Rabbi Bloch

A short time ago I reported in these columns about the war memorial at Dinslaken; today, too, the talk is to be about a war memorial. Dinslaken lies in Germany, but the monument of which I shall speak today stands in a small city of France. That tells practically the whole story. What follows can only be detail.

The war monument of Dinslaken was noteworthy in that upon it—hewn in stone—were chiseled the names of all the citizens of Dinslaken who gave their lives for their Fatherland in the World War. Among these hundred dead men there were three Jews; their names were suppressed. The mothers of these Jews had to learn to realize that their children had suffered and died in vain. Their names are not carved in stone, their names fade away; moreover, their sacrificial death is disgraced just as was that of another Jew 1900 years ago.

In France, on the other hand, a Minister of the Republic Minister of the Republic unveiled a war memorial which bears but one name — the name of a Jew. The name of Rabbi Bloch.

In one of the murderous battles around Arras, Rabbi Bloch was killed…. He was killed as he brought a crucifix to a dying French soldier. The soldier—he is one of the millions of unknown soldiers — fell, mortally wounded, in a storm attack. His comrades pushed on; the thousand instruments of mass murder howled and shrieked about the dying man. He, a man of faith, a pious Catholic, felt his end draw near. He was alone on the field which in German language usage is called both the “field of honor” and the “battlefield.” In his ears the noises of battle and the cries of his dying comrades were already mingling with the music of the heavenly spheres. The soldier called for a crucifix. Just then he saw walking, far away on the battlefield, a man in whom he thought he recognized a priest. The priest moved about among the bloody seed of this storm attack: among the wounded and the dying. Our soldier called to him, and the man came. Whether or not the dying man knew who the person approaching him was cannot be determined.

It was Army Rabbi Bloch.

If the dying soldier had been a National Socialist, he might have discerned that the clergyman was no Catholic priest but one who cared for the souls of that “murderous and degraded people,” the Jews. But the soldier dying on that battlefield near Arras made no distinction, and in a failing voice asked Rabbi Bloch for a crucifix, for a cross, that he might hold it in his hands when he died.

The rabbi bent towards the soldier, heard his wish: he got up and ran. The eyes of the soldier followed him. After a few minutes he came back upon the battlefield, brought the soldier the crucifix, and—in the very instant in which he held the cross out towards the soldier a shell burst and tore up Rabbi Bloch.

At the spot where this occurred a Minister of the French Republic recently unveiled a soldier’s monument. It will stand as long as stone endures — or until National Socialists come there.

This story is a sentimental legend, although it has the advantages of being true; hundreds of wounded and dying saw it and bore witness to it. But although this legend is sentimental (and originated at a time when despite all murderous animosities the character of great nations had not yet sunk to today’s pitiable state of mockery and superstition), this legend should not be forgotten. It should be preserved and told in the story books of children, and a poet should describe it, as Lessing once gave form, in his “Nathan der Weise,” to the story of the three rings.

Not because it was a Jew who sacrificed himself to the religious need of a member of another faith, but because the wisdom of this legend is much deeper, being perhaps the most profound wisdom there is: it shows respect for the God, the ideal, the philosophy of life of one’s fellow man. Respect of the “You” found realization in this legend.

There was a time when National Socialists in Germany were given small prison sentences as punishment for desecrating Jewish cemeteries, breaking synagogue windows and soiling the objects used in the religious ceremonies. During that time it came to pass that a troop of National Socialists fought with a group of political opponents, with the result that the workers were victorious. The National Socialists, who had been put to flight, sought refuge in a synagogue. That was in 1931, in Dortmund. They were safeguarded in the synagogue until their opponents had grown calm and gone away.

As has been said, the names of the Jewish dead found no place on the monument at Dinslaken. The Jews, the light of whose eyes was destroyed in the war were expelled from the German associations for the blind.

I live on foreign soil. For the name of my father, who died for Germany in the war, was wiped away, removed, a thousand times disgraced.

My father fell on the same battlefield and during the same week in which Army Rabbi Bloch was torn up by a shell. I believe that the monument to Army Rabbi Bloch bears the invisible name of my father and of the 12,000 German Jews who died in the World War.

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