The Mystery of Rome’s Jewish Library, Plundered by the Nazis

In October 1943, the Nazis began the systematic plunder of Rome’s massive Jewish library, composed of some 17,000 volumes, including rare 15th-century editions from the earliest days of Jewish publishing and even rarer manuscripts. Some books from the collection have resurfaced and made their way to academic libraries, but the fate of most remains a mystery. Michael Frank writes:

[One] reason that [these] books present a particularly challenging case has to do with where their confiscation fits into the timeline of one of the most brutal seasons in two millennia of Roman Jewish history: they were taken two weeks after SS Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler demanded that the community produce a tribute of 50 kilograms of gold within 36 hours, in exchange for which, he assured them, no harm would come to the city’s Jews, and two days before—despite the gold having been delivered—the first deportations began. Understandably more significant matters than stolen books were on the minds of the witnesses and, after them, survivors, detectives, archivists, and scholars.

Because there were so many books . . . the Germans were unable to complete their pillaging in one day. It is possible that they ran out of time; but it is also possible that they were aware that more urgent dislocations were to follow two days later, namely the first roundup of Roman Jews. Nevertheless the books were not forgotten: on December 23 the officers returned to finish the job. . . .

[In response to researchers’ request for information], the Italian State Railway . . . was unable to offer any documentation on the subject—though a postwar report by American officers who visited the Hungen depot [to which the books were most likely sent] in April 1945 states that a trainload of materials from Italy had been expected but never arrived. A train departs from Italy, yet never reaches its destination in Germany, and there is no record of its destruction? Curious.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Books, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Italian Jewry, Rome

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security