Leadership and Choices: Then and Now 

Recently, NGOs, such as the Sousa Mendez Foundation and Lockdown University *1, have presented talks and movies about the history of the Jews and the world almost weekly. As I watched these programs about spies before, during and after WWll, I discovered the back stories that no one ever thought would come to light.

The Thyssen Saga

The most shocking exposé I have seen recently is a talk on Youtube by the former Irish-American military man, lawyer, and author, John Loftus, launching his book Unholy Trinity: The Vatican, the Nazis, and the Swiss Banks (2000).

Loftus shares his personal story of how he came to be wandering around the CIA archives looking for Nazis in America and accidentally uncovered files that had been “purposely misfiled so that no one would ever find them.” But guess what? He did find them! The video below reveals the weird and unusual financing of the Nazi party by a bank in the US headed by Prescott Bush, father of Bush senior and his grandfather, Herbert Walker Bush. This meant, in effect, that an American bank in New York was financing the Nazi party in Germany. John Loftus exposes the Thyssen plan in the following video starting at 21:03 min.


It appears that August Thyssen, patriarch of the German Thyssen coal and steel industry, was so upset by reparations exacted from his enterprise after World War I that he decided to set up his financial empire in such a way that regardless of the fate of any future German wars, the Thyssen family would not lose its financial assets. To this end, Thyssen set up three banks in three different countries. In Germany, the August Thyssen Bank; in Holland, the Voor Handel en Scheepvaart Bank; and New York, the Union Banking Corporation (UBC). Thyssen then assigned each of his sons to head a different bank, making one a Nazi and another son neutral. The Bushes were in charge of the New York Bank. Of course, when the Bushes were involved starting in the 1920s, nothing they did was illegal.

Fritz Thyssen had openly financed the rise of the Nazi party and the election of Hitler as Chancellor. However, in 1939 he wrote a letter to Hitler strongly opposing the invasion of Poland. But it was too late. He and his wife were apprehended by the Nazis and spent the war years in the Dachau concentration camp. However, Thyssen in Germany was one of the major national firms using “slave labour as though they were chemical materiel.” And although the US government appropriated the Thyssen bank in NY in 1942, the Thyssen and Bush family’s wealth was preserved through judicious transfers and cover-ups and the work of their American lawyer, Foster Dulles, after the war.

Wealth often dictates increased power, but the Thyssen family prioritized the preservation of their wealth over using their assets to empower ethical behaviour in the political sphere. Perhaps as a form of penance, in 1959, Thyssen’s widow Amélie and daughter Anita Gräfin Zichy-Thyssen established the Fritz Thyssen Foundation to advance science and the humanities, with a capital of 100 million Deutschmarks (equivalent to €246 million in 2021).

In the same video at 12;30 min, Loftus exposes the US State Department’s policy of repeatedly supporting the Arab side in the many Arab-Israeli wars because of their desire to keep Arab oil flowing to the United States.

Obligations of Kingship in Israel

The book of Deuteronomy Ch.17, V16-20 lays out the obligations and constraints recommended for a King.

16: The king must not get more and more horses for himself. And he must not send people to Egypt to get more horses, because the Lord has told you, ‘You must never go back that way.’

17: Also, the king must not have too many wives, because that will make him turn away from the Lord. And he must not make himself rich with silver and gold.

18: “When the king begins to rule, he must write a copy of the law for himself in a book. He must make that copy from the books that the priests from the tribe of Levi keep.

19: He must keep that book with him and read from it all his life, because he must learn to respect the Lord his God. He must learn to completely obey everything the law commands.

20: Then the king will not think that he is better than any of his own people. He will not turn away from the law, but he will follow it exactly. Then he and his descendants will rule the kingdom of Israel a long time.”


On the other hand, continuous acts of courage and kindness of leaders and private citizens also occurred throughout World War ll and continue to be unearthed.

For example, the Sousa Mendez Foundation recently screened Noel Izon’s documentary, Open Door (2018), about German Jewish refugees in the thirties being offered a haven in the Phillippines. This story was entirely new to me.

Noel Izon, a native Filipino, explores how German Jews were offered haven by the Philippines President Manuel L. Quezon’s Open Door Policy. Even though the Philippines was part of the US Commonwealth since 1898 and subject to US immigration laws, Quezon working with Paul V. McNutt, a sympathetic US High Commissioner, authorized visas for approx 1300 German Jewish emigres at a time when few countries were opening their doors to Jews fleeing German racial laws and restrictions. The pre-existing Jewish community of the Philippines put up the money to resettle all Jewish families. They were quickly integrated into the Philippines society, many working in their native professions and surviving the Japanese occupation together with the Filipino people until the Americans finally liberated the islands.

Jewish community in Manila during a Passover Seder celebration, 1925

The Jewish community in Manila during a Passover Seder celebration in 1925.

Few people are aware that Jewish communities worldwide opened their wallets, hearts, and homes to Jewish refugees wherever they knocked on their doors during the crisis of World War Two. This was another aspect of Jewish resistance before, during and after the war that is seldom mentioned but is part of the Jewish imperative of “shivyon shvuyim/freeing captive slaves.”

In our own time, Canadian private donors and charities, both Jewish and secular, have been financing the resettlement of Ukrainian refugees in Canada and worldwide.

A child holds a heart with a drawn Ukrainian flag

Six months ago, during the Ukraine/Russia war outbreak, our Montreal Rabbis, Reuven Poupko and Adam Schier visited the Polish-Ukraine border to report on the needs of fleeing refugees. They shared with pride that the Israeli contingent was the first to set up at the Polish Ukrainian border to assist refugees. As you may be aware, Israel is generally the first to arrive in any disaster zone with personnel and necessary materials. Here is an analysis of the airlift of Ukrainian refugees to Israel in the Jerusalem Post.

As of June 15, 2022, 32,958 Ukrainians have entered Israel, of which 5,888 are new immigrants, and another 4,730 are in the process of aliyah… Had the US taken in a similar number of Ukrainians relative to its population, it would have admitted some 1.2 million Ukrainian refugees. That is not even close to US President Joe Biden’s setting a goal of admitting 100,000 Ukrainians.

This demonstrates the overwhelming power of wealth, usually residing in the state,  over the efforts of private citizens.

In summary, it is crucial for everyone, whether leader or citizen, to be vigilantly informed and to act with moral clarity wherever and in whatever position, leader or layman, we may find ourselves.



1. Lockdown University, an ad-hoc internet learning community occasioned by the pandemic (still working on their website, free and accessible to all). To subscribe to courses, contact info@lockdownuniversity.org and ask to be included in their weekly mailing.

The Arts and Finding the Ultimate Paradise

One of the arts’ significant advantages is seeing what the self may have in common with others.

After listening to Piya Chattopadhyay’s Sunday Magazine on CBC Radio, I felt I had to write to her. The segments were excellent individually and also as a whole. They seemed to dialogue with each other.

To Paradise, Hanya Yanagihara,In her new book, To Paradise, Hanya Yanagihara, a novelist rooted in Hawaii, speaks with Piya about the themes she explores in her recent work – freedom, utopia, borders, and disease over three centuries through three different versions of the American experiment, three couples of different socioeconomic backgrounds and sexual orientations. Yanagihara also comments on the damages caused by the pressures of males in our society expected to suppress all feelings.


Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John KoenigPiya then interviewed John Koenig, author of Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, about creating new words for feelings that previously had no way to be expressed. Koenig makes new words by borrowing and joining elements from many different languages. He points out that every language brings a different perspective, and each one has the potential to enrich our understanding of the world if we only care to see it.


The Next Civil War by Stephen MarchePiya’s next interviewee, Stephen Marche, has written The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future. Marche tries to shine a light on the present state of the US political situation by analyzing data and interrogating nearly two hundred experts, civil war scholars, military leaders, law enforcement officials, secret service agents, agricultural specialists, environmentalists, war historians, political scientists, and the man-on-the-street.


Marche calls his book speculative non-fiction, reminding us repeatedly that although his book is based on “facts,” he can not predict anything based on these “facts.” In this sense, I find it more similar to Hanya Yanagihara’s imaginative fictional novel, which creates its ephemeral reality.

Yanagihara frames her book around the search for “paradise” and how the United States embodies that dream for many people.

“Paradise,” like “joy,” can be an inner state accessible anywhere. The Bible speaks about Adam and Eve’s exile from Eden. But there is a way back there for each of us. Every week on the seventh day, one can bring an oasis of paradise quality into one’s life by engineering that total escape from our mundane cares. We call it the Sabbath.

Over the long term, we all continue to pray and strive for a world free of violence, war and pestilence, the ultimate Paradise.


Review of CNNThe Rise and Fall of Herod the Great

The second instalment of the CNN series on Jerusalem: the City of Faith, entitled 39 BC, The Rise and Fall of Herod the Great *1, tells the story of Jerusalem from the point of view of the ruling Kings of the period, their ambitions and jealousies: Herod, King of Israel, Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt and her Roman consort Mark Antony, Emperor of Western Rome and the ambitious Octavius.

Holyland Model of Jerusalem. A model of Herod’s Temple adjacent to the Shrine of the Book exhibit at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

The program makes for stimulating tv filled with plots and battles for supremacy between Egypt, Israel, and Rome, recounted by excellent contemporary historians.

King Herod married the Hasmonean princess Mariamne in a plot to be loved and accepted by the Israelites. However, Herod’s love did not prevent him from murdering his wife, their five children and anyone else he suspected as a rival. He was also part of the global web of power relationships, an ally of Marc Antony of Rome and a mortal enemy of Cleopatra. These relationships are amply elaborated in the CNN plot.

He also tried to build his way out of depression.

The series advises that Herod’s ambition and envy ensured he had no peace in his public or private life. CNN describes him as “going mad” by the end of his lengthy reign.

After his death, Roman colonial ambition led to the invasion and military occupation of Israel (then called Judea) and the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple that Herod himself had enhanced in the grand tradition of Roman edifices.

This true story is eerily similar to The Game of Thrones tv series. But, unfortunately, the viewpoint of traditional Jewish texts, Torah and Talmud, which tell the story of Jewish Kingship, is missing from the CNN narrative.

Moses himself lays out the roadmap for Jewish governance and Kingship in the book of Deuteronomy.

If, after you have entered the land that the LORD your God has assigned to you, and taken possession of it and settled in it, you decide, “I will set a king over me, as do all the nations about me,” you shall be free to set a king over yourself, one chosen by the LORD your God. Be sure to put as King over yourself one of your people; you must not set a foreigner over you, one who is not your relative. Moreover, he shall not keep many horses or send people back to Egypt to add to his horses since the LORD has warned you, “You must not go back that way again.”

And he shall not have many wives, lest his heart goes astray; nor shall he amass silver and gold to excess.  (Sefaria: Deuteronomy 17:14-17 *2)

This roadmap for a Jewish King is referenced in later historical descriptions of the history of the Jews as recorded in the later prophetic books, Samuel 1 and 2, Judges and Kings. In these canonical Jewish texts, transparency about situations, characters, motivations, and outcomes are impressive. Successes and failures are recorded along with the “sins” of the mighty and ordinary people. Additionally, the sins of the kings from Saul to Herod are amply documented.

The sins of the Jewish leadership of this period had started with the Hasmoneans one hundred and fifty years earlier. The Hasmonean Dynasty (140 BCE to 37 BCE) was successful in ridding Israel of Greek hegemony. This early victory is what we celebrate annually on the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. The Hasmoneans were of the priestly caste and served as priests and High Priests. However, after their victory, they assumed the crown of Kingship and the office of the High Priest. This went against the Mosaic law mentioned above. They also forcefully conquered neighbouring tribes and enforced their conversion to Judaism. This is also frowned upon by Moses’ injunction. King Herod, a Jewish member of one of these tribes that were converted by force, also coveted both crowns. He consulted neither holy books nor priestly advisors, yet he strove to be the High Priest and King of Israel.

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik’s podcast episode #32, Kohen vs King: Two Models of Leadership *4, points out that it is inevitable that both Kohen/Priest and King will make mistakes or “will sin.” Moreover, Rabbi Meir points out that the Torah’s prescription for recognition and repentance for mistakes/sins is different for Priests and Kings. When Leviticus the Torah refers to the High Priest, it says “if,” “If he sins,” but when speaking about Kings, it uses the word “asher-when,” “when he sins.” The Biblical text closely prescribes the conduct of the priests as they perform the rituals of worship, and so are very clear, but the narrator understands that the “errors” of rulers are inevitable. A ruler or King has to assess every situation as it crops up and make his own decisions.

Herod the Great

The King Herod the Great

The high priest

The High Priest


To help him with these decisions, he needs to:

“Have a copy of this Teaching written for him on a scroll by the Levitical priests. Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws. Thus he will not act haughtily toward his fellows or deviate from the Instruction to the right or the left, to the end that he and his descendants may reign long amid Israel.” *3 (Sefaria: Deuteronomy 17:14-20)

Roman colonization and rule by Roman governors followed Herod’s reign. As a result, his magnificent Temple – the Second Temple he had greatly enhanced – was crushed and demolished. Still, as we know it today, Judaism survived this destruction over two thousand years ago by a hairs’ breadth.

A small group of scholars/rabbis fled Jerusalem surreptitiously and gained permission from the Roman Emperor to establish their community in Yavneh, a remote town in Galilee. This is where the Talmud – the conversations of the Rabbis on every subject mentioned in the Torah, what Jews call “the oral biblical law” – became formalized and written down over the next six centuries. The Torah and Talmud form the basis of Jewish communal life today, both in Israel and the diaspora. Torah and Talmud continue to be studied daily by Jews of all ages in yeshiva worldwide, synagogue classes, and even universities. These canonical texts have been the backbone of Jewish communal life worldwide in the diaspora and Israel. It has been the guide for life for commoners and kings.

But it’s not enough to study these texts; execution is even more critical because Jewish history teaches us that the acts of both kings and commoners have consequences.



  1. CNN series on Jerusalem: City of Faith, 39 BC, The Rise and Fall of Herod the Great (www.cnn.com/2021/07/18/middleeast/jerusalem-original-series-faith-and-fury-timeline/index.html). This tv program is based on historic writings studied by modern-day scholars, like Sebag Montefiore, the contemporary author of Jerusalem: The Biography and others.
  2. Sefaria, Deuteronomy Ch 17 – V. 14-20, a website that presents the Jewish biblical canon, including Torah and Talmud, along with many commentaries (www.sefaria.org/Deuteronomy.17.15?lang=bi&with=About&lang2=en).
  3. Sefaria: Deuteronomy 17:18-20
  4. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik’s podcast, Bible 365, episode #32, Kohen (Priest) vs King: Two Models of Leadership https://bible365podcast.com/bible-365/kohen-vs-king-two-models-of-leadership/
  5. Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, Covenant & Conversation, Learning and Leadership (Shoftim 57)
  6. Sefaria, Deuteronomy Ch 17, v 18

The Consolation of Media in Pandemic Times


While reading the film reviews of the last several years, I keep asking myself why the most successful movies all seem to be fantasies of disaster or conquests by aliens, either from Middle Earth or other galaxies. Here is one comment from the Washington Post regarding these movies:

“There’s no denying that “The Green Knight” is strange. This is a movie full of naked giantesses and talking foxes, beautiful women who insist their heads have gone missing from their bodies, and, oh yes, a massive, axe-wielding combatant made of animated wood and vines. Those arresting images and enigmatic sequences are part of why “The Green Knight” is wonderful. It’s a film that will invite multiple, careful viewings.” *1

