Leo Baeck 1


Extracts from the Apr 2016 Journal

Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster

On 27 January 2016, Holocaust Memorial Day, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the UK Holocaust Memorial would be located in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. The memorial is to be built by the end of 2017 and plans for ‘an associated world-class learning centre’ will be announced shortly. The report of the Holocaust Commission, published last year, recommended ‘a focus on promoting and furthering Holocaust education and a programme to record and preserve the testimony of Holocaust survivors’. Testimony will be integral to the curation of the centre, though it is late in the day for interviewing survivors of Nazi persecution. The announcement also largely begs the questions: what precisely will be memorialised and what will be the aim(s) and content of the learning centre?
Taking the memorial first, the obvious problem is that the Holocaust did not take place in Britain, which was never occupied by the Nazis, excepting only the Channel Islands. It is entirely appropriate that formerly occupied countries like France, from where Jews were deported to the death camps in their thousands, should commemorate those events through such institutions as the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris. Germany and Austria, as successor states to the Third Reich, also owe it to the victims of the Holocaust to erect monuments and museums in their memory, as they have done in Berlin and Vienna. Outside the occupied countries of Europe, institutions rightly exist in countries that have a special relationship to the Jewish people, most obviously Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. It is greatly to be hoped that the UK memorial will be more than a pallid replica of these, worthy in sentiment but lacking their focus and their natural connection to the events that unfolded in mainland Europe under Nazi rule. The design of the memorial will be put out to tender.
The memorial, we were informed a year ago, will ‘ensure that the memory of the Holocaust is preserved and that the lessons it teaches are never forgotten’; it and the learning centre ‘will have a number of key characteristics, including a place for prayer, interactive elements, factual information, and details on Britain’s efforts during the Shoah’. The factual information will presumably be housed in the learning centre and, again presumably, within the framework of an overall history of the Holocaust. But if the UK Holocaust Memorial is truly to fulfil its purpose it can surely do so only if it has a specifically British dimension, recording the particular historical role that Britain played with reference to the Jews of Europe in the years after 1933. All that has so far been outlined in this respect is the vaguely phrased intention to include ‘details on Britain’s efforts during the Shoah’. But Britain, like the USA, undertook virtually no operations during the war, and therefore during the Shoah, designed specifically to attack the death camps or otherwise to impede or destroy the Nazi machinery of extermination. Britain also made little effort to rescue Jews from occupied Europe after it had declared war on Germany in September 1939.
This highlights the unusual nature of Britain’s contribution to the saving of Jews between 1933 and 1945. Britain’s principal efforts on behalf of the Jews in fact occurred before the war, and therefore before the Shoah, which historians usually date as occurring between 1941, following the invasion of the Soviet Union, and the end of the war in 1945. The special British dimension to the rescue of the Jews of Europe, on which the UK Holocaust Memorial should in the interests of historical accuracy focus, is dominated by the large number of pre-war refugees admitted by the British government, if sometimes reluctantly, between 1933 and 1939, and in particular during the last 18 months of peace, between the annexation of Austria by Germany in March 1938 (the Anschluss) and the outbreak of war. Britain was exceptional among the countries of the world in that the number of Jews from the Reich that it admitted increased from about 2,000 a year between 1933 and 1938 to about 3,000 a month between March 1938 and September 1939 – precisely the period during which other countries were closing their doors to fleeing Jews. Among the territories that closed their doors was Palestine, then administered by Britain under a League of Nations mandate.
The refugees who were admitted to Britain did not fall victim to the Nazis, unlike those who had sought refuge in other European countries subsequently occupied by the Germans. In those countries, such Jewish communities as existed after the war were largely composed of camp survivors and those who had survived in hiding or by virtue of special protection. Holocaust survivors, arriving after 1945, also occupied a more prominent place than did pre-war refugees in those countries outside Europe that admitted numbers of Jews after the war, most obviously Israel and the USA. By contrast, the number of Jews who came to Britain from Europe after the war, the great majority of them Holocaust survivors, was quite small, very considerably smaller than the number of pre-war refugees. After 1945, the British government allowed in only a relatively small number of Jewish child survivors, most famously the group of several hundred known as ‘The Boys’ and a limited number of adults with family connections to Britain, under the Distressed Persons Scheme that was announced in autumn 1945.
Among the countries that admitted substantial numbers of Jews in the decade and a half after 1933, Britain was exceptional in this respect: the Jewish victims of Nazi persecution who settled here were predominantly refugees, not camp survivors. In the areas in Britain where Jews displaced by Hitler settled in large numbers, principally north-west London, the social culture was heavily influenced by refugees from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia who had arrived before September 1939, not by those who came after 1945. The great names associated in the public mind with the victims of Nazism are in Britain’s case almost exclusively pre-war refugees, from Karl Popper to Max Perutz, from George Weidenfeld to Judith Kerr, from Anton Walbrook to Ernst Gombrich. It is surely essential that any memorial established in the UK to the victims of Nazism should reflect this. No one would deny that the victims and survivors of the Holocaust are uniquely deserving of commemoration, a function that the UK Holocaust Memorial will doubtless fulfil. That function should, in all equity, not obscure the story of the pre-war refugees from Nazism, a story that is of such particular historical significance to Britain.
The overarching narrative of any memorial to the Holocaust must be the attempted extermination of the Jewish people in the Nazi death camps, in the mass shootings carried out by the Einsatzkommandos, and by a multitude of other means. Without wishing to establish a hierarchy of suffering, it is plain that the experience of those who survived the Holocaust in Nazi-controlled Europe is qualitatively different from that of other groups of victims of Nazi persecution. It is to be hoped that the UK Holocaust Memorial will strike the delicate balance between that overarching narrative and the specifically British dimension to the events of 1933-45. A British narrative would encompass the Kindertransport children, the many thousands of Jews, mostly women, who came on domestic service permits, and the 4,500 men, so-called ‘transmigrants’, accommodated at Kitchener Camp in Kent, often after being released from German concentration camps. It would cover the mass internment of some 27,000 ‘enemy aliens’ in summer 1940 as well as the contribution those same ‘aliens’ subsequently made to the British war effort, some 10,000 of them on active service in the British forces and many thousands more in factories and workshops.
The narrative would convey the flavour of the reception accorded to the Jewish refugees from Nazism on arrival as well as the nature of their relations with the host community in the post-war years of their settlement in Britain. One thinks here of the ‘anti-alien’ petition mounted in the London Borough of Hampstead in autumn 1945 which demanded, but failed to achieve, the repatriation of the refugees to their native countries, ostensibly in order to free up accommodation for ‘British’ people. One also thinks of the process of naturalisation which, after a slow start in 1946, saw the granting of British citizenship to tens of thousands of Jewish refugees by 1950. The story of the contribution that the refugees from Hitler have made to British society includes not only that of the high achievers whose names have adorned almost every field of endeavour in Britain over the past 70 years, but also that of the mass of ‘ordinary’ refugees who have so greatly enriched the culture and society of their adopted homeland, in the face of every obstacle and setback. We can only wish those responsible for planning the UK Holocaust Memorial well in their efforts to achieve their objectives.

Reflections of an Unrepentant German Jew

The death rattle of German-Jewish culture resounds in the memories of a few survivors. Soon it will fall silent and one will have to read about us in history books. I won't be mentioned, but many of the great men and women I knew will make an appearance. Until then I remain an unrepentant German Jew.
I wonder how many of your readers share my experience. As I grow older, I feel more German with every day that passes. It shows itself in many small ways - childhood memories popping up which have lain in a Dornroeschenschlaf (see what I mean!) for decades, looking at my grandchildren's comics and remembering the names of the boys’ magazines I favoured (and my mother disapproved of), and the advertising jingles I used to chorus. German words spring unbidden to mind; I enjoy the rare opportunities to speak my native tongue and am gratified by my fluency. As for my foreigner-perfect English, the bedrock of my livelihood, is it getting a little frazzled at the edges?
But the real awakening from an English coma happens in my head. Culturally I am a German Jew. The ignorance of most English people about German culture offends me. They have never heard of Heine, have not read Goethe (a retro pop group?), know about Moses Mendelssohn - if at all - only because of Felix, and are comfortably unaware of the building blocks of European civilisation. To me as a Jew, this feels more, not less, diminishing: another put-down since the German-Jewish relationship was, like no other, a symbiosis that produced unprecedented treasure. As I write, the media celebrate Einstein’s vindication, some of them graciously throwing in Freud and Marx. But mutual fertilisation went far deeper and wider than the appearance of a few supermen. Let me just remind you of the names of some who made me who I am and perhaps made you too: Schoenberg (music), Hirschfeld (sexology), Cassirer (philosophy), Reinhardt (theatre), Rathenau (politics), Herzl (Zionism), Arendt (history) - each of them an avatar. The list is random - my link to that elite is anything but.
The Germany created by Bismarck, who disliked but valued Jews (as did the Kaiser), which turned into a republic after the First World War, was disproportionately promoted by Jewish thinkers and doers, often on opposite sides of the revolution, and is thus yet more proof of how deeply Jews were embedded in German affairs - to the extent of briefly stopping their internal quarrels for the greater good of quarrelling for Germany. The Weimar Republic and constitution were significantly promoted by Jews inside and outside parliament; some of them helped to create that parliament; some did their bit to bring it to its knees.
The 20th Century should really have been the German century, with us taking some of the credit, just as the 19th was England’s with us taking none. The title of Amos Elon’s history of Jews in Germany between 1743 and 1933, The Pity of It All, says it all. It is about what might have been: the German-Jewish symbiosis which might have put the first man on the moon, tested the first atom bomb, pioneered undreamed-of advances in medicine and engineering, become the focal point of the arts - all this aborted by the mustachioed monster who allowed Goebbels to burn the books of such as Mann, Zweig, Musil, Toller, Heine and Ludwig and proclaim ‘the end of the age of Jewish intellectualism’. There is nothing unnatural in my claiming a share of the Germany that might have been. The good and the bad were two sides of the same coin. If we really belonged together, we had to love each other. And if the other side could not love us - could feel whole only without us - it had to eliminate us. What might have been a brotherhood ended in fratricide.
The chance will not come again. The USA became the owners of the 20th Century (with the help of a lot of Jews who had been destined to play that role in Germany) and who can tell what the present century will bring? Certainly no joy for us Jews. The death rattle of German-Jewish culture resounds in the memories of a few survivors. Soon it will fall silent and one will have to read about us in history books. I won't be mentioned, but many of the great men and women I knew will make an appearance. Until then I remain an unrepentant German Jew.

Rabbi Werner van der Zyl: A tribute

The yahrzeit (anniversary) of Rabbi Werner van der Zyl’s death on 10 April 1984 and the 60th anniversary of Leo Baeck College, which he founded and was regarded as his outstanding living memorial, is an appropriate time to pay a tribute.
