Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A WWII Conterfactual

Reposted from: February 13, 2005

Having just read Maus (again), I find myself dwelling on a counter factual history scenario. The scenario first occurred to me last night, and I've been puzzling over it today, intermittently. Here's the thought:

What if the Holocaust had never happened? What if Hitler had instigated and fought the Second World War, without making anti-Semitism part of his agenda? Jews would have died, and communities would have been uprooted, but with no Final Solution, Jewish life in Europe could have continued after the war, uninterrupted.

And then what?

I've come up with three outcomes. Here they are, very briefly considered:

(1) No Israel.
My grandfather, obm, was a preacher of moderate renown, and in his sack of speeches he had one, which he gave often, about the UN vote of 1948. My one-word sum up? Guilt over what the Germans did, and over what they had allowed. Grandpa believed that the UN voted for Israel, because the Holocaust had proved that a Jewish state was crucially necessary. I've done no primary historical research on this subject. I haven't read the letters of UN delegates, nor have I scanned the major editorials of 1948, but there's a ring of truth here. What would the Middle East look like without Israel? What would have become of the Yishuv, and the Palestinian nationalist movement? Conflict between the two groups would have been inevitable, but it seems possible that an Arab state, not a Jewish state (or a much smaller Jewish state) would have been the result.

(2) A New Jewish Capital
Would NYC be the center of the Jewish Diaspora, or would it be Warsaw? Which region would be dominant (in the way that American Judaism is dominant over British Judaism) or would there be shared dominance in the manner of Baval and Jerusalem during the time of the Talmud (and even then Bavel had the edge.)

Though refugees flooded into NYC immediately after the war, many Jews, stayed in Europe, started families and went into business. It wasn't until the Russian Army began marching across the continent that they fled to America. Even in Maus, the main character first settled in Helsinki, and would have stayed there had his wife not gotten lonely for her one surviving relative in America. It can be argued that Jews would have arrived in America in great numbers, regardless of the war.

However, if there had been no Holocaust, would Jews have run from the Russians? I've spoken to some Hungarian Jews who say they had planned and wanted to remain in Europe. When the Russian marched on Budapest, their reaction was, "we can't go through this again." If the Russian expansion had been their first contact with Tyranny, instead of the second, how many would have stayed to suffer through Russian rule? And with what results?

(3) Religious moderation
And what about the Hasidic tsunami? Gil's written eloquently about the Haredization of American Orthodoxy; elsewhere, scholars suggest this Hasidic-style Judaism was able to crowd out more moderate expressions because Hitler had destroyed the opposition. Without the Jews of Germany and France and Italy (regions where there was observance, but no fundementalist fervor) to provide a counterweight, Hasidic-style Judaism was able to move into the mainstream.

Post Slifkin, I've caught up on my Samson Repahel Hirsch, and I've read some about the NY Rabbis of the early 20th century. Their Judaism was not the Judaism of the shtetl. It was urbane. It was worldly. It was flexible. This Judaism all but disappeared in Hitler's ovens.

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