Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Sunday, July 27, 2008

You couldn't make it up: because if you did you'd be accused of the most vile kind of anti-Semitism.

(Udge recently described my blog, delightfully, as comprising "music and outrage". So after a couple of musical posts, here comes some of the other stuff. )

This article by Jonathan Freedland in Saturday's Guardian decsribes the activities of a group of Jewish vigilantes (the Nokmim, led by Abba Kovner) in the aftermath of the second World War, who set out like so many Dexter Morgans, to bring summary justice to Nazi murderers who had evaded justice.

While I oppose the death penalty I can understand and sympathise with them to some extent, or could have if that were all they had done. Dexter, after all, followed the "Code of Harry", ensuring that he killed only those who he believed truly deserved death. But not content with finding Nazis who had fled justice, the Nokmim carried out the mass murder of several hundred SS men who had been captured and were already in prison:

But the Avengers did not confine themselves to individual executions. Their largest operation was aimed at Stalag 13, a detention centre for former SS men in Nuremberg. The Vengeance group discovered that bread for the detainees was supplied by a single bakery. One of their younger members, Arye Distel, who had blue eyes and Aryan looks, got a job as a trainee baker, then worked up a plan to poison one morning's consignment of loaves.

Once they had got hold of the lethal fluid - which they codenamed "medication" - Distel smuggled it over several days into the bakery, stashing the bottles under the floorboards. Harmatz describes how, on a Saturday, at the change of shift, three extra comrades crept inside to join Distel, and together they brushed the poison on to some 3,000 loaves.

Did it work? Just check the New York Times for April 20 1946, where on page six you will find an Associated Press report that begins as follows: "Nineteen hundred German prisoners of war were poisoned by arsenic in their bread early this week in a United States camp and all are 'seriously ill', United States headquarters announced tonight." How many of those SS men actually died following the poisoning at Stalag 13 has never been verified, but some put the figure at several hundred, others at a thousand.

Yet according to Freedland that was only "Plan B", the fallback, a substitute for a plan to poison the water supplies of Munich, Berlin, Weimar, Nuremburg and Hamburg, indiscriminately murdering millions.

Kovner sought moral backing for his project, travelling to Palestine to consult the leaders of the Jewish state-in-waiting. He met Chaim Weizmann, who would become Israel's first president and who had begun his career (at Manchester University) as a research chemist. Once Weizmann heard from Kovner the horrors of the Holocaust, he could mount no resistance: he gave his blessing to the Avengers, even offering them help in acquiring the poison. (Several sources suggest Weizmann approved only Plan B, rather than the more deadly, and arbitrary, Plan A.)

In fairness to the nascent state of Israel, there seem to have been a number of senior Zionists who possessed either a moral sense or a consciousness of the need to appear better than the Nazis in some respects at least. Abba Kovner and his genocidal band were betrayed before they could achieve the millions of dead Germans they craved.

Yet there seem to be plenty of people, including Freedland to judge from his article, who consider Kovner and the Nokmim to be some kind of band of heroes:

The story of the Avengers has not yet become a central part of the Holocaust narrative. That may have disappointed Kovner, who died in 1987. One former comrade, Gabik Sedlis, told Cohen that the leader kept one eye on his place in history, hoping to be ranked alongside the ancient defenders of the Jewish people. "Two thousand years from now, he wanted people to talk about Judah Maccabee and Abba Kovner."

That goal has not yet been realised. But it might be, if at least the work of the Nokmim gets what those men and women wanted for themselves and their fellow Jews - if, in other words, future generations do their story justice.

If future generations "do their story justice", people will talk about Adolf Hitler and Abba Kovner as thwarted agents of genocide. And mourn neither of them.


At 16 April, 2011 14:31, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Abba Kovner will be a hero for eternity. He should have brought venegence to more facist barbarians and their muderous accomplices.
Nokmim I salute you all.


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