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Shavuoth and 3 Nazi Tales

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Perhaps I shouldn’t even mention the German situation in this Shavuoth article. For Shavuoth is devoted to the eternal, and Hitlerism is a momentary aberration. And yet, the very timelessness of the holiday grows out of its relation with the temporal. For according to tradition, the fifty days preceding the festival are known as Sefirah and commemorate with sorrow the massacres of Jews under the Emperor Hadrian and during the Crusades. In this period Jews avoid occasions of rejoicing.

Then came Shavuoth. Originally a harvest festival, it became after the destruction of the Temple a holiday to celebrate the giving of the law and a period of consecration to the timeless truths of the Torah. Shavuoth turns the mind of the Jew from the momentary to the eternal, and at the same time provides the Jew with the resotirces with which to meet the problems of the hour.

Perhaps then I will be forgiven for relating three German experiences that came to my attention in a recent visit to Naziland and which, in my opinion, tell the essential message of Shavuoth to the Jewish people in a troubled time.

The town of Lubeck was the scene of ugly raids in the early months of Hitler’s rule. The Nazis spread the rumor that the Jews had concealed weapons and they made this the excuse for searching their homes and attacking them. However, they found no weapons to justify their charges. One Saturday morning, as the entire Jewish community was gathered in the synagogue, the tramp of marching feet was heard outside. Brown-shirted soldiers roughly banged open the doors and ordered the service to stop. They said they had been informed that the weapons were concealed in the synagogue. They looked under the seats, searched every nook and cranny in the basement and balcony—and found nothing. They were about to leave when the commanding officer happened to notice the curtains of the Ark.

“What’s behind there?” he demanded, and without waiting for an answer, he tore open the curtains. There stood the Scrolls of the Torah.

“So these are your weapons!” he shouted.

“Ja,” replied the Rabbi, “Dies sind unser Waffen.”

One Day when I was in Berlin, the newsboys were hawking a special edition of Streicher’s notorious Stuermer. On the front page was a large photograph of a bearded Jew, riding on a garbage wagon between two Nazi soldiers. The caption said: “This is what ought to be done to all the Jews of Germany.”

I looked closer at the picture and recognized from his clothes that the prisoner was an Eastern Jews, perhaps a Rabbi. However, it wasn’t so much his clothes that struck me as the expression on his face. There was a look of ineffable dignity and quiet self-assurance that was in such marked contrast to the ugly, gloating, almost bestial expressions on the faces of his captors.

He know that he represented the truth, whereas they were the instruments of error. His faith was in the forces of light; they were the harbingers of darkness. He was serving the ideals of the ages; they served a man of the hour. The future, he was certain, rested with him, not them.

For Many years I have known the Chief Rabbi of a certain large German city. Although I could never comprehend the almost pathological intensity of his German patriotism and his anti-Zionism, I have always respected him as a man of courage and principle. He served as a Chaplain at the front during the War and emerged with a distinguished record.

His mental suffering during the first few months of Nazi rule was pitiful to behold. For Hitler challenged every principle he held sacred. But so deep were the inner sources of his strength that Hitler could not shake his faith, his courage or his self-respect.

One night the Nazis broke into his house and arrested him. He was shoved into a waiting car and driven to the outskirts of the city. They stood him against a wall and pointed their rifles at him. Then they gave him a paper to read. If he would sign it, they would free him. If not, they would shoot him immediately. He read the statement hurriedly and found it contained a confession that he had been responsible for spreading false atrocity propaganda, and a statement that the charges of Nazi cruelty against the Jews were unfounded. He refused to sign his name to these lies.

“Aren’t you afraid of what we will do to you?” the commanding officer asked him.

The Rabbi replied in the words of Jonah, “Ivri Onochi V’yoreh Adonoy”—”I am a Hebrew and I fear only God.”

Perhaps because they were afraid of the repercussions from killing so prominent a man, they let him go. But they had given him the occasion to display that indomitable faith of the Jew not only in God, but in his own integrity, which is as impervious to Nazism as it has been to all the barbarisms of the past.

If you’ve got something to sell, an excellent way of selling it is through the columns of the Jewish Daily Bulletin. Call Ashland 4-3093 for rates.

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