I also recall my course with my Shiviti Yeshiva teacher, Yehudis Golshevsky *2, on “Aggadata” in the Talmud. Aggadata presents as a fantastical narrative, and the closest word in English would be “allegory.” Below is an example of the genre. *3

Struggling with these stories with my class was weird and wonderful. Although these tales are difficult to digest, they are not escapist entertainment. Countless Rabbis have written books of commentaries explaining what these tall tales have to teach us.

Talmud Readers by Adolf BehrmanTalmud Readers by Adolf Behrman

In the first session of his zoom course, The Really Big Questions About Judaism *4, Prof. Hazony laments that in our present intellectual climate, the Hebrew Bible is too often disparaged as antiquated and even perhaps geared to children and the unsophisticated. However, many ancient and contemporary scholars have found the Torah to be a marvellous source of ideas on all aspects of human striving.


Anyone who has attended a Jewish mainstream synagogue knows that a significant portion of any service is the ceremony of taking the Torah out of the ark, unscrolling it, and chanting the Torah portion – the Parsha – for that week in the original Hebrew.

Over the year complete Torah is recited every year. Rabbi Jonathon Sacks *5 discusses the value of reading and rereading Torah in his essay on Parsha Ki Tavo,

The great questions – “Who are we?” “Why are we here?” “what is our task” – are best answered by telling a story. This is fundamental to understanding why Torah is the kind of book it is; not a theological treatise, or a metaphysical system, but a series of interlinked stories extended over time, from Abraham and Sarah’s journey from Mesopotamia  to Moses’ and the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert. Judaism is less about ‘truth as system’ than about ‘truth as story.

We are fortunate in our time to have ready access to Torah texts, commentaries, brilliant teachers, movies, television, and the internet, all at the touch of the finger. So how does one choose from this embarrassment of riches?

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear!” Find the teacher who speaks to you. Start with a favourite teacher of Torah wherever you are. I found mine when I visited Yeshivat Simhat Shlomo*6 in Nachlaot, Jerusalem and sat in on a class with Yehudis Golshevsky.

Every moment of your life is precious. And the only totally unrenewable resource is your time on this earth. So use it wisely, even when seeking entertainment.



  1. Washington Post: Opinion: Go Ahead Take a Chance, See a weird Looking Movie Like The Green Knight or Pig
  2. Shiviti Yeshiva: An international online intermediate and advanced Torah learning community for women centred in Jerusalem, Israel
  3. The Legends of Rabbah Bar Bar Hannah with the Commentary of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook  Introduction, P.9
  4. Prof. Yoram Hazony, The Really Big Questions About Judaism
  5. Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, Ki Tavo, Lessons in leadership: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible, P. 276 -278
  6. Yeshivat Simhat Shlomo, Torah from the Heart to the Heart


Zachor Al Tishkach: Remember, Don’t Forget

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (Z’L) has pointed out that there is no word for “history” in Hebrew. The word closest to the notion of history in Hebrew is “Zachor” – the injunction “to remember.”

The Torah has two commandments around the word “Zachor.” One is Zachor et Yom haShabbat, – remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy: The second one – Zachor et Amalek – Remember Amalek! Below is the translation of the Torah verses that recalls Amalek.

“You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you went out of Egypt, how he happened upon you on the way and cut off all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary, and he did not fear G-d. So it will be, when the Lord your G-d grants you respite from all your enemies around you in the land which the Lord, your G-d, gives to you as an inheritance to possess, that you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the Heavens. You shall not forget!” (Deut. 25:17-19).

These verses are chanted annually in the synagogue on the Shabbat before the holiday of Purim. Below is what it sounds like.


Jewish memory of the last five thousand years is embedded in our texts and holidays. The following documentaries and talks by current scholars about our recent world history bring the recent past vividly to mind. As you read this blog, you will realize why it is vital “not to forget what went before.”



