Friday, September 25, 2009

Perfidy

Perfidy by Ben Hecht is one of the most horrifying books I have ever read.

Horrifying. Soul-searing, something that will scorch your flesh and leave you frozen. I read it on the way back to Chicago tonight. Started crying on the airplane; it's a good thing the lady next to me was asleep, else she would have wanted to know what was wrong.

Perfidy tells the story of the Kastner Trial and Joel Brand and the Israeli government that was complicit and collaborated with the Nazis in sending Jews to their deaths. It is While Six Million Died as it pertains to Israel versus America.

Perhaps one of the most chilling scenes in the book:
    "It was mid-April, almost a month before my trip to Turkey (1944). One of the German agents in Budapest instructed me to wait at an appointed street corner and said that I would be brought before Eichmann.

    "A half hour later, I was taken to the luxurious hotel where Eichmann had his Headquarters. I was ushered immediately to his room.

    "The words which then passed between us I have imprinted themselves on my memory till I die.

    Brand spoke in German. He now articulates in the dog-bark of a Nazi S.S. officer. The court hears Eichmann's menacing yips out of Brand's mouth:

    "Do you know who I am?" he asked me. "I am the man who carried out all the actions [the Jewish extermination] in Germany, Austria, Poland and Slovakia. My next task is Hungary. I have checked up as to whether you and the Joint Distribution Committee are capable of getting things done, and I want to make a deal with you. Blood for Cargo and Cargo for Blood. Now tell me, what is it that you want to salvage- women who can bear children? Men in their prime? The aged? The young? Speak up!"

    "I was sitting. A civilian was standing beside us. No other Jews was present. A young woman sat behind the desk, pencil in hand. I presumed that she was taking down our talk in shorthand.

    "The meaning of his words dawned on me. I sat there thunderstruck. I never was a politician nor statesman and blurted out the first words that came to my mind:

    "I am not empowered to decide as to whom you are to murder!" I said. "I would like to save everybody. I don't understand this deal. Where are we to get the cargo? You have confiscated everything." Then I became full of hope and went on- "The local Jews and our friends abroad may perhaps muster sums of money, if lives are to be saved."

    "Eichmann answered, 'Go on then. Go ahead. To Switzerland, to Turkey, to Spain, wherever you please; so long as you can produce the cargo!"

    "What sort of cargo do you want?" I asked.

    "Anything at all," Eichmann said. "For example- trucks. Ten thousand trucks are worth a million Jews to me." He paused a moment and added. "Tea and coffee, too, and soap. One thousand tons of tea and coffee. All these I am in need of."

    "To this I replied, 'I haven't the vaguest idea where all these cargoes are to be obtained. Who on earth will treat this offer seriously? Which official body will believe that delivery of the trucks will in fact induce you to spare a million Jews?"

    "Eichmann answered that he was willing to offer one hundred thousand Jews in advance, and on receiving the proportionate payment, he would release another ten per cent. 'Pick them anywhere you want,' he said, 'Hungary, Auschwitz, Slovakia- anywhere you want and anyone you want."

    ~pages 219-220
Hecht speculates on why the Germans would have been willing to make this offer. The third reason he offers is the most damning:
    Reason three is the most obvious, and the most German. Should it turn out that the Allies do not give a hoot about saving a million Jews, and that they regard the offer with contempt and derision- that, in itself, will be a psychological victory for the Germans. The Allies will then be on record as having had no wish to save Jews when they could. How, then, will they be able to denounce Germans for killing them? Let Emissary Joel Brand come back to Budapest empty-handed, without ransom for a single Jewish child, and Germany will have proved its case against the Jews- nobody likes them. Or, more practically, will have established the fact that Germany's deliberate torture and murder of six million defenseless and unmenacing humans (Jews) did not make it an outcast from Western civilization. Germany's case?- "You not only made no protest against the slaughter, you refused to negotiate for the saving of the last million unslaughtered.

    ~pages 230-231
Hecht then relates how the Jewish Agency in Palestine decide to obey Britain's White Paper. As he puts it, "[t]hey decide on the criminal deed that must wreck all hope of saving the million men, women and children from German slaughter. They will betray Joel Brand to the British" (232). Brand is handed over to the British and kept for four and a half months. Finally, they release him. As Hecht interprets it, "Nobody feels too happy about the Joel Brand business. On the other hand, nobody feels too unhappy. Political objectives exonerate leaders from feeling guilt. They regard their actions, however cruel and vicious their results, as impersonal deeds dictated by national demands" (243). He continues, "Thus it comes to pass that though there are six million Jews murdered, there is no guilt. Neither German, Briton, American, nor Jew feels guilty" (243).

This book is damning. Had I read it in 10th grade, when Rabbi Carmel suggested I should, he would have achieved his objective. I would have been turned into an ardent anti-Zionist, scandalized, horrified and shocked by the crimes its leaders had committed. So we shall be glad I did not do so and am a little wiser now.

Why did Rabbi Carmel suggest I read Perfidy? Well, it was not his original idea. Rabbi Avigdor Miller instructs everyone to read it in his work Awake My Glory. Rabbi Avigdor Miller has an interesting view of Zionists; he sees them as pure evil. However, Rabbi Miller is wrong. He has misunderstood Hecht's intentions in writing this book. I know this because Hecht states them clearly, something Rabbi Miller chose to gloss over.

Hecht is appalled by the power of the ideal. He is horrified by the fact that people can do anything, no matter how horrifying it may be, due to the power of their ideals. He explains this vividly:
    Guilt does not make a politician outcast- be he Jewish, British, or Nazi. For the politician is never guilty as a wrongdoer; only as a wrong thinker or a wrong guesser. Even if his thoughts and guesses set bonfires raging in the world and rain disaster on large areas of it- he is still immune from guilt in the eyes of the law, and in the eyes of his contemporaries. History will sometimes take a look at him, dead in his grave, and give him a bad mark. But the contemporary verdict is nearly always the same- not guilty by virtue of serving an ideal.

    Although shaken and embittered by the continuing revelations in Halevi's court room, the statement of Israel offered no visible or audible sign of any suffering.

    There's the thing I find most ominous in my day- the rhinoceros hides that encase politicians' hearts. They will not react to the truth that exposes them any more than to a drop of rain. For they are never exposed. The evils proved against them reveal only that they were devoted servants of an ideal, a party, a national destiny.

    Exposed in the Kastner case, the Israel politicans do not need to disprove any of the facts in order to prove themselves not guilty. They need only to flash into the eyes of their constituents the "ideal" they served. Who attacks them, attacks Zionism. Who attacks Zionism attacks the finest development in two thousand unhappy years of Jewish history. Tyrants, dictators, and all power-drunk leaders operate always behind the screen of some Ideal. The Ideal exempts them of any guilt for what they do. More, it magically converts their connivings and wicked deeds into proof of how valorously the served the Ideal.

    "I understand Kastner," Eichmann writes in his autobiography, published in Life magazine. "He is an idealist like I am."

    ~page 162
Hecht states this again when he questions how Israel could ever have embarked on the case against Kastner, knowing as they did what the outcome must be. He answers:
    The answer is that authority has an unshakable faith in the image of virtue it calls itself. Authority knows the thousand lies and shenanigans out of which it was created. But authority does not regard these as its true character. Its true character is not what it is, but what it can induce people to believe it is. Thus, until it is led off to the guillotine for its villainies; its true character is always glory and beneficence.

    Like the actor, authority has faith in its false whiskers.

    But its deepest faith is in the human hunger for illusion. People will hang on to illusion as eagerly as to life itself.

    ~page 188
It is this concern over governments that can allow anything in the name of its ideals and the blind worship of authority that lead Hecht to write his book. As he concludes:
    The government of the Jews could not save the Jews. The "situation was too complex." No more can the governments of the United States and Russia save their own people. Their "ideals" are too important. Intoning implacably its ideals, government must ride its course to the Apocalypse. It cannot pause in its heroic dash for oblivion to look where it's going.

    At least, so it seems as I write these last pages. I hear no voices challenging the death's-head ideals of the United States. I hear only the ideal speaking, its tongue speaking as always of love. The love of country, the love of freedom, the love of a better way of life.

    What a dire word love has been in history. It has launched more carnage than any war cry of the species. For it is never love that an ideal has to offer, but love and death. It is always, "Love me, or I'll kill you."

    [...]

    No voices rise to challenge Authority in my country.

    ~252
Perfidy is an indictment, yes. But it is meant to be far more than that. Hecht has tackled an ambitious project- he wishes the reader to see what happens when one excuses all in the name of the ideal, refusing to challenge authority to stand up for what is right. How greatly ironic it is that Rabbi Avigdor Miller chose to enshrine this work against authority by utilizing his own authority to teach scores of Yeshiva Bochurim and Bais Yaakov girls that Zionism is evil! How amusing the fact that due to the authority of our Gedolim, we must believe in that! To use Perfidy to support an argument against the entirety of Zionism is to totally misunderstand the book. Hecht had a great and abiding love for the land of Israel. It was precisely because he loved it so much that he was so shaken by the actions of its leaders.

What does this book means to me? It shows me that all humans are flawed. There are Madoffs in the world who create Ponzi schemes that dazzle us in their horror, rabbis who abuse and molest children, men who refuse to give gets and keep their wives chained to them and leaders that chose to put their own interests ahead of those of innocent people. But does this mean that every trustee, every rabbi, every man divorcing a woman and every Israeli official is automatically flawed? That we should do away with Zionism and disregard all Zionists due to the horrors perpetrated by a few? Of course not. That makes no logical sense. As men we commit crimes in the name of our ideals and the crimes are grave. But to suggest an entire ideology must be disposed of due to the actions of some of the leaders of a society is to indict every country and every leader. The British were cruel to the Puritans and Quakers, whereas the Puritans and Quakers were awful to the Native Americans. Man has killed and murdered and shown how little other men mean to him across the strata of time. Why decide the entire institution of Zionism is monstrous without deciding humanity on a whole, every government and every country, is monstrous?

Had Rabbi Carmel succeeded in placing this book in the hand of the innocent fifteen-year-old girl that I was, he would have done me a great disservice. First, he would have shattered my illusions for absolutely no cause. It was not that he simply desired me to acquire more knowledge and information and then make up my own mind; no, he wished to turn me into an anti-Zionist. And as a child who believed wholly in the goodness of men this book would have totally confused me. It is darkly amusing that the same book which preaches that one ought not to permit everything in service of The Ideal is utilized to brainwash those within the religious camp in service of their ideal. My teachers at Templars hurt me irreparably in the service of their ideal - and yet believed they were helping me by acting as they did. The same people who place this book in the hands of innocent boys and girls with the intent to emotionally persuade them to dismiss an entire philosophy and ideology based on the actions of several flawed people are the ones who have totally ignored the message of this book. Dear my rabbis and teachers, you cannot have it both ways. Either cite the book in its entirety or don't cite it all, but to selectively teach it is to lie in precisely the manner Hecht detests. Indeed, his indictment can be extended to you, those who don the mask of false authority.

9 comments:

Gavi said...

I think one of the biggest problems in the charedi world today is the agenda-driven approach that they have towards halacha, history, and life in general... The exact same approach is prevalent in much of the modern orthodox world: it's only the agendas that differ!

When you start to learn a little bit of halacha the real way (Tur/Shulchan Aruch, based in the gemara and rambam), you discern that there are distinct ways of reading halacha, and that some people, particularly post-WWII-acharonim, come to it with a preconceived notion of chumrah or kulah. In my opinion, following my rabbanim, we have to read halacha as to what is correct, without preconceived notions. Rav Aryeh Kaplan once wrote that any posek who does so honestly and sincerely can be sure that they will have siyyata dishmaya...

Close to yom kippur, we have to remember that God's agenda is truth-driven: he enjoins us in Zecharia to love truth and peace, as Rav Gil recently posted on Hirhurim... It's not worth sacrificing one for the other.

Anonymous said...

Chana,
There is more than one side to the perfidy story, I can't say I know which is closer to the truth.

As I IIRC posted to you long ago, I think you need to consider things from the charedi leadership's point of view. IMHO they are willing to let one of you go to "save" 100 others with this approach
GCT
Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

show r miller "a flag is born" by ben hecht and then ask him whether such an author could be used to espouse anti-zionism

Anonymous said...

I would suggest that the "ideal" in and of itself is and can be nothing more than one of two things.

It is either a statement of fact (i.e. that eretz Israel belongs to Am Israel) or it is a champion of deceit and vanity.

The problem comes in the fact that most ideals champion lies to one extent or another; or are themselves abused by liars for self gain or the clandestine promotion of other, and all too likely, wicked ideals.

Peace

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

"However, rabbi miller is wrong. He has misunderstood Hecht’s intentions in writing this book"- The views of the eastern European traditionalist Jews towards Zionism was born out of well over a century of strife an internal unrest, not of this book (Perfidy). They just see this as one example among innumerable others to legitimize their biases which were formed log ago.


"Had rabbi Carmel succeeded in placing this book in the hand of the innocent fifteen-year-old girl that I was, he would have done me a great disservice"- Really? I mean, I don't think there are too many, even 'semi'-religious Jews who think that Ben Gurion was a "tzadik yesod olam". Listen, forget about Zionism, this has nothing to do with it; he and his gang were more-or-less atheists. It's true he was a great Zionist and furthered the Zionist goal, but if you ask Rav Aviner about Ben Gurion, I don't think he's going to start worshiping him...especially after the pullout (from Gaza).

Anyway, like you said, "Modern" Religious-Zionism is way older than the 40's and way older than Ben Gurion. And Religious Zionism is obviously faar older than 'Modern" Zionism (whether religious or secular).

Very nice point in the end by the way…

aaronswish said...

IMO this is a profound post and it's one I relate to in several ways. Being aware of (many of) the crimes of Zionism, the Jewish Agency, and the early and later Israeli government, I believe that a greater understanding of those crimes, and the moral corruption that has infected Zionism from an early age, is critical for anyone in Am Yisrael who seeks to understand this moment in Jewish history, and how it fits into the full spectrum of that history. ("זְכֹר יְמוֹת עוֹלָם, בִּינוּ שְׁנוֹת דֹּר-וָדֹר")

OTOH, I wonder if most of the charedim and ultra-orthodox who so eagerly read and recommend Perfidy have bothered to open up and peruse even a few pages of Eim Habanim Semeichah, the intense, intellectual and flamingly passionate entreaty to religious Jews to embrace the repossession of the land of Israel, written during the fires of the Holocaust.

For most charedim Perfidy serves as a retroactive excuse that explains why they're disconnected from the land of Israel, Israeli society, and the reemergence of the Jewish people into the nation of Yisrael.

Rationally, however, it would serve as an impetus to them to help Am Yisrael resolve the illusions and sundry corruption borne by secular/socialist Zionism, and bring the land, people and country of Israel to a purer, more whole and more m'tahken state.

Usually, though, such books serve as almost the sole charedi/yeshivish education about Zionism, and a convenient "opt-out" ticket from the contemporary Eretz Yisrael enterprise.

Just ask most ultra-orthodox people who've read Perfidy what they plan to do with that knowledge, and what action items they plan to pursue after reading it. Aside from continuing to castigate Zionism, Israel, and the Israeli government I've never yet heard one.

So I'm certainly glad the book exists (as I'm glad that all accurate historical records exist!) but its misuse as an ideological bludgeon and crutch, instead of an illuminating source of data, has not been a service to the Jewish people.

aaronswish said...

IMO this is a profound post and it's one I relate to in several ways. Being aware of (many of) the crimes of Zionism, the Jewish Agency, and the early and later Israeli government, I believe that a greater understanding of those crimes, and the moral corruption that has infected Zionism from an early age, is critical for anyone in Am Yisrael who seeks to understand this moment in Jewish history, and how it fits into the full spectrum of that history. ("זְכֹר יְמוֹת עוֹלָם, בִּינוּ שְׁנוֹת דֹּר-וָדֹר")

OTOH, I wonder if most of the charedim and ultra-orthodox who so eagerly read and recommend Perfidy have bothered to open up and peruse even a few pages of Eim Habanim Semeichah, the intense, intellectual and flamingly passionate entreaty to religious Jews to embrace the repossession of the land of Israel, written during the fires of the Holocaust.

For most charedim Perfidy serves as a retroactive excuse that explains why they're disconnected from the land of Israel, Israeli society, and the reemergence of the Jewish people into the nation of Yisrael.

Rationally, however, it would serve as an impetus to them to help Am Yisrael resolve the illusions and sundry corruption borne by secular/socialist Zionism, and bring the land, people and country of Israel to a purer, more whole and more m'tahken state.

Usually, though, such books serve as almost the sole charedi/yeshivish education about Zionism, and a convenient "opt-out" ticket from the contemporary Eretz Yisrael enterprise.

Just ask most ultra-orthodox people who've read Perfidy what they plan to do with that knowledge, and what action items they plan to pursue after reading it. Aside from continuing to castigate Zionism, Israel, and the Israeli government I've never yet heard one.

So I'm certainly glad the book exists (as I'm glad that all accurate historical records exist!) but its misuse as an ideological bludgeon and crutch, instead of an illuminating source of data, has not been a service to the Jewish people.

emeslyaakov said...

You must distinguish between the concept of Zionism that Erets Yisroel belongs to the Jewish people and the time has come to redeem it, and political zionism as espoused by Hertzel and those who followed in his path, and the practice of the political zionists in Erets Yisroel.

Ben Hecht himself was at least a fellow traveler of the etzel (irgun tz'vai leumi) movement. So he was himself a "zionist" of a sort. This sort of zionist accepted the first concept but did not adopt the socialism and elitism of the clique that controlled the zionist movement and the state of Israel up to the election of Begin (and who really controlled it straight through to this very day, despite various likud prime ministers).

The questions of 1) whether or not the time has come to go up as a group to Erets Yisroel and 2) whether it is permitted to redeem Erets Yisroel even against the will of the goyim can be viewed (and were viewed by all of the Rabbonim who later became the Agugas Yisroel and the Neturei Karta) are viewed as serious halachic issues. Most of these, even if they were to say that 1)is permitted would say that 2) is forbidden.

In contrast, the Vilna Gaon (according to my rebbe Rav Yitschok Shlomo Zilberman z"tsal) held that from the year 5500 (dawn of erev Shabbes) the three oaths are no longer in force, the tikkun of galus is finished and that we may indeed redeem Erets Yisroel even against the will of the goyim.

What Ben Hecht has done in perfidy is expose the people who spoke and acted in the name of the Jewish people and as the spokesmen for zionism as accomplices to murder and in actual murder.

The story of ben Gurion (and Yitschok Rabin) and the Altalena also expose this. Begin was bringing in a shipload of weapons for the struggle for independence. Ben Gurion ordered the destruction of the ship. rabin was one of the people who carried out Ben Gurion's orders and actually shot Jews who fled the snking ship.

What is going on in Israel today - police and IDF destroying Jewish homes, shooting jews, pursuing them, disarming them, siding with the arabs, making it so that soliders can not shoot arabs in self defense is just the continuation of the actions of these so called zionist leaders described by Ben Hecht.

But ben Hecht perhaps got it wrong. These people were not serving an ideal. That was just window dressing to fool the people. They were and are pursuing power and self agandisement. Since to them the only glory and respect worth anything is that which comes from goyishe countries and leaders, they are acting against their own people to achieve this.

Anonymous said...

Solid comment emesyaakov. The point is that