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Volume 1

Number 1

Fall 2015

Letter from the Editor-in-Chief........................... .............................1-11


David Bloom
Touching Fire: Variations on the Theme of
Deeq in Early Hasidic Writings....................... ..........................12-33
Nathan Moldoff
In My Hand a Song Remains: Examining the
Nazi Concentration Camp Universe through
the Lens of Music................................................... ..........................34-64
Annie Prossnitz
What is in Netanyahus Toolbox? A
Comparison between Israeli Military and
Political Strategy before the American
Elections of 1956 and 2012.................................... ..........................65-97
Amanda Sass

UJJS 1:1

Letter from the Editor-in-Chief

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF


David Bloom
Indiana University, Bloomington*
The Undergraduate Journal of Jewish Studies (UJJS), in some
sense, began in a Benedictine monastery in Northeast England. There, the
majestic, white cathedral1 of Durham Abbey proudly overlooks the
River Wear from its rocky promontory2 as it did nearly six hundred fifty
years earlier when a monk, charged with showing hospitality towards
visitors, scratched on paper the words, Ad repar. unius Jurnal. 3
Unbeknownst to him, he had just heralded a new word into the English
lexicon:4 journal.5 Yet, it would take around three hundred thirty years for
*

Although I began this article during my time at Indiana University, Bloomington, I


completed it as an incoming second year, rabbinical student at Hebrew Union CollegeJewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati.
1
Durham Castle and Cathedral, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization World Heritage Centre, accessed May 22, 2014,
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/370.
2
Welcome to Durham Cathedral, The Chapter of Durham, accessed May 22, 2014,
http://www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/.
3
Cinthia Gannett, Gender and the Journal: Diaries and Academic Discourse, 106;
Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. journal, accessed February 18, 2014,
http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/101731?rskey=Aj2fUY&result=16153#eid40451448.
In an e-mail message to me on July 1, 2015, Robert Fulk, Chancellors Professor of
English and Adjunct Professor of Germanic Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington,
explains, The relevant paragraph [in which the term, Jurnal, occurs] itemizes gifts and
presentations. The phrase stands for ad reparacione unius Jurnal, which means in
repayment of a certain Jurnal. In this context the Jurnal must be some kind of book
rather than a periodical. I thank Professor Fulk for his kind assistance on this matter.
4
Ibid.
5
Then, the word had an ecclesiastical denotation, meaning [a] service-book containing
the day-hours (Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. journal, accessed May 18, 2014,
http://www.oed.com.ezproxy.lib.indiana.edu/view/Entry/101731?redirectedFrom=journal
#eid).

David Bloom

Summer 2015

the first volume of the first print journal to appear6 and another one
hundred fifty-seven years for Leopold Zunz to establish the first Jewish
Studies journal, Zeitschrift fr die Wissenschaft des Judenthums, in 1822.7
Thirteen years later, Abraham Geiger founded the journal
Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift fuer juedishewhich became the most
important forum in its day for Jewish studies.8 In 2015, the UJJS joins
nearly ninety Jewish Studies journals in circulation today that accept
English submissions. 9
Despite this profusion of Jewish Studies journals, 10 very few
undergraduate publications exist. I first encountered this state of affairs
Khaiser Nikram and Babu H. Rajendra, Moving from Script to Science 2.0 for
Scholarly Communication, http://webology.org/2009/v6n1/a68.html.
7
John Efron et al., The Jews: A History, 284; Raphael Patai, Tents of Jacob: The
Diaspora, Yesterday and Today, 303. Unfortunately, the Society for Jewish Culture and
Science published only three issues because of low reception and fiscal restrictions
(Gustav Karpeles, Jewish Literature and Other Essays, 324).
8
Paul Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz, eds., The Jew in the Modern World: A
Documentary History, 259.
9
See Appendix A.
10
I agree with Martin Goodmans assessment concerning the difficulty of defining
Jewish Studies. As he writes:
6

In essence, the subject [Jewish Studies] is not really a specific discipline in its
own right. It certainly does not conform to the norms of a classic historical or
literary discipline based upon either a specific place or a specific languageAll
too often it is impossible to understand aspects of Jewish culture without a
detailed knowledge also of the surrounding non-Jewish world, so that a total
mastery of Jewish studies requires almost encyclopaedic knowledge. Not even
the reductive definition of the subject as anything to do with Jew and Judaism
is as simple as it looks, since the definition of Jewishness has been slippery in
many periods of Jewish history, not least in recent debates in Israel about Who
is a Jew? Thus, although Jewish studies may perhaps be best viewed as an
analogous to a field of area studies to which various disciplines are applied
(history, geography, philology, and so on), even that analogy is not exact.
[Martin Goodman, ch. 1, p. 6, in The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies,
Martin Goodman, Jeremy Cohen, and David Sorkin, eds.]

UJJS 1:1

Letter from the Editor-in-Chief

during the spring of 2011. I had recently completed a paper for an


undergraduate course, and I wanted to publish it; yet, I could not find a
journal that would accept undergraduate submissions. A year and a half
later, I expressed my frustration to Lex Rofes,11 and I discussed my idea
for an undergraduate journal of Jewish Studies. With his enthusiastic
support,12 we worked together to create the UJJS, which provides North
American undergraduates with an opportunity to share their work in an
intercollegiate, academic Jewish Studies publication.13 Indeed, because
few publication opportunities for undergraduates exist, the UJJS publishes
only undergraduate work.14 This policy, therefore, works to correct the
current imbalance between the plenitude of Jewish Studies journals and
the dearth of undergraduate, publication opportunities. In doing so, it
That said, even in light of the ambiguity inherent to a term as broad as Jewish Studies, I
still find it necessary to posit my own, albeit, insufficient, definition of Jewish Studies as
justification to the reader as to why I include the journals that I do. For my purposes,
then, Jewish Studies describes scholarship in but by no means limited to the following
topics: archaeology; Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, and world Jewry in general; biblical
and related literature (the Hebrew Bible, apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls,
New Testament, and genizah studies); language (Hebrew, Ladino; philology);
intellectual, political, and social history (Iron Age I-to the present; Israeli, European,
American); Holocaust and genocide studies; literature (works of fiction and non-fiction,
poetry, theatre, etc.); liturgy; music; philosophy and thought; rabbinics; and comparative
religious and interfaith studies. By Jewish Studies journal, then, I mean a print and/or
electronic, academic forum that publishes editorials, articles, and reviews scholarly
material in the above fields.
11
I first met Lex in the summer of 2012 in Washington, D.C. Lex served as a devoted
Managing Editor before graduating from Brown University. This journal would not have
come to fruition without his extraordinary support.
12
Here, I must acknowledge and thank the talented, UJJS Editorial Board.
13
UJJS Editorial Board, About the UJJS, http://theujjs.weebly.com/, accessed July 1,
2015.
14
By undergraduates, I mean full and part-time students who have yet to receive their
undergraduate degree or who have done so recently but have not formally begun pursuing
a graduate degree. I sincerely hope that, with the exception of this editorial, all future
articles within the UJJS represent undergraduate work alone (See asterisk above and note
14).

David Bloom

Summer 2015

provides a previously nonexistent environment for North American


undergraduates to engage in intellectual exchange on Jewish Studies
topics.15 Moreover, thanks to the journals continental (in the literal sense
of the word) character, it unites all Jewish and Judaic Studies programs
and departments throughout North America, thereby creating an
undergraduate community of intellectuals, unified by their common
interests. In short, the UJJS not only offers a comprehensive look at
undergraduate, Jewish Studies work in the present but also presages its
morrow, for universities sow the seeds of the future of a field not yet
reaped.
In addition to the above contributions, the UJJS encourages
productive risk-taking, with which undergraduates, I argue, have more
opportunity to engage than do fulltime scholars. Of course, I do not mean
to suggest that scholars do not take risks; they certainly do. However, I
believe it equally true that, because their academic reputation hinges on
their researchs credibility, they have to exercise more caution. Absence of
secondary sources, refutations of a claim, and lack of scholarship on a
subject may not only discourage certain research but also prevent it
altogether.16
Nevertheless, Jewish Studies owes its present form to the risktakers of the past. Gershom Scholem (1897-1982), for example, tells a
story about his early research that sums up the position of mysticism in
Judaic studies in Weimar Germany. He was directed to a prominent rabbi
who was considered an expert on Kabbalah. Scholem visited the rabbi in
his home, saw the many books, and asked the rabbi about them. He
replied, This trash? Why would I waste my time reading nonsense like
15

Although some undergraduate journals of Jewish Studies do exist, faculty often play a
crucial in them, and, of those few exceptions, none, save for the UJJS, to the best of my
knowledge, actively seek out student submissions from universities throughout North
America.
16
The nearly complete absence of literature on the question of musics role in
concentration camps offers a case in point. For more on this matter, see Annie Prossnitz,
In My Hand a Song Remains: Examining the Nazi Concentration Camp Universe
through the Lens of Music, 37-38 in this publication.

UJJS 1:1

Letter from the Editor-in-Chief

this?17 Undeterred by this disparaging reply, Scholem would proceed


single-handedly to create the academic study of Jewish mysticism.
Similarly, at a time when the University of Berlin would not even consider
his dissertation on Jewish history, Jacob Rader Marcus (1896-1995)
marched forward to establish American Jewish History as an academic
discipline in its own right.18
The three articles in this inaugural issue illustrate the UJJS
aspiration and commitment to continue this tradition of pioneering
scholarship. In Touching Fire: Variations on the Theme of Deeq in
Early Hasidic Writings, Nathaniel Moldoff, for example, formulates a
coherent framework to compare conceptions of deeq between multiple
authors and time periods. As he notes, no one has ever made such an
attempt. Nevertheless, Moldoff endeavors to do so, and the methodology
that he uses not only proves compelling but also seems to point towards an
approach that others could apply to compare systems of thought more
generally.
Similarly, few scholars have written about musics role in
concentration camps during the Holocaust. The topic has received so little
treatment, Annie Prossnitz believes, precisely because much of this
musics historyauthorship, the precise situation in which the music
materialized, etc.remains undocumented.19 Despite these challenges, in
In My Hand a Song Remains: Examining the Nazi Concentration Camp
Universe through the Lens of Music, Prossnitz uses the sources available
to her to argue that camp-produced music functioned as a sort of survival
mechanism, which she calls, creative resistance.20 Prossnitz, in her own
way, by resisting the temptation to abandon her project despite the risks
involved, demonstrates resistance herself, and, through her work, she
17

George Robinson, Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs, and


Rituals.
18
Gary Phillip Zola, introduction to Jacob Rader Marcus, The Dynamics of American
Jewish History: Jacob Rader Marcuss Essays on American Jewry, xiii.
19
Prossnitz, In My Hand a Song, 37-38.
20
Prossnitz notes that John and Mary Felstiner coined this term (John Felstiner, lecture at
Stanford University, March 2010). See Prossnitz, In My Hand a Song Remains, 47.

David Bloom

Summer 2015

performs, in the words of Solomon Schechter, an act of resurrection in


miniature for the millions murdered in the Holocaust.21
Last but not least, in What is in Netanyahus Toolbox? A
Comparison between Israeli Military and Political Strategy before the
American Elections of 1956 and 2012, Amanda Sass seeks to understand
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahus decision not to strike Irans
nuclear program on the eve of Americas elections in 2012 despite his
never having offered an explanation. Nevertheless, Sass builds a
stimulating, theoretical argument in which she posits that Netanyahu, as a
keen student of history himself, reflected on David Ben-Gurions 1956
decision to attack Egypt before the American elections without informing
the United States. The resultant, souring Israel-U.S. relationship of the
past warned Netanyahu of similar repercussions, which ultimately shaped
his decision not to strike. In short, Sass article tangibly illustrates
historys continued importance for our own time: history as an academic
discipline does not simply reside in the ivory tower, taking up its abode in
the intellectual niceties of the university; it exists in the real world,
offering teachings from the past to help key figures make history for the
present and the future.
May the content within this journal and all of its future volumes,
through its contributions to Jewish history, musicology, philosophy, and
moreindeed the entirety of disciplines within of Jewish Studiesoffer
such lessons.

21

Solomon Schechter, The Inaugural Address of Professor Solomon Schechter, 15.

UJJS 1:1

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Appendix A
AJS Review
Aleph
American Jewish Archives
Journal
American Jewish History
Australian Journal of Jewish
Studies
Avotaynu - International
Review of Jewish Genealogy
Azure: Ideas for the Jewish
Nation
B'Or Ha'Torah - Journal of
Science, Art and Modern Life
in the Light of the Torah
Bridges
Bulletin of the American
Schools of Oriental Research
Canadian Jewish Studies
Dead Sea Discoveries
European Journal of Jewish
Studies
European Judaism
Hakirah - Flatbush Journal of
Jewish Law and Thought
Hebrew Bible and Ancient
Israel
Hebrew Studies
Hebrew Studies: A Journal
Devoted to Hebrew Language
and Literature
Historia

Journal of Jewish Identities


Journal of Jewish Languages
Journal of Jewish Music and
Liturgy
Journal of Jewish Studies
Journal of Jewish Thought and
Philosophy
Journal of Judaism and
Civilization
Journal of Modern Jewish
Studies
Journal of Psychology and
Judaism
Journal of Semitic Studies
Journal of the Study of Judaism
Journal of Torah and
Scholarship
Judaica Bohemiae
Judaism: A Quarterly Journal
of Jewish Life and Thought
Kabbalah: Journal for the
Study of Jewish Mystical Texts
Maggid: A Journal of Jewish
Literature
Manchester Journal of Jewish
Studies
Moed: Annual for Jewish
Studies
Modern Judaism
Musica Judaica

David Bloom

Holocaust and Genocide


Studies
Holocaust Studies: A Journal
of Culture and History
Images: A Journal of Jewish
Art and Visual Culture
Israel Studies Journal
Israel Studies Review
Jewish Art
Jewish Bible Quarterly
Jewish Educational
Leadership
Jewish Historical Studies
Jewish History
Jewish Political Studies
Review
Jewish Social Studies
Jewish Social Studies:
History, Culture, Society
Jewish Studies Quarterly
Jewish Studies, an Internet
Journal
Journal for the Study of
Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry
Journal for the Study of the
Old Testament
Journal of Ancient Judaism
Journal of Biblical Literature
Journal of Greco-Roman
Christianity and Judaism
Journal of Halachah and
Contemporary Society
Journal of Hebrew Scriptures

Summer 2015

Nashim: A Journal of Jewish


Womens Studies & Gender
Issues
Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry
Proceedings of the American
Academy for Jewish Research
Prooftexts
Quest - Issues in Contemporary
Jewish History
Revue europene des tudes
hbraques
Sharsheret Hadorot - Journal
of Jewish Genealogy
Shofar: An Interdisciplinary
Journal of Jewish Studies
Sidra: A Journal for the Study
of Rabbinic Literature
Studia Rosenthaliana
Studies in American Jewish
Literature
Studies in Bibliography and
Booklore
Studies in Christian-Jewish
Relations
The Biblical Archaeologist
The Biblical Archaeology
Review
The Jewish Quarterly Review
The Journal of Israeli History
The Leo Baeck Institute Year
Book
The Reform Jewish Quarterly
Torah U-Madda Journal

UJJS 1:1

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Journal of Jewish Communal


Service
Journal of Jewish Education
Journal of Jewish Ethics

Tradition
Vetus Testamentum
Women in Judaism: A
Multidisciplinary Journal
Yad Vashem Studies
: The Journal of
Torah and Medicine of the
Albert Einstein College of
Medicine Synagogue and
RIETS

10

David Bloom

Summer 2015

Bibliography
Efron, John, Steven Weitzman, Matthias Lehmann, and Joshua Holo. The
Jews: A History. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall,
2009.
Gannett, Cinthia. Gender and the Journal: Diaries and Academic
Discourse. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.
Goodman, Martin. The Nature of Jewish Studies. In The Oxford
Handbook of Jewish Studies, edited by Martin Goodman, Jeremy
Cohen, and David Sorkin, 1-13. Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2002.
Karpeles, Gustav. Jewish Literature and Other Essays. Philadelphia: The
Jewish Publication Society of America, 1895.
Mendes-Flohr, Paula and Jehuda Reinharz, eds. The Jew in the Modern
World: A Documentary History. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2011.
Nikram, Khaiser and Babu H. Rajendra. Moving from Script to Science
2.0 for Scholarly Communication. Webology 6, no. 1 (March
2009). Accessed December 31, 2013. http://webology.org/2009/
v6n1/a68.html.
Patai, Raphael. Tents of Jacob: The Diaspora, Yesterday and Today.
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1971.
Robinson, George. Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs,
Customs, and Rituals. New York: Pocket Books, 2000.

UJJS 1:1

Letter from the Editor-in-Chief

11

Schechter, Solomon. The Inaugural Address of Professor Solomon


Schechter. In Inaugural Address of Solomon Schechter as President of
the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Delivered November 20,
1902. New York: Press of S.S. Rosen, 1903.

Zola, Gary Phillip. Introduction to Jacob Rader Marcus. The Dynamics of


American Jewish History: Jacob Rader Marcuss Essays on
American Jewry, Gary Phillip Zola, xiii-xxxi. Lebanon, NH:
Brandeis University Press, 2004.