Stephen Kotkin has published two volumes on the life and times of Josef Stalin (1878-1953) based on his research into recently released Soviet archives. In addition, I have enjoyed watching him interviewed by Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institute’s Uncommon Knowledge.


In the first volume, we learn that Stalin was not the product of an abusive home. He was educated in Catholic elementary and high schools because these were the best schools his parents could afford in his neighbourhood. His path was open to becoming a Catholic priest. But as a young man, he became enamoured with revolutionary Marxist ideology and made a career of being an anti-czarist activist. Before 1917, he was exiled and imprisoned by the Czarist police five times.

In 1917, the czarist regime was overthrown, and a provisional democratic government was installed. Stalin was close to the group around Lenin that overthrew the interim government. In the spring of 1922, after Lenin engineered a coup replacing all independent parties in the provisional government with the Communist Party, he appointed Stalin as his manager and right-hand man. Officially, Stalin became the Secretary-General of the Communist Party.

Six weeks later, Lenin had a stroke from which he never recovered. This left Stalin open to maneuver himself into the role of a dictator by ruthlessly destroying anyone opposed to him or his ideas. Stalin could do this because he was a workaholic with great people skills and managerial prowess. With no one looking over his shoulder, he was ruthless and used “every underhanded method and then some” to justify his ends. He used manipulation, torture, and outright murder of any potential rivals to maintain his autocratic power.

In the name of his communist Marxist ideology, Stalin and his collaborators engineered the collectivization of farmlands, and the elimination of private property and personal freedom, which led to poverty and death from starvation for tens of millions of people before World War ll. The name given to these events is the Holodomor.

Although Stalin was idealistic, one of his ideas was that the end goal justifies any means. Secondly, he recognized absolutely no restraint in his quest for personal power.




I also studied Hitler’s ascent this month and reigned via the excellent documentary Rise of the Nazis on PBS. So far, I have watched two episodes bringing us up to 1938.

In 1930, Germany was a liberal democracy. Just four years later, democracy is dead, and a single party, the Nazis, rules the country. Hitler was an autocratic ruler, and his collaborators, Ernst RöhmHermann Göring, and Heinrich Himmler, controlled all German national institutions:

  • The police, the army and the courts – Heinrich Himmler controls the police.
  • Herman Goring created his espionage cadre called the Gestapo.
  • Ernst Rohm is in charge of the SA, the Storm Troopers.

In the first episode, we meet the chief actors vying for parliamentary power in 1930. General Kurt von Schleicher, an ally of the right and himself a politician, fearing socialist and left-wing parties enlist Hitler thinking to take advantage of his popularity and his private militia power base, the SA (the Storm Troopers).

Hitler and his cronies first became known to the German public during what is now referred to as the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, which was an attempt at seizing the reigns of power via the armed violence of the Storm Troopers (SA). Goring and Himmler escape and Hitler is tried and imprisoned.

  • Hitler was sentenced to prison for five years but served only nine months in the relative comfort of Landsberg castle. Instead, he used the time to dictate the first volume of Mein Kampf, his political autobiography, and a compendium of his multitudinous ideas.
  • Hitler’s ideas included inequality among races, nations, and individuals as part of an unchangeable natural order that exalted the “Aryan race” as humanity’s creative element. According to Hitler, the natural unit of humankind was the Volk (“the people”), of which the German people were the greatest. Moreover, he believed that the state existed to serve the Volk, i.e. Weimar Germany. In Hitler’s Germany, these criteria judged all morality and truth. (Source: Britannica)

Hans Litten is also highlighted in the series. Litten was a German lawyer from an established German family. His father, Fritz, was a distinguished jurist and dean of Königsberg’s law school who later became rector of that institution. His mother, Irmgard, was from an established Lutheran family in Swabia, the daughter of Albert Wüst, a professor at the University of Halle-Wittenberg.