Rabbi van der Zyl was born on 11 September 1902 in Schwerte, Germany, and brought up in a liberal Jewish family. Possessing a lovely voice, he expected to be a chazan (cantor) and enrolled in the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, where Leo Baeck z.l. (Of Blessed Memory) and others persuaded him to become a rabbi. He graduated in 1929, obtained a doctorate in 1931, and served the Berlin Friedenstempel and Oranienburger Strasse congregations from 1932 until his emigration in 1939.
In the Nazi period, van der Zyl proved an effective Seelsorger or Roey-Tson (shepherd of the flock), bringing succour and help to the threatened Jewish community. He was an outspoken opponent of the regime. In one sermon, knowing there were Nazi spies in the congregation and surrounded by Jewish First World War veterans who had been awarded the Iron Cross, he declared: ‘At that time, we were celebrated for our heroism in the service of this country. Now, we are criminals.’ He was promptly arrested.
My first meeting with Werner van der Zyl was a happy one, my last meeting a sad one. On 22 October 1938 I was due to have my barmitzvah in the Friedenstempel. He was to officiate and needed to meet me beforehand. As a pupil of the Theodor-Herzl-Schule, where Hebrew was taught, I was well prepared yet nervous. But he put me at my ease, approved my readings, encouraged me, and wished me mazel tov (congratulations). At that time, when benches painted ‘Nur für Juden’ (Jews only) in yellow were set up in parks, he told me: ‘Don’t be afraid or ashamed to sit on those benches. The Germans should be ashamed!’ He was of course re-arrested, but was released on the intervention of Leo Baeck.
The last occasion on which I spoke to him was in a hospital in Zurich in September 1982. He had suffered another mild heart attack. Contrary to the pleading of his family and his doctor’s advice, he had come out of retirement from Mallorca to help the small Or Chadash Liberal Community in Zurich. He enjoyed his 80th birthday when the Zurich congregation honoured and celebrated him. He was looking forward to inducting me but, alas, he was in hospital and the community president delivered his message instead. When I visited him on his sickbed he was as optimistic and encouraging as ever and wished me success and mazel tov. He then recovered to be taken back to Mallorca, where he enjoyed a further two years with his beloved wife, Annelies, whom he had married in Berlin in 1931, and visits from his only daughter Nikki and grandchildren. He died on 10 April 1984. Hugo Gryn z.l. had his remains brought back to London and he is buried in Hoop Lane Cemetery in Golders Green.
Like Leo Baeck, Rabbi van der Zyl wished to remain with his flock in Berlin but was urged to go to England, which he had previously visited. Lily Montagu of the World Union for Progressive Judaism obtained a visa for him and he accompanied a Kindertransport to England in March 1939.
Like most refugees in Britain he was given the status of ‘enemy alien’ and interned in the Kitchener Camp and, after May 1940, in the Isle of Man. There he became a much respected leader and lectured and preached. On his release in 1943 he was appointed Rabbi of Alyth Gardens Reform Synagogue, which he served with distinction until he was called to be Senior Rabbi of the West London Synagogue, which he served equally beneficially until a heart attack forced him to retire in October 1968.
Tributes have been paid to his outstanding leadership in Reform Judaism. He continued to be a Seelsorger for the Post-War Refugees Committee and assisted many in need. Following in the footsteps of his mentor Leo Baeck, he was humble and self-effacing, never using the word ‘I’ in sermons but ‘We’ and ‘Us’ and speaking up effectively and forcefully against inhumanity and injustice. Following Leo Baeck again, Werner van der Zyl bore no hatred towards Germany; he believed in reconciliation and, soon after the war, went back to lecture and preach there.
Rabbi Werner van der Zyl certainly lived up to the ideal enumerated in Psalm 15: ‘Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth from his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his friend, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbour; who swears to his own hurt and does not change. He who does these things shall never be moved.’ Rabbi van der Zyl did these things and was never moved. Therefore his memory will endure for blessing. [link]

