Remembering each and every person who was lost, may their memory be a blessing.
Dedicated by Mina and Suzanne Goodman

Day 4

The Nazis

Dedicated to Professor Laurence Rees by Rabbi Aubrey Hersh in appreciation of his work.

How was it possible that during the 20th century people from Germany, a cultured nation at the heart of Europe, perpetrated such crimes? In my attempt to answer this, I was helped by two accidents of history. The first was that I met many former Nazis at exactly the moment when most of them had nothing to lose by speaking openly. Fifteen years earlier, holding down influential jobs and pillars of their communities, they would not have spoken. The second fortuitous circumstance was the fall of the Berlin Wall and the access to Eastern Europe – not just to the archives but the people as well. As I travelled, however, I became aware that the question was not confined to Germany. In the newly liberated countries of Eastern Europe, I encountered something frightening: virulent an- tisemitism. I had expected people to tell me how much they hated the Communists. But to hate Jews? It seemed ludicrous, especially since there were hardly any Jews left in the places I was visiting – the Nazis had seen to that. Yet the old man in the Baltic States who had helped the Nazis shoot Jews in 1941 still thought he had done the right thing. And even some of those who had fought against the Nazis held wild antisemitic beliefs. One Ukrainian veteran, who had fought bravely for the Ukrainian Nationalist partisans against both the Nazis and the Red Army and had been persecuted as a result, asked me: “What do you think of the view that there is an international conspiracy of Jewish financiers operating out of New York which is trying to destroy all non-Jewish governments?” I looked at him for a second. Not being Jewish myself, it is always something of a shock to encounter naked antisemitism from an unexpected source. “What do I think of that view?” I replied finally, “I think it’s total garbage.” The old partisan took a sip of vodka. “Really,” he said, “That’s your opinion. Interesting.”


Professor Laurence Rees

Professor Laurence Rees is a former Head of BBC TV History Programmes and Creative Director of BBC TV History. He has written seven history books on the Second World War. His career as a writer and filmmaker, specializing in the Nazis and WWII, stretches back nearly 20 years and has won him several awards.

Click here for today’s parallel essay from Damian Thompson.

Fact of the Day

Adolf Hitler and the Nazis publicized the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – an anti-Semitic hoax purporting to describe a Jewish plan for global domination, as though it were a valid document, although it had already been exposed as fraudulent. After the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, it ordered the text to be studied in German classrooms. The historian Norman Cohn suggested that Hitler used the Protocols as his primary justification for initiating the Holocaust—his “warrant for genocide”.

Click here to view the image.

Today's Video

Winner of the Philips Cinema ‘Tell It Your Way’ international competition – a powerful short film about those dark years – inspiring.

70 Days for 70 Years is a project of The United Synagogue