Special Interview a Need for Constant Vigilance

The Jerusalem International Book Fair, which closed last Friday, was enlivened by the presence of an unlikely author. He is Isaac Charchat who, at the age of 81, recently completed his first book, the autobiographical novel “A Constant Reminder”, just published by Shengold Publishers, Inc. in New York.

An octogenerian with the twinkle of a teenager in his bright blue eyes, Charchat did not come to the Fair to sell books. He is an industrial magnate, an international tycoon whose enterprises, grounded in the shipping industry, include financing foreign trade, world-wide transportation of goods and the distribution of books of foreign publishers in the U.S. and England.

“A Constant Reminder,” though in fiction form, is based on the hard facts of Charchat’s long life. It is an adventure story and, as the title implies, a warning–especially to Jews–that history in its most evil aspects, can repeat itself. Essentially, the book seeks to explain and to detail the historical dynamics that led to the Holocaust, an aspect which Charchat feels is infrequently and inadequately dealt with by those who chronicle the horrors of the Holocaust.

His insight into history began at the age of 21 when he became aware of fanatical anti-Semitism on both sides of the Atlantic.

The year was 1925. Charchat, the son of a wealthy Jewish businessman living in Sweden, was on a visit to Germany when an obscure Bavarian politician, Adolf Hitler, walked out of Landsberg prison a free man after serving one year of a five-year sentence for precipitating the aborted “Munich Putsch” of 1923.

THE ROLE OF HENRY FORD

Hitler, an impoverished nonentity, carried with him two prized possessions–the rough draft of his autobiography, “Mein Kampf,” written while serving his sentence, and a four-volume set of books entitled “The Eternal Jew,” an “expose” of an alleged international Jewish conspiracy written by one of the then most famous and most admired men in America–auto-maker Henry Ford.

The multi-millionaire U.S. industrialist, a man of great mechanical talent and profound ignorance, harbored a mindless hatred of Jews. Hitler more than once acknowledged his debt to Ford for certain ideas.

Charchat has no doubt that Ford, publisher of a blatantly anti-Semitic periodical, the Dearborn Independent, could have become America’s Hitler. But American Jews, who had nowhere near the political sophistication and influence that they have today, exposed Ford’s ugly racism and forced a public apology from him. This put an end to whatever political ambitions he might have entertained. It should be noted that Ford’s anti-Semitism was not shared by the members of his family who inherited his automobile empire.

But Charchat pondered what might have happened if Ford or some other anti-Semitic demagogue reached the pinnacle of political power in the U.S. The fate of Jews and other minorities, he is convinced, would have been identical to the fate of non-Aryans in Hitler’s Reich.

“A Constant Reminder” takes liberties with history. The rise of Nazism in Germany is set in the 1920′s instead of the ’30s. America has sealed its doors to Jewish refugees and the British have closed off Palestine. In what many readers might consider a flight of fancy, Charchat’s novel has friendly Egyptians helping to smuggle nearly 500 “illegal” Jewish immigrants into Palestine.

A THEME OF THE BOOK

But Charchat maintains today that such an event was not impossible. It was not coincidental that he began writing his book on November 19, 1977, the day President Anwar Sadat of Egypt made his historic trip to Jerusalem. One of the themes of “A Constant Reminder” is the potential for friendship between Jews and Arabs in contrast to European and American anti-Semitism.

Charchat is convinced that the Egypt of President Gamal Abdel Nasser was not the “real Egypt,” that the Egyptians did not really want to be involved in Nasser’s wars against Israel and that Sadat’s move reflected not a change of course but a return to the true course of Egypt.

“I was not surprised when Sadat came here,” Charchat said in Jerusalem. “This was the natural outcome of a historic development.” He is convinced that the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty will be long-lasting. “I am not worried at all, because we have the foundation. Like brothers, we may call each other names, but basically we want to be friends,” he said.

SAYS HISTORY CAN REPEAT ITSELF

But he is concerned that history could repeat itself elsewhere. Henry Ford, he said, tried to tell the Germans after World War I that they didn’t lose the war — it was the fault of the Jews. Speaking to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency here the day after President Reagan placed a wreath at the military cemetery at Bitburg where Waffen SS are buried along with other German war dead, Charchat said:

“Look, the same trend takes place nowadays. The Germans engage in the process of detaching themselves from responsibility for the horrors of the Third Reich, attributing them to the Nazis only, as if they were a separate political entity apart from Germany. All this does not surprise me.”

Charchat built his early career in shipping. When World War II brought that business to a halt, he used his time to develop a unique accounting system, one of the first to utilize computers. In the late 1950′s he was one of the first to introduce containerized cargoes, which revolutionized the world maritime trades.

Charchat offered his services as a distributor at the Jerusalem Book Fair. He said that Israel, more than any other community, is a melting pot of languages. “It is the perfect setting for such a Fair.”

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