Today We Commemorate Yom Hashoah: Crucial Lessons to Remember as We Engage Iran

Today We Commemorate Yom Hashoah:

"The crucial lessons to remember as we engage Iran... What significance does a commemoration have if our leaders fail to take action?...The memory of the Holocaust is best preserved when we refuse to repeat our mistakes..."

Read Rabbi Marvin Hier's remarks below, as well as questions he posed to President Obama this past Monday at the White House. Rabbi Hier was one of the 18 leaders who met with the President to discuss Iran and the Middle East.

April 16, 2015

George Santayana once warned, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  In a few weeks, the world’s attention will briefly focus on events that threatened the very existence of Western Civilization in the early ‘30s and ‘40s.  On May 8, the President of the United States and other world leaders will be in Berlin to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the end of World War II.  On this Yom Hashoah, it is important to spend a few moments to recall those early days.
 
In 1933, when Adolf Hitler became chancellor of the Third Reich, the world, of course, was shocked even though the Nazi party had significant followers in the early 30s.  Still, nobody expected that they would govern Germany.  But rather than confront the Nazis, the prevalent view of both the leaders of Europe and the United States was to reach out and attempt to engage them.  Their reasoning was clear - by welcoming Hitler as a full-fledged partner in the new Europe, the Fuhrer and his followers could be convinced to mitigate their racist and anti-Semitic ideology.  Only Winston Churchill saw through the veneer and knew instinctively that hate mongers and despots are unlikely candidates for change.
 
Speaking at the House of Commons in 1934, Winston Churchill prophetically warned, “Wars come very suddenly… and I am bound to say that I cannot see in the present administration of Germany any assurance that they would be more nice minded… no sir, we may within a measurable period of time in the lifetime of those who are here if we are not in a proper state of security … on some occasion with a visit from an ambassador, and may have to give an answer in a very few hours, and if that answer is not satisfactory, within the next few hours the crash of bombs exploding in London...”
 
But Brittan then was very much in the appeasement mode.  As Roy Jenkins writes in his biography on Churchill, in 1937, when Joachim Von Ribbentrop, who had been the German Ambassador to England since 1936 was appointed Nazi Germany’s new Foreign Minister, the traditional departing luncheon took place. But rather than being hosted by the Foreign Secretary, or in our terms, the Secretary of State, the new British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, eager to appease the Nazi dictator broke with tradition and decided to host the luncheon.  The Churchills were also invited and Winston was seated next to Frau Von Ribbentrop.  During the luncheon, news was received that Nazi troops had entered Austria for the Anschluss unifying Nazi Germany and Austria.  The news was even shocking to Chamberlain, but the luncheon went on long enough for Frau Von Ribbentrop to chide and sternly remind Churchill to be careful not to ruin the ongoing friendly Anglo-German relationship.
 
Eight and a half years after this luncheon and the Nazi Holocaust, Von Ribbentrop himself was hanged as a war criminal by a Nuremberg tribunal put in place by the same England he served as Ambassador.
 
But it wasn’t only England that adopted an appeasement strategy with Hitler. The United States also believed in that philosophy.  In 1936, the United States, despite Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews, fully supported sending the US Olympic team to the Hitler-sponsored Olympics.  With the enthusiastic backing of the Roosevelt administration and under the leadership of Avery Brundage, the US sent a full team.

Six years after the Berlin Olympics ended, Hitler began his “Final Solution”.  When the War ended, six million Jews, one third of all the Jews in the world, were murdered by the Nazis in places like Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz.  Between 50 and 80 million people lost their lives.
 
What lessons can we learn from this?  We can learn that ideologues remain ideologues.  That despite all the meetings with world leaders, despite the fact that he hosted the ‘36 Olympics and the whole world came to Berlin; it had absolutely no impact on mitigating Hitler’s worldview.  In the end, he did exactly what he wrote in a September 16, 1919 signed letter in the possession of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in which he said, “Its final aim, however, must be the uncompromising removal of the Jews altogether.”  He remained the same tyrant, bent on world domination.
 
These are crucial lessons to remember as we engage Iran.  First and foremost, we must remember that since the Iranian revolution in 1979, the Ayatollahs who rule the country have never disguised for one moment their rabid anti-Semitism, and great hatred for America.
 
They are today, without question, the world’s most dangerous and potent terrorist organization.  Their leaders have converted lying and concealment into an art.  For years they have misled the world.  Their one desire is to acquire nuclear weapons, which would endanger the entire world.  The only reason they have agreed to talks is because they hear the rumblings of their own people and they feel the pain of the sanctions.  It would be the height of naivete to bet the house that we can somehow modify and engage these Ayatollahs so they can come in from the cold and embrace Jews and Americans.
 
A few days ago, I was one of 18 leaders invited to meet with President Obama at the White House to discuss Iran and the Middle East.  While the meeting was off the record, and I cannot speak about what the President said, I can tell you one of the two points I raised with him.  I said that in a matter of weeks world leaders would be convening in Berlin to commemorate the 70th anniversary.  But what meaning, Mr. President, does an anniversary like that have if in the midst of the most sensitive negotiations ever carried out between the P5+1 and Iran if none of those leaders repudiated the remarks by the Ayatollah and one of Iran’s most influential commanders who recently said that, “erasing Israel off the map” is “non-negotiable.”  What significance does a commemoration have if our leaders fail to take action?
 
The memory of the Holocaust is best preserved when we refuse to repeat our mistakes.