Shalom from Tel Aviv!
What makes an Israeli and Israeli? Why is he different than, say, and American, Englishman or German?
Actually what makes him a Jew from the Diaspora Canada, France or South America different from an Israeli Jew?
During this Year of the Jubilee, the 50th anniversary of Israel’s resurrection from the ashes of ancient history, we want to offer you an opportunity to peer deeply into the heart and soul of the Israeli people. Reading these articles will give insight as to what makes this nation act and react as it does.
The Jewish soul has been formed, first of all, by three thousand years of heritage. Israel is both the object of God’s eternal closeness, and the evil one’s intent to utterly corrupt and destroy her.
But the greatest influence on the character of the modern Israeli Jew, especially over the last 50 to 75 years, is very clearly two events: (1) The loss of 6,000,000 family members in the Holocaust, and (2) the life and death struggle to raise up a nation out of a stricken, deserted land, surrounded by bitterly hostile neighbors with one single intent annihilation of the Jews who reached these shores.
We are reprinting two extremely interesting and revealing articles written by Israeli trail blazers from the generation that created the modern state of Israel. They reflect the soul of the people who survived the holocaust and who fought to see Israel rise again.
The first article is written by Moshe Arens, whose family immigrated to the U.S. when he was 14. He served in the U.S. army and graduated from M.I.T., and then immigrated to Israel in 1948 at the age of 23. In 1974, Arens became a member of the Knesset and later an ambassador to the U.S. He has served in various governments as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defense. He was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mentor.
The second article is written by Ariel Sharon, one of the most outstanding, controversial, bold and charismatic military/political figures on the Israeli scene. Born in 1928, he joined the Jewish underground forces at the age of 14. He became the great military hero of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 when he brilliantly surrounded the Egyptian army that was threatening to invade Israel’s heartland.
He also orchestrated the controversial war in Lebanon that ultimately resulted in Prime Minster Menachem Begin’s resignation and leaving public life. He is currently serving in the cabinet of Benjamin Netanyahu. His great love for the Land of Israel endears him to the right wing and the settlers who see him as a true representative of “Greater Israel,” the full border s of Israel as promised in the Bible.
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The Abandonment of the Jews
Written by: Moshe Arens
On Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day we obey the biblical injunction “Zachor: Remember what the Amalekites did to you.”
We cannot forget the many accomplices the Germans found among the Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Romanians and Hungarians, nor the indifference with which most of the world watched the German attempt to exterminate the Jewish people. In effect, the Jewish people were abandoned to their tragic fate by the governments of nations engaged in battling Germany during World War II.
The story of two ships, loaded with refugees seeking a haven from the Nazi terror, symbolized the refusal of countries throughout the world to grant a refuge even if temporary to the Jews fleeing the German murder machine. The St. Louis and the Struma were two among many such ships, barges and boats all truly life boats that sailed the seas seeking a safe harbor in which to discharge their human cargo.
In 1939, the 930 Jewish refugees from Germany on the St. Louis were refused entry to Cuba. As the ship sailed on to Miami in the hope that US immigration authorities would allow the refugees to land, it was shadowed by a US Coast Guard cutter with orders to prevent any refugees from disembarking. To pleas from the Joint Distribution Committee, the State Department replied that there would be no compromise of US immigration laws. The St. Louis was forced to return to Europe.
The Struma, a 180-ton Romanian vessel carrying 769 Jewish refugees, left Constanza for Palestine in December 1941. Overloaded and endangered by a leaking hull, the ship broke down off Istanbul. The Turks would not let the passengers land unless they received permission from the British to proceed to Palestine. The British refused and the Turks towed the Struma which had lost its engines, out to sea, where it sank. There were only two survivors, who managed to swim to shore.
When the Warsaw Ghetto revolt erupted in April 1943, it was already what Churchill called “the beginning of the end” for Germany. Rommel had been beaten at El Alamein, American troops had landed in North Africa, the Germans had suffered a major defeat at Stalingrad, and German cities were being bombed day and night. The allies were winning the war on land, at sea, and in the air. At this very time it was already well known that the Germans were killing over 100,000 Jews every month, with the explicit aim of exterminating the Jewish people.
Much could have been done to slow, or possibly halt, this demonic campaign. But the Warsaw Ghetto fighters received neither aid nor even a sign of encouragement. During the ensuing two years, until Germany surrendered in May 1945, halting the slaughter of the Jews never became a strategic objective of the Allies.
To this day, it is incomprehensible that over 500,000 Hungarian Jews were taken to the gas chambers in mid 1944, after the war had essentially been won.
At the end of March, the Germans had decided to take over Hungary. One month later the mass deportation of Hungarian Jews to the death camps began. By then the Red Army was nearing the Hungarian border, the Allies had captured Rome, and all of Germany was under intense daily bombardment. Yet, in the following five months, over 500,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered.
The news reached the capitals of the world, as neutral observers in Budapest reported daily on what was happening. Request to the Allies to bomb Auschwitz, or the rail lines leading to it, so as to impede the slaughter, were rejected out of hand. One man, Raoul Wallenberg, succeeded in saving thousands. It is an indication of what could have been done had the Allied governments taken action.
The Holocaust would probably not have happened, certainly not in its full dimension, had it not been for the indifference of the world to the fate of the Jewish people during those tragic years. It is in this context that it should be remembered, and it is this lesson that the world hopefully has learned. (Reprinted by permission of the Jerusalem Post)
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The Real Heroes
Written by: Ariel Sharon
There have been so many exciting moments in our country’s history. Which should I choose?