THE AUSTRIAN RESISTANCE 1938-1945 by Wolfgang Neugebauer Vienna: Edition Steinbauer, 2014, 334 pp., £17.50

In October 2014, the mayor of Vienna unveiled a memorial dedicated to the 30,000 soldiers of the Wehrmacht and to civilians all over occupied Europe who had been sentenced to death by Nazi military courts for desertion, disobedience, sabotage and resistance. The monument is prominently located on Ballhausplatz in the political centre of the Second Republic, just opposite the Chancellery and the Office of the Federal President. Designed by German artist Olaf Nicolai, it can be regarded as a symbolic follow-up to the legal rehabilitation of Wehrmacht deserters and other victims of Nazi military justice enacted by the Austrian National Assembly in 2009 after a ten-year public discussion. The memorial is indicative of the new interest in anti-Nazi resistance and, in broader terms, in partisan warfare, disobedience, non-compliance, non-conformism and the rescue of the persecuted in public and scholarly discussions of Austria’s Nazi past. Among recent publications dealing with such topics, Wolfgang Neugebauer’s latest book, The Austrian Resistance 1938-1945, is outstanding, as it reflects the rediscovery of the resistance in a comprehensive way.
It is well known that following the collapse of the Nazi regime in Austria in 1945, the importance of the politically motivated resistance to Nazism was overestimated for some years, in order to flesh out the infamous, self-serving myth whereby the Austrians had been the ‘first victims of Nazi aggression’ and therefore did not bear any responsibility for the crimes of the regime. This short period of political instrumentalisation was replaced by the marginalisation of the resistance (and even more of the victims of racial and anti-Semitic persecution), when the reintegration of former members of the NSDAP into Austrian society and the general whitewashing of the Wehrmacht became the dominant tools of Austrian nation-building. Consequently, the first phase of serious and systematic historical research on the resistance, between the early 1970s and the mid-1980s, was dominated by a patriotic approach, not least in order to counter the revival of revisionist and German nationalist groups as well as the anti-resistance propaganda of Wehrmacht veterans.
In contrast, within the broader context of research on the Nazi regime, the involvement of many Austrians in the annihilation of the European Jews and other crimes remained widely underexposed. The recent approach to the resistance takes a somewhat different perspective. It neither revives the myth of Austria as a victim nor shifts the focus away from racial and anti-Semitic persecution. It is fully aware that the forces of the resistance formed only a strikingly small minority and it does not avoid tackling and reflecting on the internal conflicts and rivalries that beset the resistance, the illusions prevalent in popular attitudes, and the blind spots common among the politically motivated resistance fighters, such as their widespread disregard of the Shoah.
In his comprehensive survey, Wolfgang Neugebauer not only presents an updated version of his own decades-long research into the persecution of political opponents by the Nazi machinery of repression, including the Gestapo, the criminal police, the SS and the judicial system. One of the most distinguished pioneers of research on resistance in the German-speaking countries, he also succeeds in including in his overall analysis the recent findings of younger scholars on resistance inside the Wehrmacht, the Slovene partisans in Carinthia, resistance in exile, Jewish resistance, and the Austrian refugees who served with Allied secret services such as the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). Thus, hitherto neglected and unknown aspects of the subject are brought out. Among the most active militant resistance fighters in Austria were several young men of Jewish descent, for example Leo Engelmann and Walter Wachs, two commanders of a partisan group in Styria.
By far the most effective military resistance to the regime within the borders of Nazi Germany (and not just Austria) was provided by Slovene partisan units operating in the Karawanken mountain range in the Austrian-Slovene borderlands. Up to 900 Carinthian Slovenes joined these units, which had been founded by the Slovene Liberation Front in 1942-43 and were armed by the SOE in 1944. Neugebauer discusses recent findings on the basic rivalry between parallel Communist and British-led operations aimed at building up resistance which, in reality, hampered rather than fostered anti-Nazi activities. Finally, he offers updated figures: around 9,500 Austrians lost their lives through political persecution; around 66,000 Austrian victims of the Holocaust have been recorded; the number of patients in psychiatric hospitals and care homes who fell victim to the Nazi regime’s so-called euthanasia programmes is between 25,000 and 30,000; the racial persecution of the Romany (Gypsies) led to the deaths of more than 9,000 Austrians.
In all, at least 110,000 Austrians lost their lives as victims of the Nazi regime. However, Neugebauer makes it clear that, with the notable exception of the Carinthian partisans, nowhere and at no time up to the final stage of the war were opponents of Nazism and resistance fighters able to find enough popular support to challenge Nazi rule. The liberation of Austria was the exclusive achievement of the Allied forces, which lost 30,000 soldiers on Austrian soil in the year 1945. Nonetheless, Neugebauer’s work gives credit to those who gave or risked their lives in resisting the Nazi regime in Austria from within. [link]

‘First they came for the Communists ...’

This well-known text ascribed to Martin Niemöller is often quoted, particularly on Holocaust Memorial Day. It encapsulates so well the sequence of the Nazi attacks against the regime’s opponents, as well as Niemöller’s own failure to speak out on behalf of other persecuted groups to whom - as he says - he did not belong.
In using the expression ‘belong to’, Niemöller adopts a rather static point of view and is also rather too kind to himself. We may be born into the context of some group or ideology but eventually we choose which groups we want to belong to or not. Niemöller chose to be a national conservative and supporter of Imperial Germany and its expansionist aims. He chose not to be a democrat. When Germany was defeated in 1918 he blamed the revolution for it. He did not support the new democratic Germany but helped to undermine it. In this he was typical of a large part of the German intelligentsia. This lack of support for the Weimar Republic and its democratic values paved the way for Hitler.
Before we classify Niemöller as an ‘anti-Nazi theologian’, as some want to see him, we ought to take a look at his life before Hitler as well as during the Third Reich. At the beginning of the First World War he volunteered for the navy and eventually became a U-Boat commander and was decorated for his bravery. For that he was later much praised in the Nazi press. His autobiography Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-Boat to Pulpit) became a bestseller in Germany at the time. As a conservative nationalist, he despised the Weimar Republic and joined the right-wing anti-democratic Freikorps, who were responsible for a large number of political assassinations in the early 1920s and did much damage to the democratic government. He supported the 1921 Kapp Putsch in Berlin which aimed to overthrow the democratically elected government and establish an autocratic regime supported by the military.
Niemöller supported the Nazi Party and Hitler even after he became a Lutheran pastor in 1929. In free elections he had voted for the Nazi Party, which he had praised as a ‘renewal movement on a Christian foundation’. He also agreed with the Führer's war aims. As a Lutheran, he took the view that a curse lay on the Jews due to their refusal to accept Jesus as the son of God.
After the war Niemöller explained that his eventual opposition to Hitler was on theological and not political grounds. Neither he nor the Bekennende Kirche (Confessional Church), which he helped to found in opposition to the majority ‘German Christians’, protested against the 1933 ‘Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service’, which excluded Jews from the civil service. Nor did they express opposition to any of the numerous discriminatory laws and measures against Jews and other minorities. He came into conflict with Nazi policy only when in 1936 Hitler wanted the Lutheran Church to apply the ‘Aryan Paragraph’. On the basis of church doctrine, he took the view that once Jews were baptised as Christians they were ‘fully entitled members of the Holy Spirit’, could no longer be regarded as Jews, and did not therefore fall under that law. Essentially he could not permit state interference into church affairs. It was the position of the Lutheran Church that was important to him, not the wellbeing of all Germans, Jews or not.
As a footnote, I might just add that when Niemöller was imprisoned in Buchenwald and Dachau he enjoyed considerable privileges. As ‘Hitler’s personal prisoner’, he was not subject to camp discipline and not obliged to work. He was free to communicate with other privileged prisoners and continued his writing undisturbed. At the start of the war in 1939 he made an unsuccessful request to be allowed to fight for the Nazis.

Letter from Israel

Plus ça change …
It was very gratifying to hear two of our grandsons (aged 22 and 18) express a desire to be taken on a tour of the exhibition entitled ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ concerning the exile of the Jews of Judea by Nebuchadnezzer II in 586 BCE and currently being held at the Bible Lands Museum, where my husband Yigal is a guide.
The tour, in Yigal’s customary thorough fashion, began with a session in front of a large, illuminated wall map showing the entire Ancient Near East at various stages in its history. Apart from Egypt, the first to establish cities and some form of writing (i.e. ‘civilisation’) were the Sumerians (situated in what is now southern Iraq). Their territory was invaded and conquered by the Akkadians from what was known then as Babylon or Akkad, followed by the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Muslims, the Turks, and lastly the British - to name but a few. Finally, following the First World War and the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, the entire area was divided up among the major European colonial nations, only to disintegrate into mutual enmity, chaos and mayhem in recent years.
The exhibition itself, about which I have written before, is well done, attempting to arouse interest and provide food for thought for visitors of all ages, with animated films that explain how and why the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzer II eventually decided he had had enough of the fractious Judeans and their rebellious kings (particularly Joakin, Joachim, and Zedekiah), who rebelled and refused to pay their tribute taxes. After laying siege to and conquering Jerusalem, the troops dealt with the defeated enemy in the manner customary at the time, namely the total destruction of everything in sight, including the (First) Temple, and forced ethnic cleansing by means of massacre and exile of the remaining population.
But, as the exhibition shows, the Israelites’ ability to adapt to changing circumstances came to the fore in Babylon. Exhorted by their leaders to display obedience to and co-operation with the authorities, the Jews farmed the land they were granted, established families, adhered to their religion and prospered. When the Persians under Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BCE all exiled nations were allowed to return to their lands, but not all the Jews undertook the journey back to Judea. The exhibition displays dozens of clay tablets from the Soffer collection recording transactions undertaken at the time by Jews, primarily in the Jewish settlement of El Yahudo in the region of Babylon.
Those Jews who remained in Babylon flourished for 2,000 years, producing inter alia the renowned Babylonian Talmud. Those who returned merged with those who had managed to remain behind in Judea and eventually built the (Second) Temple, and hung on to it for some 500 years. Once again, however, internecine conflict and rebelliousness caused the all-powerful Romans to come down upon them with the full force of their might. As everyone knows, this led to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and the exile that lasted 2,000 and ended only 67 years ago. In a nice touch, the exhibition ends with the reggae song ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’, recorded by the Boney M group and popular in the 1970s. The last Iraqi Jews were deprived of their property and expelled from Iraq shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel. Like the many thousands of other Jews who were turned overnight into refugees, they were absorbed into the general population.
No one knows whether the people currently inhabiting the various regions of what was once the Ancient Near East share the same genetic makeup as the original inhabitants of the region. What we do know, however, is that the tendency to engage in mutual warfare involving massacre and enmity on a gigantic scale has endured. Sadly, our newspapers and TV screens are filled on a daily basis with the tragic results of what appears to be a longstanding tradition of mutual intolerance and the desire to dominate others.
Plus ça change … [link]

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