great cost, in World War II.
[The Grand Mufti] flew to Berlin. Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here.’ ‘So what should I do with them?’ he asked. He said, ‘Burn them’.” —Benjamin Netanyahu at the 37th World Zionist Congress
THAT ARAB ANIMOSITY towards Zionism and Jews goes back to the earliest days of the Zionist movement, and that it often took on murderous forms, ranging from individual shootings to wholesale pogroms, are facts. As soon as Jews in Palestine began to assert themselves and grow in population (and grow the economy), they were subjected to violent assault, and it has ever been thus.
The meeting between Adolf Hitler and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem that Netanyahu cites, however, took place in November, 1941. By then, Einsatzgruppen (Nazi mobile killing squads) had been murdering tens of thousands of Jews in Poland, Lithuania, and other Central European and Soviet territories for five months; it took just two more months, with the realization of the difficulty of mass shootings and mass burials, for the Final Solution, the system of ghettoization, deportation, and death camps, to be devised at the Wannsee Conference.
Hitler had every intention of murdering the Jews before he met the Grand Mufti; he had, in fact, been inspired for years by his study of the American extermination of Indians through starvation, disease, ghettoization (“reservations”), and mass shootings.
Be that as it may, for Netanyahu — who has strangled the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with his bare hands more than once — to be justifying his policy of ongoing occupation, ghettoization, and attrition based on some “eternal hatred” theory of history is shameful. The two-state solution was rooted in the understanding that these two people, the Palestinians and the Jews of Israel, both with legitimate claims to self-determination on the same land, could not possibly live together, at least not for generations to come, given their long, shared history of violence and rejectionism. Netanyahu has had every opportunity, as the central power-broker in Israel, to put such a plan into motion and turn everyone’s attention towards the future, an optimistic future of state-building and peace-keeping. Instead, he has deceitfully said “Not yet, not yet,” over and over again to the peace process — to the point at which the two-state solution could not now be implemented, even by a pro-peace government, without Israel suffering through a civil war with its own settler movement and their political base.
There is nothing that Netanyahu can say about Jewish history that is not tainted by his political ideology — an ideology that seeks the status of perpetual victimhood in order to justify every act of violence, occupation, and oppression as self-defense.
Lawrence Bush edits Jewish Currents.