12

Nathaniel Moldoff

Summer 2015

TOUCHING FIRE: VARIATIONS ON THE


THEME OF DEEQ IN EARLY HASIDIC
WRITINGS
Nathaniel Moldoff
Franklin and Marshall College
Abstract
In this essay, I examine several approaches to the mystical phenomenon,
deeq, which refers to the idea of cleaving to God, as it is found in
early Hasidic writings. In order to compare and contrast multiple
perspectives, I use five guiding questions to elucidate nuances relating to
the extent, length, process and purpose of deeq. Through closereadings of primary sources, combined with a careful review of recent
scholarship, I conclude that each Hasidic writer examined herein
contributes a unique perspective on the ancient concept of deeq, further
demonstrating the rich variety found in Hasidic thought.
1. Introduction and Thesis
The sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, each took his fire pan, they put fire
in them and placed incense upon it; and they brought before the LORD an
alien fire that He had not commanded them. A fire came forth from before
the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.
Leviticus 10:1-2
In this well-known biblical story, Aarons two sons offer an alien
fire upon the altar of the newly built tabernacle and are killed by divine
fire as punishment. Many Jewish commentators struggled to understand
how two individuals, whom the medieval commentator, Rashi, described
as having attained a higher spiritual level than that of Moses himself,
could commit such a transgression and be punished so severely for it. One

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13

Hasidic interpretation is that Nadav and Avihu erred by seeking to connect


with God through pure holiness rather than utilizing the material world. A
complete shunning of material concerns, according to this interpretation,
created an unsustainable earthly environment for a Jewish soul.1
Despite the dangers apparent from this biblical episode, throughout
the ages, many Jewish and non-Jewish devotees have sought to create a
connection to God or, more generally, to a divine being on a deep,
personal level. Often, this idealized connection to a deity is referred to as
unio mystica. This term is used universally in religious literature and
generally involves becoming one with God to the point that a persons
identity is merged with and indiscernible from a divinity.2 Especially
within Kabbalistic circles, a deep, personal connection to God is
emphasized as a key element of an individuals divine duty. Many Jewish
texts refer to this phenomenon as deeq, which, at least according to the
pioneering scholar of Jewish mysticism, Gershom Scholem, differs from
most non-Jewish understandings of unio mystica in that it generally does
not involve a complete merging with God but rather a very high degree of
closeness.3
While many scholars have analyzed deeq as a stand-alone topic
of inquiry and explored it in its historical, sociological and theological
context in all periods of Jewish history, no one has proposed a coherent
framework to compare conceptions of deeq between multiple authors
and time periods. In this essay, I establish a useful framework for
understanding deeq in several of its manifestations by examining the
work of a few key figures from the first three generations of Hasidim.
Underlying this framework are five basic questions, which I use as a basis
Shalom Dov Ber Schneerson, Sepr Hmamarm 5649, 237 ff. A key idea found within
the Hasidic movement is that of ad begam or divine service through corporeality.
This will be discussed in greater detail later.
2
Gershom Scholem, Major Trends, 5.
3
Scholem, Devekut, or Communion with G-d, 276. See also Scholem, Major Trends,
123. In the course of this essay, Scholems argument that a complete union with God is
impossible according to Jewish theology will be brought into question.
1

14

Nathaniel Moldoff

Summer 2015

to compare and contrast the concept of deeq among several early


Hasidic writers and their forerunners. These questions are:
1) To what extent can a human unify himself with God? Is a
complete unification possible, or is a proximal closeness to the
Divine the highest level one can achieve?
2) How long can one maintain deeq? Is it possible to maintain
a constant state of deeq, or should it only be considered a
temporary state?
3) Who can attain deeq? Is it a practice reserved for the
spiritual elite, or can any seeker attain it?
4) Should one seek deeq directly with God, or must one go
through an intermediary such as a text, Hebrew letters, sep r,
divine names, or a adq?
5) Is deeq the end goal of the mystics quest, or is it a means to
something else?
After a brief discussion of concepts of deeq prior to the advent of
Hasidism, texts attributed to the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok
of Polennoye, the Maggid of Mezritch, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and
Reb Elimelech of Lizhesnk will be closely examined in light of the above
questions. These readings and their accompanying analyses will
demonstrate that within the formative years of the Hasidic movement there
were a great variety of approaches to attaining deeq.
2. Pre-Hasidic Concepts of Deeq
Although Hasidic writers emphasized the concept of deeq in
particular, the basic idea of cleaving to God long preceded the Hasidic
movements inception in the 18th century. References to deeq can be
found throughout Jewish texts dating from the biblical period up until
modern times. The actual word, deeq, first appears in Deuteronomy

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15

where it is used in five separate instances in the context of mans cleaving


to God.4
The rabbis of the Talmud discuss deeq and its apparent
contradiction with the concept of an intangible, unintelligible God. They
focus on the biblical description of God as a consuming fire5 and ask
how man can possibly attach himself to such an immaterial and even
dangerous thing. They conclude that the instruction to cleave to God must
be understood in terms of imitatio dei.6 While a person cannot cleave to
God, he can cleave to Gods ways and imitate them in this world. For
example, they focus on human actions such as visiting the sick, consoling
mourners, and clothing the naked as ways in which humans can imitate
and thus cleave to God.
The Zohar incorporates the practice of deek into the greater
discussion of the ten sepr, which are understood by the Zoharic author
as the ten aspects of the Godhead. The Zohar teaches that the sep r act as
a ladder towards deek that allows the devotee to climb the sep r
until he reaches maximal proximity to En Sp.7 The Zohar does not
depict the sepr as the object of worship; rather, it portrays them as
necessary steps along the path of ascension to God.
In the late 1200s, Abraham Abulafia preached an ecstatic form of
Kabbalah, which, in contrast to the theosophic Kabbalah taught by his
contemporaries, emphasized personal, mystical experiences. Abulafia
proposed several meditative techniques, many of which involved reciting
or concentrating on various names of God, music and body gestures to
attain a spiritual high roughly equivalent to deeq.8 Like most Kabbalists
4

Norman Lamm, The Religious Thought of Hasidism: Text and Commentary, 133. The
five instances are: Deut. 4:4, 10:20, 11:22, 13:5, and 30:20. In all five instances, it is
used in the verbal rather than in the nominal form.
5
Deut. 4:24.
6
Ibid., 134.
7
Gilya Schmidt, Devekut Through the Ages: A Socio-Historical Analysis of the
Concept, Cleaving to God from the Biblical Ezekiel to 18th Century Polish
Hasidism,108.
8
Ibid., 109.

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Nathaniel Moldoff

Summer 2015

prior to the advent of Hasidism, Abulafia regarded deeq as the


ultimate goal of religious perfection.9 In response to question two posed
earlier, asking whether deeq should be a temporary or permanent state,
it seems that all of Abulafias meditative practices were designed to
achieve a temporary intimacy with the Divine. Furthermore, in response to
question five, asking whether deeq is the end goal of the mystical
experience or merely an intermediary state, Abulafia did not recognize any
actions or states beyond that of deeq and thus ended his mystical
journeys there.
Later, in the 16th century, the Kabbalists of Safed, under the
guidance of Isaac Luria, also tried to attain deeq through intense
meditation. They deemphasized deeq as the goal of the mystic and
instead stressed the need for kawn (concentration on the mystical intent)
in prayer to commune with God.10 The circle of Safedian Kabbalists was a
very isolated group who represented the elite rabbis of their generation.
Accordingly, and in response to question three posed earlier, the Safedian
Kabbalists saw deeq as a special ability bestowed upon only the most
pious and worthy individuals. They had no intention of spreading this
practice to the commoner and held very high moral expectations for those
seeking to gain knowledge of this exalted practice.
However, deeq did not become a core element in Jewish
practice until the advent of Hasidism, in the mid-1700s. The founder of
Hasidism, Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov (often referred to by the
acronym, BeShT) strongly encouraged all his disciples to engage in
constant deeq as a prerequisite to spiritual enlightenment and offered
specific suggestions on how to do so. In subsequent sections, we will see
how the BeShTs students and future generations of Hasidim adapted and
expanded his teachings on deeq to meet their specific needs as a
response to the socio-political realities in which they lived.

Scholem, Major Trends, 123.


Schmidt, Devekut Through the Ages, 113; Scholem, Major Trends, 278; and Moshe
Idel, Hasidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic, 13.
10

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17

3. Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov (BeShT)


Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov (1700-1760) was an iterant preacher
whose teachings formed the basis of the Hasidic movement. Although
there are very few written documents that can be directly ascribed to him,
his students diligently recorded his teachings and published them, often
posthumously in the form of hagiographies and anthologies. 11 While these
sources are not completely reliable,12 I think that, taken as a whole, they
can at least provide an indication of how the BeShT might have conceived
of deeq.
In the anthology of teachings attributed to the BeShT, Kr em
, deeq is understood as nothing less than an individuals direct
communion with the Creator. In it, the BeShT teaches that deveku
should be of the kind in which one focuses principally on the Creator, and
not the kind wherein one concentrates mainly on the world and only
incidentally on its Creator.13 Here, he criticizes some of his predecessors,
including the author of the Zohar and Abulafia, who held, respectively,
that one should seek deeq indirectly through divine emanations (sep r)
or through meditations on the names of God. Responding to question four,
regarding the question of direct or indirect deeq, the BeShT says that
the direct route was the best route, and he expects his followers to seek
God by focusing their attention directly on Him and on Him alone.
In a much later Hasidic text, Liqm Yeqarm, the BeShT is quoted
as saying:
When you seek to achieve devekut, you must first traverse the
world of Asiyah. Then, in thought, you must soar much higher, and
still higher, to the world of the angels and ophanim, and after this
11

Joseph Dan, Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction, 96.


For a detailed analysis on the reliability of these sources, see Murray Jay Rosman,
Founder of Hasidism: A Quest for the Historical Baal Shem Tov.
13
BeShT, Kr em I, sec. 200, in Lamm (trans. and annotated), The Religious
Thought of Hasidism, 141.
12

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to the world of Beriah, until you feel that your thoughts have
soared as high as Atzilut.Take care not to fall from your very
elevated thoughts in the upper worlds and descend.14
This passage speaks directly to the disciple, guiding him through each step
towards the BeShTs idealized deeq. This individualized language,
written in the second person, similar to the language found in Abulafias
meditation handbooks, emphasizes the BeShTs insistence on the
accessibility of deeq. The text uses simple terms and concepts,
employing jargon only where absolutely necessary such as with the
naming of the Kabbalistic worlds. Thus, responding to question three,
asking whether deeq is for the commoner or the elite, the text does not
portray deeq as an esoteric goal; rather, it depicts it as one attainable by
the average individual. This passage also emphasizes the need for a
practitioner of deeq to ascend in stages. Thus, it resembles the Zohars
metaphor of the sepr as a ladder, for the practitioner must gradually
raise his consciousness to a higher state, with each gradation being
identified as a Kabbalistic world.
Responding to question two, about whether deeq should be a
temporary or permanent state, the BeShT also teaches that deeq is to be
a constant action. According to a passage in Kr em , It is a great
achievement to keep in mind always that you are close to the Creator
the instant you stop thinking about your attachment (devekut) to God, you
incur a sin.15 In using the word always, the BeShT removes any
temporal limitations surrounding deeq. It can and should be practiced
all the time. He goes so far as to say that the moment one breaks his
deeq is tantamount to a sin. This idea is in stark contrast to that of
earlier Kabbalists such as Abulafia, who sought to obtain deeq as an
end goal and only to be maintained for brief episodes.
BeShT, Liqm Yeqarm, no. 175, in Lamm (trans. and annotated), The Religious
Thought of Hasidism, 156-157.
15
BeShT, Kr em I, sec. 169, in Lamm (trans. and annotated), The Religious
Thought of Hasidism, 140.
14

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However, the BeShT recognized the near impossibility of


maintaining a high level of deeq at all times, especially when
confronted with necessary, worldly matters such as eating and mundane
labor. To reconcile this inherent contradiction, he uniquely engages an
earlier Kabbalistic concept: that of qan and gadl or smallness and
greatness. The following passage from an early anthology of the BeShTs
teachings, aw Hr, best describes how the BeShT understood
these terms:
Bear in mind that when you contemplate the Shekhinahs presence
beside you in the same way that you contemplate material things,
this is called avodah be-katnut. In this state you may occasionally
discern many spherical heavens encircling you while you stand on
a point of this small planet earth; the whole world is as nothing in
comparison to the Creator, who is the Ein-Sof who performed the
tzimtzum and made space within Himself to create the worlds.
Even if you understand this intellectually, you are unable to ascend
to the upper worlds, as implied by from afar the Lord appeared
unto me (Jer.31:2), because we see God only from a distance. But
by worshiping God with greatness you strengthen yourself with
great force and soar in your thought, splitting through all the
heavens at once, rising beyond the angels and the ophanim and the
seraphim. This is the perfect service.16
According to the BeShT, qan and gadl can, generally, represent two
phases of life. The qan state is the minor state, which is characterized
by imperfection and degradation; gadl is the major state and
represents the full development of something to its highest state. In terms
of deeq, then, one can apply the concept of qan to a communion that
is limited and without exhilaration and joy. The BeShT likens it to the way
that one would contemplate the material world, seeing God from a
BeShT, aw Hr, no. 137, in Lamm (trans. and annotated), The Religious
Thought of Hasidism, 148.
16

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distance. Nevertheless, qan still enables one to maintain some sort of


communion with God even while in a state of estrangement from Him. In
its gadl form, however, deeq is a deep connection to the Divine. The
BeShT describes this as being able to rise beyond the angels and to
communicate directly with God. This deeq, he argues, is the perfect
service to which everyone should strive.
Since the concept of qan and gadl will figure prominently in
subsequent discussions, some further explanation is appropriate here. The
purpose of descending to a state of qan is twofold. First, it is a natural
relaxation after the strain of deeq in its gadlt form. Humans are, after
all, human and cannot physically survive in this world by constantly
contemplating God. They must take occasional breaks to eat and sleep,
and, by doing so, gather their strength for future communion with the
Divine. In the text from aw Hr, the BeShT gives the Hasid the
option of a lower state of deeq that is best suited for these mundane
matters. Secondly, it can be an intentional descent, because of some
hidden purpose. In Hasidic terminology, this is called yerid leor aly,
literally meaning a descent for the sake of an (even greater) ascent. The
idea is that the Hasid can use a descent to a state of qan to bring even
greater holiness to this world, in a way that he was unable to do while in a
state of gadl. After his death, the BeShTs successors would continue
their teachers legacy, further developing deeq with their own
interpretations.
4. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polennoye
One of the BeShTs students was Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of
Polennoye (1710-1784). Trained in the Lurianic tradition and known for
his ascetic practices before converting to Hasidism by the BeShT
sometime during the 1740s, he was the main compiler of the BeShTs
thoughts and is widely credited with disseminating his teachings. In 1780,
he published Tled Yaaqo Ysep, a compilation of sermons arranged by

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21

the weekly pr and the first published Hasidic text.17 Rabbi Yaakov
Yosefs alternative methods to attain deeq, many of which were loosely
based on Lurianic teachings, greatly modified the understanding of
deeq espoused in the writings attributed to the BeShT.
Unlike the BeShTs imperative to attempt deeq only directly
with the Divine, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef suggests using the letters of the
Torah and of the prayers as an intermediary step, which is a completely
different response to question number four posed earlier, asking whether
deeq should be directly with God or through intermediary agencies. For
example, he writes, The way to attain deeq with God is through the
letters of the Torah and the prayers, by attaching your thought and
inwardness to the inner spirituality of the letters.18 The underlying idea is
that Torah and prayer, and particularly the letters of them, are bridges
between God and us. By cleaving to them, one can indirectly cleave to
God. In this sense, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef is closely following in the
footsteps of Abulafia.
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef also suggests using the Divine name (the
Tetragrammaton) as a locus for deeq, providing yet another response to
the question of whether one should attempt deeq directly with God or
through an intermediary agent. He writes, [W]e should have God
constantly in mind, sometimes as His Name appears in one verse and we
contemplate it deeply, and sometimes as in another verse, until finally the
Tetragrammaton appears by itself. 19 The idea of using names of God for
deeq is not new. In fact, it was a hallmark of Abulafias practices. Yet,
whereas Abulafia said a person should force himself to visualize the
divine names since, according to him, they would not appear naturally,
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef emphasizes that a Hasid should not force himself to

Moshe Hallamish, Jacob Joseph ben evi Ha-Kohen Katz of Polonnoye, 41.
Yaakov Yosef of Polennoye, Ben Prt Ysep , p. 59d, in Lamm (trans. and annotated),
The Religious Thought of Hasidism, 152.
19
BeShT, Tled Yaaqo Ysep to aye Sr, sec. 2, in Lamm (trans. and annotated),
The Religious Thought of Hasidism, 157.
17
18

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contemplate the divine name. Rather, he should expect it to come about


naturally.
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef also viewed suffering and ascetic practices as
another means to attain deeq. He writes:
The only thing that is truly good is devekut with GodHowever,
devekut with the Shekhinah cannot be achieved unless we suppress
our material nature and yetzer ha-ra, and this comes about through
suffering. It is the opposite [of a life of pleasure], as it is written,
But Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked (Deut. 32:15). This
[pleasure-seeking] becomes a dividing screen severing the devekut
between us and our Creator Only when the yetzer ha-ra is
subdued through suffering is true devekut achieved. This explains
the verse I adjure you, O daughter of Jerusalem, if ye find my
beloved, what will ye tell him? That I am lovesick (Song of Songs
5:8), meaning, even the sickness and pain that I suffered were for
me acts of love, because through them I attained devekut.20
Ascetic practices were never a part of the BeShTs framework, and, this is,
I argue, a throwback to traditional pietism by Rabbi Yaakov Yosef based
on his personal experiences. First, asceticism and the shunning of worldly
matters is a concept found in Lurianic Kabbalah, which was the school in
which Rabbi Yaakov Yosef was initially trained. Second, throughout his
life, he was extremely poor, particularly after he was stripped of his
rabbinic post and expelled from the town of Shargorod due to a
controversy within his community. 21
No doubt a result of his early training in Lurianic Kabbalah, a
Lurianic concept used by Rabbi Yaakov Yosef in discussing deeq is
tqn. He writes, The soul having been hewn from a holy place, ought
always to yearn for its originThis is in keeping with the mystery of
20

Ibid., to Wayiga, sec. 1. Lamm (trans. and annotated), The Religious Thought of
Hasidism, 159.
21
Moshe Hallamish, Jacob Joseph ben evi Ha-Kohen Katz of Polonnoye, 41.

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tikkun.22 Meaning repair, tqn in Lurianic kabbalah refers to the


gathering of divine sparks dispersed during eir hakelim (the breaking
of the vessels).23 Because deeq aims to reunite the soul and the Divine,
recreating the original, ideal state, Yaakov Yosef argues that deeq is a
form of tqn. Thus, responding to question number five, inquiring
whether deeq is the end of mystical experience or a preliminary or
prerequisite stage, Yaakov Yosef argues that deeq is not the final goal
but rather a means to something else, specifically a tqn of the soul. From
this brief analysis, it should be clear that although Yaakov Yosef of
Polennoye was one of the BeShTs main disciples, his conception of
deeq was radically different from that of his master, and was largely
informed by his initial training in the Lurianic school.
5. Maggid of Mezritch
A successor to the BeShT and a contemporary of Rabbi Yaakov
Yosef of Polennoye, Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch (d. 1772),
created a r qedi (Holy Brotherhood) of disciples to carry on
Hasidism into the third generation and beyond.24 The Maggid believed
that those who practice deeq will earn the eins protection at all
times. He writes, [T]oday, in exile, when you concentrate on devekut
with God, His presence (Shechinah) immediately rests upon you and
dwells with you. 25
In the book, Magd Deraw leyaaq, the Maggid further
illustrates the concept of deeq through a complex analogy that draws
upon several biblical sources and word-play. The passage begins:
Yaakov Yosef of Polennoye, Tledt Yaaqo Ysep to azra, sec. 2, in Lamm (trans.
and annotated), The Religious Thought of Hasidism, 158-159.
23
For some background information on the concepts of eir hakelim and tqn, as
taught by Isaac Luria and his school, see Scholem, Major Trends, 265-268.
24
Esther Liebes, Dov Baer (the Maggid) of Mezhirech.
25
Dov Ber, Maggid of Mezritch, Magd Deraw leyaaq, no 49, p. 70, in Lamm (trans.
and annotated), The Religious Thought of Hasidism, 142.
22

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Make two trumpets (hatzoterot) of silver (Num. 10:2). That is,


two hatzi-tzurot (half-forms). This is in accordance with the verse
and upon the likeness of the throne was a likeness as the
appearance of a man (adam) upon it above (Ezek. 1:26). For
adam (man) by himself is only dam (blood), and the Word rests
upon him. Only when he is in devekut with the Holy One, who is
the Alef of the world, does he become fully an adam.26
In the above section, the Maggid begins by associating the words aer
and e-r to show that God and man are two halves that complement
and complete each other when in a state of union. Building on the previous
passage regarding the protection of the ein as a side-benefit of deeq,
the Word mentioned here could be interpreted as the ein, since the
ein stands for the lowest of the sepr (mal), and is associated with
the Word.27 Thus, here again, the Maggid is highlighting that when one
performs deeq, the ein rests upon him. Lastly, through the
discussion of the two components of adam, alef and dam, this
passage begins to hint at the efforts God has to make for deeq to occur.
The passage continues, The Holy One performed many
contractions (tzimtzumim) through many worlds in order to be united with
man, who otherwise would be unable to bear His luminosity. 28 Bringing
in the Lurianic concept of imm, the Maggid argues here that deeq is
not simply a matter of mans cleaving to God, but that it is also Gods
cleaving to man. God makes a substantial effort, even reducing His state
of being so that He may maintain deeq with humans. In addition, this
sentence tries to answer the question posed by the Rabbis many centuries
beforehow can a person attach himself to a being described as a
26

Ibid., no 24, p. 38, in Lamm (trans. and annotated), The Religious Thought of
Hasidism, 144-145.
27
The association between the terms malt, ein and word (dr in Hebrew) can be
found in the Zohar, Wayqr 31a.
28
Dov Ber, Maggid of Mezeritch, Magd Deraw leyaaq, no 24, p 38, in Lamm
(trans. and annotated), The Religious Thought of Hasidism, 144-145.

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consuming fire? According to the Maggid, the answer lies in the ability
of imm to contract God to a level to which humans can cleave.
The passages last verse discusses the need for man to separate
from the material world in order to attain true deeq. A man must
completely separate himself from corporeality in order to ascend through
all the worlds and be in unity with the Holy One, until he is nullified from
existence; and then he is called adam (man).29 This idea appears
somewhat surprising since a prominent idea in many schools of Hasidic
thought is that one should serve God through corporeality (ad
begam), not by shunning the material world. Compared with the
BeShT, the Maggid seems to be closer to earlier Kabbalistic tendencies in
many respects, further demonstrating the diversity of approaches to
deeq. The word play regarding the word, adam, introduced earlier is
concluded in this passage: only when a person attains complete deeq,
can he truly be considered a complete man (dm).
Echoing the BeShT and further responding to question two, the
Maggid also addresses the need for a constant deeq. He writes,
Sometimes a person moves about and speaks with people, and as a result
he cannot study; yet he must cleave to God, blessed be He, and unify the
unifications.30 Interestingly, the Maggid does not employ the concept of
gadl and qan used by several other early Hasidic writers to modify the
practice of deeq to allow for participation in essential material matters.
Instead, at least based on this excerpt, he expects the devotee to maintain
deeq despite worldly interferences.
Presaging the intellectual bent of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi,
the Maggid also highlights an intellectual component to deeq.
It is known that the more you rise upwards, the more intellect and
clarity you develop. This will explain the case of R. Pinhas ben

29

Ibid.
Elliot Wolfson, Walking as Sacred Duty: Theological Transformations of Social
Reality in Early Hasidism, 183.
30

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Yairs donkey,31 which had enough intelligence to distinguish


between tithed and untithed produce. The reason is that R. Pinhas
ben Yair was so attached to God in perfect devekut that he elevated
reality along with himself, inculcating it with intellect.32
Now, in addition to the presence and protection of the ein, the Maggid
also considered intellect as a side benefit granted to practitioners of
deeq. In summary, the Maggid gives deeq a prominent place in his
theology and is particularly adept at using earlier ideas (imm) and texts
(the Torah and the Zohar) to support his notion of an idealized deeq.
6. Shneur Zalman of Liadi
Known in Chabad circles as the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur
Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), one of the Maggids disciples, founded the
Chabad movement. Renowned for his intellectual depth and mastery of
hal, he sought to counter the attacks of the Mienagedm (opponents of
Hasidism) by emphasizing the intellectuality of Hasidism, particularly by
incorporating elements of traditional halic discourse in his writings.33
Rabbi Shneur Zalman understood the ideal deeq as a merging
of the Jewish people into the Source that hewed them out, with a
unification so perfect that they are regarded as actually one body. 34 In
apparent contradiction to Scholems argument that, within Judaism, the
best one could hope for was a closeness to God, this verse seems to imply
a true unio mystica in which God and the devotee are united as one entity.
This, then, provides an answer to the first question: according to Shneur
Zalman, deeq is indeed a complete merging with God. The foundational
The story of Pinchas ben Yairs donkey can be found in the Babylonian Talmud, ln
7a.
32
Maggid of Mezeritch, Magd Deraw leyaaq no. 79 pp. 137, in Lamm (trans. and
annotated), The Religious Thought of Hasidism, 149.
33
George Kranzler, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Ladi, 11.
34
Shneur Zalman of Liadi, preface to Tr r, headword aarei hashem, 6, quoted in
Hallamish, The Teachings of R. Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk, 279.
31

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Chabad text, Sepr Htanya, further illustrates this idea. Rabbi Shneur
Zalman explains that the nem, like the flame of a candle, intrinsically
wants to rise upward to its source, despite the fact that if this were to be, it
would be extinguished and cease to exist. The nem naturally desires
and yearns to separate itself and depart from the body in order to unite
with its origin and source in God, the fountain-head of all life, blessed be
He, though thereby it would become null and void, completely losing its
entity therein, with nothing remaining of its former essence and being.35
This quotation shows how Rabbi Shneur Zalman saw deeq as a natural
occurrence, which would occur spontaneously under the proper
circumstances. In other words, it did not require intense effort and selfdiscipline to achieve.
In his introduction to the siddur, Rabbi Shneur Zalman continues
his discussion of an ideal practitioner of deeq. He writes, [A]lthough
he concerns himself with business affairs all day long and is in close
proximity to the influence of the external (evil) forces of the desire for
alien (material) things, this will not in the least break his unity with the
Lord, because he has been united to Him through prayer and joined with
Him in a union so close as to be inseparable for ever.36 Like the
Maggid, he believes in an idealized deeq that can withstand the
pressures of daily life, namely the distractions caused by eating and
working. Thus, responding to question two, as to whether deeq is a
constant or temporary state, for Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, who uses
the word forever, deeq is a constant preoccupation for a Hasid. By
arguing that a complete merging with the Divine (unio mystica) is possible
and that, given the right circumstances, deeq should come naturally to
the devotee, Shneur Zalman further contributes to the richness and variety
of conceptualizations of deeq among early Hasidic writers.
Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Sepr Htanya, ch 19. See also Shneur Zalman of Liadi,
Maamr dmr Hzqen 5562, vol. 1 (Brooklyn: Kehot Publication Society, 1964-81),
58.
36
Shneur Zalman of Liadi, preface to Tr r, headword aarei hashem, 8, quoted in
Hallamish, The Teachings of R. Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk, 279-280.
35

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7. Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk


Another highly respected student of the Maggid, Reb Elimelech of
Lizhensk (1717-1787), is most famous for institutionalizing the adq, thus
creating a sub-culture known as adqism, which emphasized the need for
a Hasidic rebbe (adq) to mediate between God and the Jewish laity.
Whereas many previous Hasidic writers acknowledged the existence of
adqm and made attempts to describe their role in this world, Reb
Elimelech was one of the first to put forth a systematic theory of what the
adq is and what he is expected to do in this world. Of course, one area in
which Reb Elimelechs support for popular adqism is evident is in his
discussion of deeq.37
As illustrated above, many previous Kabbalistic and Hasidic
writers debated the third question that I posed earlier, asking whether
deeq ought to be a personal experience reserved for the spiritual elite or
a goal reachable by the masses. Reb Elimelech wanted to have it both
ways. He argues that deeq with God is primarily the duty of the adq,
and that the common folk can cling to God indirectly by clinging to a
adq. He outlines the deeq expected of a adq as such:
The tzaddik who ascends ever higher, from rung to rung, is always
in great devekut with the Creator. When he is in such devekut, his
mind is distracted from people and thus he is unable to act on
behalf of peoples needs, for he is in no way part of this world.
The tzaddik, therefore, must occasionally let go of his devekut for
the sake of peoples wants, so that he can do something on their
behalf, whether by praying for their physical or economic needs or
by other evocations of divine shefa, which is the tzaddiks
responsibility. By occasionally letting go of his devekut, the

37

Esther Liebes, Elimelech of Lyzhansk, 348.

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tzaddik performs a great mitzvah, for [his doing so] is the will of
the Creator.38
Built upon the BeShTs concept of a qan and gadl state of deeq,
espoused in aw Hr, this excerpt differs in that it applies
specifically to the adq. In general, the BeShT rarely discusses the
concept of a adq, and his collected teachings are directed towards the
Jewish people as a whole. As such, one clear distinction between the
BeShTian concept of deeq and that of Reb Elimelech is that while the
BeShT encourages all the people to engage in deeq (both in qan and
gadl forms), Reb Elimelechs directions only apply to the adq.
This text shows how the adq must reduce his level of deeq to
that of qan for the benefit of his community. Since the role of the adq
is to mediate between God and the adqs followers, the adq must
alternate between a Godly focus and a worldly focus. If he were constantly
to be in deeq of the gadl level, he would be unable to tend to the
needs of the community. Thus, he must drop down to a level of qan to
achieve a greater goalserving his community. This process, then,
represents an example of yerid leor aly, for, by dropping his level of
deeq, the adq is able to achieve the great mitzvah of serving the
communitys religious needs. In sum, Reb Elimelech contributes to the
diversity of opinions on deeq among early Hasidic writers by
reformulating earlier ideas such as that of qan and gadl states of
deeq to define the role of a adq.
8. Conclusion
From earlier discussions of deeq in biblical, early rabbinic and
medieval sources, it should be clear that deeqs prominence in
Hasidism is unique and reflects varying opinions on a similar theme.
Many of these varying opinions center around the five questions I set out
R. Elimelekh of Lizhensk, Noam Elimelekh to Shelah, s.v. be-derekh aer alu zeh, in
Lamm (trans. and annotated), The Religious Thought of Hasidism, 170.
38

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in the introduction. Regarding the first question I posed, in all these texts,
there is the question of the extent that one is expected to perform deeq.
While most Jewish authors believe that a complete unification with God
(unio mystica) is impossible, the text from Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi
seems to suggest otherwise. The second question that I posed was whether
an individual should practice deeq constantly or if it can only be a
temporary state. The BeShT, the Maggid of Mezritch and Rabbi Shneur
Zalman all indicate that deeq should, ideally, be a constant state.
However, the BeShT and Reb Elimelech discuss two states of deeq that
allow a Hasid to drop to a lower level depending on the circumstances.
Another area of disagreement centers around the third question that I
posed, asking who should be performing deeq. While many Hasidic
writers, in contrast to the Kabbalists of the Middle Ages, argue that
deeq is an obligation upon each and every Jew, Reb Elimelech
highlights the adqs deeq and implies that the commoners can satisfy
their need for closeness to God by cleaving to a adqs. Responding to the
fourth question that I posed, relating to whether deeq should be direct
with God or through an intermediary, it seems that while the majority of
early Hasidic writers believe that deeq should be achieved through
prayer and Torah study, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polennoye suggests that
meditations on the letters of the Torah and the names of God, along with
ascetic practices, can also lead to deeq. Lastly, answering the fifth
question that I posed, most Hasidic writers seemed to view deeq as a
final state or end goal; however, Yaakov Yosef of Polennoye took the
unique position of seeking deeq as a means towards something else: a
tqn of the soul. This survey of Hasidic literature shows that while
deeq is a recurring theme, the many variations on it demonstrate the
richness and variety within Hasidic thought. Indeed, it seems that there are
many ways to touch fire.

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Liebes, Esther. Dov Baer (the Maggid) of Mezhirech. In Encyclopaedia
Judaica, edited by Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 766-768.
2nd ed. Vol. 5. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.
. Elimelech of Lyzhansk. In Encyclopaedia Judaica, edited by
Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 348-349. 2nd ed. Vol. 6.
Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.
Rosman, Murray Jay. Founder of Hasidism: A Quest for the Historical
Baal Shem Tov. Berkley: University of California Press, 1996.
Uffenheimer, Rivka Schatz. Hasidism as Mysticism: Quietistic Elements
in 18th Century Hasidic Thought. Translated by Jonathan
Chipman. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.
Schmidt, Gilya. Devekut Through the Ages: A Socio-Historical Analysis
of the Concept, Cleaving to God from the Biblical Ezekiel to

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Touching Fire: Variations on the Theme of Deeq

33

18th Century Polish Hasidism. Mystics Quarterly 21, no. 4


(December 1995): 103-120.
Scholem, Gershom. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. New York:
Schocken Books, 1941.
. Devekut, or Communion with G-d. In Essential Papers on Hasidism:
Origins to Present, edited by Gershon David Hundert. New York:
New York University Press, 1991.
Schneerson, Shalom Dov Ber. Aar. Sepr Hmamarm 5649.
Brooklyn: Kehot Publication Society, 1986.
Wolfson, Elliot. Walking as Sacred Duty: Theological Transformations
of Social Reality in Early Hasidism. In Hasidism Reappraised,
edited by Ada Rapoport-Albert. 180-207. London: The Littman
Library of Jewish Civilization, 1997.
Yosef of Polennoye, Yaakov. Ben Prt Ysep. Pietrkow: 1887/1888.
Jerusalem: repr. 1970/1971.
. Tledt Yaaqo Ysep. Jerusalem: Hmsd LeHt Sipr Msr
Weasdt, 1962.
Zalman of Liadi, Shneur. Tr r. Kopys: 1836; Zhitomir, 1862;
Brooklyn: repr. Kehot Publication Society, 2005.
. Liq Amarm Tanya. Brooklyn: repr. 1948/1949.

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IN MY HAND A SONG REMAINS:


EXAMINING THE NAZI CONCENTRATION
CAMP UNIVERSE THROUGH THE LENS OF
MUSIC
Annie Prossnitz
Stanford University
Abstract:
The establishment of German concentration camps between 1933 and
1945 led to the proliferation of music initiated both by Jewish prisoners
as well as their Nazi captors within these camps. Despite the
recollections and documents that attest to musics presence there, it
remains a relatively understudied area in Holocaust history. The role of
music within concentration camps therefore demands exploration not only
because of its singularity as a popular art form that emerged within the
camp universe but also because of the unique insight that it can offer into
the psychology of prisoners and guards. In this essay, I argue that these
original, musical compositions are not only a testament to the enduring
humanity of prisoners but also a striking example of creative resistance.
1. Introduction
In your now rigid hands, how many
Dreams remained
How much unfinished work
Spilled with the blood onto the pavement
And in my hand a song remains

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A song about you, my brother, who fell.1


At some point between 1938 and 1945, a Polish prisoner, named
Zdzislaw Wroblewski, penned these lyrics for his original song of protest

entitled Fight in the concentration camp of Buchenwald. Although


Buchenwald did not function as a death camp, it was referred to as a
dying camp in which masses of prisoners died of starvation, infection,
and torture at the hands of sadistic guards.2 Yet, out of this camp of the
dying arose Wroblewskis song that affirmed his unceasing commitment
both to eulogize the deaths that he witnessed and to live. Through this
song, Wroblewski tackled emotions as complex as loss and love in a
landscape where processing emotion became secondary to fulfilling basic
human needs.
The circumstances under which Wroblewski wrote this song
remain unclear. Perhaps he returned from a long day of labor to find
solace in composing a song that expressed his inner desire to rebel despite
the barriers that prevented him from doing so. Perhaps he was a member
of the Buchenwald camp orchestra who used his prominent position to
compose songs that challenged the narrative that his protectors engrained
into camp inmates. The only certainty about Wroblewski, like many other
musicians who found themselves imprisoned and confronting death in
concentration camps run by the Schutzstaffel (SS), is that the systematic
execution of his people did not diminish his will to rebel mentally and to
express this sentiment in musical form.
How can one explain the emergence of this song in the midst of the
destruction that surrounded this prisonerwhat some scholars have
claimed to be the destruction of modernity itselfduring the Holocaust?
How were inmates able to turn their thoughts from surviving throughout
the day or obtaining their next meal to penning a composition or recalling
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Record Group 55M, Alexander
Kulisiewicz Collection, Sub-group 003*18, Buchenwald L-P, Zdzislaw Wroblewski,
Walka.
2
Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt, Holocaust: A History, 370.
1

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a lyric? These questions are complicated by the fact that prisoners like
Wroblewski were not the only individuals who engaged with music during
the Holocaust. So did their tormentors, the SS guards.
In 1942, the Nazi regime launched the systematic destruction of
the European Jewish population with the implementation of the Final
Solution. Consequently, concentration camps, previously used to
imprison German political prisoners, became pivotal to the mass execution
of European Jewry, for the Final Solution heralded a new phase as
extermination camps were built alongside labor, transit, and concentration
camps to mechanize mass slaughter. Ultimately, the camps, established
soon after Hitler assumed power, swelled to an estimated 42,500 Nazi
camps and ghettos.3
Life for prisoners in the camps remained an endless struggle for
survival as grueling labor, hunger, physical abuse, and psychological
trauma became common features of daily life. Political theorist Hannah
Arendt argued that the Nazi concentration camp functioned as the apex of
totalitarianism, which resulted in the drastic alteration of its inhabitants.
Arendt comments on the behavior of actors in the concentration camp
world:
We attempt to understand the behavior of concentration-camp
inmates and SS-men psychologically, when the very thing that
must be realized is that the psyche can be destroyed even without
the destruction of the physical manthe end result in any case is
inanimate men, i.e. men who can no longer be psychologically
understood.4
According to Arendt, the unparalleled horrors of the concentration camp
transformed it into an unknowable world in which prisoners and guards
alike lost their individuality and thus the ability to be understood.
3
4

Eric Lichtblau, The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking.


Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 415.

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Furthermore, Arendt claimed that, for the SS guards, murder [was] as


impersonal as squashing a gnat, and, consequently, death, as well as life,
lost all meaning in the camps.5
Yet, the presence of music, alongside other art forms, adds a
complex layer to life in the camps that contradicts Arendts proposal of the
incarnation of totalitarianism. Incongruent with the typical portrait of
camp life, music speaks to the individuality of both prisoners and guards
in their attempts to maintain normalcy and control their emotions in this
alternate reality. In most of these camps, music was present in some
capacity from the quasi-professional chamber orchestras of the ghettos to
the SS-commanded camp orchestras to self-initiated clandestine choral
groups on the part of prisoners.6 The documented history of music in the
camps begins with the creation of German political prison camps
themselves in 1933 with protest songs emerging from the camp of
Brgermoor, and it continues to the liberation of Auschwitz in January of
1945.
Despite the proliferation of music in the concentration camps, it
has been largely overlooked in Holocaust scholarship. While other art
forms that originated in concentration camps, such as memoirs, poems,
paintings and drawings, have received considerable critical attention,
music has typically been ignored as a subject. To date, there are only two
monographs on the subject as compared to the dozens that handle the topic
of visual and written art that emerged from the camps.7 The lack of
academic scholarship on Holocaust music may in part be due to the fact
that music presents a unique challenge as a source. Musical compositions
that have survived the Holocaust often lack context, which presents an
analytical challenge to historians. Performances and musical recitals were
frequent, but they exist as mere glimpses into the rich musical life of the
camps in memoirs and oral histories. Moreover, partially due to the lack of

Ibid., 416.
Shirli Gilbert, Music in the Holocaust, 186.
7
See monographs: Gilbert, Music and Guido Fackler, Music in Concentration Camps.
6

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memoirs or accounts from guards, the question still remains as to why SS


guards integrated camp orchestras or music into their torture routines,.
Although there are significant gaps in the source base of music in
concentration camps, in primary accounts and popular depictions of the
Holocaust, music comes across as perhaps the most accessible and
pervasive type of art. Additionally, the volume of original compositions,
both instrumental and lyrical, that have been preserved, given the
circumstances of prisoners, is staggering.8 As an art form, music remains
singular because of its accessibility to all those who listen, its difficulty to
conceal, and its ability to convey emotion acutely. Consequently, it
transformed into a widely accessible and noteworthy type of art in the
concentration camp world though it is not the most thoroughly
documented.
I argue that the creation and performance of music became a
means of survival and creative resistance for prisoners as their musical
commitments strengthened their resolve. Ultimately, music provides a
different path from other art forms into the social history of the
concentration camp world because of its inescapability. Every actor in this
world, from the camp musician to the average prisoner to the SS guard,
came into contact with music. As such, music offers unique insight into
the different forms of suffering that individuals confronted, their methods
of coping with their circumstances, and their attitudes in the face of the
atrocities in which they participated or that they witnessed.9
In researching the question of music associated with the Holocaust,
I choose to focus exclusively on the camp universe, which includes transit,
8

The Alexsander Kulisiewicz collection at the US Holocaust Museum is one of the


largest collections of original Holocaust music and includes three hundred seventy-four
Polish songs and hundreds of musical scores and original compositions from over thirty
concentration camps, thus demonstrating the vast preservation of written music, let alone
compositions and songs that were memorized orally. See also Fackler, Music, 14.
9
This thesis statement is an abridged version of a larger global thesis in which I argue
that music served myriad and conflicting roles for inmates and guards as both a torture
device and a coping mechanism, which, in turn, illuminates the underlying psychology of
these individuals.

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concentration, labor, death, and hybrid camps, rather than including


ghettos. This exclusion is due to the prominence of compositions that
emerged from Nazi ghettos, most notably from Warsaw, whereas camp
music presented more of an opportunity for discovery. Additionally,
ghettos offered more freedom to prisoners to establish and create musical
groups as well as to express themselves artistically without the supervision
of the SS. In the camps, prisoners created music under the most oppressive
conditions imaginable and often conflicted with the SS guards
appropriation of particular songs for their own purposes. Consequently,
the higher level of SS control and persecution in the camp universe
resulted in a fundamentally different musical experience from that of the
ghettos, which renders these two sets of musical sources difficult to
compare.
Due to the ephemeral nature of music, performances appear as
fragments in the memoirs and recollections of survivors. The lack of
resources in the camp led composers either to memorize their pieces and
distribute them orally or to record their lyrics and musical notation on
scraps of paper with improvised writing materials. Consequently, the
written music that has been preserved from the camps typically lacks basic
context, which may include the composer, date, and place. Filling the gaps
in the musical sources demands imaginative work on the part of the
historian. Oftentimes, I use contextual clues to place a piece of music or a
written account in a time frame or in an individuals experience. The
claims on particular sources, therefore, remain speculative.
My original research primarily draws on sources from the
Alexander Tytus Kulisiewicz collection in the music archive of the United
States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). From Kulisiewiczs
compilation of thousands of documents concerning music in concentration
camps, I discovered dozens of musical scores, written accounts about
music, and sketches of camp orchestras. In addition to memoirs and
historical scholarship, I turned to oral histories of survivors experiences
with music, which I accessed through the University of Southern
California Visual History Archive. When analyzed in conjunction with

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one another, these sources offer a picture of a robust musical life and a
variety of experiences with this art form throughout the camp universe.
To explore music in the camp system, we will move across
Europe, from the little-known Italian labor camp of Bolzano to the famed
Czech transit camp of Theresienstadt to the Polish extermination camp,
Treblinka. Across the range of camps, music occupied different levels of
importance as it assumed a greater presence in larger camps, like
Auschwitz and Dachau, simply due to the greater number of prisoners as
well as the SS need for music to facilitate the management of the camps.
Yet, even in the most extreme death camps in which only a handful of
individuals survived, such as Belzec, music took on significance for
guards who extorted it and for prisoners who often depended upon it for
their livelihood.
The excerpted chapter entitled, There is rebellion, handles the
subject of creative resistance through the examination of original
compositions and performances that emerged from the camps.10 By
examining clandestine songs, pessimistic and uplifting compositions as
well as taking an in-depth look at the childrens opera Brundibar, which
originated in Theresienstadt, resistance wells up through the lyrics and
spirit of music written by prisoners. Indeed, these compositions allow for
the expansion of the traditional notion of resistance in the Holocaust to
include music that challenged the Nazi narrative of Jewish
dehumanization and destruction. Like every use of music in the camps,
these compositions advance our understanding of how prisoners dealt with
their circumstances and treated one another, which adds a new layer of
10

This excerpt is an abbreviated version of my undergraduate honors thesis written


through Stanford Universitys History department. The first chapter of my thesis deals
with the use of music as an accompaniment to torture as well as episodes in which
singing became a form of brutality in and of itself. The thought process of SS guards
evolves in the second chapter, The Gray Zone, as guards established camp orchestras in
order to increase the functionality of the camp on a daily basis as well as to provide
themselves with distraction and emotional succor. The final chapter tackles the subject of
prisoner-initiated music through the form of spontaneous performances and songs
primarily through oral histories and memoirs.

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comprehension to previously written and oral records of camp


experiences.
2. There is rebellion burning within me: Original Compositions as
Creative Resistance
It had been another back-breaking day for Herbert Zipper as the
guards had assigned him one of the most physically challenging labor
tasks in Dachau commonly referred to as the horse or the laborer who
pushed wagonloads of stone throughout the camp.11 Rather than returning
to the barracks to scrounge for a meal or sleep after his twelve-hour day of
hard labor, Zipper retreated to his usual spot of the latrines where he could
compose music in silence, away from the cries of despair and tormented
memories that nights in the barracks brought to his fellow prisoners.
Tonight, he was determined to finish the last verse to accompany
the poem that Jura Soyfer had written and shared with him the other day
before their work detail. He repeated the last verse aloud until it replayed
itself in his mind: Freedom brightly will be shining, For the hard forged
brotherhood. And the work we are designing, Our work, it will be good.12
Without pen or paper, the work of composing a melody was arduous and
Zipper struggled to hum the exact notes that he could hear so easily in his
mind. He was intent on creating a complicated score to Soyfers words in
the hopes of encouraging prisoners to exercise their minds and memories
in learning his new composition.13 After a long night of composing, he
would wake up early the next morning to hum the opening chorus and
teach it to his fellow inmates. It would become their new clandestine
anthem, a song to carry them through days of labor and nights of suffering
in the hopes that their work would amount to their liberation as the
omnipresent slogan Work Sets You Free suggested. Soyfer had been

11

Paul F. Cummins, Dachau Song, 88.


Ibid., 90.
13
Ibid., 86.
12

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right to title this Dachau Lied (Dachau Song) as that is exactly what it
would transform into, the song that defined the underworld of Dachau.
Protest songs like Dachau Lied initially appear at odds with the
mentality of the concentration camp universe in which survival became
every prisoners priority and placing art above basic needs seemed
unthinkable. Moreover, original songs conflicted with the Nazi
appropriation of music for their own purposes with both musical torture
and the establishment of camp orchestras. Concentration camps seemed
like an unlikely breeding ground for original musical works due to the lack
of materials, the absence of stamina to focus on art, and the prohibition of
music that undermined or rejected the Nazi narrative. Yet, Dachau Lied
is merely one of countless compositions that emerged from concentration
camps during the period from 1938 to 1945. Prisoners turned to their
knowledge of music to create musical testimonials for future generations
on the horrors they faced, to raise their spirits and those of fellow inmates,
or simply to sing about daily life in the camps. In creating music in the
camps, these prisoners resisted the SS aim of dehumanization and their
work stands as a testament to their capacity for creative resistance.
According to former Birkenau conductor and Holocaust survivor
Szymon Laks, the role of original music in the concentration camps cannot
be described as extraordinary and should be viewed as merely another
ordered facet of life in the camp world. Indeed, Laks asserts of the
impromptu songs and original pieces created in the camps:
The songs that originated in the camps were vulgar, in local
dialects, or even trashy and had nothing in common with raising
peoples fortitude, andthe songs and tunes that could be regarded
as manifestations of the resistance movement were written after
the war. It is painful to shatter a myth. But it is even more painful
to read that precisely in camp conditions music was medicine for
the sick souls of the prisoners.14

14

Szymon Laks, Music of Another World, 119.

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Laks regards music as another absurd element of his time in Auschwitz to


which he eventually became accustomed rather than as a source of
inspiration or even an anomaly in a world of death. For prisoners like
Laks, it was impossible to separate music in concentration camps from the
SS agenda or aims, and he consequently discredited the works that were
produced in Birkenau as painful outpourings by prisoners who possessed
little musical talent. Yet, dismissing works that emerged from the camps
as vulgar and suggesting that resistance pieces like Dachau Lied did not
emerge until after the war invalidates the work of prisoners who risked
their lives to produce and disseminate their songs.
Many Holocaust scholars echo Lakss view that music created in
concentration camps should be viewed as ordinary rather than heroic.
Examining the role of music in her text, Gilbert dismisses the notion of
music as a form of spiritual resistancethe use of art for emotional
consolation as well as a means to uplift the spirit as a response to
persecution.15 To do so, she claims, places too much emphasis on
concentration camp prisoners as heroes. While Gilbert recognizes the
notion of spiritual resistance as a method of honoring victims for their
courage, she asserts:
[t]he language of heroic resistance does what is arguably more
dangerous work as far as the truthfulness of the historical record is
concerned: it does not honour the complexity of human life in the
camps and ghettos, and in my case hinders a richer understanding of
the work music did there.16
Rather than focusing on musical performances or compositions as acts of
heroism, Gilbert suggests that it is more compelling to view music as
simply revealing the lives of inmates in the camps, for all of their politics
and complications. Moreover, Gilbert emphasizes the importance of
context in considering how music functioned in prisoners everyday lives
15
16

Gilbert, Music, 2.
Ibid., 11.

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and subsequently argues that original compositions expressed the


complexity of camp life rather than the moral resilience of inmates.
According to her and Laks, victims made sense of the devastation of camp
life by creating a story in the aftermath of the camps about the emotional
support music provided them, but Gilbert maintains that it is the
historians duty to frame these stories in their historical context and
subsequently their social and political influences. Gilbert thus uses music
that emerged from concentration camps as a lens to understand the lessappealing aspects of concentration camp communities, including a lack of
solidarity and social stratification.
While Gilbert aptly asserts that various motivations impelled
prisoners to compose or perform music that revealed the darker aspects of
life among inmates, she reduces the picture of musical life in the camps to
pieces that suit her argument. Gilbert maintains that the compositions she
examines fail to support the idea of spiritual resistance. She writes, The
spiritual resistance then is complicated by one further, crucial group of
contemporary writings: the musical textsthey often engaged directly
with the actualities of camp or ghetto life.17 With this statement, Gilbert
claims that the musical pieces speak for themselves as they often deal
more with despair and reality than hope for the future and inspiration. Yet,
the concentration camp music that Gilbert considers is limited in its scope
and relates messages of mourning for the past and evidence of prisoners
loss of humanity. By and large, Gilbert ignores optimistic compositions
that emerged from the concentration camps as well as the music of
Theresienstadt, the transit camp that served as the locus for Jewish cultural
life during the Holocaust. Just as Lakss account only presents one
viewpoint on the experience of music-making in the concentration camps,
Gilberts restricted source base offers a limited lens into the role that
music played for prisoners.
Despite the limitations and hopeless environment of the
concentration camp world, original music remained pervasive during the
Holocaust as victims turned to music for varying reasons. Prisoners
17

Ibid., 16.

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employed music as a means of comfort and entertainment and as a method


of retaining a routine in a chaotic world. According to Fackler, music
offered prisoners a sense of consolation and a form of cultural resistance
as it enabled them to bond together in order to survive.18 In examining
pieces that materialized from the death camp of Auschwitz to the labor
camp of Dachau, it is apparent that these pieces do much more than
Fackler proposes as they share messages beyond survival that delve into
the realm of protest or resistance music. While some pieces could be
described as inherently pessimistic with no hope of survival, the act of
creating a piece of living art like music in a world of death demonstrates a
will to create and, in doing so, to survive. Historian Joseph Rudavsky
touches upon the idea of resistance through music or poetry in his text, To
Live with Hope, To Die with Dignity, as he notes that the survival or
restoration motif permeates music played during the Holocaust.
Rudavsky neatly asserts, The very act of composing songs and poems
was an act of commitment to the future and an affirmation of life.19 The
idea that prisoners employed music as a means of expressing the belief
that they could transcend their environment and find meaning in life
suggests an inherent sense of resistance to demoralization and, thus, a
form of creative resistance among musical prisoners.
Compositions created in the camps typically were not written
down until after the liberation of inmates and songs passed between
prisoners and camps, making it difficult to determine their origin and
composer. As a result, many compositions that have been preserved from
the camps lack context and offer little information beyond their associated
camp and their creator. Yet, while context remains crucial for ascertaining
what these works reveal about the daily lives of prisoners, it is more
significant to let these pieces and the messages that they hold speak for
themselves. Therefore, I use the information provided by the pieces below
to establish a frame of reference. I also infer background information from

18
19

Fackler, Music, 12.


Joseph Rudavsky, To Live with Hope, to Die with Dignity, 108.

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the camp and year to parse out how these works contributed to the notion
of creative resistance.
2.1 Defining Creative Resistance
The ability to defy an institution, such as the Nazi regime or SS
guards in camps, through music vastly differs from traditional notions of
resistance. Scholars typically define resistance movements in the
Holocaust in the classic sense of the word as organized rebellions or
violent uprisings. While well-known cases of organized and violent
resistance, like the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, do exist, there were few
instances of armed rebellions during the Holocaust, especially within
concentration camps. Holocaust historians have attempted to account for
the lack of violent uprisings with some claiming that Jews were used to
appeasing their persecutors to survive while others argued that the
destruction of individuality and solidarity in the camps prevented the
possibility of rebellion.20
Historian Yehuda Bauer diverged from these theories and
expanded his notion of resistance in the Holocaust to establish it as a
determination to see the Jews as a people endure with their ethical and
moral value intact, and by that very survival to confound the forces of evil
and death.21 Bauer thus recognized rebellion in the Holocaust as any
collective action on the part of Jews to oppose Nazi actions and intentions
as well as to survive as a people in the face of the Nazis opposing goal,
which includes spontaneous and unorganized reactions to Nazi orders and
deportations. Since Bauer redefined resistance in the Holocaust, scholars
have expanded the notion to include cultural activities, religious
ceremonies, the preservation of religious symbols, dividing food rations,

Donald L. Niewyk, The Problem of Jewish Resistance, 140. See also Arendt,
Origins, 423, 427.
21
Yehuda Bauer, They Chose Life; Jewish Resistance in the Holocaust, 36-37.
20

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and recording their experiences in diaries or memoirs as forms of rebellion


against Nazi aims.22
Under Bauers definition, the use of music to defy the Nazi aim of
debilitating prisoners hope for a better future could be considered
resistance. Yet, creative resistance extends this definition of defiance in
the Holocaust even further as it suggests that individuals could participate
in acts of resistance through the production of artwork. Unlike spiritual
resistance, which holds a religious connotation, creative resistance
encompasses any form of art produced during the Holocaust, from a
scribble upon a wall to a poem written behind barbed wire. According to
Holocaust scholars John and Mary Felstiner who coined the term creative
resistance, prisoners produced art in concentration camps as an effort to
preserve their humanity, and in doing so, they thwarted the Nazis
intention of divesting prisoners of a will to live.23
Moreover, creative resistance implies that in producing art, the
prisoner was speaking beyond his or her time and therefore was aware of
his or her fate and the concept that his or her art might outlast his or her
own lifetime. Describing the artist Charlotte Salomon who painted her
experience of the Holocaust, Mary Felstiner asserts, When she couldnt
stop the destruction in and of her family, she could show the shape it gave
to all their livesThe artwork committed survival.24 Producing art
allowed prisoners and those persecuted by the Nazi regime to express the
inexpressible. The act of creation demonstrated an ethic of perseverance,
and thus a simple line upon a latrine wall can be considered a written form
of resistance to the Nazi agenda of dehumanization and destruction.
The music that prisoners composed in the Holocaust acts as an
example of creative resistance as it allowed inmates to inspire hope and
defeat the Nazi aim of degradation through artistic means. Moreover,
music is inherently a collective art form, whether it is a group of people
performing an opera, participating in a quartet, or simply listening as a
Eckhard John, Music and Concentration Camps: An Approximation, 294.
John Felstiner, lecture at Stanford University, March 2010.
24
Mary Felstiner, To Paint Her Life: Charlotte Salomon in the Nazi Era, 236.
22
23

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fellow musician plays a compelling piece, which suggests that it may have
heightened solidarity and boosted morale in the camps. By engaging in
this art form as a method to protest Nazi aims of disempowerment and
distress, musical compositions and performances, even those that
expressed painful emotions, often served as a form of creative resistance
in the Holocaust.
2.2 Original Compositions and the Power of Creative Resistance
Gazownia Gas Chamber
There is one gas chamber, where we will all learn
Where we all will meet, maybe tomorrow who knows?25
Written by a Birkenau inmate, Autor Nieznany, in 1942, this short
song encapsulates the uncertainty and the acceptance of the fate that
awaited Jews in this camp. At the epicenter of the Final Solution, Himmler
ordered the camp commandant, Rudolf Hss, to prepare Auschwitz I for
the mass execution of Jews in early 1942, which was when the camp
transformed from a small outpost for Polish political prisoners to a
functional death factory.26 Birkenau became the heart of the camp that
housed the vast majority of prisoners, and it also contained the main
gassing center and crematorium. Consequently, prisoners entering
Birkenau quickly learned that the initial selection did not guarantee their
safety. Inmates faced a daily roll-call and the imminent threat of a transfer
to the gas chamber. This song speaks to the knowledge that prisoners
possessed of the gas chamber. The uncertainty of when they would greet
each other there is indicated with the indefinite phrases maybe and who
knows? Additionally, there is a collective sense to this song because of
the use of the first person plural, which adds a feeling of shared
USHMM, RG-55.003*07, Birkenausongs and music, Autour Nieznany,
Gazownia.
26
USHMM, RG-02.035, Once Upon Four Decades. See also Dwork and Van Pelt,
Holocaust, 358-361.
25

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acceptance and perhaps comfort to a devastating acknowledgement of


what lay ahead of them. This song holds a clearly grim tone, and it would
be difficult to couch the darkness of this piece in the language of spiritual
resistance. Yet, there is a sense in this piece that the composer is speaking
beyond his own time, knowing full well that he most likely will not outlive
the camp. In writing this song, Nieznany informed future generations of
the fate with which he and his fellow inmates in Birkenau were forced to
reconcile.
Many other compositions that emerged from this period express
similar messages of doubt and a resolved pessimism about prisoners lack
of hope for their future. Holocaust survivor David Wisnia recalls his
experience of composing two songs in Auschwitz, which a fellow prisoner
persuaded him to write down before they were both forced out of the camp
and embarked on a death march. Wisnia says of his subject matter, What
I wanted primarily is to tell the story of what was going on with that little
white house.27 SS officials disguised the little white house about which
Wisnia wrote to look like an ordinary cottage as it contained a gassing
facility. Yet, Wisnia maintains that it was important to him to sing to
prisoners about what awaited their fellow inmates in the white cottage.
Other songs similarly document the grim realities of camp life.
This Law of the Camp is one of the few compositions to materialize
from Bolzano, a small SS concentration camp in Italy with a sub-camp
that included forced labor for inmates. The song reads like a warning sign
for all newcomers as it is interspersed with German lyrics and states, The
law of the campcome with me, Ill explain this lawone, two, but
quickly!28 The last phrase, but quickly, was expressed in German
because SS officials issued orders to the inmates with this addendum.29
Whereas both Wisnias song and This Law of the Camp sought
to document the practical life that greeted inmates upon entering the camp
system, others used musical texts as a means of expressing their despair in
27

USHMM, RG-50.030*0619.
USHMM, RG-55.003*05, Bolzanosongs and music, Bolzano Song.
29
Ibid.
28

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metaphorical language. After transferring from Auschwitz to a less


privileged status in the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen, musician
Fania Fnelon composed a piece called Bombers in which she writes,
Three dead on the groundA sparrow on a branch is singingSings and
doesnt understand the why nor the how.30 Presumably, Fnelon was
referring to herself as she discussed the sparrow who sang without an
understanding of its circumstances or knowledge of its future. Fnelons
composition marked a turning point from the upbeat marches and haunting
arias she was forced to play as a member of the Birkenau orchestra.
Although these works are a far cry from calling for an uprising and
are characterized by their tone of defeat, they represent examples of
creative resistance at work in the camp simply through their creation and
the sense that they were recorded for posterity. Wisnia and Nieznany may
not have wanted to craft inspirational songs that offered hope to those
whom they believed doomed. Yet, their works still served an important
purpose as they indicated a desire to puncture the SS master plan of
deception upon which the camp world functioned. Without the belief that
they may have been freed, concentration camp prisoners may have turned
to violent uprisings or mass suicide. Therefore, deceit was crucial to
ensure that all prisoners did not know that they were destined for the gas
chambers. By disseminating songs that described the true purpose of the
little white house and that discussed the ultimate fate of the gas chamber,
Wisnia and Nieznany, respectively, disrupted the Nazi narrative with the
truth for fellow prisoners and perhaps even new arrivals. Moreover, that
these dark songs documented the realities of camp life indicates a desire
on the part of these prisoners to record their experiences and, thus, to
create living testimonials for future generations. Gilbert, however,
questions the validity of creative resistance because these explanations
assume that music was fashioned as the deliberate response of a

USHMM, RG-55.003*02, Music and Poetry from the Bergen-Belsen concentration


camp, Fania Fnelon, Bombers.
30

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51

community that knew what fate had in store for it.31 Although it is
accurate to claim that Jews in ghettos and transit camps may not have
realized their fate, for those who were interned in Auschwitz, it remained
clear what lay before them.32 Consequently, their songs serve as ingenious
testimonials of their experiences for future generations as they could be
passed on through living survivors and prisoners who did not need to
record them by hand.
By and large, the compositions that emerged from the Holocaust
do not correspond to the themes of the aforementioned compositions but
rather uphold the fortitude of the human spirit. Describing her experience
in Auschwitz, Holocaust survivor Adela Bay commented that creating
music enabled her friends to survive as she stated, Creativity doesnt
work under good conditions, just the opposite.33 This ethic of thriving
creativity and producing messages of hope is seen in many original
musical works, including the song For the souls of those from
Auschwitz. The title suggests a dark composition about death, but the
lyrics declare, I stand in front of you [God] with a raised foreheadlet
my eyelid be soaked with a joyful tear, when you whisper to me, that you
will still create for the people on earth a HUMAN.34 Written by an
Auschwitz inmate, the lyrics move from despair over the hell that is
Auschwitz to this ending line in which the songwriter expresses his hope
for a better world where humanity will endure. This song renders a
realistic account of the emotional tone of Auschwitz as it begins on a
defeated note and builds up towards a cautious optimism.
Survivor Alexander Kulisiewicz, who personally collected and
donated the largest archive of music associated with the Holocaust, echoed
31

Gilbert, Music, 10.


Janusz Nel Siedlecki, We Were in Auschwitz, 15. See also Tadeusz Borowski, This Way
for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, 55. Borowski explains how he warned new inmates
about selection and their fate in the gas chambers through his privileged position.
33
Adela Bay, interviewed by Daniel Sedlis, University of Southern California Visual
History Archive 13569, March 21, 1996.
34
USHMM, RG-55.003*18, Buchenwald L-P, Adam Michalski, Cieniom
Oswiecimiakow.
32

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the tone of this song in his remarks on music in Sachsenhausen, the


concentration camp where he was interred. Despite witnessing the
extermination of twenty-five men in his camp for organizing a clandestine
orchestra as well as SS doctors attempting to damage his hearing through
experimental injections, Kulisiewicz continued to compose original songs
and to lead secret singing sessions. Journalist Peter Worstman comments
on Kulisiewiczs songs, Born behind barbed wire, in a world impressed
with the doctrine of hate, these songs testify to the stubborn endurance of
love. To believe in love in a concentration camp, that was not easy, Alex
recalls. But we had to believe.35 Polish prisoners, like Kulisiewicz,
faced discrimination in concentration camps and did not have the same
access to instruments and music as Czech and German prisoners.
According to Gilbert, this unprivileged position placed them one step
above Jews in the prisoner hierarchy and consequently prompted Polish
prisoners to create more subversive and bitter songs than their fellow
camp inmates.36 Yet, Kulisiewicz did not express a sense of resentment in
his comments and instead reflected the careful hope of other compositions
that emerged from the camp, touting the resilience of the human spirit in
the face of persecution.
Other compositions pushed the message of relentlessness further as
they called for outright resistance to the SS message of dehumanization
and death. In 1933, The Peat-Bog Soldiers, the anthem that spread
throughout the camp system and eventually became a protest song adopted
by various resistance movements around the world, originated in the
Brgermoor concentration camp in Germany after prisoners were banned
from singing the current political songs of the time. Although the
songwriter recognized the desperate circumstances of the prisoners, he
also proposed that their suffering would end in freedom, claiming, One
day we shall cry, rejoicing: Homeland, dear, youre mine at last.37
USHMM, RG-55.003*18, Buchenwald L-P, Peter Wortsman, Aleksander
Kulisiewicz: A Singer From Hell, Sing Out!
36
Gilbert, Music, 121.
37
USHMM, RG-02.035, Once Upon Four Decades.
35

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53

Prisoners in Brgermoor did not know what they would face and the vast
majority of them were imprisoned for political crimes whose internment
preceded the Final Solution by seven years. Yet, this song demonstrates
that they still recognized their own incapacity to resist as fight would
mean a sure death facing. Despite the acknowledgement of their
impotency, this work demonstrates their ability to ward off demoralization
through a commitment to their task of digging in the moor and their belief
in a return to freedom.
Much like Dachau Lied, The Peat-Bog Soldiers and other
works of resistance indicated that prisoners aimed to take ownership of
their circumstances and to react against the loss of their freedom through a
clandestine endeavor of creating music. Inmates may have viewed these
compositions as a form of defiance because they spoke to transcending
their circumstances and fighting for a brighter future. Indeed, historian
Paul F. Cummins recounts that Dachau Lied did not become popular for
its entertainment value: [I]t was not a popular type song. Rather, it
diffused quickly through the camp because of its defiant, martial quality
and it spoke deeply to the prisoners.38 A similar song to Dachau Lied,
Fight speaks of a prisoners trials in Buchenwald but later declares that
despite worsening conditions, There is rebellion burning within me.39
These defiant songs paint a picture of camp life in which prisoners bonded
over crafting rebellious lyrics in their only place of shared privacy, the
bunkers at nighttime. A 1943 song, Spiew Bunkrw, (Song of the
bunkers), composed by a Polish prisoner at Buchenwald expresses this
notion as the lyricist describes banding together at night for the common
goal of resistance:
(1) C dla nas noc bunkrw, esmanskie tortury?!
Milczenie silniejszym orem.
Cho zdepcz nam ciaa, duch skruszy te mury Idea oporu zwxciy!
38
39

Cummins, Dachau Song, 89.


USHMM, RG-55.003*18, Buchenwald L-P, Zdzislaw Wroblewski, Walka.

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A imi Twe, Polsko, w ostatniej godzinie


Jak granat rzucimy w esmanw!
(1) What of the bunker night for us, SS torturers?
Silence is a stronger weapon:
Even though they will exterminate our bodies, the spirit will crush
these walls
The notion of resistance will win!...
(4)Your name, Poland, in the last hour
Like a grenade we will throw at the SS40
For Polish prisoners who remained at the bottom of the camp hierarchy,
their union over patriotism to their homeland became a weapon that they
could use to resist the demoralization of the SS. This song neatly captures
the irony between the silence that the prisoners used as a weapon against
their torturers, while simultaneously using melodic words to uplift
themselves and encourage resistance through patriotism. Moreover, this
composition demonstrates that songs of protest were possible in
concentration camps because German guards could not understand other
eastern European languages. As a result, inmates concealed the meaning
behind their protest songs simply by singing them in their native language.
Furthermore, prisoners often composed these lyrics to Nazi melodies in
order to give the impression that they were simply singing official camp
songs in their own language rather than expressing messages of protest.41
While these lyrics clearly express a desire to resist dehumanization
and to rebel against SS officials, instrumental compositions without lyrics
pose a difficult challenge for analysts as their themes are subjective and
can consequently be interpreted in any number of ways. These written
musical notations remained rare as they required a writing utensil and
40
41

USHMM, RG-55.003*20, Buchenwaldsongs and music, Spiew Bunkrw.


Fackler, Music, 14.

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55

paper whereas prisoners could easily memorize songs with lyrics and
record them after the war. Moreover, songs intended for dissemination and
performance often made use of well-known melodies from popular songs
of the time. In contrast to songs, original pure compositions typically
incorporated jarring and experimental use of musical rhythm and
dynamics. In his camp diary of Buchenwald, Josef Kropinski recorded
dozens of original musical scores, ranging from simple melodies to
complex verses that incorporated key shifts and highly accented notes.42
Without music staff paper and instruments, Kropinski created these
makeshift compositions simply by scribbling out notes onto scraps of
paper and attempting to transcribe the music that he could hear only within
his mind. Though compositions varied from tortured cascades from the
soul, like Heinrich Krols Arbeitslager Marsch, to simple melodies, their
production reveals a desire to create music in the midst of destruction.43
The act of composing these works, just like songs with lyrics, is a
reflection of the human spirit to produce art in the most unimaginable of
circumstances and therefore to rebel against dehumanization.
2.3 Theresienstadt and the Creation of Brundibar: A Piece of Performed
Resistance
Musical compositions emerged from virtually every camp, from
the extermination camp of Auschwitz to one of the initial labor camps,
Brgermoor in Germany. One site, however, stands out in the surreal
world of camp music and merits a special discussion. Theresienstadt,
which was located in the city of Terezin in the Czech Republic and
classified as part ghetto and part transit camp, transformed into a cultural
epicenter during the Holocaust. This level of cultural activity was in part
due to the SS decision to use Theresienstadt as a model camp, which

42
43

USHMM, RG-55.003*22, BuchenwaldJozef Kropinski.


USHMM, RG-24.014*01, Heinrich Krol, Arbeitslager Marsch.

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they could display to Red Cross members as a site of propaganda for the
Nazi agenda.44
From its inception in 1940 to the peak of its prisoner population in
1942, Theresienstadt remained the only concentration camp that not only
allowed but that also encouraged the composition and production of
theatrical performances. Unlike most transit camps, Theresienstadt
provided Freizeitestaltung or planned activity time for inmates, which
most prisoners chose to spend engaging in play rehearsals. While these
cultural activities were initially practiced in secret and instruments were
banned, the Council of Jewish Eldersthe leading Jews within a camp
populationultimately condoned theatrical performances in
Theresienstadt, which resulted in their acceptance on the part of Nazi
guards as well in 1944.45
As a result of the SS agenda for Theresienstadt and the allowance
of cultural activities, the camp became a hotbed for performers and
musicians who were hungry to compose and to create despite their forced
removal from their homeland. Professor Michael Flack, who was
imprisoned in Theresienstadt, recalled, It was really a collection of
smaller groups doing their thing, particularly those who were intellectual
or artistic. It wasnt a theater, it was a self-expression.46 According to
Flack, the size of the camp enabled different performers to collaborate and
express themselves through a variety of projects, including plays,
orchestras, and operas. Prisoners recalled that art became life in
Theresienstadt as smuggled instruments and clandestine concerts quickly
transformed into a vibrant cultural scene. Survivor Alfred Kantor stated,
At the height of its creativity, operas and operatic works were regularly
produced, among them Mozarts Magic Flute, Verdis Requiem, Bizets

John, Music, 286.


Rebecca Rovit, A Carousel of Theatrical Performance in Theresienstadt, 123.
46
USHMM, RG-50.511, Oral History, Interview with Professor Michael Flack, RG50.511*0001
44
45

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57

Carmen.47 Among the productions of famous operatic works were


original operas including The Emperor of Atlantis, Der Glaserene Berg,
and the famed work of resistance, Brundibar.
Written and performed in Theresienstadt, Brundibar is perhaps the
best-known musical composition and performance to emerge from the
Holocaust. In 1938, composer Hans Krasa and librettist Adolf Hoffmeister
created Brundibar, the tale of an evil organ-grinder who torments children
until he is vanquished by his victims. Due to its plot, aimed for a younger
audience, and Krasas intention to have children perform the musical
composition, Krasa identified Brundibar under the genre of childrens
opera. While Krasa was deported to Theresienstadt in 1942, Brundibar did
not die with his arrest. Arriving at Theresienstadt after the Council of
Jewish Elders had approved musical activities, Krasa rewrote the opera for
the limited instruments available in Theresienstadt, relying on memory
and the piano score that a friend had surreptitiously brought to the camp.
Along with the aid of the operas original conductor, Rafael Schacter, this
revision led to fifty-five performances of the childrens opera in
Theresienstadt as well as to its presentation in the Nazi propaganda movie,
The Fuhrer Gives a City to the Jews, the footage of which still exists
today. Although some historians designate this film reel as a bogus
vision of the camp world, it nevertheless offers viewers today a glimpse of
the joy that Brundibar brought into the lives of camp inmates.48 The
childrens opera became popular in the camp to the point where admission
could only be obtained by gaining a free ticket. Moreover, musician Joza
Karas claimed that attendance at Brundibar was a sort of status symbol
as it demonstrated who could acquire tickets as well as which prisoners
valued operatic and cultural performances.49

47

Mark Ludwig and Margot Stern Storm, A Guide to Finding a Voice: Musicians in
Terezin, 22.
48
Rebecca Rovit and Alvin Goldfarb, Theatrical Performance during the Holocaust:
Texts, Documents, Memoirs, 172.
49
Joa Karas, Music in Terezin: 1941-1945, 88.

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While Brundibar came to fruition in a culturally rich transit camp


where inmates esteemed musical performances, Brundibar also existed
because it appeared to confirm the narrative of the Nazi state. In her
monograph, Theatrical Performance During the Holocaust, historian
Rebecca Rovit asserts that after the approval of cultural activities in the
camp, The Nazis toleration of cultural activity eventually led to
exploitation.50 Hitler used the performance of Brundibar to uphold a
forged image of the concentration camp world as an environment of
cultural enlightenment and creation. However, both the guards and Hitler
failed to recognize the defiant message of victory over tyranny that stood
at the heart of the piece. Karas claims that, Perhaps the only people who
did not recognize the hidden significance and implication of Brundibar
were the obtuse Nazis.51 By performing this work directly to the Nazi
guards, the opera served as a very subtle, but powerful, form of resistance
in that it shared a triumphant message for an oppressed people through the
allegory of a childrens story that could easily be mistaken for aiding the
Nazi agenda in Theresienstadt.
In addition to the story line, the lyrics and musical score are
representative of defiance as the opera ends with the triumphant defeat of
Brundibar and the declaration, Whoever loves justice and will defend it
and is not afraid, is our friend and may play with us.52 Krasa rewrote
these lines from the original lyrics about patriotism in order to provide a
pronounced message of resilience to the audience. Moreover, the
performance itself also comes across as an act of resistance. Rather than
singing in German, the opera was performed in the language it was written
in, Czech. Rovit conjectured that the Czech theater could express more
controversial messages than the German theater at Theresienstadt because
the Czechs may have risked satire because the Germans did not

50

Rovit and Goldfarb, Theatrical Performance, 172.


Ibid., 197.
52
Ludwig and Storm, Finding a Voice, 29.
51

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59

understand Czech.53 It was unusual for prisoners to perform publicly in


their native language in the camps, which rendered Brundibar an
interesting exception to this rule. Additionally, the chorus of children was
instructed to be at home. You can hear them sing through the open
windows but you cannot see them.54 The staging of children singing
without being seen promotes the idea of resistance and hope as they may
be concealed but can still be felt and heard, even if it is through music.
In addition to the lyrical display of defiance, Krasas musical score
can be viewed as an expression of resistance as well. Perhaps the most
striking aspect of the score is that virtually every melody that the children
perform is identified as fortissimo and fortississimo (very loud and
extremely loud, respectively). Moreover, Krasa added several expressive
marks to slow down and quiet the orchestra during periods without voice.
This artistic decision places the focus on the childrens lyrics over the
music as it encourages listeners to turn their attention to the lyrical
message of the performance. Musicologist Kurt Singer, who witnessed the
opera in Terezin, echoes this sentiment when he describes Brundibar as
using an orchestrawith taste and economy and a singing line which is
never obscured or smothered by the instruments.55 Most significantly, the
finale, during which the children express their victory, is written in G
major, which is often referred to as the peoples key since it is an
extremely common key to compose in as well as an easy key for singers to
register. The dynamics of the piece, the focus on the lyrics, and the key
signature are expressive of an emotional victory for the Jewish people.
The work of Brundibar clearly supports the notion of creative
resistance as a method of maintaining humanity through art. Hoffmeisters
libretto and Krasas music allowed the singers to express a message of
hope and distract them from the reality of the concentration camp world.
Moreover, it may have also delivered inspiration to those who listened to
it, many of whom were bound for extermination camps. Holocaust
Rovit, A Carousel of Theatrical Performance, 131.
Hans Krasa and Adolf Hoffmeister, Brundibar, 8.
55
Rovit, Theatrical Performance, 195.
53
54

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survivor Karel Berman echoes these messages in his reflection of musical


performances in Theresienstadt, How often did we sing out resistance
and give people the strength to endure! We were indeed risking our necks
when we sang.56 Berman thus captures the sentiment of resistance
through song as he expressed the ability of music to serve both as an act of
defiance for the performers and as a beacon of hope for the listeners.
However, Brundibar also seems to exceed this definition, for its
pure defiance of the Nazi regime exemplifies resistance in its traditional
sense. On the importance of music-making in Theresienstadt, John claims,
This music-making, the product of their own initiative, was also always a
reassurance that they still retain their own humanitya demonstration of
their will not to surrender.57 This communication of unyielding fortitude
in the face of wickedness is exactly what Krasa and Hoffmeister sought to
convey through their childrens opera, and it is this message that children
at Theresienstadt would eventually express to Nazi guards although the
guards would perceive a different meaning from the performance. Rather
than attempting to cling to the humanity that they retained and hope for
survival, these performers bravely proclaimed that they would one day
win out over unrestrained evil through an unsuspecting song.
3. Conclusion
In concentration and extermination camps, prisoners banded
together to resist the SS aim of destroying morale by creating songs that
emphasized their will not only to live but also to rebel and to outlive their
own artistic creations. For newly arrived prisoners, the use of music as a
means of torture through command singing or the presence of camp
orchestras may have struck them as absurd. Yet, when inmates reclaimed
music for themselves and recorded songs that acknowledged their past,
their cultural traditions, their fears of what lay ahead, and their cautious
hope for the future, music became a method of rebelling against the
56
57

Ibid., 181.
John, Music, 285.

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61

constant degradation that they faced. Prisoners capitalized upon the power
of music to express emotion, to reaffirm humanity, and to outlast even life
itself in order to demonstrate their ability to resist creatively, be it through
a clandestine protest song, an experimental composition without lyrics, or
a childrens opera performed in the face of their executioners.

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Bibliography
Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt,
Brace, 1951.
Bauer, Yehuda. They Chose Life; Jewish Resistance in the
Holocaust. New York: American Jewish Committee, Institute of
Human Relations, 1973.
Borowski, Tadeusz. This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Middlesex: Penguin, 1959.
Cummins, Paul F. Dachau Song. New York: P. Lang, 1992.
Dwork, Deborah and R. J. Van Pelt. Holocaust: A History. New York:
Norton, 2002.
Fackler, Guido. Music in Concentration Camps. Translated by Peter
Logan. Music & Politics 1, no. 1 (Winter 2007): accessed October
10, 2012, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/mp.9460447.0001.102.
Felstiner, Mary Lowenthal. To Paint Her Life: Charlotte Salomon in the
Nazi Era. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.
Gilbert, Shirli. Music in the Holocaust: Confronting Life in the Nazi
Ghettos and Camps. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
John, Eckhard. Music and Concentration Camps: An
Approximation. Journal of Musicological Research 20, no. 4
(2001): 269-323.
Karas, Joa. Music in Terezin: 1941-1945. New York: Beaufort, 1985.

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63

Krasa, Hans and Adolf Hoffmeister. Brundibar. Bote & Bock, 1993.
Musical Score.
Laks, Szymon. Music of Another World. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP,
1989.
Lichtblau, Eric. The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking. New York
Times. March 1, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/
sunday-review/the-holocaust-just-got-moreshocking.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.
Ludwig, Mark and Margot Stern Storm. A Guide to Finding a Voice:
Musicians in Terezin. London: Facing History and Ourselves
Foundation, 2000.
Nel, Siedlecki Janusz, Krystyn Olszewski, and Tadeusz Borowski. We
Were in Auschwitz. New York: Welcome Rain, 2000.
Niewyk, Donald L. The Holocaust: Problems and Perspectives of
Interpretation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
Rovit, Rebecca. A Carousel of Theatrical Performance in
Theresienstadt. In Art, Music, and Education as Strategies for
Survival: Theresienstadt, 1941-1945. New York: Herodias, 2001.
and Alvin Goldfarb. Theatrical Performance during the Holocaust:
Texts, Documents, Memoirs. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1999.
Rudavsky, Joseph. To Live with Hope, to Die with Dignity. Lanham:
University of America, 1987.

64

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Summer 2015

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.


RG-02.035, Once Upon Four Decades.
RG-24.014*01, Heinrich Krol, Arbeitslager Marsch.
RG-50.030*0619, Oral History, Interview with David Wisnia.
RG-55.003*02, Music and Poetry from the Bergen-Belsen concentration
camp, Fania Fnelon, Bombers.
RG-55.003*05, Bolzanosongs and music, Bolzano Song.
RG-55.003*07, Birkenausongs and music, Autour Nieznany,
Gazownia.
RG-55.003*18, Buchenwald L-P, Adam Michalski, Cieniom
Oswiecimiakow.
RG-55.003*18, Buchenwald L-P, Peter Wortsman, Aleksander
Kulisiewicz: A Singer From Hell, Sing Out!,
RG-55.003*18, Buchenwald L-P, Zdzislaw Wroblewski, Walka.
RG-55.003*20, Buchenwaldsongs and music, Spiew Bunkrw.
RG-55.003M*22, BuchenwaldJozef Kropinski.
RG-55.511*0001, Oral History, Interview with Professor Michael Flack.

What is in Netanyahus Toolbox?

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65

WHAT IS IN NETANYAHUS TOOLBOX? A


COMPARISON BETWEEN ISRAELI MILITARY
AND POLITICAL STRATEGY BEFORE THE
AMERICAN ELECTIONS OF 1956 AND 2012
Amanda Sass
University of California, Los Angeles
Abstract:
On October 29, 1956, the Israeli military, with support of the British and
French armed forces, launched a military campaign into Egypts Sinai on
the eve of American elections. This paper identifies the major actors,
Israeli assumptions, expected payoffs, surprises, and lessons learned from
the 1956 Sinai Campaign. It highlights the tensions that arose in
American-Israeli relations in the aftermath of Israeli Prime Minister BenGurions orders to attack the Sinai contrary to President Eisenhowers
wishes. Drawing a comparison between 1956 and the present looming
threat of a nuclear Iran, this paper will offer an explanation for Prime
Minister Netanyahus decision to halt an attack on the Iranian nuclear
program. This paper proposes that in efforts to shape his own policies,
Netanyahu weighed the lessons and counterfactuals of the 1956 preelection military strategyand realized that forgoing a pre-election day
strike would maximize Israeli security and the maintenance of an
American-Israeli relationship in the future.
1. Introduction
As a sense of suffocation and siege increased in Israel, the idea of
launching a preventative warwas raised.1 This statement refers to the
months leading up to the Israeli military campaign in October 1956 into
1

Baruch Gilead, Israeli State Archives: Documents on the Foreign Policy of Israel, xi.

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the Egyptian Sinai. Prompted by Egyptian President Nassers


nationalization of the Suez Canal, and by attacks launched across the
Egyptian border by Palestinian-Arabs, top Israeli officials felt that the only
way to reinstate a sense of security in the young country was to act
militarily. Israel, however, did not act alone. France and Britain, both of
which had separate reasons for intervention, supported Israel. The
Eisenhower administration, however, took a firm stance against military
action and only supported diplomatic channels for resolving conflict in the
region. As a result, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurions eventual
order for military action in the Sinai surprised Washington and created
tension. Then-Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Abba Eban
claimed, Official Washington was in an angry mood. It had no doubt that
we [Israel] had deliberately chosen election week as an occasion for our
operation. This suspicion increased the Presidents rage.2
This suspicion that Israel, France, and Britain deliberately chose to
act on the eve of American elections was not unfounded. In fact, the
American elections served as a crucial focal point throughout stages of
military strategic planning for the Sinai Campaign. Top Israeli, French,
and British officials believed that if the operation were to be executed
successfully without an unwanted American response, it was essential that
it take place on the eve of American elections. The aftermath of the Sinai
campaign, however, brought unexpected reactions. The months following
the attack are often regarded as the most tension-filled in the history
between the United States and Israel.
Now, more than fifty years later, the same sense of suffocation and
siege resides within Israeli borders due to the threat of a nuclear-armed
Irana country whose top officials have sworn to the destruction of the
State of Israel. As in 1956, the strategy of launching a preventative war on
the eve of an American election was considered. In this regard, current
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presided over a similar
scenario as his historical counterpart, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion,
had in 1956. This time, there was no pre-election strike. This paper
2

Abba Eban, Abba Eban: An Autobiography, 212-213.

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attempts to provide insight as to why history did not repeat itself.


This paper will delve into the history of the 1956 Sinai Campaign,
focusing on the major actors, Israeli assumptions, international responses,
and the aftermath in efforts to draw a comparison between the historical
context of the Sinai Campaign and the current threat of Iranian nuclear
proliferation. Ultimately, how do the decisions of past heads of state shape
the policy of todays political leaders? This paper argues that Prime
Minister Netanyahu was able to compare these two pivotal moments in
Israeli history in order to gauge the impact of a pre-American election
strike on both the American-Israeli relationship and on overall Israeli
security. By considering the counterfactuals and lessons of 1956, Prime
Minister Netanyahu chose a no-strike policy on the eve of the American
elections.3
2.1 Literature Review: Defining Counterfactuals
Peter Menzies defines the basic idea of counterfactual theories of
causation as casual claims [that] can be explained in terms of
counterfactual conditions of the form If A had not occurred, C would not
have occurred.4 Counterfactuals allow leaders to consider what could
have happened differently in history in order to better determine the fullrange of options for the future. This paper will examine three complex
counterfactuals of the 1956 Sinai Campaign in order to derive possible
lessons from which Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu might have framed
his non-military strategy toward Iran on the eve of the American election.

It is important to note that there might have been other factors that influenced
Prime Minister Netanyahus decision including Israeli intelligence information
on the progress of the Iranian nuclear program. However, these factors lie beyond
the scope of this paper.
Peter Menzies, Counterfactual Theories of Causation, The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/causation-counterfactual/.
4

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2.2 Research Questions


This paper addresses three core questions: (1) How heavily did the
American elections factor into Israeli military strategy planning in 1956?
(2) How similar are the events surrounding the Sinai Campaign in 1956
and the current threat of a nuclear-armed Iran? (3) How did the lessons
learned from the 1956 pre-election strike shape current Israeli Prime
Minister Netanyahus non-strike policy vis--vis Iran?
2.3 Theory Thesis
Addressing the first question, I theorize that the American
elections played a significant role in the strategy formulation of the 1956
Sinai Campaign. Second, I believe that the events leading up to the Israeli,
French, and British strike in 1956 and the current threat of Iranian nuclear
proliferation mirror each other. However, there are essential differences
between these two moments in Israeli history. These fundamental
differences will be discussed in a later section. Finally, it is my hypothesis
that by examining these similarities and differences and by pairing them
with the fear of the repetition of tense American-Israeli relations that
followed the Sinai Campaign, Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to
forego an attack on the Iranian nuclear programat least until after
November 6, 2012.
2.4 Significance
This topic is significant beyond the scope of this paper as it uses an
example of how leaders consider the counterfactuals of past events in
order to formulate current policies across global issues. Furthermore, this
paper highlights how the Israeli decision to stall an attack and allow for
other modes of pressure to impact the Iranian nuclear program might have
maximized Israels leverage for future interaction with Washington.
Perhaps if Prime Minister Ben-Gurion had followed the same model as
that of Prime Minister Netanyahu, the American-Israeli relationship would

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not have been as bitter in the months following the Sinai Campaign.
2.5 Organization
This paper is divided into three sections. The first, entitled Sinai
Campaign History, is divided into four sub-sections: (A) Egypt Action
Leading Up to the Sinai Campaign, (B) The Strategy of 1956, (C) Why a
Pre-American Election Strike Strategy was Pursued, and (D) The
Campaign and the ResponseImmediate and Long-Term Affects. These
sub-sections will provide insight into the Egyptian events that caused
tensions in the region; the arguments for Israeli, French, and British
support of an attack; the reason for US disapproval; the rationale for a
strike on the eve of the American election strike strategy; and the
consequences of the 1956 Sinai Campaign.
The second section, The Comparison, compares the political
events within the international arena surrounding the 1956 Sinai
Campaign and the potential Israeli strike on an Iranian nuclear facility on
the eve of the American election.
Finally, the third section, Lessons Netanyahu Learned from 1956:
An Examination of Counterfactuals, is composed of three counterfactuals
and three corresponding lessons that provide compelling evidence for why
Prime Minister Netanyahu might have stalled an attack on Iran before
American elections.
3. Sinai Campaign History
3.1 Egyptian Action Leading Up to the Sinai Campaign
In September 1955, the Cold War claimed the Middle East as its
new arena. The Soviet Union made an arms deal between its ally
Czechoslovakia and Egypt, which endowed the latters army with modern
weaponry. 5 Fearful of the upset in arms-balance in the region, Israel
5

Gilead, Israeli State Archives, xi.

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turned to France for military arms. Although Israel received its desired
weaponry, its sense of security in the region was not reinstated. Adding to
Israels worries, Egypt started to initiate a series of alliances against
Israel with Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, and Jordan.6 From these new
alliances stemmed an agreement on military cooperation on borders with
Israel and the blockade of the Suez Canal and the Straits of Tiran (the
economic impact of such blockades will be discussed in a later section 7).8
To prevent further Soviet influence in the Middle East, the United States and the
British offered $56 million and $14 million, respectively, to help Egypt build the
Aswan Dam in December 1955.

Despite the buildup of alliances against Israel, July 26, 1956


marked a pivotal moment in Egyptian history that influenced the incentive
for military action in the Sinai. On this date, Nasser addressed a huge
crowd in the city of Alexandria, stating his vehemence against British
imperialism.9 He ordered the Egyptian army to start the seizure and
nationalization of the Suez Canal Company under the premise of
Egyptian sovereignty. 10 By nationalizing the canal, Nasser was able to
accomplish two things. First, he signaled that Egypt would no longer
tolerate the unjust vestiges of colonialismas a European company
previously controlled the canal. By doing so, he promoted pan-Arab
nationalism.11 Second, he completed the transformation of the IsraeliPalestinian dispute into an Israeli-Arab one.12

Ibid.
The dam was part of Egyptian President Nassers vision of mass development
throughout Egypt. Only months later, the United States would withdraw its offer of
support. President Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dulles believed that Nasser was
not interested in serious controls over the project (Orna Almog, Britain, Israel and the
United States, 1995-1958: Beyond Suez, 75-76).
8
Gilead, Israeli State Archives, xi.
9
The Economist, An Affair to Remember, July 27, 2006,
http://www.economist.com/node/7218678.
10
Ibid.
11
Ibid.
12
Ibid.
7

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This transformation of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute into an


Israeli-Arab one referred to Nassers national support for the Fedayeen.
When Israel was founded in 1948, many Palestinian Arabs were either left
on their own will or were forced out of the countryand thus became
refugees in surrounding Arab states. The Fedayeen, meaning redeemers
in Arabic, were commando units that held operations to disrupt Jewish
settlements in Israel. They committed routine bloody incidents on the
border with Israel, as well as deep within [the Egyptian] territory. 13 The
Israeli military conducted reprisal raids [that] resulted with heavy losses
on the Arab side and which led to sharp condemnation of Israel in the
international arena.14 Nassers support for the Fedayeen under the
premise of pan-Arabism and Egyptian nationalization brought a sense of
legitimacy to these operations.
Diplomatic efforts were made on both fronts to resolve the
mounting tensions. From January to March and later in August of 1956,
Nasser stated that if there were to be peace negotiations with Israel it
would have to (a) give freedom of choice to the Arab refugees from
Palestine between receiving compensation and returning to Israeli territory
and (b) create a territorial continuity between Egypt and Jordan (meaning
that Israel give up territory in the Negev).15 Israeli officials stated that
peace talks would only take place without preconditions. Nasser rejected
the proposal in March 1956, and Prime Minister Ben-Gurion claimed that
Nasser [was] playing to gain time in order to complete his armys
training and to assimilate the arms, signaling that diplomacy as a means
to end the violence was impossible.16
On October 13, 1956 the Security Council unanimously adopted a
resolution prohibiting any overt discrimination against any state in the
regard to navigation in the Suez Canal, which was immediately
followed by a renewed declaration by the Egyptian government that Israeli

13

Gilead, Israeli State Archives, xi.


Ibid.
15
Ibid., xii.
16
Ibid., xi.
14

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shipping could not pass through the Suez Canal.17 Egypt had blatantly
ignored the UNs resolution. Israeli, French and British officials believed
that to reverse the nationalization of the canal and to return a sense of
security to the Israeli people, they needed to take a military approach. The
following section will discuss the arguments for Israeli, French, and
British support for military action.
3.2 Arguments for Israeli, French, and British Overall Support of Sinai
Campaign
3.2.1 Israel
For Israel, an attack on Egypt would address two points of Israeli
concern. First, entering the Sinai and the Gaza strip would establish its
legitimacy and show Egypt that Israel would not stand by as Egyptian
authorities sent gangs of murderers from Gaza (Fedayeen) to murder
innocent citizens, to destroy installations and to spread fear among peaceful
villagers.18 As a recently founded Jewish state in the middle of the Arab
world, no country in the region would condemn Egyptian behavior. If Israel
were to defend itself, it would have to align with non-regional actors or
attack unilaterally.
Second, the nationalization of the Suez Maritime Canal Company
and the sea blockade posed a serious economic threat to Israeli financial
security. In a cabinet meeting on October 28, 1956, Prime Minister BenGurion said, In contravention of international law and the Security Council
resolution, Egypt prevents navigation in the Straits of Eilat.19 There was
neither access to sea trade nor any allies in the region who were willing to
trade. Israel lacked natural resources and had a fledgling economy. The
blockade cut off a major source of national income.

17

David Ben-Gurion, Israel: A Personal History, 521.


Ibid., 474-475.
19
Ibid., 504.
18

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For the Ben-Gurion administration, a successful attack on Egypt


would result in an invasion of the Sinai Desert and the Gaza Strip with the
object of destroying the Fedayeen bases and occupying the emplacements
on the banks of the Straits of Eilat.20 The payoffs of such an attack would
destroy the future threat of non-state actors within Egypt and reinstate
Israeli access to trading routes.
3.2.2 France
French support for an attack in Egypt was in part prompted by a
fundamental desire to maintain its alliance with Israel. Amidst the
unbalance of arms in the region, France supplied Israel with weaponry.
The relationship between Israel and France was indeed strong leading up
to late October 1956; however, France did not merely support the Sinai
Campaign because of its alliance.
First, the nationalization of the Suez Canal posed multiple threats.
France believed that doing away with Nasser would help relieve the
pressure on its beloved colony.21 At the time, the colony of Algeria
sought sovereignty as a state apart from the French government. If France
were to ignore Nassers nationalization of the Suez Canal on the grounds
of Egyptian sovereignty, a message would be sent to Algeria that similar
behavior in the French colony would be tolerated.22
Second, France lost a great deal of economic opportunity when the
operation of the Suez Canal was taken from the Suez Maritime Canal
Company. French men had controlled the Company until the canals
nationalization. After the Nationalization Law, All assets, rights and
obligations [of the company were]transferred to Egypt. 23 An attack on
Egypt would accomplish several things: send a clear message to Algeria
20

Ibid., 504.
BBC News, Frances Own Lesson from Suez,
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6102536.stm.
22
Rose McDermott, The 1956 Suez Crisis, 135.
23
Gamal Abder Nasser, Decree of the President of the Republic of Egypt on the
Nationalization of the Suez Canal Company (Cairo, July 26, 1956), 3.
21

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against independence; transfer control of the Suez from Egyptian hands;


reestablish access to trade and oil interests; and secure Israeli safety.
3.2.3 Britain
Unlike Israel and France, Britains reason for supporting the Sinai
Campaign was not as clear-cut. While some experts claim, Suez became
the symbol of the end of imperial destiny, Britain did not immediately
support an attack following the nationalization of the Suez and the
Fedayeen attacks on Israel.24 The British had enjoyed access to trade and
oil interests when the Company ruled the canal and the nationalization of
the canal limited the level of the previous benefits. With its previous ties
to the Company severed, an increasing level of Egyptian nationalism and
pan-Arabism, and the influence of Russia, Britain lost the last remnants of
the British Empire in the Middle East.
Economic incentives aside, the involvement of Russia in Egypt
was the most significant factor that drew in the British. British Prime
Minister Anthony Eden stated in a cable to President Eisenhower, There
is no doubt in our minds Nasser is now effectively in Russian hands, just
as Mussolini was in Hitlers. It would be as ineffective to show weakness
to Nasser now in order to placate him as it was to show weakness to
Mussolini.25 The British sought to prevent the future growth of
communism in a region that had a history of Western European control.
For the British, a successful attack on Egypt would reassert Britains
dominance in the region, prevent Soviet influence, and regain economic
prosperity from the de-nationalization of the Sinai Canal.
Now that this paper has established reasons for Israeli, French, and
British support for military action against Egypt, the following section will
discuss the American stance on the issue and the reasons for a preNovember 6th strike strategy.
BBC News, Frances Own Lesson from Suez, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/
europe/6102536.stm.
25
John P. Matthews, John Foster Dulles and the Suez Crisis of 1956, http://
www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/item/2006/0709/matt/matthews_suez.html.
24

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3.3 Why was a Pre-American Election Strike Strategy Pursued?


3.3.1 The American Stance
Throughout the months leading up to the Sinai Campaign,
President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Ben-Gurion exchanged a series
of letters in which the American president urged his Israeli counterpart not
to act militarily. In April 1956, Eisenhower wrote, I sincerely hope that in
view of the terrible tragedy that general hostile actions will undoubtedly
bring to this region you will abstain, even under the pressure of extreme
provocation from any retaliatory actions which may result in very
dangerous consequences.26 Why did Eisenhower feel this way?
First, in light of the Soviet Unions penetration in the Middle East,
support for an attack on Egypt would violate the United States wider
objective of maintaining close ties with Arab states.27 If the United States
supported an attack with Israel, Eisenhower could risk losing his clout
with Arab states in the region to the Soviet Union. After all, Egypt had
recently signed treaties with a handful of Arab states and an attack on
Egypt, in some cases, constituted an attack on its allies.
Second, a United States condemnation of the nationalization of
the canal would go against American respect for state sovereignty.
Secretary Dulles reaffirmed this American ideal, stating, Each nation has
to decide for itself what action it will take to defend and realize its
rights which it feels it has as a matter of a treaty. 28

26

Ben-Gurion, Israel, 474-475.


David Makovsky and Amanda Sass, By avoiding a strike on Iran before U.S. election,
Israel is learning from history, http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/by-avoiding-a-strike-oniran-before-u-s-election-israel-is-learning-from-history.premium-1.473678.
28
Matthews, John Foster Dulles and the Suez Crisis of 1956, http://www.unc.edu/
depts/diplomat/item/2006/0709/matt/matthews_suez.html.
27

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Third, as elections hovered, Eisenhower wanted to maintain peace


at any price. Secretary Dulles did not believe that only the capitulation
of Nasser could restore Western standing in the Middle East.29
Eisenhower and Dulles hoped that a diplomatic and peaceful option could
be pursued via the United Nations. The Eisenhower administration did not
want to tarnish its record of keeping American troops out of war.
Fourth, the Hungarian Revolution broke out in late October. If the
United States got involved in the Sinai Campaign and not the Hungarian
Revolution, Eisenhower risked making his approach to foreign policy
appear inconsistent. Furthermore, if the Eisenhower administration
supported an attack on Russian-aligned Egypt, it was possible that there
would be consequences beyond the confines of the region. British
Chancellor Macmillan noted that it, sometimes felt[like] both
Eisenhower and Dulles had lost their nerve and believed that if there
were to be strong action in Egypt, the Russians would intervene and the
Third World War would be launched.30
These four reasons deterred the United States from military
involvement in Egypt. The United States sent a clear message to Israel,
France, and Britain that they would not likely find any support from their
American ally who remained silent on cooperation and openly condemned
any military confrontation in the region. This led Israeli, French, and
British officials to deem it crucial to pursue a military strategy at a time
that constricted the level of harsh American condemnation and
counteraction. The following sub-section will discuss three reasons why
Israeli, French, and British military strategists felt it necessary to begin a
campaign on the eve of American elections.

29
30

Ibid.
Ibid.

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3.3.2 The Three Reasons Behind the Pre-American Election Strike


Strategy
3.3.2.1 The Soviet Union vs. Allies Angle
In the months before the campaign, French Foreign Minister
Christian Pineau expressed his concerns about waiting until after the
American elections to strike Egypt militarily. Pineau felt that if France
was to act, she had to do so quicklybefore the US election, and before
possible talks between America and Russia at which French interests
would be ignored [regarding the Canal]. 31 It was thought that following
elections, the Eisenhower administration would make some arrangement
with the Soviet Union to ease Cold War tensions, and neglect the
Middle East which [would] fall 32 to Russian control.
If the United States were to strike a deal regarding the Canal after
the elections, it was likely that French interests would be ignored due to
Russias recent alliance with Egypt. Israeli, French, and British officials
believed that Eisenhower would not strike such a deal before American
elections because he would not wish to appear before the American
electorate as one who was anxious for an accommodation with the Soviet
Union that he was prepared to sacrifice his allies.33 However after the
pressure of elections lifted, Eisenhower would be free to distance himself
from his allies. Therefore, by planning a pre-American election attack,
Israeli, French, and British, officials believed that Eisenhower would not
interfere with the military campaign, as he would be restricted in efforts to
maintain his image in front of the electorate.

Shimon Peres, Davids Sling, 194-195.


Moshe Dayan, Moshe Dayan: Story of My Life, 216.
33
Ibid.
31
32

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3.3.2.2 The American Jewish Vote


At a meeting in September 1956, Israeli Minister of Foreign
Affairs raised the potential threat of US economic sanctions against Israel
if the British, French, and Israel were to act militarily in the Sinai. 34
Foreign Minister Pineau responded to this concern, stating, The United
States would not act before the election because of the Jewish vote. It was
another reason for moving fast. Pineau believed that President
Eisenhower would not wish to abandon or condemn Israel, the Jewish
State, on the eve of an election for fear of losing the Jewish votea lobby
considered to be exceptionally powerful.
3.3.2.3 The Issue of Convening Congress
Because of the American congressional system, British Foreign
Secretary Lloyd argued that it would be much more difficult for the United
States to intercede with a pre-American election attack than with a post
one. According to Secretary Dulles frequent statements that nothing can
be done by the American forces without congressional authority, it was
decided that if Israel were to act before the end of the American election
campaign, it was most improbable that Congress could be re-summoned or
would give its authority.35 Even if Eisenhower supported American
intervention in the Sinai Campaign, the likelihood that such an order
would successfully pass through Congress was slim.
3.3.2.4 Summary
In summary, the American election played a significant role in the
strategic planning of the military campaign. Indeed, I have not discovered
other factors that influenced the timeline for the Sinai Campaign other
than the timing of the American elections. For Israeli, French, and British
34
35

Keith Kyle, Suez: Britains End of Empire in the Middle East, 267.
Ibid., 267.

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officials, the belief that Eisenhower would neither distance himself from
his allies nor would sacrifice the Jewish vote nor would be able to convene
Congress provided enough incentive to pursue a military attack on Egypt
before the November 6th election.
3.4 The Campaign, Immediate Response and Miscalculations, and Long
Term Effects
3.4.1 The Campaign
On October 28, 1956 at the beginning of the weekly cabinet
meeting, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion announced that, given the nature of
the threats faced, Israel must launch the commencement of the operation
[the following] evening.36 On October 29, 1956, Israeli forces began a
three-pronged drive into the Sinai peninsula: 37 Israeli mechanized
forces first smashed several Egyptian positions near the southern border, a
main force drove toward Cairo and the Suez Canal, and some 400
paratroopers landedless than 25 miles from the canal.38 The French,
British, and Israelis formulated this military strategy. By sending Israeli
troops so close to the canal first, the French and British had an excuse to
intervene because the canal was threatened.39
In reality, the Israeli military had no intention of causing damage
to the canal infrastructure. Israel, France, and Britain agreed that once
Israel began the campaign, the French and British would immediately
demand a cease-fire between Egypt and Israel. When Egypt did not accept
the terms and Israel did, the French and British could then intervene in the
interest of maintaining world order. On October 30, 1956 they did exactly
that. British and French bombers conducted a series of raids on Egyptian

36

Ben-Gurion, Israel: A Personal History, 516.


Matthews, John Foster Dulles and the Suez Crisis of 1956,
http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/item/2006/0709/matt/matthews_suez.html.
38
Ibid.
39
Ibid.
37

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airfields for two consecutive days destroying most of the Egyptian arsenal
and airfields.
3.4.2 The Immediate Response and Miscalculations
President Eisenhower found out about the Israeli attack mid-flight
on his campaign trail. He immediately returned to Washington enraged.
The United States responded to Israeli, French, and British action by
introducing a resolution condemning Israel in the UN Security Council
on October 30 that explicitly constrain[ed] Anglo-French military action
in the area.40 Britain and France vetoed it; however, the majority of the
General Assembly called for an emergency and voted on the resolution,
demanding a call for a cease-fire and immediate withdrawal. The
resolutions language was uncompromisingly and bitterly harsh toward
the French and the British.41
In addition to the pressure in the UN arena, the United States
imposed economic pressure by holding a much needed $1 billion loan
from the IMF to Britain, contingent upon British and French withdrawal
from the canal.42 French and British authorities also felt the sting of the
Cold War as a result of their involvement in the campaign. A top official
in the Soviet Union sent letters to the Prime Ministers of Great Britain
and France intimating that the Soviet Union would launch missiles against
Paris and London if their armies were not evacuated from Egyptian soil.
Due to UN and economic pressure, as well as the threat of a third world
war, all Anglo-French troops announced acceptance of the ceasefire and
evacuation of Egyptian territory. 43
Israeli, French, and British officials had severely overestimated
Eisenhowers resistance to criticize American allies Britain and France on
the eve of American elections. Eisenhowers immediate, stern
40

Ibid.
Ibid.
42
Jewish Virtual Library, The Suez War of 1956,
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/ Suez_War.html.
43
Ben-Gurion, Israel, 512.
41

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condemnation of his allies only ended up bolstering [his] image as a


strong commander in chief that could coolly guide the nation through
crisis.44 The British and French had never thought that they would face
such severe economic and international pressure from their ally.
It was Israels military action in the Sinai, however, that felt most
like a personal attack on Eisenhower since he had previously told BenGurion in letters that the administration strongly disapproved of military
action in the Sinai and that the United States would not support it. Just
days following the attack, Eisenhower wrote to a friend, We realized that
he [Ben-Gurion] might think to take advantage of this country because of
the approaching electionI gave strict orders to the State Department that
they should inform Israel that we would handle our affairs exactly as
though we didnt have a Jew in America.45 Clearly, Christian Pineau had
miscalculated the extent to which Eisenhower was willing to distance
himself diplomatically from Israel in fear of losing the Jewish vote.
Although the majority of the Jewish vote went to Eisenhowers running
mate, Stevenson, the President coasted to reelection with 457 electoral
college votes and 57.4% of the popular vote.46 Ultimately, the Jewish
vote did not influence Eisenhowers foreign policy decisions.
The day after his reelection, Eisenhower wrote a letter to BenGurion in the aftermath of Israels refusal to honor the General
Assemblys resolution to withdraw troops. The letter informed BenGurion that the UNs peacekeeping force had been dispatched to Egypt.
Eisenhower again urged him to comply with the General Assembly
resolutions to withdraw.47 Eisenhower noted the continuation of Israeli
occupation in Egypt would result in condemnation of Israeli as a violator

Ronald Brownstein, Like Ike, http://www.nationaljournal.com/columns/politicalconnections/obama-a-lot-like-ike-20110324.


