Happy Purim to my fellow Jews! May the day be filled with joy despite the worldwide anxiety about the COVID-2019 epidemic.
It hasn’t always been a joyous occasion: during the Shoah, henchmen of the modern Haman “marked” the holiday in their own cynical way. As we learn from Wikipedia:
Nazi attacks against Jews were often coordinated with Jewish festivals. On Purim 1942, ten Jews were hanged in Zduńska Wola to “avenge” the hanging of Haman’s ten sons. In a similar incident in 1943, the Nazis shot ten Jews from the Piotrkówghetto. On Purim eve that same year, over 100 Jewish doctors and their families were shot by the Nazis in Częstochowa. The following day, Jewish doctors were taken from Radom and shot nearby in Szydłowiec. In an apparent connection made by Hitler between his Nazi regime and the role of Haman, Hitler stated in a speech made on January 30, 1944, that if the Nazis were defeated, the Jews could celebrate “a second Purim”. Indeed, Julius Streicher was heard to sarcastically remark “Purimfest 1946” as he ascended the scaffold after Nuremberg.[In fact, said occasion was on a different Jewish holiday, namely Hoshana Rabba
I am about to start pre-publication editing of Episode 3 of my World War Two alternate history series, “Operation Flash”. The premise of this series, of course, is that the March 21, 1943 suicide bombing attempt on Hitler and his main underlings had succeeded. (Colonel Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff would only have needed to use a different detonator.)
As I was writing Episode 1, I suddenly thought: “Hmm, let me check what day March 21, 1943 was on the Jewish calendar”. Sure enough, 14 Adar 5703 would have been the mother of all Purims in that timeline. So I could not resist splicing in a chapter about this, which also gave me a chance to touch on some other issues. Below I am reproducing this chapter.
Operation Flash — Episode 1 — Chapter 6
March 21, 1943
For the whole world, my name was Johann Schulze. I must never mention my old name, Joachim Israel Steinberg.
My father had been a well-known doctor. When the law forbidding Jewish doctors to treat non-Jewish patients came out, we tried to make ends meet. I somehow got a job at the Siemens-Halske electrical factory.
For one reason or another, some of my coworkers took a liking to me. So when the transports to the East started, we were distributed across a few families. Fortunately, I don’t look very Jewish, so I can “submarine”, as we call it. There are a number of us fellow “U-boats” hiding in plain sight in the city — right in the heart of the Third Reich. We are always on the lookout for Gestapo agents — and for traitors of our own, who for money or a temporary reprieve for their families ferret out fellow Jews for the Gestapo.
If anyone asked, I was originally from Lübeck, but our house had been destroyed in the major RAF raid, and my maternal uncle, Christoph Baumann, had taken me in. Some people would shake their heads in sympathy — “to flee bombardments to Berlin is like fleeing the rain into the gutter”. I would say I was “hoping to join the Wehrmacht soon”, or perhaps “wanted to join the Luftwaffe to help defend the Reich against the terror bombers”, but meanwhile was working at a factory essential for the war.
My sisters had an easier time submarining elsewhere, and actually worked in various jobs. Unlike me, they did not carry the sign of the Covenant, of course—if arrested and made to strip, I’d be done for.
We’d had a simple meal, mostly bread and a watery soup made of potatoes. This was one reason each family had only taken in one of us: unless we could somehow get registered under a false name and get ration cards issued, each hidden person was an additional mouth to feed with the same number of ration cards.
Occasionally I would take the risk and work an odd job as a day laborer, and with the money Mrs. Baumann could buy some food on the black market. She would also quietly sell family curios and jewelry, one item at a time, if needed. It wasn’t impossible to survive that way, as Mr. Baumann and his eldest son Peter had increased rations as “essential war workers”. Peter had lost a foot stepping on a mine during the France campaign and had been invalided out of the army.
The large radio, built at the same factory they worked, was one luxury we did have.
“I don’t get it. Are they drunk on the job?”
“Why?” I walked in from the other room, where I’d been reading.
“In the middle of the news overview, the radio suddenly went to a Franz Léhar tune.
“And then, after about a minute, it went back to the newsreader.”
Suddenly we heard him pause, clear his throat, and speak, with a jittery voice.
“We interrupt this program for a special announcement.”
“Proclamation Number One of the Reichsnotregierung!”
We looked at each other. Emergency Reich Government?!
“The Führer—”, he paused, “The Führer, Adolf Hitler, is dead!”
What?! We were dumbstruck. The newsreader continued.
“He was killed in a bomb attack together with the Deputy Führer, Reich Marshal Hermann Goering; with the Head of the Wehrmacht High Command, Field Marshal Keitel; with the Führer’s Chief Adjutant, Gen. Rudolf Schmundt; and many others.
“A conscience-less clique of party and SS leaders who are strangers to the front have attempted to stab the struggling soldiers in the back and to grab power for self-serving purposes.
“Therefore we, the Emergency Reich Government, have assumed executive power. In order to maintain law and order, the ERG has declared a state of martial law and delegated responsibility to the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht.
“1. The following are subordinated to the ERG and the Army:”
We listened in disbelief as a long list of Nazi Party institutions were declared either subordinate to the government or outlawed.
“…Effective immediately, the Waffen SS is to be integrated into the Wehrmacht. Any resistance to this order will be regarded as mutiny and punished as such.
“3. The Allgemeine SS and its associated organizations are declared illegal…”
None of us could believe our ears. Would this long nightmare at last be over?!
“…Any resistance to the military authorities is to be ruthlessly suppressed. The Fatherland is in its hour of greatest peril.
“The German soldier is faced with an historic task. It will depend on his energy and behavior whether or not Germany will be saved.
Ludwig Beck, Reichsverweser.
Dr. Carl Goerdeler, Chancellor.
Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, Commander in Chief of the Wehrmacht.”
* * *
Shock and elation filled the room; it was difficult to know if it all could be contained. The Baumanns had been Social Democrats during the Weimar Era. Mr. Baumann had been a member of the Reichsbanner Black-Red-Gold and later, when that merged with two other groups, of the Iron Front — which had fought both the SA brownshirts and the Communist “Red Front”. Somehow, he had escaped persecution after the Nazi takeover.
Meanwhile, “Siegfried’s Death” by Wagner had started playing from the radio.
“Now this senseless war will end,” Mrs. Baumann murmured, “and the troops will come home.”
“That won’t be easy,” Mr. Baumann replied. “The remaining Nazis won’t give up without a fight.”
“Perhaps Johann can come out of hiding,” daughter Ruth spoke up. For some reason, Ruth is a very popular girl’s name among Germans—even those who begrudge us the whites in our eyes, as we say here. This does not include our Ruth, mind you.
“Again, make haste slowly. And don’t go cheering too hard outside. You never know.”
I could speak only one word.
“Come again?” Peter asked.
“Today would have been the holiday of Purim.”
“It’s where we read the book of Esther, about how an evil man named Haman tried to kill all the Jews in Persia and they were saved.”
“I remember this book from Bible School,” Mrs. Baumann added. “Esther and her uncle Mordechai stopped him.”
“And Haman was hanged from the gallows he had prepared for Mordechai.”
I had lost my faith some years ago. But this was surely a most remarkable coincidence.