Monday, September 10, 2012

The Political Mistakes Of 1938: It's Déjà Vu

World Politics & The Jews

Chamberlain Returns With An AgreementNeville Chamberlain holds the paper containing the resolution to commit to peaceful methods signed by both Hitler and himself on his return from Munich on September 30, 1938. At Heston Aerodrome, he says: "[T]he settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine (waves paper to the crowd and receives loud cheers and "Hear Hears"). Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains but I would just like to read it to you ...". Later that day he stood outside Number 10 Downing Street and again read from the document and concluded: "My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time."
Photo Credit: British Ministry of Information, Sept 30, 1938.
Source: Wikipedia

One of the existential slogans of the Jewish People is "Never Again"; we all know what it means and what it refers to. For more than fifty years after the Holocaust ("The Shoah"), those words held a certain meaning and resonated to some degree, often small, but nevertheless still resonated. But as the survivors from the Second World War die off, as the witnesses to the genocides become fewer in number each year, and as the collective memories of the twentieth-century's worst state massacre dim and fade, so, it appears, does the moral lessons needed to sustain this planet.

In 1938, the Jewish People, without a nation to call their own, were in dire circumstances in Germany, a nation under the spell and delusion of nationalism, fascism and utopianism. The good peoples of the world, under the direction of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, decided to convene a conference, which met in France, in Évian-les-Bains, and hence it was aptly named the Évian Conference. Historians and those of a certain age know it well, but it's worth recounting for the uninformed; as Wikipedia puts it:
The Évian Conference was convened at the initiative of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in July 1938 to discuss the issue of increasing numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. For eight days, from July 6 to 13, representatives from 32 countries met at Évian-les-Bains, France. Twenty-four voluntary organizations also attended, as observers, many of whom presented plans orally and in writing.[1] Journalists came from all over the world to observe.
The facts by now are well known: the U.S. and Britain made a secret pact not to admit any more Jews than the quotas set (In 1938, my country, Canada admitted 584 Jews); and, simply put, the conference was a charade and ended in utter failure, a failure of morality and good will. (Only one nation, the Dominican Republic agreed to accept a large number of Jews.) The greatest victims of the failure were, of course, the Jews; an even greater victim was Morality, who was kept in a cold, dark room. What came out of that conference was nothing substantial; the result was that Hitler's Nazi regime knew that the world cared little for the Jews, and the Jewish People were essentially on their own for survival. Nazi German had the green light to go ahead with its malicious and evil plans; and we all know what happened next.

Why are we taking about this? you might ask. Well, those of you who know me already know where this is leading. Good. So, here we are, more than seventy years later, seventy-four years, to be precise. Israel faces an existential threat from Iran, which it intends to carry out; and what does the international community do (namely, the P5 +1)? Very little. More talks, perhaps; more conferences, yes. Wait for sanctions to work, yes, again. Iran has ignored seven "red lines" from the U.S. in the last eighteen years, with little consequence.

It gets worse. There is also speculation in the Israeli press, and not without warrant, that the Obama Administration has made a secret back-channel deal with Iran to remain neutral. Nice. So much for supporting your democratic friends. Think appeasement; think Chamberlain. [It is important to note that Chamberlain's policies of appeasement had huge support in Britain, which shows the dangers and foolishness of relying on public consent.]

You might protest that it's not the same, that the world has learned its lessons, that we'll never allow another genocide of the Jews to take place. If the truism that "action speaks louder than words" has any meaning, if it has any bearing on political action, more then ever, it has to be true today. Although it's true that Israel is a strong and determined nation and is planning for all contingencies, the small democratic nation should not have to bear the burden alone. History should not repeat itself.

So, the Jews in Israel are concerned; the Jews in the West are concerned; the Jews everywhere are concerned. We are not convinced; we need reassurance. Where will this come from? 


  1. The situation is indeed terrifying. In the Haggadah we read: B'khol dor va-dor ..., which I translate as "In every lifetime they rise up against us to destroy us, but the Holy One, blessed be He, saves [two-thirds of] us from their hands." Is it about time for one-third of the Jews to be killed? I am very frightened.

    1. Understandably so; when will the world awaken from its slumber?

  2. I am mystified by the moral mess the West is in regarding timely and appropriate support of our traditional ally, the small but strong Israel. But I believe Israel will continue to adapt to ever-changing modern geo-political realities. So much so that I for one would expect a 'swift and sure' preemptive (Do they still use such a term? Does it apply here?) unilateral airstrike on some Iranian 'installation' or other very soon. I imagine Israel is already prepared to deal with the political fallout. Better that kind, I imagine some would say, than the other.
    I still believe there are, and always have been, those good among us 'Goyim' who will be there for our Jewish friends, as individuals, and as families, come what may. Small mercy.
    Meanwhile, in the West, in Europe, and all around her, the beat goes on against Israel...

    1. Dear Frank Columbo:

      You're right to say that there are always good moral persons, regardless of their religion or political affiliation. The problem, it seems, is that such persons are rare and not always holding the reins of political power. Nevertheless, thank you for your support and wise commentary. I would call it a preemptive strike.


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