UK Soldiers in Captivity

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There’s little time to write during the holiday, of course, but the news of the moment surrounds the British marines and naval personnel captured and then recently released by Iran. The news reports say that some have criticized the soldiers for appearing to admit to straying into Iranian waters while in captivity.

What brave words from the armchair quarterbacks. Let one of them be kidnapped illegally at gunpoint, held in isolation with the sounds of guns being cocked in the background, offered two choices — admit error and go home, or be jailed for years by a terrorist regime — and see if they managed to avoid spilling any sensitive information as they sung (likely loud enough to put several dozen canaries to shame!).

The armchair critics provide an appropriate lesson for us, as shortly after Passover we will be called upon by the modern State of Israel to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust on “Yom haShoah vehaGevurah,” the day of the destruction and the strength. Why “and the strength?” Because the day they chose is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and is followed shortly thereafter by Yom HaAtzma’ut, Israel Independence Day. The message we are given is: these Jews, the Jews of the uprising, are the ones we should admire. Not the old “golus mentality” Jews with their reticence and their religion, but those willing to pick up weapons.

Does it matter that the uprising was futile, as they were all martyred? Is it really a great consolation that they managed to take out a few Nazis as well? Perhaps. But meanwhile, the old golus mentality” Jews hatched a plan involving traditional golus methods — personal contacts, even bribery — that could have saved as many as 900,000 Jewish lives. It was the modern Jews with their focus upon Zionism and Roosevelt, even as Roosevelt was abandoning the Jews, who failed to follow through. Observing from a distance, they concluded the only thing they could do was help the Allies win the war, and if their brethren were sacrificed in the meantime, so be it. In Yom HaShoah vehaGevurah they assuaged their own collective conscience.

Never mind that the majority of the Holocaust martyrs were observant. Never mind that the majority of yeshivos and chassidic courts were erased. Never mind that in the observant community, one meets a far larger proportion of survivors and people with close relatives who were martyred. The State presumes to dictate what and when we should commemorate, and condemns and ridicules those Jews who fail to stand at attention (literally, for a moment of silence). The idea of distinctly Jewish commemorations, such as learning a Mishnah or observing Tisha B’Av, literally fails to cross their minds.

They are like those who now turn upon the British soldiers who survived harrowing captivity by following orders. Not collaborating, of course, in harming others — but working quietly from the inside rather than going out in a blaze of glory that would surely have resulted in their own long-term incarceration or death. We should applaud the soldiers, as we commemorate all the martyrs of the Holocaust.

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22 Responses

  1. Steve Brizel says:

    For those interested in seeing the response of and support for both physical and spiritual resistance by the rabbinical leadership, I cannot recommend highly enough Rabbait Esther Farbstein’s “Hidden in Thunder:Perspectives in Faith, Halacha and Leadership” that was originally published in Hebrew by Mossad HaRav Kook and now released in a two volume English translation. It includes discussions on issues such as rabbinical figures staying or escaping, spiritual and physical resistance, hiding children with monasteries , etc. It is a unique and important book because it does not engage in the exercise of “my way or the highway” logic that brands spiritual resistance as superior to physical resistance or vice versa. It is scrupulously written and does not hesitate to conclude that the famous story of 93 Cracow BY girls who poisoned themselves was a myth that cannot be corroborated by the then extant evidence or anything gleaned from survivors’ histories.

  2. de la costa says:

    i congradulate r menken for allowing opinion contrary to his own.
    of course, non-and anti-zionists will look to attack just about anything the zionist entity does. it is good hasbara for their own populace. it is of no relevance to the Secular zionist, nor to the State itself, who do not concern themselves to the opinion of their adversaries— anymore than datim or haredim attune their actions /opinions to avoid their critics’ barbs….

  3. Jewish Observer says:

    “prophecy had been given to idiots = shotim”

    – to be precise, shotim means insane people. idiots are not insane but have a diminished IQ

  4. mb says:

    Ori,
    I have no idea when God wants us to remember the Shoa. Nor does anybody else.It took years before it was added to the Tisha B’av Kinnot
    All I know is that it exists on Nissan 27th too.
    The enormity of the crime, the worst in our and all history deserves a special day. 3000 lives were snuffed out on 9/11. 3000 Jews were murdered everyday for 5 1/2 years, the length of WW2.

  5. Jewish Observer says:

    “he just wants to use a different day for that purpose”

    even if another day is better, is it really worth the cost of changing the day?

  6. Ori Pomerantz says:

    mb, may I respectfully point out that you if you are smart enough to use a Web browser you probably don’t meet the post-Churbanic requirement for prophecy (being a Shote)? Since you’re not a prophet, how do you know if G-d wants us the commemorate the Shoah on Yom haShoah established by the state of Israel, the 9th of Av established for everything else bad in Jewish history, or some other way?

    If Rabbi Yaakov Menken were to suggest we’d forget the Shoah that might be different. He doesn’t, he just wants to use a different day for that purpose.

    Note to non Jews reading this: There’s a saying: “once the temple had been destroyed, prophecy had been given to idiots (= shotim)”.

  7. mb says:

    I can’t imagine God smiling as his so called loyal subjects ignore Yom HaShoa. Nor can I imagine that reaction from the souls of the 6 million.
    R.Menken, with all due respect this post is awful

  8. Meir Shinnar says:

    Rav Menken wrote about the Warsaw Ghetto
    Does it matter that the uprising was futile, as they were all martyred? Is it really a great consolation that they managed to take out a few Nazis as well? Perhaps.

    This may reflect current haredi thought. But, compare and contrast with:

    The Seride Esh, Hagaon Rav Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg zt”l, was in the Warsaw Ghetto, and was a first hand witness to the German oppression. He was taken prisoner by them before the uprising. The leading Orthodox rabbi in prewar Germany, and one of the leading rabbis of the postwar era, he has far more personal, moral, and halachic stature to comment on this issue than almost anyone.

    In 1952, he wrote an article in Shearim entitled The Revolt of the Oppressed in the Ghetto and a Rebuke From those Insulted in the Knesset This was in response to the proposal to start diplomatic relations with Germany. The article is reprinted in Marc Shapiro’s book Kitve hagaon Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg zt”l, vol 2 In the article, after describing at length the suffering endured by the Ghetto inhabitants, he writes (p381 -382 in Shapiro, my translation)

    Only through knowledge of the situation as it was can one appreciate the tale of heroism of the spontaneous uprising in the Ghetto, starved and degraded. Finally there were find redeemers for the honor o f the nation was was so downntrodden. The youth of Israle who could no longer see the prolonged death rattle of hundreds of thousands of souls. Brothers and sisters got strength, and with the remainder of their strength they returned a just reward to their cruel oppressors, and therefore the revolt of the Warsaw Ghetto became the one shining page (ledaf hamazhir haechad) in that dark period. The rebels – Jews of all types, Bundists, zionists, mizrachists, revisionists and aguda members – that stood on the border of absolute certainty of destruction and death through the sufferings of hell did not tremble or shake but gathered super human strength to avenge the spilt blood of their nation. In their death, the death of heroes, they sanctified the name of Israel which had been defiled (kidshu shem yisrael hamechulal). If there was in the heart of the murderers one drop of human blood they should have, at the sight of this holy heroism of the Jewish oppressed to do what that Roman soldier did when he put rab bi hananya ben tradyon to the fire: To jump and put themselves in the fire.
    (end of quote)

  9. Steve Brizel says:

    Jewish Obsever-history that neglects one substantial sector to the point of almost deliberate oblivion is IMO hagiographical and suspect-regardless of the author or subject.

  10. Jewish Observer says:

    “Only time will tell if Yad VaShem will realize that many Jews who persished were Shomrei Torah uMitzvos ”

    – other than natural affinity to our own sub-group, why should we be so obsessed with that detail?

  11. Ori Pomerantz says:

    The comparison between trained British soldiers and Jewish civilians in camps is a Kal vaChomer. If we didn’t expect the British soldiers to fight when it’s hopeless, how could we expect the Holocaust victims to have done so?

    I don’t believe it’s a valid Kal vaChomer, though:

    1. The British soldiers had reasons to think that if they surrender they will be allowed to live. It’s been less than a month, and they are back home and safe. Holocaust victims did not have that option.

    2. As Bob Miller said, it’s not obvious that the British soldiers did the right thing by not fighting. It was the right thing for them personally, but soldiers are supposed to sacrifice their own good for the good of the military. Iran would be a lot more likely to attack British ships in the future.

    BTW, there is no contradiction between the Warsaw Ghetto rebellion and bribing the Nazis to save Jews. If anything, the more difficult it is to kill Jews, the easier it would be convince enemies to choose other venues.

  12. Steve Brizel says:

    This issue is an annual one in which neither side will prevail and which will not go away as long as either physical heroism or spiritual heroism exclusively is worth commemmorating. Only time will tell if Yad VaShem will realize that many Jews who persished were Shomrei Torah uMitzvos .

  13. Bob Miller says:

    Here’s more about captured soldiers/sailors:
    http://www.townhall.com/columnists/MichaelMcBride/2007/04/09/surviving_capture_with_your_honor_intact

    Clearly, the British in this incident were not properly trained to deal with their situation.

    Comparing them to Jews in the camps is insulting to the latter.

  14. mycroft says:

    Never mind that the majority of the Holocaust martyrs were observant

    Sadly before the war the vast majority of European Jews were not observant. I believe the Bund had more seats in Polish Parliament than the Agudah had.

    But meanwhile, the old “golus mentality” Jews hatched a plan involving traditional golus methods—personal contacts, even bribery—that could have saved as many as 900,000 Jewish lives

    Sadlu unlikely-despite the inefficiencies of the Vaad Hazalah-even an extraoridinary efficient Vaad wouldn’t have been able to save much. Of course, the internal fights and lack of achdus by ALL sides didn’t help matters too much. We shouldn’t armchair and second guess-but that is true on all sides.

  15. Yaakov Menken says:

    It is interesting seeing someone claim that Yom haShoah is observed by “all of klal Yisrael” during an era when the declining attendance at commemorations is bemoaned across the United States. The Baltimore Jewish Times noted with regret two years ago that “the general age of audience members is 50 or above.” It is not true that Israeli citizens constitute the majority of our people, nor that secular Israelis universally observe a moment of silence, nor that stopping work for a moment in order not to attract unfriendly stares could be called “observance” of a day. Without a doubt, the majority of Jews today do not observe Yom HaShoah. By forgetting Tisha B’Av they have doomed this new day of commemoration, but that’s a discussion for another time.

    The fact that Rav Ziemba hy”d authorized the rebellion certainly is no indication that he considered it more productive than an attempt to save nearly a million lives through alternate means — or that this event should become, for millions of Israelis, the defining moment of the Holocaust. In my opinion, to even argue otherwise sullies his memory, zt”l. There is no indication at all that this is what he would have wanted.

    The source for the statement that the majority of Holocaust martyrs were observant comes from — among many others — Dr. Michael Berenbaum, the former Director of the National Holocaust Museum and an internationally renowned Holocaust researcher.

    As concerns the British soldiers, I did not intend to make much of a parallel between them and Holocaust martyrs. None would be fitting, and, in any case, the argument that they should not be criticized for saying whatever was necessary to earn their freedom stands on its own logic. My point was merely the parallel between the unfair criticism of the soldiers, and the unfair criticism of those who did not violently resist the Nazis implicit in the choice of the day of Yom HaShoah.

    This was discussed here on Cross-Currents two years ago, and at the time I quoted Reconstructionist Rabbi Michael Strassfeld making the same point:

    • Its connection with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising seems to me to make us agree with those who would desecrate the memory of all the 6 million by emphasizing only those who engaged in armed resistance against the Nazis. It reflects a defensiveness about—and thus an acknowledgement of some truth in—the statements made by those who accuse the Jews of being led to slaughter as sheep. To emphasize the Warsaw Ghetto revolt is to accept those critics’ field of discourse by trying to prove that some Jews did fight back. The Warsaw Ghetto should be remembered, but I am not willing to imply that its defenders were more heroic than any other of the 6 million, or, what is even worse, to imply even a subliminal embarrassment for those Jews who did not fight back.
  16. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Rabbi Yaakov Menken, I apologize if my previous message was rude or too argumentative. I didn’t mean that you should mark Yom haShoah. The government of Israel does not represent you, nor does it have any claim on your loyalty. It is the governmnet of the state of Israel, not the government of the Jewish people.

    People living in Israel should stop for the moment of silence, out of respect for their neighbours at least (that includes Charedim and Arabs). This is similar to not selling Falafels in Pita in Jewish cities, including predominately Chiloni ones, in Pesach.

    BTW, growing up in Israel in the eighties and ninties, I rarely heard it mentioned that Yom haShoah was based on the Warsaw Ghetto rebellion.

  17. NLG says:

    Clearly it is wrong to criticize these British soldiers for not fighting to the death rather than be captured. But I fail to see any parallels to shoach. These men (and woman) were soldiers. Their job is to take risks, including the risk of death. Once captured, it is a soldier’s duty to resist any and all efforts to force them to give any aid to the enemy, to the point where as most know a soldier when questioned is not to give more than name, rank and serial number (and, if it would help his cause, disinformation). Arguably, these soldiers broke down too soon, appearing on camera in orchestrated videos where they “confessed” to having infringed on Iran’s territory, and made it appear as if they were being treated very well. Such videos were used in pro-Iranian propoganda during their brief period of captivity.

    I am not saying that a soldier must hold out at all costs. But even now having information on the psychological manipulation to which they were subjected, it pales in comparison to what many US troops suffered in conflicts of prior eras; suffered without giving any aid to their captors.

    Perhaps I am missing your point, but I do not see any parallels at all to what Jews suffered during the Nazi rein of terror, nor do I find it at all convincing that because some Jews were wise enough to realize they could save more lives with bribery and other tactics rather than rebellion, that these British soldiers should be applauded.

  18. Yossie Abramson says:

    Firstly, how do we know that the uprising was futile? The holdouts kept the Nazis occupied, who knows how many other ghettos they could have liquidated during that time. In addition, the uprising was sanctioned by R’ Ziemba HY”D. That is good enough for me. You speak of armchair quarterbacking, but that is what you are doing.
    Secondly, I’m not sure where you get the fact that the majority of victims were observant.
    Your comparison between the holocaust survivors and the British soldiers is not a valid comparison.

  19. Bob Miller says:

    We should not be that concerned that the Israeli government dedicates events (and monuments) to its own official ideology. We can properly commemorate Jewish heroism of all types in the right ways and at the right times without government support. In this way, we can project and explain the facts without ideological bias.

    In any case, the State has had problems with its own “golus mentality” ever since general Israeli society began to adopt Western values wholesale and the Israeli government began to take orders from foreign nations against its own nation’s security interests. It ill befits the State’s ruling elite to mock “golus mentality” in others.

    As for the British sailors, their captivity and humiliation were direct results of their own government’s poor planning and poor reaction. The heat in this instance should be taken by that government alone.

  20. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Rabbi Yaakov Menken, I’m afraid you’re vulnerable to the charge of armchair quarterbacking yourself. Just because a decision is made in an office by somebody who isn’t at immediate physical danger, that doesn’t mean it’s easy for other people to evaluate it.

    Remember the situation in Israel in 1949. Israel just won the independence was, but at the cost of 1% of the Jewish population. Not 1% of the soldiers – 1% of the population, the equivalent to the US losing about three million people. The old Zionist dream of peaceful co-existence with the Arabs proved to be impossible. The young state will have to be something of an armed camp with long compulsory military service followed by reserve duty. Soon the population will be composed more of refugees from abroad than locals who lived through that war.

    There are many moral and psychological ingredients that go into turning a civilian into a successful soldier. One is a military tradition, a history of fighting to model oneself on. In the IDF there are special classes called Moreshet Krav, battle heritage, for that purpose.

    Today we can look back on the wars in 1948, 1957, 1967, 1973 and 1982 (the part where Israel conquered half of Lebanon – not the part afterwards where Israel withdrew) and say that of course Jews can be good soldiers. In 1949 they didn’t have this history. They had one full-scale war, and a number of smaller guerilla actions.

    Israel had to create a military tradition, to teach the military values the young country will need to survive. That’s the reason for the emphasis on a minor holiday (Channukah), a stupid rebellion (the zealots who fought Rome and lost the 2nd temple), and a temporary victory (Lag Ba’Omer, which in secular Israel commemorates a victory in the second failed rebellion against the Romans). That is also the reason for the celebration of minor skirmishes (Tel Chai) and ghetto uprisings.

    It was bad history, but good propaganda, at a time when they desparately needed good propaganda to survive.

  21. CHAIM HABER says:

    I am afraid that for so long as “we” see a “them” and “they” see an “us” OUR people will forever be in danger and in spiritual duress. As a frum (“dati,” “orthodox,” “religious”…..add your own appelation) Jew it behooves me to see the “Jew” in the jew. Why the adjectival descriptions? To what purpose? If one holds “conservative” or “reform” or “lo dati” to be a perjorative state, then one is perhaps guilty of loshon horah in his own universe for speaking desparagingly about a fellow Jew (one whom, by the way, we would all be obligated to violate Shabbos to rescue–even if he were non religious). I don’t see wherein transmogrifying political commentary re British captives into published criticism of how dare “them Jews” define how “we Jews” should commemorate the Shoah serves any constructive purpose. It fosters the type of internecine warfare that led to the original Holocaust of the Bais HaMikdosh. And if when the sirens go off on Yom HaShoah all Jews stood still , took out a pocket Mishnayos or Sefer and learn zechar Nishmos–would that be so bad? Is it better to continue going about “our” business when other Jews are mourning in “their” way?

    In a Shiva house we say: “HaMokom yenachem etchem b’toch shar aveili b’Tzion u’Yerushalayim” Just as you are in mourning , so am I for your loss. I am also an Avel for your loss. We need to foster this kind of kesher to all Jews until we just see “Jews” without the adjectives.

    Chaim Haber

  22. Nachum Lamm says:

    Oh, not *this* silly meme again. Not the whole harping on “Gevurah” again to prove either how frum you are or give some figleaf for once again breaking from all of klal Yisrael.

    “Does it matter that the uprising was futile, as they were all martyred? Is it really a great consolation that they managed to take out a few Nazis as well? Perhaps.”

    Well, R’ Ziemba, hy’d, certainly seemed to feel that way. You really should read the reports of what he had to say about the uprising. Or is “Da’as Torah” merely a matter of picking your gedolim to suit your views?

    Your line about the soldiers is just nonsensical. The rules that apply to them are simply not the same as those that apply to the rest of us.