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May 04, 1984 - Image 15

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-05-04

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if A

cording to Rabbi Tanenbaum, is that
Jews must have an established sys-
tern to warn them of impending mass
persecutions and- to help them to es-
cape. In fact, he said, one such pro-
gram is already functioning in Cen-
tral America. It was created last
January during a meeting of the
Federation of Jewish Communities of
Central America.
"We met," said Rabbi Tanen-
baum, "with Jewish leaders from
y country in Central America, as
Weil as leaders from most of the coun-
tries of Latin America. The Jews of
Central America told us that they
were very much concerned, in the
wake of what has happened in
Nicaragua, about the possibilities of
Nicaragua-style revolutions taking
place in their countries.
And they were very much wor-
ried about how quickly their situa-
tions might deteriorate. Most of them
live in societies that are run by mili-
tary juntas, with right-wing death
squads carring out random acts of
killing and violence, and left-wing
Marxist radicals attacking the death
They sat down with us and said,
We don't know what to do if tomor-
row, at midnight, we get a knock at
our door. How do we get out of the
country? How do we get visas? Sup-
pose they close the borders? How do
we get our belongings out? How do we
get our children out?'
"So we sat down and worked out
a network with them, a hotline. At
the first indication of revolutionary
activity in any of their countries,
especially El Salvador, -Guatemala,
Honduras, and Mexico, all of which
are in pre-revolutionary conditions

We cannot wait until the
last minute for tragedies
to take place, as they did in
the Nazi trauma.

now, they can be in touch with us
within 24 hours.
"Special telephone numbers and
code words were devised: Interna-
tional mechanisms for obtaining
visas were worked out. We set up
structures enabling us to enter those
countries under international
guarantegs to assure that Jews and
others would not be put under the
We didn't have that in Ger-
many in the 1930s. We had to rely on
reports coming from a German gen-
e- to a Jewish banker in Switzer-
who in turn got them to the
World Jewish Congress, who in turn
sent them to London, through the
British Foreign Service, who tried to
suppress the reports.
"We've learned that we must
create a system for instantaneous re-
sponse to threats to Jewish life. We
cannot wait until the last minute for
tragedies to take place, as they did in
the Nazi trauma."
Rabbi Tanenbaum pointed, out
that the lessons of the Holocasut are

F`:; 1W;

Friday, May 4, 1984


On March 27, 1933 , while 20,600 persons jammed Madison Square Garden,
this overflow crowd gathered in Columbus Circle to hear Rabbi Stephen Wise,
Alfred E. Smith and others protest the policies of the Nazis.

being applied elsewhere. In Ethiopia,
for instance, the American Jewish
Committee and Israel have helped
Ethiopian Jews — Falashas — es-
cape that country's violent persecu-
tions at a time when Christians and
Muslims cannot get past the borders.

"So there is that kind of solu-
tion," Rabbi Tanenbaum said, "about
situations of Jews everywhere in the
world who are in trouble. That has
been one of the permanent lessons
that we have learned from the Nazi
Did we need a Holocaust com-
mission to teach us that lesson? Did
we need such a commission at all?
Why study the Holocaust?

"Because," said Rabbi Tanen-
baum, "like the mountain, it is there,
and one has to deal with it. The plain
fact of the matter is that the Nazi
Holocaust was the decisive traumatic
event of the 20th Century. And it cuts
to the very core of the meaning of
human existence. Therefore, it ought
to call forth from us the most serious,
agonizing, thoughtful examination
of individual and group conscience,
not only on the part of Jews, but on
the part of Christians as well. It is
one of the decisive turning events in
human history, and therefore cries
out for that kind of attention."
Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, a vice
president of the World Jewish Con-
gress who teaches Jewish history at

Columbia University, takes a some-
what different point of view.
All Holocaust discussion," he
said, is full of prunes. The Holocaust
offers no lessons for the present or
future. The lesson of the Holocaust is
that Jewish courage and presusure is
-a function of the total historical con-
Rabbi Hertzberg left the Ameri-
can Jewish Commission on the
Holocaust for several months in
1982, protesting that it was an effort
to "rewrite history."
"I think three things are going
on here, he said. "One is the battle of
generations. There is a new genera-
tion in American Jewry which grew
up out of the Depression, after the
State of Israel was created, which
simply cannot imagine the situation
in which Jews were before 1940. We
are dealing with a new generation
which doesn't understand the limita-
tions under which a previous genera-
tion operated.
"Another part of it is that an act
of historical revisionism is going on
which has political motivations.
There has been a deep split in Jewish
leaderhip. If you can prove that the
moderate leaders of world Jewry in
the '30s and '40s — the Weizmanns
and the Stephen Wises — really
didn't give a damn about the Jews
dying under the Nazis, that they
really didn't do enough, then you de-
legitimize moderate Jewish leader-

ship. And if you deligitimize Jewish
leadership back in the '30s and '40s
when Jews were being murdered, it
follows that moderate Jewish leaders
today are a bunch of traitors.
"The third part is that the
American Jewish community doesn't
have a religion. It-has a- kind of civil
religion which consists of the follow-
ing: pro-Israel tummel; anti-anti-
Semitism tummel- and when it wants
to feel spiritually uplifted and beat
up on, it contemplates the Shoa
(Holocaust). Therefore, the
Holocaust has become a major indus-
try in the American Jewish commu-
nity. Not Torah, not the Mishna, not
the Talmud, but nach amal Au-
schwitz and nach amal Auschwitz.
"I think there is a problem,"
agreed Rabbi Tanenbaum. At its
lowest level, there has developed a
Holocaust industry, which in some
ways is ugly and almost obscene. I'm
afraid that that's a terrible danger
that is now being risked, and a lot of
people are unfortunately exploiting
the Holocaust for their own purposes,
their own egos, status, influence and
also their own money. There are
people who are making a lot of money
lecturing and writing."
Rabbi Hertzberg's reservations
and concerns echo those of many
other Jewish spiritual leaders:
"This obsession with the
Holocaust occurs because it is the

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