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.”

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Times of Israel

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

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy