April 24, 2017: Yom HaShoah and Armenian Genocide Commemorations: a discussion

by Jerry Gordon and Daniel Mandel

Yad Vashem  Eternal Flame  and Armenian Genocide Memorial

April 24, 2017 commemorates both Hitler’s Holocaust during WWII against European Jewry in Israel on Yom HaShoah Day. It also marks the annual commemoration of  the Armenian Genocide throughout the world regarding the series of horrific massacres that occurred in Turkey  during WW1 under the Ottoman Empire.

We have with us as our guest Dr. Daniel Mandel. Dr. Mandel is the Director of the Center for Middle East Policy of the Zionist Organization of America (ZoA). Dan, I wonder if you might give our audience your website address.

 Daniel Mandel: The Zionist Organization of America (ZoA)  can be easily found as zoa.org. on the world wide web.

 Jerry  Gordon: Let’s begin this discussion about these two horrific commemorations.

Mandel: Yes.

Gordon: April 24 is Yom HaShoah Day on the Hebrew Calendar which happens to coincide on the Julian calendar with Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. What do they commemorate and was the Armenian ethnic cleansing a precursor, as many scholars have alleged, to Hitler’s Final Solution for the Jews?

Mandel: Yes, I think it was, and there’s very little doubt about the matter: Hitler’s own words testify to this, when he remarked –– I forget to which member of his retinue –– when he remarked on one occasion when going forward with his plans, in this case, for slaughtering Poles, who thinks about the Armenians now? He clearly took it as a template that one could really do such a thing, that one get away with this and that no-one would really be held to account subsequently. Particularly, Hitler was thinking, if he wins the war, the victors write the history, the victors dictate what occurs, he has nothing to fear is he does these things. So it was certainly an inspiration to him to that extent.

 Gordon: There was also Hitler’s appreciation, speaking to another of his colleagues, a gentleman who became a German Muslim convert, that he thought Islam was the best religion and that jihad was important.

Mandel: Well, this is true. I take it you’re referring here to Armin Van Leers?

Gordon: That’s right.

Mandel:  There were other Nazis who were attracted to Islam. Hitler himself had a soft spot for Islam.  He even said on occasion, I’m paraphrasing him, “how sad it is that we Germans, the Teutonic race, are encumbered with this Jewish Christianity, with all its flabbiness. Jihad, and the fearsome martial ardor, such as you have in Islam, would have been much more suitable to the German people. Hitler made that observation more than once.

Gordon: Even in World War I, when the triumvirate of Young Turks created the mayhem that morphed into the Armenian genocide, the Germans, in particular, put out a call for jihad throughout the Muslim ummah.  That was also true for the three perpetrators who ordered the Armenian genocide in Istanbul.

Mandel: Yes, it would have been tempting for the Germans and Ottoman Turks to do so. After all, the British Empire had a very large number of Muslim subjects, not just in the Middle East, but in India. The idea that you could destabilize your main opponent, by trying to rouse the loyalty of Muslims to the Caliphate, to rise against them in them in time of war,   create a fifth column, behind the front in more than one place, would have been far too tempting for the Germans and Turks not to attempt to do this in various forms.

Gordon: Who was the American Jewish ambassador to the Sublime Porte, the Ottoman Empire that President Wilson appointed in 1913 who revealed the Armenian ethnic cleansing by Young Turks during World War I. Moreover, what did his son, Henry Morgenthau, Jr.  did  several decades later, as FDR’s Treasury Secretary,  to save a remnant of Holocaust victims during World War II?

Mandel:  You’re obviously referring to Henry Morgenthau of New York. He was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson as ambassador to the Sublime Porte during the War. He was appalled by what he saw. He was receiving  daily reports coming into the American embassy from American consulates throughout the Ottoman territories.  These  reports  told of death marches, massacres, starvation, and deportations happening on such a vast scale. It was something new in the  twentieth century about it. We learned there was a  massive slaughter with an estimate of  upwards of  one and a half million Armenians who died as a result of the policies that were  carried out  on orders of the Ottoman authorities.  Henry Morgenthau Jr. served as Roosevelt’s Treasury Secretary. His great humanitarian achievement during  the genocide of  European  Jews in World War II, was the founding , late in 1944, of the War Refugee Board,.  It played a part in saving a small remnant of the six million European Jews who  fell under the Nazi heel during the Holocaust. We had the Raoul Wallenberg mission in Hungary.  Wallenberg was able by his stupendous efforts to save the lives of 100,000 Hungarian Jews.  Hungarian Jewry was  the last of the great  European  Jewish  populations to be sacrificed.  The result was  at the end of the  Second  World War , there were still 250,000 Jews still left alive in the Reich. This was Morgenthau Jr.’s great contribution to the saving that remnant.

 Gordon:  I have a quote from Henry Morgenthau Sr.’s from his Ambassadors Story : A Personal; Account of the Armenian Genocide,  that was published in 1918 when he says, “when the Turkish authorities gave orders for these deportations they were merely giving the death warrant to  the whole race. They understood this well in their conversations with me and they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact”. Now what is interesting is that the organizer or the perpetrator, who gave the orders, was one of the three members of the young Turks Triumvirate, Interior Minister Talaat Pasha.

Dr. Mandel: Yes.

 Gordon:  He was assassinated in Berlin in 1921 by a member of the Armenian resistance group, a student at the time, Soghomon Tehlirian, an operative of Operation Nemesis.   Dan, there was a parallel attempt to do something similar after the formal period of World War II ended. Members of the Jewish resistance, from what was left of Vilna partisans attempted to poison several thousand SS prisoners held by the allies in Germany.          

 Mandel: Yes, it is an astonishing thing, justice in one form or another sometimes does catch up on a personal basis with some would be perpetrators. The case you recalled reminded me recalls the case of Symon Petlyura who was the Ukrainian leader who conducted the terrible pogroms against Jews and the Russian Empire.

Gordon:  Right.

 Mandel:  After the Polish Russian War in the 1920’s, in 1926, he was killed, not in Berlin,but in Paris, by a Russian Jewish anarchist who wanted to repay him for the astonishing bloodshed he left in the Ukraine in the previous decade. So on a personal basis, vengeance sometimes does catch up with people.

Gordon:   Who was the Polish Jewish lawyer who created the term genocide and how does it apply to the extermination of six million European Jews from World War II and the1.5 million Armenians during the First World War in what is now Turkey?

 Mandel:  The man who coined the term genocide was Raphael Lemkin who went to great lengths during the 1940’s to have the concept of genocide enshrined in international law.  The idea was that if one state actor is attempting to destroy an entire group of people that they should be conceptualized in law as a crime. Then they should be outlawed and certain measures should be possible to be taken in retaliation. He coined the term and fought for its adoption internationally in the 1940’s.

Gordon:  He also is a distant relative of a married nephew of mine, Jim Lemkin in Boston.

Mandel:  Well, it is indeed a small world.

Gordon:  A very small world in that regard.  Recently the UN released from its archives  information indicating that the allies during World War II knew about Hitler’s plan to exterminate Jews two years earlier than previously thought. When did the allies know? about it and what if anything could they have done to stop or bring it to a halt?


Mandel:  That remains a controversial question.  I must confess I haven’t seen the latest evidence about how early they saw it. It was generally conceded that in 1942 if not earlier, even 1941, they became well aware of the fact that Polish Jewry had been subjected to random massacres and ghettoizations and  that the deaths were already in the hundreds of thousands. By 1942 they were aware from the Nazi Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union that extraordinary mass killings were also occurring behind the lines in the Soviet territories.  They had good reason to believe that upwards of a

million Jews had already been killed and there were Slavs and others being subjected to war crimes.  The argument as to what the allies could have done has always been a vexed and impassioned issue.   You can read different points of view depending on which historian you approach. I know for example that  some leading  experts on the Holocaust were of the view  that there were really no possibilities for saving Jews on a mass scale. We certainly could not have saved millions was what he said. There were certainly  deficient efforts by the allies, before  and during the war to save Jews.   If they weren’t completely silent they made declarations of intent to punish the perpetrators.  Churchill himself sometimes intervened  when opportunities  arose in  Albania,  Bulgaria and other countries.  The Turks enabled some  Jews to escape  with limited  success. We are  really talking about saving people on the margin. It’s not completely altering the situation.  The numbers of Jews that  could have been saved were in the  thousands, perhaps in the  tens of thousands.  However, we can’t talk of hundreds of thousands or millions.  By the time the war was in progress the essential escape routes open to Jews to leave Europe to reach Palestine and other Western countries were essentially closed.

Gordon:  Add to that was the controversy about bombing Auschwitz by March of 1944.

Mandel:  This of course was very late in the Holocaust.  As we know by that stage, unfortunately,most of the European  six million  Jews were already  murdered in Hitler’s Final Solution.

Gordon:  That is  right.  Even more traumatic was that something in excess of 433,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered in the death complex of Auschwitz -Birkenau in less than three months.


Mandel:  Yes. Eichmann’s deportation of Jews  from Hungary occurred  when the Nazis

marched into Hungary.   Hungary had been a Nazi ally. It was a semi-fascist state under the

Regent Admiral Horthy, who was very anti-Semitic himself  handed over the Jews to the Nazis.  Eichmann pressed  him to adopt various restrictive measures facilitating genocide of the Jewish population.   The Nazis occupied  Hungary when they found out  that Horthy attempted to conclude a separate peace with  the allies early in 1944. Eichmann and his  SS deputies   went about the task of deporting Jews with incredible  efficiency. In  less than three months   433,000 of Hungary’s 800,000 Jewish community  was deported   and murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Gordon:  On that note I want to thank you Daniel Mandel of the Zionist Organization of America (ZoA) for this intelligent and cogent discussion about the commemoration of two genocides:  the Nazi Holocaust against six million European Jews during World War II and the 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Young Turks during World War I. Thank you.

 Mandel:  Jerry thanks very much.

Listen to the original 1330amWEBY interview .