Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

I Was There

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

I Was There

Article excerpt

"Please don't talk about Yair Golan!" a friend begged me. "Anything a leftist like you writes will only harm him!"

So I abstained for some weeks. But I can't keep quiet any longer.

Gen. Yair Golan, the deputy chief of staffof the Israeli army, made a speech on Holocaust Memorial Day. Wearing his uniform, he read a prepared, well-considered text that triggered an uproar which has not yet died down.

Dozens of articles have been published in its wake, some condemning him, some lauding him. Seems that nobody could stay indifferent.

The main sentence was: "If there is something that frightens me about the memories of the Holocaust, it is the knowledge of the awful processes which happened in Europe in general, and in Germany in particular, 70, 80, 90 years ago, and finding traces of them here in our midst, today, in 2016."

All hell broke loose. What!!! Traces of Nazism in Israel? A resemblance between what the Nazis did to us with what we are doing to the Palestinians?

Ninety years ago was 1926, one of the last years of the German republic. Eighty years ago was 1936, three years after the Nazis came to power. Seventy years ago was 1946, on the morrow of Hitler's suicide and the end of the Nazi Reich.

I feel compelled to write about the general's speech after all, because I was there.

As a child I was an eyewitness to the last years of the Weimar Republic (so called because its constitution was shaped in Weimar, the town of Goethe and Schiller). As a politically alert boy I witnessed the Nazi Machtergreifung ("taking power") and the first half a year of Nazi rule.

I know what Golan was speaking about. Though we belong to two different generations, we share the same background. Both our families come from small towns in western Germany. His father and I must have had a lot in common.

There is a strict moral commandment in Israel: nothing can be compared to the Holocaust. The Holocaust is unique. It happened to us, the Jews, because we are unique. (Religious Jews would add: "Because God has chosen us.")

I have broken this commandment. Just before Golan was born, I published (in Hebrew) a book called The Swastika, in which I recounted my childhood memories and tried to draw conclusions from them. It was on the eve of the Eichmann trial, and I was shocked by the lack of knowledge about the Nazi era among young Israelis then.

My book did not deal with the Holocaust, which took place when I was already living in Palestine, but with a question which troubled me throughout the years, and even today: how could it happen that Germany, perhaps the most cultured nation on earth at the time, the homeland of Goethe, Beethoven and Kant, could democratically elect a raving psychopath like Adolf Hitler as its leader?

The last chapter of the book was entitled "It Can Happen Here!" The title was drawn from a book by the American novelist Sinclair Lewis, called ironically It Can't Happen Here, in which he described a Nazi take-over of the United States.

In this chapter I discussed the possibility of a Jewish Nazi-like party coming to power in Israel. My conclusion was that a Nazi party can come to power in any country on earth, if the conditions are right. Yes, in Israel, too.

The book was largely ignored by the Israeli public, which at the time was overwhelmed by the storm of emotions evoked by the terrible disclosures of the Eichmann trial.

Now comes General Golan, an esteemed professional soldier, and says the same thing.

And not as an improvised remark, but on an official occasion, wearing his general's uniform, reading from a prepared, well thought-out text.

The storm broke out, and has not passed yet.

Israelis have a self-protective habit: when confronted with inconvenient truths, they evade its essence and deal with a secondary, unimportant aspect. Of all the dozens and dozens of reactions in the written press, on TV and on political platforms, almost none confronted the general's painful contention. …

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