45
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Letter from President Eisenhower to Swede Hazlett, pp. 944,
http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1955-57v16/d475.
46
Brownstein, Like Ike, http://www.nationaljournal.com/columns/politicalconnections/obama-a-lot-like-ike-20110324.
47
Ben-Gurion, Israel, 509-510.
44

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of the principles of the United Nations.48 Secretary Dulles also included a


supplement to the letter reading, Israeli refusal to withdraw means
contempt for public opinion both in the world and in the United States. 49
On November 8, 1956, Ben-Gurion responded to Washington,
stating, Israel was willing to withdraw and accept the 1956 ceasefire and
the presence of a UN peacekeeping force under certain conditions. 50 This
sudden change was attributed to Ben-Gurions claim that the destruction
of Fedayeen bases had been an operational success and to the massive
pressure from the White House and the State Department.51 Yet, his
willingness to withdraw did not mark the end of the conflict in the region
or of the tensions between the American and Israeli governments.
3.4.3 Long Term Effects
Indeed, the blockade of Israeli ships was still fully intact. BenGurion demanded freedom of ship navigation in exchange for a full Israeli
withdrawal from Egyptian territory since UN Secretary-General
Hammarskjold refused to discuss Israels demands until Israeli forces
withdrew.52 Israeli officials felt like the UN and the United States had
adopted two sets of standards, one toward Israel and another toward
Egypt. Israel was condemned for its military action while Egypt had sent
terrorists into Israeli territory and had ignored UN resolutions regarding
international waters.53 Throughout November, Eisenhower sent BenGurion multiple letters condemning the Israeli occupation in Egypt. In late
December, Israeli Foreign Minister Meir was sent to meet Secretary John
Foster Dulles to ease the tension between the two nations and to make a

48

Ibid., 509.
Ibid., 514.
50
Ibid.
51
Ibid., 474-475.
52
Ibid., 523.
53
Ibid.
49

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case for United States support of Israeli maritime passage in front of the
UN.54 This meeting was wholly unsuccessful.
On February 2, 1956, the General Assembly adopted two
resolutions that lamented the failure of Israel to withdraw behind the
Armistice declaration line and that asserted that an Israeli withdrawal
would result in an international effort to maintain peace in the region.
Again, the American governments stance on the issue was firm. In a
personal letter to Ben-Gurion, Eisenhower stated that failure to follow
these new resolutions would severely damage relations between Israel
and the UN members, including the United States.55 On February 11,
1956, Eisenhower made a public statement acknowledging the potential
illegality of the Egyptian blockade in international waters. Instead of
insisting that Israel should have freedom of passage, he stated, It is of
course that the enjoyment of the right by Israel would depend on its prior
withdrawal in accordance with theresolutions, thus further distancing
Israel from the international community. 56
Eisenhowers policies indicate a lack of American interest in
maintaining Israeli and Egyptian security on an equal level. He noted that,
even though most of the Israeli forces had withdrawn, the remaining
troops needed to leave immediately or the United nations must renew
with increased vigor its resolutions against Israel. 57 Perhaps the most
blatant denunciation of, and disregard for, the Israeli position came from
his question concerning Ben-Gurions terms for withdrawal: Should a
nation which attacks and occupies foreign territory be allowed to impose
conditions on its own withdrawal?58 Eisenhower noted that, although
Egypt had violated UN resolutions prior to 1956, such violations
constitute no justification for armed invasion. 59 By denouncing Israel in
front of the American public, Eisenhower attempted to unite the entire
54

Ibid.
Ibid., 525.
56
Ibid., 527.
57
Ibid.
58
Ibid.
59
Ibid.
55

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country behind his policies. Ben-Gurion stated in a Knesset cabinet


meeting that the public address constituted as great moral pressure. 60
By late February 1957, Eisenhower threatened to support UN
sanctions, to make donations to Israel no longer tax-exempt, and to
withhold more than $100 million in annual Unites States aid if they
didnt leave Egypt.61 There had never been such an ultimatum in the
course of Israeli-American relations.62
On March 1, 1957, Meir made a declaration at the General
Assembly that the Government of Israel is making a complete withdrawal
of the Gaza Strip, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Suez region. 63 The BenGurion administration had settled for provisional arrangements that
addressed free passage through the canal. While the settlement would not
be made permanent until the entire UN voted later on the Egyptian issue,
the Israelis withdrew. In the end, both the political and economic pressure
that the United States exerted on Israel prompted the withdrawal. Israel
did not gain full access to Egyptian waterways until much later. This
aspect of the operation was a complete failure and an embarrassment to
the Israeli government. Furthermore, it was not until Kennedy that Israel
received any sort of defense weaponry from the United States.64
4. The Comparison
Before drawing a comparison between the context of the Sinai
Campaign before the election in 1956 and the threat of a nuclear-armed

60

Ibid., 529.
Christa Case Bryant, Obama-Netanyahu tensions: Not as bad as 5 other US-Israel low
points, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2012/0927/Obama-Netanyahutensions-Not-as-bad-as-5-other-US-Israel-low-points/1956-Suez-fallout-Eisenhowerthreatens-to-withhold-aid.
62
Ehud Yaari, interview by Amanda Sass.
63
Ben-Gurion, Israel, 529.
64
Yaari, interview by Amanda Sass.
61

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Iran before the elections in 2012, I will provide a synopsis of the status of
the Iranian nuclear program and the threat that it poses to Israeli security. 65
The threat of a nuclear-armed Iran lies at the top of Israels
security concerns. If Iran were to attain a nuclear weapon, the likelihood
that it would use it against the Jewish State is considered highly likely
according to intelligence and to statements from Iranian officials.
Moreover, with Hezbollah to Israels northa terrorist organization with
firm ties to Iranan attack could come from multiple fronts and would be
devastating
For Prime Minister Netanyahu, there is little time to act before Iran
gains the capacity to complete its nuclear weapon. According to an August
2012 report from Israels Channel 10 News, Netanyahu is determined to
attack before the United States elections.66 The report noted that
sanctions against Iran failed to force a suspension of the Iranian nuclear
program in the past two months, from the prime ministers point of view;
the time for action is getting ever closer.67At the UN in September,
Netanyahu drew redlines indicating that once Iran achieved a certain level
of enriched uranium, an Israeli attack on nuclear facilities will be
imminent as a means of self-defense. As Irans nuclear program continued
on, Israeli officials seriously contemplated pursuing a surgical strike on
Iranian facilities.
The threat of a nuclear Iran also poses major threats to US security.
First, a nuclear-weaponized Iran could result in an arms race in the Middle
East and in an upset in international order. Second, Iran could supply its
proxies, like Hezbollah, or other terrorist organizations, such as Al-Qaeda
and Hamas, with nuclear weapons to be used against the United States and
its allies. Despite these reasons, the Obama administrations position on
Because Irans nuclear proliferation efforts are extraordinarily recent and highly
publicized, this synopsis will be brief in comparison to the previous section on the Sinai
Campaign.
66
Times of Israel Staff, Netanyahu determined to attack Iran before US elections,
claims Israels Channel 10, http://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-determined-toattack-iran-before-us-elections-claims-israels-channel-10/.
67
Ibid.
65

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how to approach Iran differs from that of the Netanyahu administration.


While Obama explicitly indicated that he would not pursue a policy of
containment but rather prevention vis--vis Iran throughout his
presidency, he was not as candid about pursuing a military strike in Iran as
his counterpart in Jerusalem. Obama has expressed that all military
options are on the table but would prefer to pursue diplomatic channels
and international economic pressure to stall the program.68 Based on a
meeting that I had with an anonymous Israeli government official, Obama
had personally urged Netanyahu multiple times to hold off on a military
strike in Iran before the election.
A major point of contention between Washington and Jerusalem
revolved around the drawing of redlines. Prime Minister Netanyahu called
for the United States to draw redlines on Irans nuclear proliferation
program, that is, a point of no-return that would result in military
intervention. In September 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
rejected the call for redlines, stating that negotiations are by far the best
approach.69 Weeks later at the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister
Netanyahu quite explicitly detailed where his country would draw
redlines. Media outlets and lobby groups have picked up on the
incongruities between Obamas and Netanyahus views on how to
approach and resolve the Iran issue, claiming that Obama has put
daylight between Israel and the United States in an unprecedented way. 70
Perhaps another reason for the US stance on the issues stems
from a wider objective. If the United States were to pursue a bilateral
attack on Iran, it could risk losing relationships with some of its Arab
allies in the region. Amidst the turmoil and instability of the Arab
Awakening, losing allies and influence in the Middle East could be
detrimental to the US national security strategy.
Yitzhak Benhorin, Obama: Military option remains on table, Ynet News, September
4, 2012, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4276890,00.html.
69
Barak Ravid, Clinton rejects Netanyahu's call for red lines over Iran nuclear
program, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/clinton-rejects-netanyahu-scall-for-red-lines-over-iran-nuclear-program-1.463849.
70
Yaari, interview by Amanda Sass.
68

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According to Ehud Yaari, an Israeli journalist, political


commentator, and friend of the Prime Minister:
Bibi [Netanyahu] is a very diligent student of Jewish and Israeli
history. He is always looking back to see where the main junctures
of fateful decisions were taken in order to learn. He recites to you
the chain of major decisions throughout Israeli history in order to
identify for himself where the crucial moments were and who made
the right decisions. So when he is thinking about Iran and the United
States, he is thinking about Ben-Gurion and Eisenhower.71
Based on this statement, I believe that Netanyahu does look to the
past in order to determine future steps. Furthermore, I argue that the six
similarities between the context of the Sinai Campaign before the elections
in 1956 and the context of the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran before the
elections in 2012 are great enough that the Sinai Campaign and its
aftermath could have served as a model to which Prime Minister
Netanyahu might have referred when deciding whether to attack before
November 6, 2012. Based on the findings of my comparative analysis
displayed in Figure 1, I believe that my second hypothesis that the two
moments in history do greatly mirror each other is correct. While there are
significant differences, the main underlying issues that dictated the
American position to support Israeli military action are quite similar.
Figure 1 examines six distinct similarities and differences between
the context of the Sinai Campaign before the elections in 1956 and the
context of the current threat of a nuclear-armed Iran before the elections in
2012. 72

71

Ibid.
This chart only addresses the key findings of my analysis. That said, other similarities
and differences between these two moments in history do exist.
72

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Figure 1
Similarities between the Sinai
Campaign and threat of nuclear Iran
1. Both occurred on the eve of American
elections and claimed military action
would occur in the name of self-defense.73

2. Neither US administrations wanted to


get involved in another war.
3. The nature of both personal
relationships between Presidents and
Prime Ministers have been described as
bitter and tense.
4. Both US administrations wished to keep
ties with Arab countries as part of a wider
national strategy.

5. Both military incursions could result in


a nuclear conflict in the region.
6. Both American governments strongly
urged against military operations.

Differences between the Sinai


Campaign and the threat of nuclear
Iran
1. If Israel were to attack Iran before the
election, it would not have had support
of other nations unlike in 1956 where it
had support of the decaying colonial
powers.74
2. Different governments (i.e. Labor vs.
Likud and Republican v. Democrat)
3. The United States has closer ties with
Israel now than ever before (including
intelligence sharing and a bigger clout in
Congress).75
4. On the eve of the Sinai Campaign,
there were no international sanctions
against Egypt whereas there were harsh
sanctions against Iran before November
6, 2012.
5. The nationalization of the canal did
not threaten US security whereas a
nuclear Iran poses serious concerns.
6. More international condemnations of
Iran now than in 1956

The following section will examine three counterfactuals of the Sinai


Campaign that Prime Minister Netanyahu might have considered in his
decision to stall an attack on Iran. These counterfactuals will each have

73

Yaari, interview by Amanda Sass.


Ibid.
75
Makovsky and Sass, By avoiding a strike on Iran before U.S. election,
http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/by-avoiding-a-strike-on-iran-before-u-s-election-israelis-learning-from-history.premium-1.473678.
74

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corresponding lessons and explanations of how they might translate to the


present for Netanyahu.76
5. Lessons Netanyahu Might Have Learned from 1956: An
Examination of Counterfactuals
5.1 Counterfactual 1: If Israel had gone into the Sinai but had told
Eisenhower, the American response to Israel would not have been as
severe.
Much of Eisenhowers opposition to Israel post-Campaign not only
stemmed from the fact that Israel had gone into the Sinai against his
wishes, but that it had also been done behind his back on the eve of his
election. It was believed that Eisenhower and Dulles were in a cold rage
that they were betrayed by their allies, who did not tell them anything
about the plan.77
In December 1956, the Israeli Foreign Minister went to meet with
Secretary of State Dulles to ease tensions between the two nations. At this
meeting months after the attack, it was evident that Washington was still
bitter over the Israeli decision to keep Washington out of the loop. Dulles
protested that Israel had not consulted the United States before the
invasion and in his opinion, Israeli action in Sinai had reduced the
chances of rectifying the wrongs Israel had [previously] suffered.78 While
Dulles expressed to Meir a level of personal support for Israeli access to
the waterways, he criticized the Ben-Gurion administration for not
notifying the American government. He stated that the United States
would not directly support Israel unless it followed the UN resolutions.
76

It is important to note that throughout Israel leading up to the elections, there was a
consensus that Obama would win the election. Therefore, I created counterfactuals that
deal with a second-term Obama.
77
Berel Wein, The Sinai Campaign, Jewish History, accessed December 5, 2012
http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-sinai-campaign/.
78
Matthews, John Foster Dulles and the Suez Crisis of 1956, http://www.unc.edu/
depts/diplomat/item/2006/0709/matt/matthews_suez.html.

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Perhaps if the United States had been informed of the intent to attack, the
reaction at the UN would not have been as harsh.
5.1.1 The Lesson and Translation to the Present
The lesson from this counterfactual is simple: Israeli military
action that takes place without informing the American government does
not lead to a positive American response. In 1956, Israel was not even a
decade old, and it was not viewed as a key ally in the Middle East.
Weaponry exchange between the countries did not begin until the early
sixties.
Now, the United States and Israel have much closer relations than
in 1956. In August, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney stated,
Cooperation with Israel between our military and intelligence
communities has never been closer.79 If Prime Minister Netanyahu were
to order a secret Israeli surgical attack on the eve of American elections
without informing the United States, it would seem counterintuitive for the
United States to condemn its ally in the international arena. However,
given the state of the two nations military and intelligence communities
relationship, a decision to leave out the United States before an attack
would seem like an even bigger slap in the face to the Obama
administration than it was to the Eisenhower administration in 1956. The
future of the relationship between the two nations would be tarnished
because Israel betrayed its closest ally.

Ilan Ben Zion, White House Claims Cooperation with Israel has never been closer,
http://www.timesofisrael.com/white-house-claims-cooperation-with-israel-has-neverbeen-closer-romney-obama/.
79

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5.2 Counterfactual 2: If Israel did not strike pre-election 1956, then it


would not have appeared to be utilizing political circumstances to help
boost an American response.
By waiting until after the American elections to act in Egypt,
Israel, France, and Britain would have increased the sense of legitimacy in
the Sinai Campaign. Instead, the success of the campaign seemed to rely
on whether the Americans would respond favorably, thus indicating that
the operation contained elements that were highly questionable.
Eisenhower acknowledged that Israel might think to take advantage of
this country because of the approaching election, and he gave strict
orders to the State Department that it should handle its affairs according to
US national interests.80
5.2.1 The Lesson and Translation to the Present
The lesson of this counterfactual is that the premise of any preelection strike is that Israel would be taking advantage of a time when it
had maximum political influence in Washington since the President would
have been constrained in his reaction.81 Simply put, if Netanyahu were to
act before an American election, the international community would
denounce Israel for acting under the cloak of diverted attention.
Based on conversations with Netanyahu, Ehud Yaari stated that
Netanyahu intentionally applied pressure [on the Obama administration]
and made public speeches for redlines and sanctions on the eve of
American elections in order to merit more commitment from Obama. Just
these acts alone warranted claims that Netanyahu was attempting to
influence the American elections in order to garner support. If statements
alone received such harsh criticisms, a pre-election strike would certainly
Eisenhower, Letter from President Eisenhower to Swede Hazlett, pp. 943-945,
http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1955-57v16/d475.
81
Makovsky and Sass, By Avoiding a Strike on Iran on Iran before U.S. election,
http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/by-avoiding-a-strike-on-iran-before-u-s-election-israelis-learning-from-history.premium-1.473678.
80

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receive even more punitive condemnation. Waiting until after November


6, 2012 would send a message to the international community that Israel
would not need to take advantage of a politicized Washington in order to
pursue and to be successful in its foreign policy decisions.
5.3 Counterfactual 3: If Pineau had truly done his research on the
Jewish vote, he would have seen that Adlai Stevenson had no chance
(even with the Jewish vote) of winning the election.
As examined in an earlier section, the strategists of the Campaign
severely miscalculated President Eisenhowers reaction and electoral base.
In 1956, French foreign minister Pineau figured that a pre-election strike
would influence Eisenhower by pushing him to appease Jewish voters.
Yet, even though the majority of Jews voted for Adlai Stevenson in 1956,
Eisenhowers win was unaffected. Upon hearing of the Sinai Campaign,
he immediately condemned Israel and the European allies. His actions
thus invalidated the belief that he would not distance himself from the
Jewish vote, Britain, or France.
5.3.1 The Lesson and Translation to the Present
The lesson of this counterfactual is not to rely on the Jewish vote.
Indeed, it is possible that Netanyahu did follow this counterfactual on the
eve of the American election, for as Ehud Yaari states, Bibi [Netanyahu]
is a dedicated reader of American polling. His advisors invest a lot of time
in polling. He can go into a lecture about Ohio or what district in
Pennsylvania will decide the vote. 82 Based on this analysis, it is plausible
to say that Netanyahu might have looked at the Jewish voting polls. Going
into the 2012 elections, there was strong evidence that the majority of
Jewish voters intended to reelect Obama. It could be argued that American
82

Yaari, interview by Amanda Sass.

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Jewry was relatively comfortable with Obamas stance on Iran heading


into the elections. As a result, if Israel had attacked Iran before the
election, American Jewry would still have voted for Obama. Because the
majority of American Jewry would not prevent Obama from condemning
Israel before the election, Netanyahu might have decided to forego
attacking the Iranian nuclear program.
6. Conclusion
Unlike the months following the 1956 Sinai Campaign and
Eisenhowers reelection, the fabric of the American-Israeli relationship is
now stronger than ever since Obama took office. Just days after his
reelection, Obama presented a harsher round of sanctions against Iran.
This staunch move reflects Obamas commitment to halting the Iranian
nuclear program. The Obama administrations vocal support for the right
of Israeli self-defense amidst the recent Operation Pillar of Defense is
evidence of the return to close ties between the two nations. At the UN,
the world witnessed as the United States stood firmly with Israel against
the majority of the General Assembly that voted for a raised status in the
Palestinian Authoritys membership to the institution.
Had Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered an Israeli surgical attack
on Iranian nuclear facilities on the eve of the American election, it is
plausible that Israel would not have received the amount of American
support that it has. Clearly, when faced with a similar set of
circumstances a looming threat on the eve of American electionsas
those of Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister Netanyahu acted responsibly and
learned from the lessons of the 1956 Sinai Campaign. Because of his
strategic decision not to pursue a military strategy, he has been able to
improve the American-Israel relationship and strengthen Israels security.

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