All of us were riveted to the news on the Jewish Sabbath before last, Oct. 27, when a Jew-hating gunman murdered 11 worshipers in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. You, dear reader, are likely not Jewish. Nothing sinister here, just basic demographics. I am Jewish, and I think we were watching different movies together.
You, like decent people everywhere, were horrified and anguished. Jews like me bore yet another layer of pain when a chorus of leftist Jews rose up and shouted that President Trump was “not welcome in Pittsburgh”! I know of no Christians who had a problem with the president hastening to visit with the victims’ families and with the policemen injured in the killer’s apprehension. But those very Jews who spend their spare time urging the rest of us to quit politicizing violence were resolute and un-shut-up-able. What a terrible thing, they insisted, for Trump to intrude, when it was Trump’s rhetoric that caused such violence in the first place.
The mortification of far-left activists telling the president he’s not welcome in Pittsburgh was overdone, but the opposite message put forth by the authentic Jewish organizations minimized the damage. The damage, however, was just enough to remind me of a fact-of-life more Jews should repeat to more Christians more often.
The great Elie Wiesel once met a young Jewish girl who was proud that she had studied what the Danish people – Christians, mind you! – had done to save Jewish lives during the Nazi occupation in World War II. Indeed, the Danish people were magnificent, making sure virtually their entire Jewish population was snatched from the jaws of the Nazis and ferried across to Sweden and safety. Wiesel then cautioned that young woman to not stop with the humanitarian heroism of the Danes. There were others.
Indeed, there were many, many others. And not just heroic individuals who did their best to protect Jews in every Nazi-occupied country. There were many countries that saved many thousands of Jews. I promise you’ll be surprised at some of those silent heroic countries I’m going to name.
We Jews know much more about who our enemies have been over the centuries than we know about our friends, allies and rescuers. Let me do my little bit here to correct that unforgivable oversight.
Spain’s Franco, long regarded as a fascist friend of Hitler, shocked those who studied the Spanish government’s documents 25 years after World War II. They agreed that Franco’s major aim had been to save as many Jews as possible.
Italy’s Mussolini was no friend of the Jews, but he was a very ineffective enemy. Every Jew who could reach territory controlled by the Italian army was protected and well-cared-for by the Italian military. Unfortunately, Italy controlled only the French Riviera and that part of Yugoslavia that is now Slovenia.
Finland played a strange role in World War II. Finland was Germany’s only democratic ally, not to help bring about Hitler’s dream of world domination but only to reclaim the land Russia had stolen from Finland during the Winter War of 1939. Germany’s von Ribbentrop showed up in Helsinki one day and told Finland’s charismatic leader Gustaf Mannerheim that a German ship was in the harbor to take Finland’s Jews to concentration camps in Germany.
“We don’t have Jews here,” said the angry Mannerheim. “We have only Finns, and if you dare touch one of them I’ll abandon the Northern Front!”
Not one Finnish Jew was deported.
Perhaps the most astounding case of Jewish rescue during World War II was the case of Japan’s rescue of tens of thousands of European Jews. Rabbi Marvin Tokayer, who for 10 years was director of the Tokyo Jewish Center, tells in his amazing book “The Fugu Plan” of the Japanese need for intelligent middle management to direct Japan’s expanding empire in Asia. Rabbi Tokayer emphasizes there was nothing humanitarian about Japan’s effort to bring 1 million Jews from Germany to Japan in the late 1930s. The Japanese completely misunderstood Hitler’s treatment of the Jews prior to the outbreak of World War II. They thought it was nothing but sibling rivalry. And since the Jews were so much less numerous than the Germans, they focused on the Jews and managed to bring 50,000 to Japan before the war ended this “Fugu Plan.” The Jews in Japan were well-treated and remained in Japan until the Japanese surrender.
Albania may represent the crown jewel of Jews being rescued by entire nations reaching out to help. Mussolini’s Italian troops invaded Albania in 1939. Our media portrayed it as an early act of fascist aggression. Actually, the Albanian people hated their King Zog and welcomed the Italian soldiers as liberators. As the most primitive country in Europe, the real power in Albania was in the hands of mountain elders who were infuriated when the Germans brought their tyranny to the Balkans and demanded the people turn their Jews over to the invaders for deportation. They passed the word down into the valleys that no Albanian of any religion be handed over.
The result was that Albania – in effect an Axis ally – was the only country in Europe to have more Jews after the war than they had prior to the war!
In conclusion, so what? Here’s what. It’s only fair to give some attention and affection to these unsung friends of the Jews. We’ve had many. But I beg you to reflect upon the following. The best friends we Jews have ever had are the American Christians. If it weren’t for the American Christians, there’d be no state of Israel and no Jew alive except those who could successfully masquerade as belonging to some other religion.
In my next column I’ll defend this love letter to the American Christian.