Anne Laurie brought our attention to Dr. Carson’s recent comments regarding Jewish Armed resistance, or the lack thereof, against the NAZIs during World War II. Earlier today, between a conference call and doing some other work related stuff I came across Steve M’s much fuller treatment on the topic. Steve traces the history of the …
One of the things that I have both had to account for operationally in the work I’ve done for the Army, as well as teach US military personnel to think about, is how do people in other societies conceptualize war and/or warfare. It is true that at this time the Jews of the Yishuv in Mandatory Palestine were in the process of developing a concept and understanding of war and warfare, the Jews of Germany had nothing to fall back on. The Rabbinic Judaism that had developed in Europe had little to say about the use of Force – either offensively or defensively – because Jews in Europe were never in control of a political entity. As a result it was simply not a real consideration. So while there was some minimal commentary and analysis in the Talmud based on commandments to the Israelites about the different types of war that they were ordered to undertake to make it to and then capture the Land of Canaan, these were very abstract portions of Judaica.
There were some Jewish German veterans of World War I. Their understanding of war, provided they were involved with the German military long enough and at a high enough level to worry about such things, would have been German, not Jewish. So even had a good portion of that less than 500,000 Jewish Germans been armed (which they weren’t as it wasn’t part of the Jewish German tradition), and had they had advanced warning of Kristallnacht and the beginning of the Final Solution (which they didn’t), there was no context other than sheer survival for Jewish Germans to have acted on. And while sheer survival instinct is powerful, we begin to stretch the counterfactual assertions to argue that uncoordinated Jewish German resistance, that was not widely or uniformly engaged in across a very small minority population, would have yielded positive results. This argument just isn’t logically or historically persuasive. Even had that portion of 1% of Jewish Germans been armed, and all of them situationally aware enough to somehow pick up on what the NAZIs were really planning, and kept their weapons where they could be brought to bear in an emergency, just how many brownshirts are you going to take out in the middle of the night when your store, above which is your home, has just been firebombed? Additionally, there is a bit of victim blaming here. If only Jewish Germans had fought back, had exercised their natural rights to self-defense (ignoring, of course, that Judaism has no concept of natural rights), and had somehow been able to arm themselves in violation of German law, they wouldn’t have gone like sheep to the slaughter. Frankly, that’s just insulting, as well as being a gross misunderstanding and misrepresentation of what actually went on.
Now this discussion of understanding of war or way of war is somewhat abstract, it is still important to understand the dynamic here. It took hundreds of years for the emancipated Jewish Germans to be accepted as Germans. And part of their understanding of their emancipated status was that the religiously based anti-Semitism had been largely left behind so it was safe to assimilate and become Germans that just happened to be Jews. This turned out to not be the case, but we have the actual history and know what actually transpired. Yes there were firearms restrictions on the books. The first batch from the late 1920s were NOT instituted by the NAZIs. Rather they were put in place by the Weimar Republic and applied to all Germans – not just Jewish Germans. It was only the latter NAZI instituted restrictions from 1938 that specifically targeted Jewish Germans.
It is important to remember, as Harcourt does in his article linked to above, that the actual historiography and reality is not as simple as: Jewish Germans were disarmed and they couldn’t fight back. It is for this reason that the ADL issued a statement in 2013 requesting that because the historiography is ambiguous, it is exceedingly unclear how many of the even assimilated Jewish Germans were firearms owners (a fraction of the 1% of all Jewish Germans), that the experience of Jewish Germans in the Holocaust should not be politicized. The historiography makes it very difficult to figure out if the NAZI recodifications beginning after 1938 were symbolic or not and just how the reimposed restrictions were carried out. It therefore becomes impossible to determine if in a coordinated, planned surprise event like Kristallnacht a shocked and terrorized community, even one that that included firearm owners, would have been able to actually respond in any meaningful way as events unfolded. It is because of this that the ADL has asked that these assertions not be used to score political points.
Regardless of the ADL’s request, an armed population of less than 500,000 out of a total population of 67 million was not going to hold off the NAZIs and even pockets of resistance weren’t going to hold out for long. While armed resistance might have bought time for some to escape or slowed things down a bit, what happened in the 1930s in Germany is not analogous to any arguments over the 2nd Amendment here in the US. The historical context is just far too different. The US has not suffered a battlefield defeat in an interstate war followed by the imposition of unconditional surrender with severe and severely disproportionate terms imposed upon America at the cessation of hostilities as was the case with Germany post WW I. These terms were so out of proportion that instead of allowing the WW I allies to win the peace it in fact made the post war peace impossible and set the conditions for future war with Germany in Europe. Moreover, the foundational post WW I German law did not speak to issues of implicit or explicit firearms/weapons ownership, so the creation of laws pertaining to firearms and weaponry through the normal legislative process would not create any sort of constitutional crisis or raise a constitutional concern. The experience of Jewish Germans prior to and during World War II may have much to teach us about implied rights to self defense, and even though self defense is now part of the current Constitutional understanding of the 2nd Amendment as a result of the Heller opinion, the historical reality of Jewish Germans and pre World War II German firearms restrictions cannot be stretched far enough to inform us about 2nd Amendment jurisprudence in the US in 2015. The problem with historical analogies is that they are never perfect and context always matters. In this case the actual historical differences are a bridge too far.