The 1924 court case against Adolf Hitler and other events convinced Litten that Germany was approaching a hazardous period. In addition, his perception that right-wing radicals were getting away with murder – unfettered criminal violence in the pursuit of power – convinced him to become a lawyer.

In May 1931, Litten summoned Adolf Hitler to testify in the Tanzpalast Eden Trial, a court case involving two workers stabbed by four SA (Storm Troopers). He cross-examined Hitler for three hours, finding many points of contradiction and proving that Hitler had exhorted the SA to embark on a systematic campaign of violence against the Nazis’ enemies. This was crucial because, meanwhile, Hitler was trying to pose as a conventional politician to middle-class voters and maintain that the Nazi Party was “strictly legal.”

Although Litten managed to expose Hitler in this trial, with some success, all German national institutions were corrupted once Himmler and Goring were appointed to manage the Nazi forces. As a result, Litten is imprisoned in several Nazi concentration camps and continuously and mercilessly tortured. He is also declared a Jew and imprisoned in the Jewish prisoner wing. His father was a Jew who had converted to Lutheranism.

The second episode exposes the competition between Goring and Himmler for Hitler’s approval after Hitler acquired his position of Chancellor and sole governing ruler of Germany. Himmler expanded his power by acquiring systematic control of all provincial police departments and announcing the creation of Dachau as a place to house/imprison enemies of the state, the thousands arrested by the SS immediately upon Hitler accessing autocratic powers. Goring advances his power base by creating the Gestapo, a private espionage unit. Their pursuit of power leads them to collaborate to denounce Ernst Rohm and his Storm Troopers to Hitler. Ernst Rohm and his stormtroopers are also imprisoned in concentration camps and systematically murdered in the Night of the Long Knives.

This episode ends with the little-known story of Joseph Hartinger, Deputy State Prosecutor, who, when called to examine the death of four prisoners at Dachau reported to have been shot while trying to escape, notices that all four are Jews and that they have all been shot in the same way at close range. He collects his evidence and writes his detailed report expecting those responsible for being condemned and brought to trial, but his superior refuses to sign off on it. Shocked, he decides to take it further up the chain of command on his initiative, but Himmler is warned, and the report arrives at the highest court and gets locked away in a safe. We know this because the information was discovered by the American armies and was used as evidence at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, which began on November 20, 1945.

These Nazi leaders were personally ambitious, cruel and murderous. Nevertheless, they managed to seduce and intimidate much of the German populace with their racial theories, blaming all of Germany’s ills on Jews, communists, socialists, capitalists, and anyone else who was not a “pure German and Nazi sympathizer.”


History-Zachor Al Tishkach


In another PBS documentary, China Undercover, FRONTLINE investigates China’s oppression of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province. In addition, the documentary exposes China’s alarming use and testing of surveillance technology.

The regime’s growing capacity to survey an entire population, using surveillance technology and concentration-type camps visible via satellite to punish and imprison, should cause global alarm. Cameras are placed everywhere, allowing the regime to monitor all its citizens closely, even identifying them by analyzing facial structure. The country’s faithful soldiers systematically download peoples’ phones and label their houses with barcodes. They enlist Chinese families to invade the homes of Uyghur families and “become a part of Uyghur families” on holidays, eliminating any possibility of privacy or resistance.

This reality seems even worse than the dystopia depicted in George Orwell’s classic novel 1984.

Why Is the Injunction to Remember – Zachor – So Important? 

Why is it important to understand the history of Hitler, Stalin, and the current landscape? First, it shows us what can happen when individuals or institutions, unmoored from any moral scruples, and often in the name of “social justice,” have the hubris to declare themselves keepers of the flame and to claim supreme governing authority.

The Torah reminds us to work to eliminate these rulers, even after we prosper, not to wreak vengeance but to create a safer world for all of us, one that is committed to the kind of justice that protects the weakest among us everywhere. We all become witnesses whenever we have the opportunity to review these events.