Monday, May 7, 2018

Racing Against History By Rick Richman

The 1940 Campaign for a Jewish Army to Fight Hitler
By Rick Richman

As we approach the 70th anniversary of Israel's founding, it is a time to remember the events leading up to that historic day and those who fought for the Jewish state. In his absorbing and ground-breaking new book, RACING AGAINST HISTORY: The 1940 Campaign for a Jewish Army to Fight Hitler, author Rick Richman tells the stunning story of the three greatest Jewish leaders in the world at the time who sought to turn the tide of history.

The three most prominent Zionist leaders of their time -- David Ben-Gurion, Vladimir Jabotinsky, and Chaim Weizmann -- representing the left, right, and center of Jewish political thinking -- traveled to a United States gripped by isolationism, as part of a year-long effort to organize a worldwide Jewish army at the beginning of World War II.

Although they met with indifference from FDR and his administration, as well as disinterest from an American Jewish establishment that feared accusations of warmongering or dual loyalty, they struck a powerful chord among the many thousands of American Jews who turned out to hear their speeches. Richman shows how their valor helped unite and mobilize American Jews, setting the stage -- only eight years later -- for the founding the Jewish state.

Unlike Hollywood in the ‘40s which was largely silent, two recent movies, “Dunkirk” and “Darkest Hour,” have generated new interest in the momentous events of 1940, as Britain faced military defeat but rose to victory under the leadership of Winston Churchill. RACING AGAINST HISTORY recounts how:

·     Within days of Churchill’s becoming prime minister, the Jewish leaders offered him military support -- a force of at least 50,000 soldiers, to be drawn from the half-million stateless Jews, as well as Jewish volunteers from neutral countries. Weizmann, Jabotinsky and Ben-Gurion had each been involved with the Jewish Legion, which fought on the Allied side in World War I. Now that one of the Nazi war aims was to destroy European Jewry, the three leaders wanted Jews to be in the forefront of the military response.
·     Churchill immediately recognized the strategic significance of a Jewish military force: it would enable key British troops to leave Palestine and fight elsewhere, where they were desperately needed. Jabotinsky and Ben-Gurion wanted the Jewish Army available on all fronts, wherever Britain needed help. With America frozen in isolationism, every battalion and division available to support Britain was critical.
·     There were three historic speeches that galvanized the Western world over two days in June 1940: (a) Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech, (b) de Gaulle’s “I speak for France” radio broadcast, and (c) Jabotinsky’s “No Surrender” address before an overflow audience of 5,000 in New York City.  

Among the many fascinating facts and insights culled from RACING AGAINST HISTORY: 

·     Weizmann, the oldest of the three leaders at 65 (when the retirement age was 60), braved a voyage across the Atlantic patrolled by German submarines, to alert American Jews that European Jews and Judaism were being destroyed.
·     Weizmann met privately with FDR, who told him a Jewish homeland -- mandated by the League of Nations in 1922 -- would have to wait until after the war. Later in 1940, the U.S. moved to restrict Jewish immigration to America.
·     Hadassah was the Jewish organization in America that most impressed Ben-Gurion, much more than the Zionist Organization of America: convinced that Hadassah president Tamar de Sola Pool displayed the guts and resolve that others lacked, he enlisted her help to inspire American Zionists to rise to the occasion.
·     Facing widespread anti-Semitism, Jewish studio heads in Hollywood were largely silent. The only outspoken executive -- Harry Warner of Warner Bros. -- became the subject of a congressional investigation into “pro-war propaganda.”
·     One example of 1940 isolationist sentiment: Irving Berlin’s original introduction to “God Bless America,” contains isolationist rhetoric but was changed after Kristallnacht.

Richman’s book is based on previously unpublished speeches, diaries, and letters of all three leaders, including excerpts from Ben-Gurion’s 1940 diary translated into English for the first time. The three Zionist leaders’ race against history is a historic saga, one that is particularly important today when the Jewish state faces continual existential threats.

About the Author: Rick Richman has written for Commentary, The Jewish Journal, The Jewish Press, Mosaic Magazine, The New York Sun, PJ Media, The Tower Magazine, and other publications, and founded the Jewish Current Issues blog in 2003. He is the author of the chapter on American Zionism in "What America Owes the Jews," "What Jews Owe America" and "The New War on Israel." He was a featured commentator in the 2014 documentary, "Body and Soul: The State of the Jewish Nation."