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

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus