Leo Baeck 1


Mar 2005 Journal

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Three anniversaries (editorial)

Each of the first three months of the year contains a day commemorating 'a turning point in history when history refused to turn'. They are the liberation of Auschwitz in January 1945, the collapse of Tsarism in Russia in February 1917, and the almost Europe-wide liberal revolutions of March 1848.

The 1848 revolutions, whose anniversary falls this month, were considered such a watershed that the entire preceding period was dubbed Vormärz (pre-March). In the German-speaking countries they certainly proved a turning point for Jews, who at last enjoyed equal rights and freedom from vexatious restrictions.

In the wider context, however, the German liberals lacked the sheer guts - and muscle - needed to face down a semi-feudal establishment. Their dilemma was symbolised by the Prussian King Frederick William IV's dictum 'I will not stoop to pick up a crown from the gutter' when the Frankfurt parliament offered him the role of Germany's constitutional monarch.

Twenty-three years later, in 1871, Germany was united not by a parliamentary vote but by a victorious army. Nearly half a century on, in 1918, the army suffered a rout but retained sufficient prestige inside the country for Ludendorff to offload blame for the defeat on to the politicians obliged to underwrite the peace treaty. By this stratagem he practically signed the death warrant for the Weimar Republic in its hour of birth.

The 1848 revolutions - like so much that happened in Europe - passed Russia by. The Tsarist empire was so vast, and so behind the times, that it required the shock of military defeat to galvanise it into reform. It suffered such shocks in the Crimea and the Far East, but the real knock-out occurred on the eastern front in World War One. By early 1917 a huge death toll and bread riots had eroded allegiance to Tsar Nicholas I and he was forced to abdicate. Russia now had a brief window of opportunity to turn from autocracy to democracy but Alexander Kerensky was out-manoeuvered by the authoritarian Bolsheviks, and the chance was missed.

There followed a brutal civil war between Whites and Reds, i.e. right-wing and left-wing totalitarians, which the former lost. Many Whites were pogromshchiki (pogromists), some of whom fled to Germany, where they made the nascent Nazi Party a 'present' of the Russian-manufactured forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Not that the Nazis were in need of outside ideological reinforcement: the völkisch racist ideology had been taking root in the country since the 1870s, when Wilhelm Marr coined the term Anti-Semitismus. In the aftermath of the lost war and amid the apparent chaos of Weimar, the völkisch fringe burgeoned into a mass movement. Hitler took power and, virtually unhindered by the outside world, systematically prepared for the Holocaust. Even while he was perpetrating genocide on an industrial scale during World War Two his adversaries paid no special regard to the gargantuan slaughter.

The Soviet liberation of Auschwitz can therefore be considered a 'turning point when history didn't turn' because by January 1945 the German killing machine had practically completed its task.

This in no way detracts from the heroism of the Soviet - and British - forces who saved the last Jews left alive in the Nazi camps. But though the crematoria stopped belching smoke 60 years ago, the fires of hatred are still being stoked in Europe, most notably in the two aforementioned countries - Germany and Russia.

In the latter country some Duma deputies have revived not only the allegation of Jewish world rule made in the Protocols of Zion but also the medieval blood libel. In the East German region of Saxony a dozen NPD members of parliament walked out during a minute's silence for Holocaust victims.

In this country, the Holocaust commemoration at Westminster Hall was an immensely moving, dignified occasion, unmarred by a single false note. Even so, it was regrettable that the Muslim Council of Britain did not see fit to send a representative - ostensibly on the grounds that Israel pursues Nazi-style policies against the Palestinians.

This is a phrase that trips lightly off the tongues of even Western democratic politicians who ought to know better. Tony Benn claimed that the press lords hated the working class like the Nazis hated the Jews and Irish President Mary McAleese used a similar form of words about the Ulster Protestants' attitude to Catholics. However, both subsequently apologised for such unpardonable 'howlers'.

Dr Sakranie of the Muslim Council of Britain has not followed their example. He has equated genocide of the Jews with the measures of the Israeli army, although the Palestinian population has at least doubled since 1948 despite their toll of fatalities (Deir Yassin, Sabra and Shatila, etc).

Additionally, he has refused to mourn the victims of man's worst crime against his fellow-men at the very moment that, thanks to Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, a chink of light has pierced the Middle Eastern gloom. Let's pray that 2005 will not prove another historic turning point 'when history failed to turn'.

next article:Making 'white' black