Judah walked among his brothers and fellow rebels and spoke to them of the thing for which they fought; “Oh my fellow soldiers, no other time remains more opportune than the present for courage and contempt of dangers; for if you now fight manfully, you may recover your liberty, which, as it is a thing of itself agreeable to all men, so it proves to be to us much more desirable, by its affording us the liberty of worshiping G-d.“Since therefore you are in such circumstances at present, you must either recover that liberty, and so regain a happy and blessed way of living, which is that according to our laws, and the customs of our country, or to submit to the most opprobrious sufferings; nor will any seed of your nation remain if you be beat in this battle. Fight therefore manfully; and suppose that you must die, though you do not fight; but believe, that besides such glorious rewards as those of the liberty of your country, of your laws, of your religion, you shall then obtain everlasting glory.“Prepare yourselves, therefore, and put yourselves into such an agreeable posture, that you may be ready to fight with the enemy as soon as it is day tomorrow morning.”
As I reposted last night, I asked this question six and a half years ago: "Where to draw the line?" This repost was motivated by some recent headlines and some from the distant past that I ran across in the past couple of days. If I could sum up the lessons of these disparate stories, it would be with a line that I have used many times over the years: "When someone publicly announces his appetite for your liberty, your property and your life, you should believe him -- and act accordingly."
That sentiment distills down into one sentence my essay from way back in 1999, What I Have Learned From the Twentieth Century.
I was reminded of that when David Codrea shared this link from the Rabbinical Council of America with me, entitled "2014 Resolution: Gun Violence in America," which declares that "the RCA favors restricting Americans’ easy access to weapons and ammunition and encourages all to desist from recreational activities that desensitize participants to killing, weaponry, and violence."
One wonders what Judah Maccabee would say to this resolution. Or this mother:
In a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise and European Jews are removing the Mezuzahs from their doors so that they can't be so easily identified by the new combination of Jihadi beheaders and Hitler's great grandchildren who want them dead, such disarmament advocacy is plainly suicidal. Again, I say, when someone publicly announces his appetite for your liberty, property and life, you should believe him -- and act accordingly.
A faithful reader recently drew my attention to a New York Times article from the 21 March 1933 edition. Unfortunately the NYT charges for access to its archives on-line and frankly I don't have the money to subscribe, so I put off reading it until I could get down to the Birmingham Public Library and view it on microfilm. In this case, though, my poverty paid off. For if I merely got the article alone, I would not have read the news of the day that accompanied it. And therein was the most important lesson.
The initial article of interest can be found on Page Ten of that day's NYT and it is entitled "Nazis Hunt Arms In Einstein Home."
Albert Einstein in 1933.
Berlin, March 20 -- Charging that Professor Albert Einstein had a huge quantity of arms and ammunition stored in his secluded home in Caputh, the National Socialists sent Brown Shirt men and policemen to search it today, but the nearest thing to arms they found was a bread knife.Professor Einstein's home, which for the present is empty, the professor being on his way back to Europe from the United States, was surrounded on all sides and one of the most perfect raids of recent German history was carried out. The outcome was a disappointment to those who have always regarded Professor Einstein's pacificst utterances as a mere pose.The elimination of Jews from responsible positions goes on . . .
Einstein's summer home in Caputh, circa 1929. The Nazis raided it for arms and found a bread knife.
Now this is a fascinating anecdote, to be sure. But to get to page ten, you have to scroll past the first nine pages of that day's edition and it was on the front page above the fold that other stories provided the background and the context of the smaller story -- and demonstrated the larger lesson.
The lead story was provided by the Times' Berlin correspondent, Guido Enderis. (Enderis, it should be noted, has been criticized by historians as being excessively pro-Nazi.)
REICHSTAG MEETING TODAY IS PREPARED TO GIVE HITLER FULL CONTROL AS DICTATORBerlin, March 20 -- It was announced tonight, on the eve of the convocation of the new Reichstag, that the Hitler government would ask it for dictatorial powers lasting until April 1, 1937, or until the replacement of the present Legislature by another.By the terms of the draft of an empowering act sent to the Reichstag tonight, that body is to be excluded from legislation unless the Cabinet invites its cooperation and the government is to have the right to promulgate laws and decrees outside the channels prescribed by the Constitution even if they conflict with its provisions. . .
The Reichstag Fire had happened on the night of the 27th of February and the regime made maximum use of the panic occasioned by it.
What this meant in practical terms was made plain by an accompanying story, also on Page One:
NAZIS TO PUT BAVARIAN FOES IN CONCENTRATION CAMP; 'REPUBLICAN ARMY' LEADERS TO BE HELD WITH REDSMunich, March 20 -- Chief of Police Himmler of Munich today informed newspaper men here that the first of several concentration camps will be established near this city soon for the detention of thousands of Communists, Marxists and leaders of the Reichbanner organization.He explained that in the long run it would be impossible to hold in jail those who would be arrested and to release them would only mean renewed agitation. Such measures as were planned, he added, must be carried out without any petty scruples.He also announced that the Socialist press in Bavaria would remain suppressed until April 4.In the process of putting Bavaria under the control of the government at Berlin there has been a sweeping campaign against all the leaders of the Left parties and reports have indicated that the arrests have run into thousands. In particular the new authorities undertook to break up the Reichsbanner, the army formed by the republican elements as an offset to the monarchists and the Nazi brown shirts. This organization has been ordered dissolved throughout Germany.The problem of keeping the vast number of political prisoners led Dr. Wilhelm Frick, Minister of the Interior, to announce recently that they would be put in concentration camps and kept at hard labor.
