On November 15, 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the issue of the Kristallnacht at a White House press conference: “I could scarcely believe such things could occur in a twentieth century civilization.” Roosevelt's incomprehensibility referred to the night of November 9 - 10, 1938, in Germany and Austria which, within the course of just a few hours, 815 shops, 171 homes, and 76 synagogues were destroyed; an additional 191 synagogues were set on fire; 36 Jews were murdered, another 36 seriously injured, and some 20,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
The Kristallnacht marked Germany's final descent into the abyss of its barbarity which would precipitate the Second World War and Holocaust and result in tens of millions of deaths in Europe.
75 years later at the Minnesota State Capitol, the anniversary of the Kristallnacht was observed in the rotunda – the ceremonial and historic crossroads of our state.
The location of the remembrance was evocative due to its proximity to the legislative and judicial centers of Minnesota in a space surrounded by the Civil War battle flags of the Minnesota regiments.
The commemoration was one of the anchors of the programming associated with the exhibit “Lawyers Without Rights: Jewish Lawyers in Germany Under the Third Reich.” The exhibit teaches not only the fate of German Jewish lawyers after Hitler came to power but the dangers of the disintegration of the Rule of Law which can lead to genocide at any time or place.
(The exhibit and programming were brought to all of Minnesota – with events in the Twin Cities, Duluth and Virginia – under the aegis of Chief Judge J. Michael Davis and Judge Susan Richard Nelson of the Federal District Court of Minnesota in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, the Federal Bar Association (Minnesota Chapter), the Twin Cities Cardozo Society, and Associate Justice David Stras of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Particular thanks are owed to Judge Susan Richard Nelson for her continual stewardship of the project.)
Chief Judge Michael J. Davis began the commemoration noting the words inscribed in the atrium of the Minneapolis Federal Courthouse: “Equal Justice Under Law.” These fundamental words – the foundation of the Rule of Law – are etched in granite above the entrance to the Supreme Court of the United States of America. Similarly, with respect to the Kristallnacht commemoration, the ties of justice extend from Minnesota to Washington D.C. The architect of the Minnesota State Capitol, Cass Gilbert, was the architect of the United States Supreme Court.
Many themes were sounded in contemplating the Kristallnacht which was both a fissure in time and a continuation of the anti-Jewish “legislation” of the Reichstag and behavior of Germany.
One sound heard was music – patriotic, poignant, lilting – echoing through the State Capitol.
Another sound heard were the voices of the speakers articulating the themes, some of which highlights are noted here: Judge Susan Richard Nelson reminded us the collapse of the democratic Weimar Republic underscoring the fragility of the Rule of Law. Continual vigilance is necessary for a fair and just legal system to persevere.
The Honorable Samuel Kaplan, former United States Ambassador to Morocco, recalled his esteemed mentor, Minneapolis attorney Sidney Kaplan, and his role in helping to draft the indictments for the first Nuremberg war crimes trial.
Major General Richard C. Nash, Adjutant of the Minnesota National Guard – and great thanks are owed to the Minnesota National Guard for its partnership for the commemoration – reminded the gathering of the need to resist evil and the responsibility for preparation in the face of a “gathering storm.” General Nash invoked the service of Minnesota soldiers across the generations from the soldiers who defeated Nazi Germany in the European Theatre of Operations to his own command in Bosnia in the wake of the murderous ethnic cleansing of Bosnians. “Never again” he urged.
Sen. Rudy Boschwitz recalled the great foresight of his father who decided to leave Germany after Hitler became chancellor in 1933. As a refugee and a small child who came to the United States in 1935, Sen. Boschwitz recalled the pre-war years and World War II as a dark time for humanity. He urged, though, to recall the light of the Danes and Bulgarians and others “Among the Righteous” who saved Jews.
Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman, Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel (Minneapolis), recited the El malei rachamim memorial prayer, the Kaddish, for those who perished in the Holocaust remembering places throughout Europe where the Shoah was perpetrated.
Rep. Frank Hornstein, a member of the Minnesota legislature whose parents survived the Holocaust, told of returning to Poland and meeting the partisans with whom his mother fought in the 1944 Polish uprising in Warsaw. He told of meeting legislators in Poland and their dedication to fighting racism and anti-Semitism.
Associate Justice David Stras of the Minnesota Supreme Court, simply and powerfully, read from a speech of his grandfather – a Holocaust survivor – "Holocaust-Liberation-Aftereffects." Great thanks to Justice Stras and the Minnesota Supreme Court staff for making the logistical arrangements necessary for the Kristallnacht commemoration and the display of "Lawyers Without Rights" at the Minnesota Judicial Center. Justice Stras asked the Holocaust survivors present to stand.
I recognized the Holocaust survivors present: Fred Baron, Margo Berdass, Charles Fodor and Paula Rubin. I thanked them for coming to the United States and their example of the affirmation of life through raising families, starting businesses and loving their neighbors and country. I noted the presence of three JCRC presidents who are Temple Israel members: Jim Jacobson, Cliff Greene and Allen Saeks. (Former president Alan Weinblatt and board members Jeff Oberman and Joni Sussman also attended the commemoration.) I also thanked the Minnesota National Guard contingent present – Gen. Nash, Col. Eric Ahlness, Major Patricia Baker and Chaplain (Major) Philip “Buddy” Winn – for the ongoing partnerships in many projects with the JCRC.
I also thanked the network of Holocaust educators contributing to the "Lawyers Without Rights" exhibit including Prof. Daniel Wildeson of St. Cloud State University and Prof. Alejandro Baer of the University of Minnesota.
The procession of programming associated with the "Lawyers Without Rights" exhibit has also included a study of Minnesota's reaction to the Kristallnacht. Great thanks to the librarians of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and Minnesota Federal Court – Andrea Wambach and Kristyn Anderson – for their instrumental role in research and creating the placards of the display. Thank you, also, to JCRC intern Edmund Nevin for his research assistance at the Minnesota History Center. Michael Vicklund of the Minnesota Federal Court has been essential to all of the "Lawyers Without Rights" programming.
The programming of the "Lawyers Without Rights" shifted venues and direction to the Duluth Federal Courthouse from November 9 to November 14. The opening ceremony and reception took place on November 12th in the federal courthouse – whose origin (1934 and WPA) invoked the period of the disenfranchisement of German-Jewish lawyers and the prelude to World War II but also the great marshaling of American "Arsenal of Democracy" both in spirit and the military in defeating the Axis.
Again, as with each programming opportunity of the exhibit, every seat was filled. In the light of the dusk near the shores of Lake Superior, the speakers included: Chief Judge Michael J. Davis, Judge Susan Richard Nelson, Magistrate Judge Leo Brisbois, Rabbi David Steinberg, Prof. Deborah Petersen-Perlman, Leonore Baeumler and me. (I had the opportunity to note two special moments – one from the present and one from a generation ago. For the former, I introduced Minneapolis attorney Joe Kaminsky who attended the Duluth opening after a court appearance in Grand Marais earlier in the day. Joe Kaminsky's father was Felix Kaminsky who was saved by Oskar Schindler. For the latter, I recalled visiting in October, 1983 the American military cemetery for the Eighth Air Force in Cambridge, England. There touring this sacred American space abroad amid the crosses and stars of David, I came across the grave of Sgt. Held of Duluth.)
Judge Davis noted, with the backdrop of the ore boats which delivered to the east the Minnesota natural resource which became the steel of the war effort, that the Federal Courthouse is named for Gerald Heany, a Minnesotan from Duluth who became a judge of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Heaney was a United States Army Ranger who was among the first ashore at D-Day at Normandy.
After Duluth, the exhibit travelled to the University of Minnesota Law School, the IDS Center, and the Twin Cities Cardozo Society annual dinner. There was also programming in connection with the exhibit in Virginia, Minnesota. It was an honor and privilege to be associated with this powerful and moving exhibit.
As a twenty- year old staff sergeant, Gerry Boe from Cross Lake, Minnesota was one of the last American G.I.’s to ever place his hands on the lifeless body of Nazi Field Marshall Herman Goering. Born in Pequot Lakes in 1926 and now a resident of Crosslake, Minnesota, the now eighty-seven old Mr. Boe is understandably proud of his service to our nation during the Second World War. A collector of classic automobiles in pristine condition, Mr. Boe also carefully maintains documents, photographs, and artifacts – including an iconic “Eisenhower jacket” bearing the Big Red One of the 1st Infantry Division - from his tenure as a guard at the first Nuremberg War Crimes trial from 1945 – 1946. Charged with maintaining security as the architects of the “Final Solution” – the planned annihilation of six-million European Jews – faced some measure of justice at Nuremberg, Mr. Boe would have literally had a front-row seat to history had he not been standing guard at the back of the courtroom.
