A Novel about the Armenian Genocide that Inspired Jews in Hitler’s Europe—and in Mandatory Palestine

In The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, the German-Jewish writer Franz Werfel told the story of Armenians on “Mount Moses” who resisted the Ottoman army’s 1915 onslaught. Werfel intended the book, first published in 1933, as a warning to Germany about the dangers posed by Adolf Hitler, but would find its most faithful audience among Jews, especially those latter trapped in Nazi ghettos or fighting for survival in the land of Israel. Stefan Ihrig writes:

Werfel said about the book that the Armenians were his “stand-in Jews.” He assumed that his readers would understand the parallels . . . and so would see the slaughter of the Armenians as something that could be in store for German Jews. While it is a common assumption that Germans did not and could not know in 1932-1933 that Hitler’s rise to power could mean genocide, Werfel (and other of his German contemporaries) felt quite differently. . . .

Werfel’s book was translated into Hebrew as early as 1934. In an early review from the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine), Dov Kimḥi wrote extensively of the forthcoming book, based on excerpts published abroad. He wrote, among other things, that “we Hebrew readers . . . read into this book on the Armenians our very own tragedy.” . . .

Jews in the Nazi-imposed ghettos in Eastern Europe devoured Werfel’s story of resistance, hope, and salvation. Before the war began, the book had already been translated into Polish and Yiddish—and we have a whole series of testimonies from ghettos all over Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe showing how its distribution and influence only grew after the war began. One such testimony comes from Marcel Reich-Ranicki, by far the most famous German literary critic of recent decades. Writing of his time as an inmate of the Warsaw Ghetto, he stated that the book “enjoyed unexpected success in the ghetto, being passed from hand to hand.” . . .

[The historian] Yair Auron relates an anecdote about Yitzḥak Zuckerman, one of the leaders of the Warsaw uprising, as told afterward by one of his colleagues: “When he wanted to enlighten us he said that it was impossible to understand the Warsaw ghetto uprising without reading Franz Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.”

Read more at Tablet

More about: Armenians, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Literature, Mandate Palestine, Warsaw Ghetto

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy