Cato the Elder: ancient Rome’s broken record and his famous use of the gerundivum

Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 BCE), generally known as Cato the Elder or Cato the Censor, was a Roman soldier, senator, and statesman at the time of the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage.

He was famous (or notorious, depending on one’s point of view) for interjecting into every speech, regardless of the subject — even if it were the price of vegetables, so to speak — the phrase:

Ceterum censeo Carthaginem delendam esse

(often slightly ungrammatically misquoted as)

Ceterum censeo Carthago delenda est

In plain English: “Otherwise, I opine that Carthage is to be erased”. Countless Latin students remember this phrase, as it is a memorable example of the Latin gerundivum — a form of the verb that indicates necessity, timeliness, or desirability of an action. Another, more prosaic example: bibere = “to drunk”, nunc est bibendum = “now it’s [time to] drink”.

The phrase “Carthago delenda est” (Carthage is to be erased) would be grammatical on its own, but in the original, the entire phrase is the direct object of the verb “censeo” (I opine, I hold, it is my opinion) and hence has to be in the accusative case.

People who barely remember anything about Cato or the Punic wars may remember two things about the era: Hannibal’s elephants and Cato’s “broken record phrase”. The latter is sometimes paraphrased in jest, as “Ceterum censeo ___ delendam esse” (substitute Barney the dinosaur, Hollywood, …)

 

 

 

 

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Cast a Giant Shadow: David “Mickey” Marcus (1901-1948), the IDF’s first general

Continuing in a Remembrance Day vein, a few words about the American Jewish army officer who ended up being the first aluf (“general”, in modern use Maj.-Gen.) of the IDF.

col_marcus_in_israel_1948

David Daniel Marcus, known to all as “Mickey” Marcus, was born on the Lower East Side in 1901. Bright as well as athletic, he acquired his higher education in what then (as now) was an unusual fashion for an American Jewish boy: he applied to the US Military Academy at West Point and was accepted in 1920, graduating with the Class of 1924.

After completing his active duty requirement, he went to law school and spent most of the 1930s fighting organized crime as an Assistant US Attorney in New York. In 1940, mayor Fiorello La Guardia appointed him Corrections Commissioner, thus placing him in charge of the city’s prisons. Simultaneously, he served in the Army National Guard as the Judge Advocate of the 27th Infantry Division, by now at the rank of Lt. Colonel.

Pearl Harbor and the US entry in World War II made him rethink his judicial career path, and he organized a ranger combat training school on Hawaii. Despite his hopes for a field command, however, he ended up being assigned to the Civil Affairs Division. (The assignment came with a promotion to full colonel.) Among other things, Col. Marcus was involved in drafting the 1943 surrender terms of Italy and the organization of the Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam conferences.

Despite having no paratrooper training, on D-Day he jumped with the 101st Airborne Division (he had pulled in a favor from its commander, his onetime classmate Gen. Maxwell Taylor) and informally commanded a battle group made up of stragglers.

After VE Day he was placed in charge of the DP camps in the US occupation zone of Germany. A tour of the Dachau concentration camp shocked him to the core: subsequently, he would head the Pentagon’s War Crimes Division and select prosecutors and lawyers for the major war crimes trials in Nuremberg and Tokyo.

On six different occasions he was nominated for promotion to Brigadier General, the last time together with the position of military attaché at the US Embassy in Moscow. He declined the appointment and promotion and returned to civilian practice in 1947.

Shortly after, Maj. Shlomo Shamir of the Haganah approached him to help him find a military expert to assist in organizing and training what was to become the IDF. Soon, it emerged that Marcus himself was the prime candidate. Marcus flew to the Land of Israel under the cover name ‘Mickey Stone’, where he was the first Jew in 2,000 years to bear the rank of aluf (general).[*] His exploits in organizing the Haganah guerilla fighters into an army, and in lifting the siege of Jerusalem through an improvised ‘Burma Road’, are recounted in great detail here.

On June 10, 1948, the night before the cease-fire in Israel’s War of Independence was to end, this “reverse Lafayette” met his end — through friendly fire. Being unable to sleep, he had gone for a walk, covered in his blanket against the cold. When the sentry saw the ‘Arab in a cloak’ approach, he challenged him in Hebrew. Marcus answered in English and kept coming despite a warning shot. The sentry fired again and killed Marcus. Once he realized what he had done, the sentry tried to take his own life, but his comrades stopped him —  it would not bring their commander back.

Colonel / Aluf Marcus’s remains were shipped to the USA and buried in the West Point military cemetery, as many Academy graduates are. He is, to my knowledge, the only person buried there who fell in a foreign uniform.

marcusdavid

His story was turned into a Hollywood movie Cast A Giant Shadow starring Isser Danielovich — better known by his stage name Kirk Douglas, and still alive and kicking at age 101!

The Silver Platter (Natan Alterman)

And the land grows still,
the red eye of the sky
slowly dimming over smoking frontiers

As the nation arises,
Torn at heart but breathing,
To receive its miracle, the only miracle

As the ceremony draws near,  it will rise,
standing erect in the moonlight in terror and joy
When across from it will step out a youth and a lass
and slowly march toward the nation

Dressed in battle gear,
dirty, shoes heavy with grime,
they ascend the path quietly
To change garb, to wipe their brow

They have not yet found time.
Still bone-weary from days and from nights in the field
Full of endless fatigue and unrested,
Yet the dew of their youth is still seen on their head

Thus they stand at attention, giving no sign of life or death
Then a nation in tears and amazement
will ask: “Who are you?”

And they will answer quietly,
“We are the silver platter
on which the Jewish state was given.”

Thus they will say and fall back in shadows
And the rest will be told in the chronicles of Israel

 

[*] in the modern IDF table of ranks, aluf corresponds to Major-General. The highest rank, rav-aluf (corresponding to Lieutenant-General) is reserved for the Chief of Staff (rosh mate ha-clali, or ramatca”l for short), who is the IDF’s overall military commander.

Mordechai Frizis, the “Greek Lion of Judah”

Today is Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) in Israel, which we mark the day before Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day). Somebody with a better way with words than me quipped that there is a reason Israel has two memorial days: one to remind us of the cost of having a state, the other to remind us of the truly terrible price of not having one.

Yet there are also the Jewish military heroes in uniforms other than our own. One amazing story I learned during a recent visit to Greece is that of colonel Mordechai Frizis (Greek: Μαρδοχαίος Φριζής).

Frizis was born in 1893 to a large Jewish family in the Greek city of Chalkis (a.k.a. Negroponte), which sits at the bridge between the large island of Euboea and the Boeotia region of the Greek mainland. The town’s Jewish community were Romaniotes,[*]  Greek-speaking Jews whose ancestors had come to Greece in pre-Christian days.

From childhood, his dream was to become an army officer. He applied to the military academy  but did not pass the entrance exam — some sources claim his Jewishness was a factor in that. At any rate, he started studying law school as Plan B. When the Balkan Wars broke out, he was drafted and admitted to NCO training. There, because he also had gone to college, he was made a 2nd Lt. in the reserves.

During the Russian Civil War (where he was part of the Allied troops fighting on the side of the Whites) and the Greek-Turkish War, he distinguished himself on the battlefield through bravery as well as ingenuity.[**] When taken prisoner by the Turks in 1922, he was offered his freedom as the only non-Christian among the captive Greeks, but refused, saying his place was with his men. He shared their privations for 11 months until they were released and repatriated when the Lausanne Treaty ended the Greek-Turkish War.

Upon his return, his reserve commission was ‘regularized’ and he himself was sent to France to go study at the Ecole Militaire in St.Cyr (the West Point of France). After graduating with high honors, he was posted to Thessaloniki. He rose gradually through the ranks: the outbreak of WW II found him a Lt. Col. with the 8th Division in Ioannina, the largest town in the northwestern region of Epirus.

At this point Mussolini, displaying his typical level of contact with reality, issued a 3-hour ultimatum to the Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas.[***] According to Greek popular legend, Metaxas just answered “Ochi!” (“No!”), but his actual words, the French “alors, c’est la guerre!” (“well, that means war!”) boil down to the same thing.

