Don’t let war stories darken the noble history of Judaism
I rather suspected that I might be wading into warm waters when I recently presented an unusual proof that people did not know of the reality of the Holocaust.
I pointed to the relatively small numbers of Cohens killed while serving within the British army during the Second World War. And yes, the ensuing soup has turned out to be rather hottish.
Which is fine. I'm used to far greater heat from the PLO-Hamas groupies who are usually so besotted with chic anti-Israeli terrorist movements they barely notice the anti-Semitism that animates so much of the Arab world.
Moreover, untruth over this truth is now a media norm. The only way we can deal with such dogmatic untruth is by making the truth itself an end, however uncomfortable.
Which, perhaps perversely, is why I said what I said about the Cohens of Britain — for that unusual revelation is a confirmation of that other truth, that almost nobody outside the Nazi leadership in Germany was aware of what was imminent.
Henry Morris, curator of the Jewish Military Museum in London, then took up the cudgels against me. He said that between 60,000 and 65,000 Jews served in the British armed forces in the Second World War, with more than 3,000 dying. I don't know where he gets his figures from, nor the basis for them, but he does not dispute the figures I gave for Cohens. However, I have now discovered these were wrong.
I said |142 British Cohens were killed by enemy action (see www. CWGC.org ). As further research has now revealed, seven of those Cohens were actually Palestinian Jews serving in the British army. In all, therefore, 135 British Cohens were killed in the war.
The largest single group was civilian: 54% or 40% of the total. Forty were killed as soldiers — 30%. The rest died as airmen and seamen. As a comparison, for the name Goldberg, 10 civilians and 11 soldiers were killed. Seven Goldstein civilians were killed and nine soldiers.
What about Cohens resorting to war names? I have checked. No British army Cohen apparently felt the need to change his name, unlike exiled Jews, such as the fearless Austrian Jew, Egon Berliner, who became Lt Michael O'Hara while serving with Special Operations Executive and was killed in Italy, aged 22. Posthumously, he is memorialised by his real name. But Corporal Emmanuel Cohen, 2nd Airborne, son of Rebecca Cohen, of Marylebone, London, killed during the Rhine Crossing in March 1945 — and who is buried in the Germany that he gave his life making free — lived and died a Cohen. I honour him here but I would do him no honour by trading in falsehoods.
Give or take, there's a rough parity between the Goldbergs/ Goldsteins/Cohens killed as soldiers and as civilians.
For the quintessential British/ Irish names of Smith, Jones, Murphy and Brown, roughly three times as many soldiers were killed as civilians.
Arguments that the Cohen civilian casualties were proportionately higher because of the Blitz on the East End do not stand.
In fact, 42 Cohen civilians were killed in the winter of 1940-41, which is just 6.1% of the total of the civilian Blitz victims bearing our five quintessential names.
That said, the East End Cohens who fought were, by God, the real thing. Of those who died, 50% were infantry and most of the rest were tank men or gunners. And for obvious reasons, I draw your attention here to Rifleman Leonard Cohen, London Irish Rifles, KIA, March 1944, Italy.
The story is, of course, much more complex than this and I offer a mere glimpse of reality. But my main point is that it is simply not reasonable to maintain that Jews are absolutely no different to the rest of us in their attitudes towards their native land.
How else the in-gathering to Israel? How else the siren call of Zion? To be sure, Irish people of indigenous stock might emigrate but they don't feel upon arrival in New York they are returning home. Jews arriving in Israel usually do. And far from begrudging Jews their manifold loyalties, I welcome them.
The undivided emotions of so many unsubtle, unshaded national identities across the world have led to violent theories of race or nation or class or creed.
The world has been made a better place by the Jewish people, with all their emotional ambiguities, their numerous conflicts of identity, their innate scepticism and their ceaseless, worrisome questioning. So what possible advantage is there for any of us if diaspora Jews, as a group, replicated the behaviour they find around them?
No other people in history has done more to benefit mankind or enrich our common civilisation than the Jews. But I don't romanticise them or make them to be what they're not. And if I can publicly point out that Jews have won 165 Nobel Prizes — compared to just six for Arabs (most of them, apparently, for agreeing not to kill Jews any more) — then I can certainly consider other less visibly ‘meritorious’ aspects.
But the bottom line is this: what definition of mankind is possibly ennobled or enriched by reports of a successful mass bayonet charge by Jews?