Germany should have given up a province for the Jewish people
The Jews should have been offered a homeland in Franconia, with Jerusalem a place of pilgrimage
Richard Curtis was the head of my house at school – a place drenched in the tragic memories of what Englishmen have always called The Great War. His comedy series Blackadder Goes Forth that sends up its follies has attached itself powerfully to a view of the war as a complete waste of time – a mad world of mutual slaughter inhabited by medal-hungry generals, incompetent staff officers and sadistic but marvellously camp Germans.
The series always seemed to me one of the best military jokes ever. For what the guardsmen in the Welsh Guards used to call ‘a bloody civvy’ (say it with a strong Carnarvon or Caerphilly accent and you will understand its full force), Curtis through sheer sympathetic imagination managed to uncover and poke fun not just at the craziness of the trenches but of military life itself.
Observing the development of the European Union and the constant unravelling of what passes for peace and security in the Middle East I have always shared a kind of modified Blackadder view – the war was a complete waste of time. But not as in Captain Edmund Blackadder’s view because it was fought incompetently. The British Expeditionary Force of 1914-18 was the most professional and successful army the UK has ever put in the field. Its senior officers were, usually, both brave (at least 58 British generals were killed in action) and competent. More often than not they won – and Field Marshal Haig led them to overall victory in the end.
But the central aim of the war (pace General Melchett trying to move his cocktail cabinet closer to Berlin) was to prevent Germany controlling Europe and despite the comprehensive defeat of the German army in 1918 and another even more comprehensive defeat in 1945 - it now does. It’s Angela Merkel’s Europe; we just live in it – and try to listen into her telephone to find out what is going on.
As if an unstable Europe under German hegemony were not enough – the arc of instability in the contemporary Middle East that may well threaten the stability of Europe itself is largely a result of German savagery.
At the beginning of 1947 the then British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin famously declared the Balfour Declaration ‘dead’. There was huge sympathy across the world for the plight of those Jews who had survived the Holocaust. But few in authority at that stage in Europe envisaged the future of displaced Jews in Palestine. There had been too much inter-communal strife under the Mandate. Churchill consistently advocated the re-establishment of Jewish Society within Europe – after all discrimination against Jews had been done away with in the United Kingdom under Cromwell. In France legal disabilities had been abolished at the time of the Revolution and Napoleon’s armies enthusiastically lifted restrictions on ghettoes wherever they marched.
Even if the Jews wanted their own state – understandable enough given the relentless cruelty of their persecution by the German government between 1933-45 (the honour-obsessed military high command was fully complicit and many ordinary German people as well) it was by no means a foregone conclusion that it should have been in the Middle East.
Clearly, there are deep religious reasons for devout Jews to want to be in what is now called (again) Israel – but they seem to thrive equally well in Brooklyn or Stamford Hill. Jerusalem, rather than the disputed capital of a Jewish State, could have been a place of pilgrimage for the world’s three great and interconnected monotheistic religions.
Instead, after escaping the Holocaust they have been led into an ambush that has so far lasted nearly 70 years and will never end. Not because the Jews did not deserve a homeland but because in order to establish one they stole large chunks of someone else’s country.
It is very odd given that the Holocaust was a German crime why we have forced others to pay for and atone for it. The Arabs in Palestine had nothing to do with the mass murder of European Jews.
Much better would have been to give the Jews as a homeland one of the provinces of Germany. Prussia, the seat of moustachioed spiked-helmet German militarism, ceased to be German entirely in 1945 and is now split between Russia and Poland. Silesia became Polish. My choice would have been Franconia – a part-Protestant part-Catholic province tucked away in the south west of the country. For many years its Gauleiter was the repellent Julius Streicher, the Nazi party’s chief anti-Semitic propagandist – considered over-the-top even by Hitler himself.
Towards the end of the war, some senior Americans, including FDR’s powerful Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, argued that Germany should be split up into several smaller countries – as it used to be – so that it could never boss anyone around again. Under that scheme a Jewish homeland could easily have been accommodated. It came to nothing, sadly.