Heinrich Himmler in 1933.
In the same issue was a first-person account of the atrocities being carried out by the Nazis against Jews by the novelist Lion Feuchtwanger.
TERROR IN GERMANY AMAZES NOVELISTLION FEUCHTWANGER FEARS CIVIL WAR IF VIOLENCE IS CONTINUED IN REICHSAYS REGIME HOLDS BACKAuthor Believes World Will Never Know How Many Jews and Others Have Been SlainBODIES FOUND EVERY DAYRed Cross Workers Are Prevented, He Declares, From Aiding Those Injured In Attacks.Bern, Switzerland, March 20 -- Immediately before I left America, and shortly before the German elections, I told my anxious friends abroad that any idea of pogroms in Germany was unthinkable. President Von Hindenburg's name and the solid foundations of German culture were pledges against such occurrences.During my journey across the Atlantic we received disturbing wireless reports regarding acts of violence against the Jews. These seemed incomprehensible, but in Paris I met the first refugees from Germany. The stories they related were dreadful. The told of some things compared to which the reports of the atrocities during the war paled.I found it hard to believe these accounts, although I knew that the people who told them were trustworthy in every respect. In no way were they radical. They were democrats and members of the Catholic Centre parties -- pacifists who all their lives had worked in favor of political mediation and negotiation and men who hated all forms of exaggeration.However, they declared they had seen, with their own eyes, how attempts had been made to throw people out of underground trains in motion simply because they looked like Jews. They had seen people pulled from motor cars and beaten -- women and young folk too -- because they were thought to be Jewish.These refugees had also heard despairing stories of women whose husbands and sons had been dragged out of bed and inhumanly beaten and about whom nothing more had been heard or seen. . .
Lion Feuchtwanger, 1933.
Feuchtwanger's account is long and filled with the very real atrocities which were happening at the time, but it was these concluding paragraphs that struck me most forcefully:
I assume that the storm troopers alone are responsible for all they have done -- that must surely be so. It is certain that President von Hindenburg has no idea of the outrages. Probably Chancellor Hitler, too, has had nothing to do with these things personally. And Minister Goering can scarcely be suspected of complicity.The gravity of the situation lies in the fact that the government clearly no longer possesses any authority over its so-called police organization.The unfortunate thing is that these people have taken the former wild speeches of Hitler too literally. They were promised that when the revolution began the golden age would set in at once. Now they want the heads which they had been promised they would see rolling on the ground. They want lampposts decorated with dead bodies. The reult is pogroms such as Germany as not seen since the Jewish persecutions of the fourteenth century.I greatly pray that the government may succeed in calling a halt before the ill treatment, the torture, the slaughter of the thousands of Socialists, Catholics and Jews lead to a civil war such as the world has never seen.
I had to read that over three times before I was fully convinced that Feuchtwanger wasn't writing it tongue in cheek. No, he really believed that these atrocities represented a government out of control rather than one fully in control of what its minions were doing. I suppose he was trying to convince himself more than the audience he was writing for. Yet the "civil war" that Feuchtwanger prophesied was made impossible because by the time he wrote this for the Times, the Reichsbanner, the militia formations pledged to defend the Weimar Constitution, were already in jail and headed for concentration camps, dead or in hiding.
Of course we now know that von Hindenburg, in whom Feuchtwanger put so much confidence, knew exactly what was going on. Although ailing, von Hindenburg wouldn't die until August of 1934. Yet the novelist certainly shouldn't have had any illusions about Hitler's intentions after reading Main Kampf. And as we see from the article quoting Himmler above, one had only to read the newspapers of the day to see which way the wind was blowing. Yet Feuchtwanger clung to his illusions because he desperately needed to. Such thoroughgoing evil was frankly beyond his knowledge and experience. And the Nazis had just begun. It would take twelve years and tens of millions of dead before they danced the executioner's jig themselves.
YET WE KNOW WITH PERFECT HISTORICAL HINDSIGHT THAT SUCH THINGS ARE POSSIBLE WITH ANY REGIME, INCLUDING THE ONE WHICH CURRENTLY RULES OVER US IN CONTRAVENTION OF THE CONSTITUTION AND EVERY UNDERSTANDING THAT THE FOUNDERS HAD OF HOW THE GOVERNMENT THEY CRAFTED WAS SUPPOSED TO WORK.
No, we don't have the excuse of Feuchtwanger's wishful thinking. And so, we must ask ourselves the same question that the Reichsbanner men waited too long to answer -- Where do we draw the line? I'll try to answer that in Part Three. But remember, when someone publicly announces his appetite for your liberty, property and life, you should believe him -- and act accordingly.