The UN vote on November 29, 1947? The feeling that something at once great and awesome was about to take place. My heart pounded with the excitement of the unknown now approaching.
David Ben-Gurion’s resounding voice as he declared independence?
The day on which we had our first full mobilization in December 1947?
The founding of Unit 101?
Taking over command of the paratroopers, the retaliatory operations, the 1956 Sinai Campaign?
Splitting the Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula in the Six Day War in 1967?
The day my division crossed the Suez Canal in the 1973 Yom Kippur War?
The sight of the thousands of Palestinian terrorist being forced to flee Beirut in the 1982 Lebanon War?
So many stops along the way, days full of excitement, how can I choose just one event?
So many people influenced me over the years. Who should I choose?
My father, Shmuel, an agronomist and researcher, an excellent farmer, who planted in me a love of the land and the country, and made me swear that I would never hand a Jew over to foreigners.
My mother Deborah, who through her courage, pride and hard work in agriculture throughout her life, became a symbol on Kfar Malal, the moshav where I was born.
David Ben-Gurion, with his tremendous vision and determination? Moshe Dayan, with his physical courage and wit, Yigal Allon with his strategic approach and Menachem Begin with his unique approach to security issues.
Yitzhak Rabin, as chief of staff and friend. Shimon Peres’s creativity and Yitzhak Shamir’s firm stand on Greater Israel. And so many others, particularly those who went bravely to the gallows.
Which of them should I choose? As I search among all these personalities and events, what do I recall as a truly special experience? I have chosen one picture, a picture which describes a terrible tragedy.
My platoon and I are stretched out beneath the olive trees beside ancient Hulda in the midday heat. Pre-battle reflections. We blend in with the pebbly soil as if we were an inseparable part of it. Deep rooted. The sense of a homeland, belong, ownership.
Suddenly, close by, a truck comes to a halt and unloads new recruits.
They have a foreign appearance, they are somewhat pale. They wear sleeveless sweaters, gray pants, striped shirts. A mélange of languages. Names such a s Herschel, Jan, Meitek, Peter and Yonzi were thrown in the air. They are so out of place among the olive trees, the rocks, the yellowing corn.
They had arrived directly from the death camps in Europe, across sealed borders, in boats baring “illegal” immigrants, only to be sent once again to internment camps, this time to Cyprus by the British. From there they had been shipped directly to the front.
I looked hard at them. They undressed. Their flesh was white. They tried on the uniform, struggling with the straps of their army pouches, assisted by the commanders who had just met them.
This all took place in silence, as if they accepted their fate. None of them shouted, “Give us time to breathe after the terrible years we have just been through.”
It was as though they understood that this was yet another stage in the final battle for Jewish existence. They obviously had no inkling that among the established community in Israel, too many people were tied up defending their own settlements. Despite Ben-Gurion’s pressure, many had not yet even enlisted. And more than a few members of the moneyed classes of the period had sent their children abroad so that they would not be “swallowed up” by the war.
These soldiers were foreign recruits (Gahal) commonly referred to as “Gahaleitzim” in a disdainful tone. There were no songs sung for them and no one conversed with them around the bonfire. They were not imitated. They had no one waiting at home with whom to share their experiences; they had no homes. They were people from another planet, with experiences that were alien to us, youngsters like ourselves but hundreds of years older than we were.
In Jerusalem’s Mt. Herzl military cemetery, in the mass grave dug for our company, B Company, Battalion 32, Alexandroni Brigade, four of the 52 soldiers who fell in one battle were nameless.
For 50 years, whenever I have passed the headstone, I have stopped and wondered who they were, where they came from, who their families were.
Are any of those immigrant soldiers still alive? Has anyone ever looked for them? Perhaps they are still looking. I have no answer. No one has an answer.
Some of them had been through the horror of the Holocaust as children and youngsters, surviving only to reach Israel a year or two before the War of Independence and join the fighting. I remember some of those who were under my command, on the eve of the war, at the agricultural school in Magdiel, and I shall mention some of those who were killed or injured.
Michael Klein, a handsome strong young survivor from Hungary who fell in the battle at Nebi Samuel. Many years later his sister arrived in search of details, but who knew him? Who knew how he was killed?
And Joshua Mendelmacher and Israel Koren from Lodz in Poland. No one has visited their graves since the day they fell in 1948.
And there were those who were not killed, Shimon Leibovitz was seriously injured and Shimon Miudovnik was held prisoner for five years, between the age of 11 and 16 at various concentration camps. He was the sole survivor of six brothers and sisters, and he lived through the Buchenwald March of Death. Both served in the Palmah Harel Brigade and were wounded at Nebi Samuel.
I also recall a true war hero, Mordecai Doziminer, a hero of the battle for Latrun. He was killed after volunteering for an assignment from which it was impossible to return alive. Does he have any relatives?
And there were so many others like him, numbers imprinted on their arms, firebrands snatched from the furnace.
Fifty years have passed since then. Now, as we celebrate Israel’s jubilee year, we honor the fallen, the army brigades and various forces, the Mahal (foreign) volunteers fewer than the Jewish people should have sent, but nonetheless good people who came and volunteered.
I particularly wish to thank all those unknown soldiers who survived the upheavals of the Holocaust a feat which required considerable bravery who dreamed of reaching safety and when they finally arrived once again took up arms in our defense.
So many of them fell in battle.
They, the Gahal soldiers, arrived unknown, fought unknown, fell unknown and many of them remained anonymous until today. In my mind, they were the real heroes. (Reprinted by permission of the Jerusalem Post)