The Italian army had bitten off more than it could chew, and got its nose bloodied severely by the Greeks. At one particular battle, Lt. Col. Frizis and his battlegroup of two battalions and an artillery company blocked the Italian advance by denying them the bridge across the Kalama.

The Greeks not only threw the Italians out but counterattacked into Italian-held Albania. It was then that an aerial strafing attack took place on Frizis’s regiment. Seated on horseback, he kept on pressing his men to seek cover, while galloping all over to make sure they did. The planes’ machine guns hit home, and Frizis was mortally wounded. Legend has it that the Greek Orthodox army chaplain said the Shema Yisrael over his dead body.

Both the Greek king and dictator Metaxas eulogized Frizis (posthumously promoted to full colonel) and personally condoled his widow.

Sadly, Mussolini’s senior ally decided he needed to pull his chestnuts out of the fire, and while most of the Greek army was tied up in Epirus, the Wehrmacht invaded from Bulgaria, with tragic consequences for Greek Jews and non-Jews alike.

The Swedish power metal band Sabaton writes most of its songs about war heroes of renown. They never wrote one about Frizis, but they do have one about the Greek resistance to the Italians.

[*] The name comes from their association with the [East]-Roman Empire. They are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardi, as the community predates that split. The oldest verifiable sign of their presence is a gravestone from 300-250 BCE to a “son of Moschion the Jew”. The community in Chalcis had a tradition of having arrived even earlier: in the 6th Century BCE, after the victory of the Persians over the Babylonians put an end to the Babylonian Exile.

[**] One anecdote has is that, while fighting with the Whites near Kishinev/Chisinau, the Greek troops were in need of supplies. Frizis sought out his coreligionists in their stores and addressed them in Hebrew (being Romaniote, he did not speak Yiddish nor Russian): reportedly they were so amazed to see a fellow Jew as a Greek officer that they gave him everything he asked for and refused payment.

[***] Metaxas was a royalist, monarchist, and antiparliamentarian Greek nationalist, but (like most Greeks) saw Greekness in cultural rather than genetic terms. He saw the Greek Jews, particularly the Romaniotes, as partners in the “Third Greek Civilization” he sought to foster, and had a close personal relationship with the Chief Rabbi of Thessaloniki.

“Wait for me, Saloniki”

Yacov “Jako” Philo was born in Thessaloniki — Greece’s fascinating symprotevousa (“co-capital”), onetime secondary capital of the Byzantine Empire, and for 450 years home to the world’s largest Sephardic Jewish community.

In 1943, Eichmann’s henchmen deported nearly the entire community to Auschwitz. Less than 4% survived. One of them was Jako — who immigrated to Israel, where his grandson, Kobi “Jacko” Paz, is now a musician.[*]

Another, more famous, Israeli musician born to Greek Holocaust survivors is Yehuda Poliker. Many years ago, he released a Hebrew version of a Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) song his father and fellow survivors would sing to each other.

Below is Kobi Paz’s recent re-recording, together with the Hebrew lyrics and my English translation. The city is referred to by its Ladino name, Saloniki

Soon this year, Israel will celebrate its 70th birthday. The Jews of Thessaloniki had, prior to the Shoah, only very limited encounters with hardcore judeophobia, and had indeed been a majority or plurality in the “Jerusalem of the Balkan” for over 400 years. Their fate is a reminder why, no matter how safe Jews feel elsewhere, we needed and need a country of our own.


 

עוד גבול אחד, עוד נצח זמן
חכי לי, סלוני

קי
רבה הדרך ליוון
חכי לי, סלוניקי

שוטט הלב, קפוא הדם
בשלג של גרמניה
כולם כולם אבדו לי שם
בלאגר בפולניה

חיוורי פנים, שרידי חיים
פליטי מסע המוות
בלויי טלאים הנה באים
לבכות ברחובותייך

החופש בא, אביב חדש
קרוב אני אלייך
כצל דהוי בגוף חלש
אבוא בשערייך

One more border, one more eternity
Wait for me, Thessaloniki
Long is the way to Greece
Wait for me, Thessaloniki

The heart roams, frozen in blood
In the snow of Germany
Everyone was lost to me there
In the “Lager” in Poland

Pale faces, remnants of life
Refugees of the Death March
Wearing patches, here they come
To cry in your streets

Freedom comes, a new spring
I’m close to you
Like a faded shadow in a weak body
I’ll come to your gates

[*] “Kobi” and “Jacko” are both nicknames for Ya`aqov/Jacob. Unlike the Ashkenazi tradition where children are named to honor deceased relatives, Sephardic tradition is to honor living grandparents in this manner.
 

International Shoah Memorial Day: Chiune Sugihara (“The Japanese Schindler”), the Teheran Children, and David Draiman’s powerful memorial song

In observance of International Shoah Memorial Day, January 27 [the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of the Auschwitz death camp], a few items.

(1) Here is an interview with survivors and escapees who remember the “Japanese Schindler”, the diplomat Chiune Sugihara.

Sugihara was appointed vice-consul in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania in 1939. After the USSR occupied sovereign Lithuania in 1940, many Jewish refugees from the Nazi war and murder machine tried to flee eastward. “Sempo” Sugihara issued Japanese transit visas that allowed such refugees as could afford a ticket to board the Transsiberia Railway and travel to the Pacific Ocean port of Vladivostok, and hence by boat to Kobe, Japan (the one town in Japan that had a significant Jewish community). His instructions from his superiors were that such transit visas could only be issued to people who had entrance visas to a third country: in the beginning the Dutch consul helped out by issuing entrance visas to the Dutch Antilles and to Suriname, but eventually Sugihara ignored orders and hand-wrote about 6,000 visas until the consulate was closed, and he himself reassigned to Königsberg, East Prussia (present-day Kaliningrad, Russia), later to Prague and to Bucharest. He reportedly passed his last batch of visas from the train window as the train was pulling out of the station.

Many of the “Sugihara visa” holders spent the war in Shanghai, including the parents of a friend of mine. (Japan was an ally of Nazi Germany but for the most part had no idea what Jews even were, let alone shared the obsession with killing them.) Sugihara’s act — in open defiance of his superiors — was culturally unthinkable on the one hand, but on the other hand brings to mind the famous story of the 47 Ronin, with its conflict between obedience and honor.

(2) The story of the “Teheran Children” (Hebrew Wikipedia page here) and how they escaped​ is not well known outside Israel. Below follows a documentary in English. The foreword to a book in progress can be read here.

(3) [Reposted] David Draiman, the frontman of heavy metal band Disturbed, grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family adn actually trained to be a chazzan (cantor). Even though he lost his faith later, he remains connected to his Jewish roots, and it is hard not to hear the echoes of chazzanut in his vocals. The song below is his response to Shoah deniers: if heavy metal isn’t your thing, then just read the lyrics.

They have a frightening desire for genocide
They wouldn’t stop ’till what was left of my family died
Hell-bent on taking over the world
You couldn’t hide in the shout of conformity
We can’t forget how we were devastated by the beast
And now we pleaded with the captors for release
We were hunted for no reason at all
One of the darkest times in our history

[CHORUS:] All that I have left inside
Is a soul that’s filled with pride
I tell you never again
In a brave society
Didn’t end up killing me
Scream with me, never again…not again

A generation that was persecuted endlessly
Exterminated by the Nazi war machine
We will remember, let the story be told
To realize how we lost our humanity
You dare to tell me that there never was a Holocaust
You think that history will leave the memory lost
Another Hitler using fear to control
You’re gonna fail this time for the world to see

REPEAT CHORUS

For the countless souls who died
Their voices fill this night
Sing with me, never again
They aren’t lost, you see
The truth will live in me
Believe me, never again

Amen.

Preference cascades and the fall of the Ceaucescu regime

The protests in Iran seem to be getting bigger. I can’t help being reminded (though this may be wishful thinking) of the 1989 protests in Rumania and the subsequent downfall of its dictator Nicolae CarpathiaCeaucescu.

