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

April 20 2016

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

Saudi Arabia Should Open Its Doors to Israeli—and Palestinian—Pilgrims

On the evening of June 26 the annual period of the Hajj begins, during which Muslims from all over the world visit Mecca and perform prescribed religious rituals. Because of the de-jure state of war between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state, Israeli Muslim pilgrims—who usually number about 6,000—must take a circuitous (and often costly) route via a third country. The same is true for Palestinians. Mark Dubowitz and Tzvi Kahn, writing in the Saudi paper Arab News, urge Riyadh to reconsider its policy:

[I]f the kingdom now withholds consent for direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia, it would be a setback for those normalization efforts, not merely a continuation of the status quo. It is hard to see what the Saudis would gain from that.

One way to support the arrangement would be to include Palestinians in the deal. Israel might also consider earmarking its southern Ramon Airport for the flights. After all, Ramon is significantly closer to the kingdom than Ben-Gurion Airport, making for cheaper routes. Its seclusion from Israeli population centers would also help Israeli efforts to monitor outgoing passengers and incoming flights for security purposes.

A pilot program that ran between August and October proved promising, with dozens of Palestinians from the West Bank traveling back and forth from Ramon to Cyprus and Turkey. This program proceeded over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, which fears being sidelined by such accommodations. Jordan, too, has reason to be concerned about the loss of Palestinian passenger dinars at Amman’s airports.

But Palestinians deserve easier travel. Since Israel is willing to be magnanimous in this regard, Saudi Arabia can certainly follow suit by allowing Ramon to be the springboard for direct Hajj flights for Palestinian and Israeli Muslims alike. And that would be a net positive for efforts to normalize ties between [Jerusalem] and Riyadh.

Read more at Arab News

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia