The following are notes from my discussion on Kristallnacht and the conflict between the values of Judaism and those of the key ideologies of the 20th century. This was prepared before the massacres in Paris on Nov 13. There are strong themes that carry over from 20th century conflicts into this new 21st century conflict between a liberal West and a militant political Islamism.
Whether Islamism-- in its various manifestations, as Al Qaeda, or Salafi Jihadism or Islamic Caliphate, or Moslem Brotherhood, or Iranian Islamic State-- reflects or speaks for Islam as a religion is irrelevant. Attempts to whitewash Islam as the “Religion of Peace” on the one hand or to label Islam as inherently evil on the other are also irrelevant. However, it must be understood that the root of these Islamic movements are deeply anchored in historic Islamic texts and traditions, whereas Nazism and Communism, the two scourges of the previous century, were full-bore rebellions against the foundation texts of Christianity.
It is time to recognize that these are strongly developed ideological systems devised by bright and educated thinkers. To rationalize this as solely a movement of the “disadvantaged” or “ oppressed” of the Shabab of the banlieu of France is a futile as dismissing Nazism as solely a movement of the lumpenproletariat of Germany. Dr. Zwahiri is a trained physician, Bin Laden was a trained engineer, the ideological father of their movement, Sayd Qutb, was trained in American universities. Hitler had his Heidegger’s and his Reifenstahl’s as admirers. Never underestimate the capabilities of a militant political movement.
In that light, I look at the central conflicts of the 20th century as they were being played out in the 1930’s, when Hitler had established the Third Reich and Stalin was firmly enthroned in the Worker’s Paradise.
Kristallnacht, Nov 9-10,1938.
This is a bitterly ironic name." Kristall", literally, the English Crystal glass, was given by one of the Nazi leaders immediately after the November pogroms, to make fun of the victims. There is a 2nd bitter irony--the victims were blamed and fined 1 billion reichsmark! The 3rd bitter irony is that form this, the Nazi regime understood that its war on the Jews must now be taken form the amateurs and handed over to the professionals, from SA to SS.
This date is generally considered to mark the start of the Holocaust. That too is a bitter ironic name, as it means a "Burnt offering", as if our people were the sacrificial ox for the sins of the world. The Hebrew word "Shoah" is more appropriate, as it means a horrible destruction.
What was behind this consuming passion to destroy the Jews? From whence this utter inhumanity?
Was it resentment of the poor? Germans were not poor! They did not suffer physically from the hardship of war as did the French, on whose soil the armies fought. My father lived through that period and recalled that the Germans lived very well compared to the rest of the Europeans.
Was it historic anti-Semitism? Germans were not more anti-Semitic than other Europeans.
Was it mass psychosis? Madness of the crowds?
Or is the human being a creature of ideas, ideals, and ideologies which can override all other instincts, which can override human decency, which can leads to Nietzsche’s concept of “Beyond Good and Evil.”
I look back at writings of the period from my father, Rabbi William Weinberg, which I translated and printed in my book, Courage of the Spirit. My father had gone through childhood in the shtetl to adulthood and the study of Political Science in cosmopolitan Vienna to Rabbinical studies in Berlin. He spent two years in Nazi prison from 1935 to 1937, and learned both Nazi and Communist intimately form his fellow prisoners ( Yes, Nazis who were too uncontrollable even for Hitler were imprisoned).He escaped to the Soviet Union, and came back, after the Shoah, to Austria and Germany, where he served as the first State Rabbi of Hesse).
For one thing, he insisted that historic anti-Semitism, emanating from Christianity, was not the root cause.
This is an excerpt form an essay that appeared in the early 1960’s in the Bnai Brith Monthly at time of Vatican II:
“ Neither Hitler, nor the Dreyfusards, nor the anti-Semitic right-wingers who between the two World Wars grouped themselves around the daily, L'Action Francaise, fought under the faded banner of the church. We must not be deceived by smuggled-in pieties. Nazism's anti-Jewish ideology was not based on the theological antagonism between the Pharisees and Jesus. The Nazis did not adorn themselves with the symbol of the cross, but with the swastika, which stood for many things but not for Christian myths or beliefs. . . .
To the best of my recollection. no Nazi ever threw the New Testament at me, nor did any Russian anti-Semite, during the four years I was a refugee in the Soviet Union. Anti-Semitism is essentially a-religious, thoroughly secularized, and materialistic.
Important new view now has been published, by Timothy Snyder, Black Earth. This is from an essay in New York review of Books, Sept 2015 summarizing his point. What Snyder writes is presaged in the essay that my father published in 1937, before anyone had thought of the idea of a Holocaust ( except for Hitler himself):
“ After murder, Hitler thought, the next human duty was sex and reproduction. In his scheme, the original sin that led to the fall of man was of the mind and soul, not of the body. For Hitler, our unhappy weakness was that we can think, realize that others belonging to other races can do the same, and thereby recognize them as fellow human beings. Humans left Hitler’s bloody paradise not because of carnal knowledge. Humans left paradise because of the knowledge of good and evil.
. . . If humans were in fact nothing more than an element of nature, and nature was known by science to be a bloody struggle, something beyond nature must have corrupted the species. For Hitler the bringer of the knowledge of good and evil on the earth, the destroyer of Eden, was the Jew. It was the Jew who told humans that they were above other animals, and had the capacity to decide their future for themselves. It was the Jew who introduced the false distinction between politics and nature, between humanity and struggle. Hitler’s destiny, as he saw it, was to redeem the original sin of Jewish spirituality and restore the paradise of blood. Since Homo sapiens can survive only by unrestrained racial killing, a Jewish triumph of reason over impulse would mean the end of the species. What a race needed, thought Hitler, was a “worldview” that permitted it to triumph, which meant, in the final analysis, “faith” in its own mindless mission.”
I appreciate Snyder's explanation because it echoes language that my used 80 years ago.
The Courage of the Spirit Dr. Wilhelm Weinberg (Vienna)
Judische Press Zentrale Zurich, June 18, 1937 Printed in 3 essays- my translation from the German.(abridged excerpts)
Essay 1 Under the Sign of Fatalism
The Jewish Messiah idea implies a systematic plan and consciousness in the totality of the direction of humanity and in its cultural formation. Our contemporary stream of thought has no room for such a concept nor, indeed, for an idea of a conscious will nor for an idea guiding universal developments
It has been an accepted thesis for decades within all trends of our culture that all events occur independently of human will. Little and rarely does anything result from conscious thought. . . . .
The first to dethrone human will as the critical factor of history is economic theory, which utilizes the most scientific of tools. Karl Marx proved that human life is not determined by will and resolution but by the blind law of the deterministic power of economics, which allows no resistance by any other force. Historic development, according to Marx, is determined by the economic condition, that is, that the path of a given society is set by the manner of production and the exchange of goods. People do not shape their historic societal life through reason and free choice. It is just the opposite. “The means of production of vital necessities absolutely controls the social, political, and intellectual life-process. It is not human consciousness that determines existence, but, on the contrary, it is the historical existence which determines the human consciousness.” . . .
Even ideals are mere reflections of the condition of production
Following the economic fatalism, there is the biological one, based on entirely different presumptions: the teaching of racism, the teaching of the inequality and immutability of the human races. Hereby fatalism is presented in its unadulterated form. Beforehand, it was God who arbitrarily distributed the destinies and who predestined one man to sainthood, the other to damnation. Today, it is hereditary blood. There are talented and untalented races. Only one race is called to take its place at the weaving loom of culture, the Aryan race, and in particular, the German. The others are condemned to unfruitfulness. “Had it not been for the Germans, mankind would have sunk into eternal night” (Chamberlain).
The worthlessness of the other races is as unchangeable as a mathematical proof and as eternal as the law that regulates the path of our planets. This is the will of destiny, and it cannot be changed by any human activity.
There can be no further development of the ungifted races since the hereditary characteristics have not changed over the centuries. “The environment cannot change [the] particular variations of the races” (Eugen Fischer). [Note: Fischer was Hitler’s primary scientist on eugenics and race.] The course of human history is independent of human will. The driving force of historical-social world events is to be found only in the struggle of the higher races against the lower races. Family, religion, and state are only manifestations of blood. There cannot be a concept of humanity as the encompassing unity of all races; so, too, there can be no universally binding human cultural value. The worth of any given value is tied to blood and skull measurements and is therefore altogether relative.
One must end this chapter on the race problem with a Jewish answer. “I call upon heaven and earth as witness, that whether one is Jew or heathen, man or woman, free or slave, the Holy Spirit rests upon each one in accord with his merits” (Tana d’bei Eliyahu, Ch. 8).
( part Three is a digression on Otto Spengler)
. . .
We need, however, to examine depth psychology [another term for psychoanalysis]. We are cast down by the fatalism of Marx’s modes of production, by hereditary blood racial teachings, by Spengler’s organic culture. Likewise, we are cast down by depth psychology, which evolved out of medicine. This is the fatalism of the subconscious, be it of the individual according to Freud or the collective according to Jung. According to Freud, the function of conscious thought in human endeavor is limited. Past events are forcefully drowned into the subconscious, which functions despite a controlling censor and forms our lives. Freud’s individual subconscious is supplemented by Jung with a collective subconscious, which stems from prehistoric strata in the evolution of our souls. This determines our mental bearing. In contrast with this un- and sub- consciousness, our conscious knowledge is of little bearing. It is not the super-conscious, but the sub-conscious that has the power to shape the destiny of people and to give direction to the tendencies of one’s life-formation.
Indeed, the trap of fatalism is so varied and tightly wound that it leaves absolutely no room for action on the part of human will and consciousness.
. . .
Judaism’s theory of history is activist; the Jewish ethos is a willful ethos; the Jewish religion is outspokenly a religion of will. The originality of Judaism rests primarily on the point that the Bible, for the first time, inquired into the question of the sense and inner unity of all human history and conceived of the individual events of history as steps up to a meaningful and powerful world goal. In contrast to nature, history, for us, is not a constant alternation, constantly in flux, up and down in a mindless fashion. The spirit drives history in its development to ever-higher forms to an ethical humane elevation of human society, despite recurring setbacks. We do not deny the law of reality, which researchers have made clear, but over and above this, there is a law of the ideal; over and above the factual, there is the truth.
. . . .
No! Humanity is not the disturbed dream of some sleeping deity, and [it is] no mad chaos wildly swirled about by a happenstance. God created the world according to plan. As a perceptive statement of the Midrash says, “He consulted the Torah before He began to create.” The duty of humanity in this world is prescribed in these brave words by an ancient Jewish philosophy of history: “Man is called upon to be God’s co-worker in the act of creation” (Mechilta, Exodus 18:13).
On the Cult of Naturalism 15th October 1937
Every person, insofar as he has attained a certain intellectual maturity, relives his own expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the land of innocent non-spirituality. The question is whether that Biblical narrator, who told us of the expulsion of the first human couple from Paradise, was correct in his interpretation that the plucking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge inevitably brought on Death and whether in truth the Tree of Knowledge is the origin of all ills. Judaism has answered this in the negative, and there can be no doubt that the story of the Garden of Eden has come to us from a non-Israelite source. . . .. A wedge now is being driven between body and soul by the spirit, with the intent to split them apart, to remove the soul from the body and the body from the soul, so that ultimately all life is killed. Hence, there develops a struggle against science, against all that is the product of consciousness: against intellectualism, rationalism, and all movements that derive from these, the natural, all that is the historic and social life that underlies the spiritual. . . .
The spirit is dethroned as a despot that has annihilated the best values of life. But what has been placed in its stead? The elemental, the natural instinct: blood and earth earn the highest devotion and are elevated to the level of a categorical imperative. Back to guiltless unspirituality, to the world of dumb, instinct-driven life, that is the calling that is to be the promise of the salvation of all culture.
“My great religion,” so writes the priest of basic instincts, the English author D. H. Lawrence, author of the renowned work The Dark God, “is a belief in the blood, as the flesh being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds, but what our blood feels and believes and says is always true.” If the word idolatry means more than a simple formal term, more than merely the shaping of molten, hewn, or painted images of a religion and its worship, then the flesh-and-nature worship that goes hand in hand with enmity of the spiritual of our modern idol worship, Abodah Zarah in Hebrew, is the purest water. . . .
. Races, peoplehood, climate, and heredity are all facts that cannot be denied. But may one derive any authority in the ideal sense from mere facts? They come to serious implications. Does there not lie in the autonomy of the factual the danger of the demonic? Is the intellect with its a priori forms, as Nietzsche and Schopenhauer claimed, truly imposed over the surface of life? Are feeling and intuition, as per Bergson, the only guide to the truth? Can the “existence of the growth of life occur devoid of thought” as Spengler intended? Furthermore, is the flesh truly wiser than the spirit as Lawrence claimed?
We follow Maimonides and not Lawrence’s “dark god.” In his discussion of false prophets who seek to prove their calling by creating some miracle states, “The eyes of the spirit, which permeates the law, is keener than the deceptive eye of the flesh which sees the miracle.”
Jews have always disdained to howl with the wolves. They had the courage, even in danger, to be “a lamb among seventy wolves.” Did not people boast until recently that they are the sober man among drunkards? This has changed thoroughly. Jews are also eagerly involved in the iconoclasm against everything that is an expression of its critical spirit, and passionately take a stand against intellectualism and rationalism. . . .
22nd October 1937
We are witnessing how the repressed dark waters of the instinctual life, in spite of the regulatory commission which Enlightenment imposed, have suddenly broken through the dams of the subconscious mind and flooded the whole of our consciousness. Nietzsche was its first victim and ended in mental derangement, and the German people as a whole were her second victim, which has ended in National Socialism. The one-sidedness of the Enlightenment has been avenged bitterly, and we are careful not to fall back into it
Within the Jewish spiritual world, there exists alongside the one direction of spiritualistic prophecy another direction that is known under the name Chochmah, wisdom . . .. This Chochmah knows the bond that exists in all of life is of two distinct halves, the animal-biological and the higher spiritual world, which lie in a constant struggle against each other; she [Chochmah] knows that we must also reckon with the reality of the animalistic. She affirms life. The body is to be preserved and maintained, and not be tormented by asceticism. But she never forgets that this reality is only an infinitely malleable matter, a formless mass out of which she will shape her work. . . The Chochmah shows us the possibility of steering and shaping the instinctual drives and its transformation into a dedicated significant, higher entity. Whoever has impartially studied the history of humanity will admit that this steering of the drives remains the basic requirement of every cultural achievement. The first and last resort for us remains the spirit and not the “dark gods.”