The regime was deeply unpopular following an austerity program that had Rumanians scrambling for the most basic necessities, while the Inner Party, of course, enjoyed everything imaginable. Yet the Securitate (the Romanian secret police) maintained the most repressive police state of all the Eastern European regimes, and its grip on the people was supposed to be unassailable.

Then protests broke out in the Transylvanian town of Timisoara, in support of a Protestant pastor named László Tökés who belonged to the Hungarian minority of Transylvania. At the time, I did not think this would be a cause for the Rumanian majority — but it triggered a “preference cascade“. Suddenly, all sorts of people who loathed the regime and their circumstances, but feared to speak up realized they were not alone — and that the others around them had just been keeping their heads down. Thus one regional protest, not immediately suppressed, lit off a firestorm.

It’s unclear when exactly the tipping point occurred, but apparently, the defense minister was fired by Ceaucescu for not having issued live ammunition to the troops sent to suppress the Timisoara protests. His successor either did not care to sully his hands with mass slaughter to contain what had meanwhile grown to national protests, or he realized that the troops had changed allegiance and would disobey orders to fire on protesters — or perhaps both.

At any rate, second-tier elements of the regime then realized Ceaucescu was doomed, had no desire to share his fate, and made a deal with one of the protest leaders (a hydro-engineer and former head of a technical publishing house named Ion Iliescu). Within days, the grotesque dictator and his even more grotesque wife ignominiously escaped in a helicopter, then in a commandeered private vehicle, then ultimately handed over for arrest. Following a brief kangaroo court session, they were executed by firing squad on Christmas Day. Earlier, propaganda slogans had been aimed at the protesters to go home and enjoy the Christmas repast — whether these admonitions were more cynical or pathetic is hard to decide. At any rate, the Rumanian people did thus get their Christmas gift.

The transition to democracy (at first under Iliescu) was messy, but eventually, Romania left the nightmarish regime behind and has recently achieved a modest measure of prosperity, though much remains to be done.

Incidentally, what became of László Tökés? As it turns out, he had a political career later, and eventually became deputy chair of the European Parliament.

Will elements in Iran at some point similarly realize the mullahcracy is unsustainable, and engineer its downfall? Will this pit the army against the Revolutionary Guard? The mind wonders…

November 29, 1947: The Story of a Vote

 

Seventy years ago to this day, the United Nations voted on Resolution 181, the partitioning of the British Mandate into Jewish and Arab states as recommended by the UN’s special investigative commission (UNSCOP).

The story behind the scenes is told in this short movie, which combines historical footage with recent interviews of people who lived the event. The woman in the thumbnail is Suzy Eban, wife of Abba Eban.

A two-thirds majority was needed. In the end, thirty-three countries voted in favor:

• Latin American and Caribbean Group: Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela

• Western Europe and Others: Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden

• Eastern Europe: Byelorussian SSR (Belarus), Ukrainian SSR (Ukraine), USSR, Czechoslovakia, Poland

• African: Liberia and South Africa

• Asia-Pacific: Australia, New Zealand, Philippines

• North America: USA and Canada

Ten countries abstained:

• Latin American and Caribbean Group: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico

• Four other countries: UK (the outgoing mandate holder), China, Ethiopia, and Yugoslavia

Thailand was absent from the vote.

Thirteen countries voted against, ten of them Muslim:

•  Arab or Islamic countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Turkey, and Egypt

• Others: India, Cuba, and Greece. It should be noted that Greece then had a large diaspora in countries like Egypt, and was thus vulnerable to threats.

Voting happened by voice vote, alphabetically. The vote that put the resolution over the top was cast by the Philippines.

The day of the vote is remembered in Israel to this day as kaf-tet be-November  (from the Hebrew notation of the number 29, כ׳׳ט). The British Mandate was to end at midnight between May 14-15, 1948. On the afternoon of May 14, around 4pm, a hastily convened assembly gathered at a museum building in Tel-Aviv, and with a minimum of pomp and circumstance, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the independent State of Israel.

 

Our hope is not yet lost

The hope of two thousand years

To be a free people in our land

The land of Zion, Jerusalem