Before Rosh Hashanah, I was re-watching “Band of Brothers,” the docudrama on the 101 Airborne in World War II, based on the book of the same title by Stephen Ambrose.
The episode I saw just before Erev Rosh-Hashanah (“Why We Fight”) was about the men of Easy Company stumbling across a camp where Jews were literally worked and starved to death.
These paratroopers were the toughest of the tough. They fought from Normandy to Bastogne to the Ardennes and into Germany. When the episode begins, the war is all but over. Hitler will commit suicide three days later. Shortly thereafter, the German Army will surrender.
At first, the men of Easy Company couldn’t understand what they were looking at behind the barbed wire. The GIs who discovered the camp couldn’t find the words to describe it to their officers.
Easy Company had taken everything the Germans could throw at them. They’d seen buddies blown apart and others with severed limbs, gushing blood. They’d frozen in stinking foxholes and had food that barely kept them alive.
Now that the fighting is all but over, they’ve become cynical. “What the hell were we fighting for?” they ask. (Capt. Nixon, the Company XO, sings “Gory, gory, what a helluva way to die!”) Then came Kaufering Lager IV.
The prisoners who can still stand are walking skeletons. The soldiers can only stare in dumb disbelief. They’re told that the retreating SS guards set several buildings on fire. Prisoners too weak to flee were burned alive. When asked why they were there, the prisoners replied: “Juden,” “Juden” (Jew, Jew).
In a poignant scene, a middle-aged man falls into the arms of a paratrooper. He hugs the soldier, caresses his face, kisses his cheek reverently and collapses in tears.
It was an encounter between two peoples bound by eternity. America was at its highpoint. We had just saved humanity from the twin horrors of Nazism and Japanese imperialism.
The Jewish people were at their low point. In the space of a few years, one out of every three Jews on earth was murdered.
The liberation of the death camps was the latest chapter in a story that went back to America’s beginnings as a nation.
The Founding Fathers were inspired by Ancient Israel. Our system of government was based on the Jewish Bible. It’s no exaggeration to say that without the Israel of the Bible, there would have been no America. How fitting then that the nation inspired by their Bible should save the remnants of European Jewry.
It’s also true that without America, there would have been no modern State of Israel. In this episode of “Band of Brothers,” Roosevelt dies and Harry Truman becomes the 33rd president of the United States. Despite opposition from his State Department, Truman made America the first nation to recognize Israel – support that was crucial.
This year, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur came the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
We’re told to “Never Forget.” But what are we supposed to remember – that 3,000 Americans died in one day? What else? Surely not the murderous ideology of the killers – which almost no one talks of anymore for fear of inciting cries of Islamophobia.
Some note the irony of our just turning Afghanistan over to the Taliban, which played a key role in the massacre in Midtown Manhattan, and which (by the by), Israelis mourned and the Palestinians celebrated, as did millions throughout the Muslim world who insist the Holocaust never happened.
Two peoples, each with a mission. The mission of the Jews is to witness God’s presence in the world – to attest to His mercy and justice. That’s why Hitler hated and tried to destroy them. For him, compassion was weakness and the weak deserved to die. He thought that by eliminating God’s people, he could resurrect pagan values.
America too has a mission in the world – to defend the good and fight evil. Our victory over Nazism was part of that. In the second half of the 20th century, we fought communism in Korea, Vietnam and throughout Europe and Central America.
Under Reagan, Bush (occasionally) and Trump, we fought Islamism. (Biden is determined to sign articles of surrender.) Like Nazism, fundamentalist Islam has marked the Jews for extermination.
After the defeat of the Third Reich, the conflict shifted from Europe to the Middle East, and then went global after the Cold War. The World Trade Center should have been a wake-up call for America. For most in the West, the phone is still ringing.
Tragically, very few Americans and Jews even grasp the idea of a mission.
Americans are too caught up in the concept of a world ruled by international trade and international relations,and doing perpetual penance for imaginary sins of the past.
Jews want the world to forgive them for being different, while complaining about the dramatic rise of anti-Semitism, which they refuse to relate to the rise of Islam.
In that encounter at Kaufering Lager IV came a moment of clarity. The prisoners understood why they were being murdered — “Juden, Juden.” (The world has always hated the messenger.) The Americans of Easy Company understood why they fought.
Then amnesia set in.
Now, 20 years after 9/11, we’ve saddled ourselves with a president who staged the most disastrous retreat imaginable from Afghanistan and thinks our enemies are a virus and a natural phenomenon (climate change).
And many Jews can’t figure out why the percentage of Americans who have negative feelings about them is declining while anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise.