Germany’s Refusal to Attack Syria Shows Moral Failure
After repeated chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian regime on its own citizens, the United States, the UK, and Francefinally took military action to punish Bashar Assad. But one ally was notably missing from the raid: Germany. Instead, the German chancellor chose to be a bystander while humans were being gassed by an evil regime.
“Germany will not take part in military action,” Angela Merkel said two days before the allied attack. “But we will support and see to it that every effort is being made to show that this use of chemical weapons is unacceptable.” It was particularly ironic that Merkel’s remark was made on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, almost exactly 75 years after the Nazis started gassing Jews.
Merkel’s response to Syrian atrocities demonstrates that the Germans still do not understand the cost of inaction in the face of absolute evil. During World War II, six million Jews paid with their lives, and now thousands of Syrians are doing the same.
Let us not forget the culpability of the German people in the Holocaust. They elected Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. They continued to support him when he began persecuting Jews and incarcerating them in concentration camps. They stood behind the war to conquer Europe. And they silently watched as Jews were sent to gas chambers and burned in crematoria.
If you visit the concentration camps, you will be reminded of how the German people feigned ignorance. Sometimes you hear stories that the Germans did not know about the Final Solution, and what was being done to the Jews. But many of them knew, and simply went about their daily lives while Jews were murdered.
Just about 20 miles from Merkel’s office in Berlin is the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where a gas chamber was installed in March 1943. We don’t know how many people the Nazis gassed there, because they did not write down the names of the people. Thousands of prisoners from the camp were used as slave laborers by German companies. Altogether, some 100,000 inmates died from exhaustion, disease, malnutrition, abuse, or execution. Today, you can see the residences located opposite the guard tower. The smell of death must have permeated the neighborhood.
Of course, the Germans were not the only bystanders during the war. Citizens and diplomats in the countries occupied by the Nazis, with the rare exceptions of “righteous persons” such as Raoul Wallenberg, Oskar Schindler and Chiune and Yukiko Sugihara, also were silent during the Holocaust. Pope Pius II could have thrown the moral weight of the Church against the Nazi murderers, but he too chose silence.
Worse, the Western powers, which learned about the Final Solution as early as 1941, failed to react to Hitler’s campaign to exterminate the Jewish people. Hitler had been emboldened by the world’s inaction following the pogroms on Kristallnacht in 1938. A few weeks later, he declared his intention to annihilate the Jews — and there was again no reaction.
Yes, winning the war ultimately stopped the killing, but the Allies did not go to war to stop the gassing of the Jews. In September 1944, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada pleaded with the US War Refugee Boardand the War Department to bomb the railway lines headed to Auschwitz, as news of mass deportations of Hungarian Jewsbegan to reach the States. The United States could have bombed Auschwitz, but chose not to.
Many people worry what will happen when all the survivors of the Holocaust are gone. Will the murder of six million Jews be forgotten? It’s just 70-odd years ago, and it already seems as remote as the Peloponnesian War. Just last week, a survey was released indicating that 11% of American adults, and 22% of millennials, are unaware of the Holocaust. Ten years from now, those figures will be significantly higher if we do not teach this history to the next generation. Today, just eight states have mandatory Holocaust education.
The words “Never Again” ring empty if we do nothing when we hear leaders, such as the mullahs in Iran, threaten genocide. It is too easy for monsters to make good on their threats if they are given the means. This is what Bashar Assad is proving once again.
The decision by Britain, France, and the United States to strike Syria without destroying the monster Assad himself was not entirely reassuring. The response of Germany, on the other hand, was a reminder that the country did not learn the lessons of its own history, and that the leader of Europe cannot be relied upon to prevent or respond to crimes against humanity.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is Executive Director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise and author of Forgotten Victims: The Abandonment of Americans in Hitler’s Camps and 48 Hours of Kristallnacht.