How a Jewish Novelist’s Account of Armenian Courage Inspired Jews to Fight the Nazis

April 27 2021

Over the weekend, Joe Biden became the first president to recognize the Ottoman government’s mass slaughter of Armenians during World War I, a series of atrocities that were accompanied by attacks on Ottoman Christians of other ethnicities, as well as the persecution of Jews. Much of the world first became aware of the Armenian catastrophe thanks to the Austrian Jewish novelist Franz Werfel’s carefully researched 1933 novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, which in turn helped to inspire Jewish revolts against the Nazis during World War II. Matt Lebovic writes:

In the Warsaw ghetto, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh was the most popular book in circulation. When Jewish resisters decided to fight back in the Bialystok ghetto, they spoke of the ghetto’s “Musa Dagh” moment at the planning meeting. . . . Throughout Eastern Europe, Jewish resisters used the phrase “to organize a Musa Dagh.”

In Lithuania’s Vilna ghetto [too], The Forty Days of Musa Dagh was the most popular book in circulation, reported the librarian [and chronicler] Herman Kruk. Jewish resisters attempting to flee the ghetto to join partisan units “passed the book from hand to hand,” according to reports. [Commenting on] the popularity of the novel, the resistance fighter Haika Grosman wrote that the massacre of Armenians “in full view of the entire world reminded us of our fate.”

Jews trapped in the ghettos of Nazi-occupied Europe were not the only ones deriving inspiration from The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. In pre-state Israel, Jewish leaders were actively preparing for the prospect of a German invasion. The defense plan called for creating a Masada-like fortress atop Mount Carmel, where Jewish fighters could retreat for a “last stand” against German forces. Although the plan is largely remembered as the “Masada plan” or the “Carmel plan,” it was also referred to as the “Musa Dagh plan.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Armenians, Genocide, Holocaust, Joseph Biden, Ottoman Palestine, Resistance

Europe-Israel Relations Have Been Transformed

On Monday, Israel and the EU held their first “association council” meeting since 2012, resuming what was once an annual event, equivalent to the meetings Brussels conducts with many other countries. Although the summit didn’t produce any major agreements or diplomatic breakthroughs, writes Shany Mor, it is a sign of a dramatic change that has occurred over the past decade. The very fact that the discussion focused on energy, counterterrorism, military technology, and the situation in Ukraine—rather than on the Israel-Palestinian conflict—is evidence of this change:

Israel is no longer the isolated and boycotted outpost in the Middle East that it was for most of its history. It has peace treaties with six Arab states now, four of which were signed since the last association council meeting. There are direct flights from Tel Aviv to major cities in the region and a burgeoning trade between Israel and Gulf monarchies, including those without official relations.

It is a player in the regional alliance systems of both the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean, just as it has also become a net energy exporter due to the discovery of large gas deposits of its shoreline. None of this was the case at the last council meeting in 2012. [Moreover], Israel has cultivated deep ties with a number of new member states in the EU from Central and Eastern Europe, whose presence in Brussels bridges cultural ideological gaps that were once much wider.

Beyond the diplomatic shifts, however, is an even larger change that has happened in European-Israeli relations. The tiny Israel defined by its conflict with the Arabs that Europeans once knew is no more. When the first Cooperation Agreement [between Israel and the EU’s precursor] was signed in 1975, Israel, with its three million people, was smaller than all the European member states save Luxembourg. Sometime in the next two years, the Israeli population will cross the 10 million mark, making it significantly larger than Ireland, Denmark, Finland, and Austria (among others), and roughly equal in population to Greece, Portugal, and Sweden.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Abraham Accords, Europe and Israel, European Union, Israeli gas