Mr. Boe appears in pictures from the trial standing mere feet away from the war criminal defendants. (Mr. Boe has a prize artifact from the trial: the front page of the November 3, 1946, Minneapolis Sunday Tribune with a color photograph of the courtroom scene which he keeps under a laminated cover. The caption to the newspaper picture asserts the photographer – Peyton Stallings of the University of Minnesota – took the only color pictures of the trial. Mr. Boe is present in the picture.)
With great energy belying his age, Mr. Boe still enthusiastically travels throughout Minnesota sharing his story of what he witnessed at Nuremberg and before that as a soldier in the Second World War. Speaking often alongside Nuremberg clerk-stenographer, Larry Tillemans, Mr. Boe ensures that the lessons of the Holocaust are not lost on those who did not personally witness the horrors of the Third Reich. If you are fortunate enough to attend one of Mr. Boe’s lectures, please be sure to ask him about the time convicted Nazi war criminal Goering began to address the court without permission after his death sentence had been pronounced. Struck by his insolence, Mr. Boe immediately took his nightstick and authoritatively told Goering to “sit down.” Please ask him as well about Goering’s suicide in his Nuremberg cell on October 15, 1946, shortly before his scheduled October 16th execution. While Mr. Boe has no particular insight into how Goering managed to escape the hangman’s noose, he along with fellow Minnesotan, Douglas Saxfold, were ordered to drag Goering’s body from his cell. Accordingly, after conspiring to murder millions, Goering met his ignominious end at the hands of two Minnesotans.
As we honor Gerry Boe and Larry Tillemans today, we also recall proudly the service of Sidney Kaplan and Justice William Christianson who respectively served as the attorney who drafted the initial indictment at Nuremberg and as a judge at one of the subsequent Nuremberg War Trials. Collectively, these veterans embodied the best of a generation of Minnesotans who were credited by the WPA’s American Guide Series as representing the “exuberance of youth” in one of the “most rapidly developing states in the Union.” Whether it was defeating Hitler or forging striking innovations in energy, technology, and farming, they built a world which was not only safer for democracy, but more prosperous as well.
Finally, it is worth noting that for years, Mr. Boe did not speak of his experience during the Nuremberg war crimes trial. Like so many other World War II veterans that he knew, Gerry Boe simply wanted to move ahead with his life upon discharge from the service. Older now and with perhaps greater perspective, Mr. Boe has grown more introspective. Pondering the many photographs which he brings with him on his many speaking engagements, Mr. Boe called our attention to a picture of the iconic Iwo Jima Memorial which is especially meaningful to him. In it, Gerry Boe sees the extra hands represented in the sculpture reaching out for the American flag as the hands of God reaching out to our flag and our nation. On this Veterans’ Day may God be with Gerry Boe, Larry Tillemans and all those who have served our nation so faithfully so that we may be free and at peace.
The Iwo Jima memorial is meaningful to Mr. Boe. He sees the extra hands represented in the sculpture reaching out for the American flag as the hands of God reaching out to the flag and nation.
The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom falls in a year rich with commemorations in a civil rights vein--including the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was no coincidence that the March occurred in the year of the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation at a time when the Civil Rights and Voting Rights legislation were a year away from passage. (As Martin Luther King, Jr. noted at the beginning of his “I Have a Dream” speech: “But 100 years later, the Negro is not yet free.”) Of the speakers present at the March, only Rep. John Lewis remains alive--one of the great Americans of our time.
I had the privilege and pleasure of hearing Rep. Lewis speak in 2008 at the plenum of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs in Atlanta. (The venue of the speech was "The Temple"--the historic synagogue of the city--and a target of civil rights era violence. More on this below.)
Rep. Lewis recounted marches in which he participated: the grandeur, promise and Call to Action of August 28, 1963. The preparation for the March included a meeting with President Kennedy in June, 1963 in which Rep. Lewis participated as the Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. ("In 1963 we could not register to vote simply because of the color of our skin" remarked Rep. Lewis at Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 2013, at the "Let Freedom Ring" commemoration.) Indeed, the speech of Rep. Lewis was a challenge to the Kennedy administration to get serious about Voting Rights legislation with teeth. (At the urging of A. Philip Randolph, Rep. Lewis tempered his remarks. He redacted, for instance, his sentence that "segregation is evil and must be destroyed in all forms." [See Meteor Blades at Daily Kos, August 25, 2013, for the transcript of Rep. Lewis' March on Washington speech which includes the portions struck from his speech as delivered].) Rep. Lewis' unalloyed call for what rightfully belonged to African Americans by natural law and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments was heightened by the authority, personality and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he spoke: “There will be neither rest or tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.” (Another upper Midwest connection is the work of Rep. Lewis with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, of Wisconsin, in a bipartisan effort to renew the Voting Rights Act.)
The legislative advance of civil rights through the Congress via the breaking of the southern filibuster in the United States Senate did not result in acquiescence in many areas below the Mason-Dixon. The idea of African Americans voting in large numbers in the South remained an incendiary issue. Seeking to emphasize federally guaranteed voting rights and access to public accommodations, the Selma to Montgomery March of March 7, 1965, started quietly with a church service. Marching two by two, the participants were stopped as they reached the end of the Edmund Pettis Bridge. Alabama state troopers and local law enforcement set upon the marchers. Fifty-eight marchers were wounded and treated at a Selma hospital including John Lewis who suffered a head fracture. The day became known as "Bloody Sunday."
The seizure of power by the Egyptian military marks yet another convulsion in the thirty months of increasing instability in the Arab world which began in Tunisia.
Touring the Middle East – including and beyond its Arab component – presents this stark geographic picture from the perspective of Israel and its remarkable stability.
Egypt (386,700 square miles) – which has long seen its deep history and large population as its foundation for leadership in the Arab world – has gone from Mubarak to Morsi to the military in 2.5 years following a leadership chain of Nasser to Sadat to Mubarak which lasted 55 years. In the last thirty or so years, Egypt honored its cold peace with Israel while receiving billions of dollars of foreign aid from the United States. The Egyptian military immediately faces three areas of instability either within Egypt or Gaza: 1) the protests in Cairo; 2) arms smuggling with either Jihadist and/or Iranian influence or origin in the Sinai peninsula; and 3) Gaza with Hamas – vowing Israel's destruction trying to maintain its own order with a finger on its rockets – with a backdrop of either more radical-terrorist elements trying to provoke conflict with Hamas by attacking Israel. Given these circumstances how far will the Egyptian military go in restoring calm? And how much will its behavior reflect larger issues in the Arab world from Amman to Damascus to Beirut – not to mention the ongoing Sunni oil-producing states’ considerable and legitimate fear of Iran's nuclear program? From a United States and Israel vantage point, the former has its foreign aid leverage for a country whose tourism trade has largely evaporated; the latter can – largely only watch from a distance, albeit a short distance – and wonder if any power configuration will emerge which will provide a stable regime on Israel's southern border – keeping in mind the poverty and despair of the Egyptian people which precipitated the Tahrir Square revolution in the first place in 2011.
The three 1920s and 1930s Arab states – that is nations carved out of the carcass of the Ottoman Empire through such demarche as Sykes-Picot – are teetering towards the salinity line between order and disorder in varying degrees (Lebanon and Jordan) or have descended into the abyss of civil war and humanitarian crisis (Syria). Beginning with the smallest and arguably the most fragile Lebanon (4,036 square miles) "hosts" both Hezbollah which has planted a Shia (Iranian vassal state-let) in Lebanon as a frontal position for Iran's terrorism with Israel which has all but crippled the decades-long power sharing agreement between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon. Meanwhile, the Hezbollah support for the Assad regime, in Syria in accordance with Iranian Middle East strategy, has intensified the Syrian civil war forcing large numbers of Syrians to enter Lebanon (and Jordan and Turkey) as refugees.
Next door in Syria (71,498 square miles) nearly 100,000 have died – with Bashar Assad pursuing full-scale war against his opponents trying to oust his minority regime – a conflict whose large-scale bloodshed dates back to 1982. Israel's northern Golan border was once characterized by an uneasy but long-standing modus operandi with Syria, but now, just a few miles beyond the frontier, a great proxy conflict between the Shia and Sunni worlds has erupted which can’t help but impact Israel beyond the wounded of the Syrian civil war it is treating and the artillery and mortar fire which has crossed the border into the Golan. Meanwhile, Russia has embarked upon Cold War-like stratagem of pursuing its own interests relentlessly in Syria including the provision of sophisticated anti-aircraft to the Assad regime which the West had implored Putin not to send. This is an issue for United States and Russian relations and geo-political influence.
