Sunday, May 8, 2016

Reading Exodus by Leon Uris: Part 3

Continuing from Part 1 and Part 2 let us continuing looking at the 1958 novel Exodus by Leon Uris. Currently Ari Ben Canaan is masterminding a mass escape of Jewish refugees to break the British restrictions on the immigration of Jews to Palestine.

This post discusses events described from Chapter 22 to Chapter 1 of Book 2.

(Note: There will be spoilers.)

Nationalist Dreams in Poland

Beginning with Chapter 22 Dov Landau's story leading up to his detention in Caraolos, Cyprus by the British begins. He came from Poland. The history of the Jews in Poland is discussed.

The following sentence mentions that many Jews fought with Poles to defend the nation as it was gradually conquered by the surrounding nations in the 18th Century.
During these Polish struggles the Jews took up arms and fought alongside the Poles, placing the cause of the larger nation above their own. (Chapter 22, p. 114.)
Perhaps fighting for the government of the land they happened to live in was their own cause as well. The dream of creating a Jewish State only grew into a movement in 19th Century Europe. Before then the dream had no movement behind it.

The Jewish religion has existed for thousands of years. Nationalism only arose with the establishment of the modern nation states in the modern era. Precisely when nationalism as we know it arose is open to debate. Some suggest it first arose in Britain in the early 1700s. Perhaps it was the French Revolution that made a nation state arise in Europe later to be imitated all over the world.

Dov Landau's father was Mendel Landau. The fervor of the dream of a Jewish state within the Zionist movement in Poland after World War I is described.
He [Mendel Landau] gave his children the idea that the Jews must someday return to Palestine and re-establish their ancient state. Only as a nation could they ever find equality. ... He did not believe, in his wildest moments, that he would ever see Palestine, nor did he believe his children would ever see Palestine. But he did believe in the idea. (pp. 114-5.)
It is mentioned that there were numerous strands of Zionist movements in Poland at the time.
Mendel was not alone among the Polish Jews. Of Poland's three and a half million Jews, there were hundreds of thousands who followed the same start, and from them spouted the springs of Zionism. There were religious Zionists, labor Zionists, small militant Zionist groups, and middle-class merchant Zionists. (p. 115.)
One wonders about the Polish Jews (seemingly the majority) who happened to not be in these nationalist movements. They are not discussed in any detail within Dov's story.

In this particular story the characters of the Mendel family are associated with a labor Zionist movement, the Redeemers.
Because he was a trade-unionist, Mendel's family belonged to a labor-Zionist group who called themselves the Redeemers. The entire social life of the Landaus revolved around the Redeemers. From time to time there were speakers from Palestine, there was recruiting work, there were books and pamphlets and discussions and songs and dances and endless hope to keep the idea alive. (p. 115.)
It is mentioned that those who dreamed of helping create a Jewish homeland in the Holy Land learned agriculture.
The Redeemers, like other Zionist groups, ran agricultural centers where boys and girls could be trained to work the land. And every so often the Redeemers sent a group to Palestine to cultivate newly purchased land. (p. 115.)
In all likelihood that land was purchased by the Jewish National Fund, an organization created in 1901 dedicated to purchasing land in Palestine to encourage and implement the immigration of Jews to Palestine to help bring the dream of a Jewish state into reality.

But if a Jewish state is to be created in Palestine what is to be done about the hundreds of thousands of non-Jews who were already living there? Namely the Palestinians. (Or in the context of this novel, Palestinian Arabs.) When Mendel Landau's dream of a Jewish nation sate in Palestine is discussed in this section of the novel the non-Jewish Palestinians already living there are not discussed.

Eichmann was Born in Palestine?
SS Colonel Eichmann ... had been born in Palestine... (p. 117.)
The Nazi genocidal criminal was actually born in Solingen, Germany on March 19, 1906. However the criminal did visit Palestine in 1937. Perhaps the word "born" was misplaced here. If so it should have read "SS Colonel Eichmann ... had been in Palestine" and that statement would be correct.

The Horrors of the Holocaust

At this point the horrors of the Holocaust begins to be described. This time the situation in Poland is discussed. As is well known the Nazis committed many of the most infamous crimes of the Holocaust in Poland. Some of them are discussed in this part of the novel.

In September 1939 the Nazis invaded Poland.
Mendel Landau was killed in battle along with more than thirty thousand other Jewish soldiers who wore the uniform of Poland. (p. 115.)
Those courageous soldiers fought and died defending their homeland from the aggression of the Nazis. Jews and Christians fought and died together protecting their beloved homeland. Their courage was undoubted. Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond their control it was not possible for them to defeat the Nazis. Poland was quickly subdued and viciously trodden underfoot by the Nazis.

It is mentioned that the Nazis deported many Jews in Poland to be exterminated in Treblinka on Tisha B'Ab 1942. In a cruel insult the Nazis chose to inflict this genocidal atrocity against the Jews on the same day that the destruction of the Temples by the Babylonians and the Romans are commemorated. (p. 122.)

The courageous Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943 is described.
The Polish people ... had been told previously that the Jews were cowards ... (Chapter 23, p. 127.)
This is merely a hateful stereotype used to mock and dehumanize people, in this instance Jews. It is a nonsensical stereotype. Jews are of course as courageous as any other people. This was true with those who fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Jewish soldiers who fought in the Polish armed forces defending the nation from the Nazi invasion in 1939.
Their [the Nazis'] press and radio were indignant over the Jewish Bolsheviks who were causing all the trouble. (p. 128.)
The Nazis often blamed Jews collectively for the existence of Communist movements. In anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda it was often asserted that the Communist parties were merely puppets controlled by the Jews collectively in some sinister conspiracy. Of course these were merely lying stereotypes but the Nazi regime used lies like that to justify the demonization, marginalization and eventually the extermination of Jews throughout Europe.

It is mentioned that the Germans attacked the brave rebels in the Warsaw ghetto on Passover. Once again the Nazis' vindictive tendency to inflict violence against Jews on sacred days occurs once again. (p. 128.)

As the revolt continued onto its latter stages and supplies and ammunition was gradually running out the following meeting is described of these brave and courageous freedom fighters against Nazi genocidal tyranny.
They sang a song that they had learned as children at Redeemer meetings. The song told them that the land in Galilee in Eretz Israel was beautiful and that wheat grew in the fields and the grain bent softly in the wind. In a bunker in the Warsaw ghetto they sang of the fields of Galilee that they knew they would never see. (p. 130.)
How terrible it is that the Nazis committed the wicked work of genocide that they did.

Cruelty and Humiliation in the Holocaust

The Nazis did not only murder the Jews. They also insulted and humiliated them in many ways. One grotesque thing the Nazis did was to force Jews to dispose of the bodies of those who had just been gassed to death in the gas chambers. They were called the Sonderkommandos. The Nazis murdered the innocent Jews and forced Jews to remove the bodies and dispose of the bodies. On page 142 of this novel Dov Landau is forced to become one of the Sonderkommandos. Knowing that they witnessed the genocidal crimes of the Nazis most of them were also exterminated by the Nazis in an attempt to eliminate witnesses.

One factor that contributed to the enactment of the genocide is that the Nazis spread all kinds of foul lies vilifying and devaluing Jews. The Nazis created an ideology that racialized good and evil. The Nazis cast themselves as the good ones and the Jews were demonized as the source of all evil. Even if an "Aryan" had done something wrong the Nazis insisted that somehow a Jewish person caused his failing or misfortune.

The Nazis falsely equated Jews in general with the Communists in Russia. The Nazis alleged that there was some "Judeo-Masonic" conspiracy in operation against the Nazis. The Nazis claimed these foul acts of murder against Jews were somehow in retaliation for the war because, the Nazis claimed, it was the Jews who started the war.

But somehow even knowing these things it seems deficient to use these to "explain" how the horrors of the Holocaust could occur. Even knowing how the Nazis demonized their innocent victims the multitudes of murders the Nazis committed are still unfathomable, horrid and shocking. It is frightening to imagine that some people choose to deny these things, even some former WCG members.

The Nazis' genocide against the Jews in the Holocaust in which about six million Jews were murdered is ghastly and horrifying beyond words.

Post-War Anti-Jewish Violence in Poland

After the Allies triumphed against the Nazi regime in 1945 unfortunately there were still many problems in Poland. The Nazis oppressed the Poles as well and committed many terrible things against them. But the Nazis tried to divide the people within Poland against each other in order to rule over them all. The negative legacy of these tactics continued to wreck havoc even after the war's end.
They smashed Jewish shops and beat up Jews who tried to return to their homes and property. (Chapter 26, p. 144.)
During Nazi rule the Nazis tried to corrupt some Poles by giving them the houses and property looted from Jews who had been deported and murdered by the Nazis. After the war some of the surviving Jews returned to their homes only to discover that others had moved in. Shamefully some of these Polish persons shamefully chose to lash out in violence and even murdered Jews who were simply looking to go back home. The fact that many Jews suffered so much and resisted the Nazis was contemptuously ignored by those individuals guilty of such violence.

The most infamous incident of anti-Jewish violence in Poland after World War II was the Kielce pogrom on July 4, 1946 in which at least 38 Jews were murdered by a mob, supported by police personnel, that had been incited into a state of rage and took actions in their own hands.

For whatever reason these acts of deadly violence against Jews after World War II in Poland are not directly mentioned in this part of the novel. Persecution is mentioned but no acts of deadly violence is directly mentioned.