In geographical summary, Israel's 8,019 square miles is an outpost of democratic stability – relatively – among the 1,436,806 square miles of these six nations bordering on all sides of Israel or just beyond Israel's horizon – this does not take into account the future of Iraq.
Amid the human suffering which is Syria, some historians and other commentators are suggesting the civil war and participating proxies represent the denouement of the end of the Ottoman Empire a century after the fall of Sultan Mehmed VI and the rise of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. At the risk of seeming callous in seeking historical context when tens of thousands of people have died in a conflict in which Bashar Assad has used chemical warfare against fellow Syrians and the Syrian regime, Iran (for Iran, see The pentagon’s 2013 Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat Assessment describing the efforts of China, Iran and North Korea to develop and share advanced ballistic technology.), Hezbollah, Russia and Israel are preparing for possible war. Nevertheless in a war where choosing between the sides is a Hobson's choice, Americans ought to have some background of why so many are staring into the abyss.
Among the many historical facets leading to July, 2013 are the contradictory impulses (some would say promises) of British foreign and imperial policy during and after the First World War. Certain representations were made to Arab Middle East interests in exchange for fomenting of uprising against the Ottoman Turks in the McMahon-Hussein correspondence. Two years later, with Russia tottering on the brink of the Bolshevik Revolution, United Kingdom Foreign Secretary James Arthur Balfour wrote to Baron Rothschild noting his Majesty's government "viewing with favor the establishment of a Jewish National Home" in Palestine. Astride these promises was a mutual British and French imperial motivation to carve up the Ottoman Empire as it was purportedly disintegrating under pressures of the First World War and the internal contradictions of national minorities seeking their Independence.
This last demarche was portrayed most vividly in the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916. Or as described by Israel's Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren: "The map of the region — drawn a century ago by European powers to reflect imperial interests rather than ethnic realities" (Washington Post, 5/24/13). The territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River (including the ports of Haifa and Acre) and southern Iraq was allocated to the United Kingdom. Southeast Turkey, northern Iraq, Syria and Lebanon were assigned to France. These territorial designations would in some instances become national boundaries.
These national boundaries had little relationship with a coherent national identity. In David Fromkin's "A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East" (Henry Holt & Company, 1989), the author relates the experience of the de Bunson committee whose recommendations preceded Sykes-Picot. Tasked with defining the best interests of Britain, the committee believed there were four alternatives: 1) Annexation of the Ottoman territories by the Allies; 2) Dividing the territories into spheres of influence; 3) Leaving the Ottoman Empire in place – with a subservient government; and 4) Decentralizing the Empire into semi-autonomous units. Per number 3, there was a camp within the British government which faired keeping the Ottoman Empire believing its disappearance would "presage" the disappearance of the British Empire.
The spheres of influence in combination with annexation which informed Sykes-Picot was the result of deliberations – as Fromkin points out – as the committee feeling free to "remake the face of the Middle East as they saw fit." There was no need to follow lines of existing political subdivisions. Greek and Latin classics with their geographical terms studied at public school became the basis of territorial division as did national aspirations centuries old. There was the historic French mission to rule the Levant and protect its Christian communities. There was the long-standing British imperative to secure the Empire with a Middle East presence which protected the trade and communications networks to India.
Sir Mark Sykes believed – despite the British and French primary desire to remake the Middle East in their Anglo-French image – he could reconcile the various national aspirations at the post World War I negotiations. Mark Sykes intentions – sometimes quickly shifting intentions – have been analyzed by his son, Christopher Sykes – a respected Middle East historian ("Cross Roads to Israel-Palestine from Balfour to Bevin" [Collins, 1965]) with British diplomatic and military experience in Egypt and Iran. Christopher Sykes explores the motivation of his father in a book of two extended essays: "Two Studies in Virtue" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1953). Both Christopher Sykes (and Fromkin) agree that a cause in which Mark Sykes believed was Jewish-Arab friendship. Mark Sykes envisioned a pro-Allied partnership of Arab, Jewish and Armenian interests. Sadly, whether ever realistic or not – such affinity has likely never seen so remote.
The complexity which Sykes-Picot failed to appreciate or ascertain about the Middle East is seen in the series of bad options which the United States faces with the Syrian civil war and throughout the Middle East. Is there any ground between the murderous Bashar Assad regime aided by Hezbollah and Iran and the Jihadist opposition with its Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda elements? Keeping in mind each side would like to have control of Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons with which to threaten Israel.
American military intervention in Syria has almost no supporters. This recognizes the intractable situation which Americans would face in Syria. Much can be learned from the experiences of American soldiers in Iraq. Click here for an essay from Corporal Eddie Nevin – now completing his degree at the University of Minnesota in Global Studies with a regional focus on the Middle East – about his Marine Corps experience in Iraq against the backdrop of his current studies about the Middle East.
In a time when Israel’s ethos is wrapped up in remarkable statistics – as the 100th smallest country in the world, Israel has played a significant role in the development of the cell phone; Windows NT and XP operating systems; Pentium MMX chip technology and voicemails; with a net gain of trees entering the 21st century; developing the first fully computerized, no-radiation, diagnostic instrumentation for breast cancer, to name just a few devellopments.
It is easy to forget the painfully slow process of building political support for a Jewish state. There are interesting Minnesota connections to the incremental political steps which culminated in David Ben Gurion reading Israel’s Declaration of Independence 65 years ago on May 14, 1948 at the Tel Aviv Museum. These Minnesota connections include a role played in the decision of President Harry Truman to recognize the State of Israel only eleven minutes after the Declaration went into force.
In terms of the possibility of a Jewish state in the ancient homeland of the Jewish people, Minnesota was on the scene early in the aftermath of the First World War. This was a time when the victorious Allied powers (the United States, Great Britain and France) were creating the 20th and 21st century Middle East – for better or for worse – with the nations we know today as Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. (See David Fromkin’s “A Peace to End All Peace” ) A fulcrum at the making of the modern Middle East resulting from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire was the Paris Peace Conference. Present at the conference were delegations from throughout the world trying to generate support for their national political aspirations. (David Ben Gurion and Ho Chi Minh met while staying at the same hotel in Paris in 1919, the same year Ben Gurion signed an agreement with Emir Faisal pledging cooperation in their respective national movements.)
The competition for influence and profile in Paris occurred on both sides of the Atlantic. The United States emerged from the First World War relatively unscathed – in contrast to the devastating losses suffered by the European combatants – with President Wilson determined to remake the world in accordance with his “Fourteen Points” speech. Point 12 was “Non-Turks in the old Turkish Empire should govern themselves.” Point 14 called for the creation of a League of Nations “to guarantee the political and territorial independence of all states.” These Wilsonian points – first articulated in a speech to the United States Senate on January 8, 1918 – were the point of contact between American idealism and the European penchant for “Great Games” as represented by the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
These Wilsonian Points became the point of departure for those interests in the Middle East (Jewish, Arab and others) seeking their say in the Paris Peace Conference. The campaign to strengthen Jewish interests in the Paris Peace Conference had an American corollary. This road led both through Washington, DC and the nation’s state capitols, including Saint Paul. In Rabbi Gunter Plaut’s “The Jews in Minnesota: The First 75 Years” (American Jewish Historical Society, 1959) he reports passage of the following resolution by the Minnesota House of Representatives in 1919:
“JOURNALOf TheHOUSEOf The FORTY-FIRST SESSION Of The LEGISLATURE Of The STATE OF MINNESOTA
69th Day] FRIDAY, APRIL 11, 1919. 1541
AFTERNOON SESSION.___________At 2:30 o'clock P. M. the House reconvened.
Mr. Levin offered the following concurrent resolution:
Whereas the future prosperity and peace of the world depend upon the just and equitable settlement of the European war, whereby each and every nationality, however small, shall be granted the liberty of determining its own destiny and the opportunity of living its own life.
And Whereas the government of the United States of America is recognized as an urgent exponent of the rights of the small nations;
Therefore, Be it Resolved by the House of Representatives of the State of Minnesota, the Senate concurring, that it is our opinion that the national aspirations and the historical c1aims of the Jewish people with regard to Palestine, be recognized at the Peace Conference in accordance with the British Government's declaration of November 2nd, 1917, that there shall be established such political, administrative and economic conditions in Palestine as will assure the development of Palestine into a Jewish commonwealth and that American representatives at the Peace Conference shall use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object.
Be It Further Resolved that it is our opinion that express provisions be made at the Peace Conference for the purpose of granting Jewish people in every land the complete enjoyment
of life and liberty and to the end that justice may be done to one of the most suffering people on earth, the Jewish people,
And Be It Further Resolved That a copy of these resolutions be transmitted by the Chief Clerk to the President of the United States.
Mr. Levin moved the adoption of the resolution.
Which motion prevailed.
Mr. Swenson, O. A., moved a call of the House.
The roll being called, the following members answered to their names:
Adams, Anderson, Arens, Arneson, Baxter, Bendixen, Bernard, Berve, Bouck, Boyd, Briggs, Brophe,Burdorf, Burrows, Carlson”
Minnesota became the ninth state to pass such a resolution at the time it was considered.
The resolution – while largely symbolic from a Minnesota vantage point – was both prescient and a marker for the deliberate pace of the incremental building of support for Zionism inside and outside of the Jewish community in the United States. It would take until 1942 – at a gathering of Zionist leaders from 18 countries known as the Biltmore Conference – for adoption of a resolution calling for a “Jewish Commonwealth” in Palestine echoing the 1919 Minnesota resolution. By this time, the Holocaust was well underway by the Einsatzgruppen in German occupied Soviet Union and by design, in the aftermath of the Wannsee Conference in January, 1942.
* * * * * * *
The events of May 1948 were dramatic as the British evacuated Palestine having declared an end to their mandate – against a backdrop of the November 1947 United Nations’ vote partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The bloody struggle for Palestine had begun in earnest shortly after the partition vote with the Arab Higher Committee vowing to destroy any nascent Jewish state. Again, across the Atlantic, a corollary struggle was unfolding in Washington, DC as the various parties sought to influence the Truman Administration and the policy it would follow for the future of Palestine after the end of the British Mandate on May 14, 1948.
There was a Minnesota connection to the political denouement in the White House: the Minnesotan, Max Lowenthal. Mr. Lowenthal’s role hasn’t been completely lost to history – it is discussed in the 1990 book by Michael J. Cohen, “Truman and Israel.” (Lowenthal’s papers are now fully organized and indexed at the University of Minnesota’s Andersen Library.)
In broadest strokes, this history is the story of Max Lowenthal earning the trust of Harry Truman over years of work. It is also the story of Mr. Lowenthal being in the right place at the right time as a presidential assistant – where counsel, given quietly, was deeply considered.
Mr. Lowenthal was a University of Minnesota graduate and graduated Harvard Law School in 1912. (His father was a founder of Kenesseth Israel Synagogue in Minneapolis.)
* Mr. Lowenthal, according to the Cohen book, was a protégé of Justice Louis Brandeis. Lowenthal introduced Truman to Brandeis and others in Jewish “New Deal” Washington, DC circles.
* Lowenthal served as chief counsel to the Senate Interstate Commerce Committee from 1935-1942 where he and Truman met and established a friendship that lasted until Truman’s death in 1973.
* Vic Messell, Truman’s secretary in the Senate commented: “Lowenthal was a mystery man… He exercised power behind the scenes…”
* Key Truman presidential advisor Clark Clifford brought Lowenthal to the White House in 1947 as Clifford’s chief advisor on Palestine affairs. Lowenthal wrote voluminous memoranda on the subject of Palestine with, according to Clifford, the underlying premise: “The United States should support the Zionist cause, come what may.”
In the momentous days leading up to May 15, 1948, Lowenthal’s memoranda were a critical counterworking center-of-gravity to the pro-Arab positions of the State Department and Department of Defense. He argued in one memorandum that maximum advantage for the United States lay in an “immediate statement” that he [Truman] intends to recognize the Jewish state when it is proclaimed.” Lowenthal asserted this recognition was consistent with American national interests since it would strengthen the US relative to the USSR, reduce violence in Palestine and strengthen the United Nations.
Truman wrote a letter to Lowenthal in 1952 in which he noted:
“I know exactly how you feel about the ideas of your not wanting to be considered as benefactor to the State of Israel but I don’t know why you should because I don’t know who has done more for Israel than you have.”
Yet, when Lowenthal was interviewed by the Truman library staff in 1967, according to Michael Cohen, he claimed he never discussed Israel with Truman during that time – at all. Lowenthal said he heard second hand from another White House staffer about Truman’s decision to recognize Israel.
Putting aside the issue of Max Lowenthal’s modesty, President Truman’s decision to recognize Israel was a decision of historic proportions which has echoed throughout the world ever since.