Journey to Palestine

In the novel Dov waits among despondent refugees in Poland after the war. Until heroes arise from Palestine to these refugees.
"I have been sent from Palestine to take you people ... home!" ... A free Jew--from Palestine! (p. 144.)
At the time this scene was set Palestine was ruled by the British. There was not yet an independent Jewish state in existence.
... the Polish government issued an astonishing edict; it proclaimed that all Jews were to remain in Poland. ... Thus the Jews were locked in a country that did not want them and locked out of the country that did want them. (p. 145.)
It is really so "astonishing" that a government would want their people to stay in the country? Poland had been devastated by World War II and it is reasonable to assume that they were desperate for any help to rebuild the nation. So why wouldn't the Polish government want to keep the Polish Jews in Poland? If they left then they would not be able to help rebuild the nation.

The author writes that "the Jews were locked in a country that did not want them". This statement has an unfortunate vagueness. Clearly some Poles were hostile to Jews even, as horrid it is to imagine, after the horrors of the Holocaust. But this cannot be true of every non-Jewish person in Poland. Since the Polish government tried to restrict Jews leaving Poland clearly the Polish government wanted them to stay in Poland. However it is evident that this expectation was unrealistic as long as violence against Jews occurred. With anti-Jewish violence such as the Kielce pogrom occurring and so much of the Jewish population already exterminated by the Nazis it is little wonder that many Jews soon left Poland.

The author writes that these survivors were "locked out of the country that did want them." This is only true if one ignores the Palestinian Arabs and the British who were ruling Palestine at the time. One of the main themes of this novel is the attempt to break the British blockade restricting the immigration of Jews to Palestine. So the rulers of the "country that did want them" actually were restricting Jewish immigration at the time of this setting.

Later hundreds of these refugees, including the protagonist Dov Landau, board the Promised Land trying to break the British blockade against Jewish immigration to Palestine. However it is boarded by a British ship on international waters and a deadly confrontation erupted.
Palmachniks unrolled accordions of barbed wire in the path of the British and then loosed a barrage of rocks on them, followed by streams of water from pressure hoses. (Chapter 27, p. 151.)
Fifteen Jews, including the character Bill Fry, and eight British were killed in the British seizure of the Promised Land. (p. 152.)

The Promised Land was emptied of her passengers and they taken back to Toulon, France but the refugees on there refused to leave and stayed on the ships for six weeks. After this the British sent the Empire Guardian and the Empire Renown to go Hamberg, Germany. The Magna Charta meanwhile went to Caraolos, Cyprus and detained the refugees there.

The Escape Led by the Flawless Ari

At Caraolos Dov Landau founds himself there and eventually he is recruited to make forged papers to help break the British blockade against Jewish immigrants heading for Palestine. He meets Ari Ben Canaan. And like just about every other character in this novel he adores Ari.
Dov secretly liked Ari Ben Canaan. He was direct and to the point and let Dov know that if he didn't work he was going to be the last Jew out of Caraolos. But more, Dov liked that quality of leadership in the man.... (p. 159.)
Of course Dov likes Ari. Ari is an author insert character. In Hebrew Ari means lion. The author's name nears the same meaning. Ari has been blessed by the author as being flawless, or at least too flawless. He is Leon/Ari.

Starting at Chapter 29 we return to the main story line in Cyprus.

The flawless Ari returns.
Ari walked up to Mandria and hugged him in the Palmach manner. "You have been a friend," he said. "I must go and meet Parker now."

Mandria stood there with tears streaming down his cheeks for he knew that this kind of affection was reserved for one of their own and to receive it from Ari Ben Canaan meant that he had been accepted fully as one of them. (p. 161.)
Later Mark and Ari get into an argument.
[Mark:] "... You see, I like people with human weaknesses."

[Ari:] "I never have those during working hours." (p. 162.)
It seems even the author himself noticed that his character Ari just might be so flawless readers will notice.

On pages 164-5 many of the characters are described on the night before the escape attempt is made on the Exodus. All are described as being nervous and apprehensive about what will happen on the fateful day of escape. Will it succeed? Will they evade the British and get to Palestine? Will it all go horribly wrong? Last of all Ari is mentioned.
One man slept soundly. Ari Ben Canaan slept like a well-fed baby without a care in the world. (p. 165.)
The flawless Leon/Ari is blessed with the author's favor. He even bears the author's name. No wonder he is so relaxed.

The Confrontation

The Exodus gets caught by the British shortly after leaving the dock. The crew of the Exodus respond defiantly.
[The British military personnel] on the quay stood speechless as a flag was run up on the mast of the Exodus. It was a British Union Jack and in its center was painted a huge Nazi swastika. (pp. 171-2.)
Responding to the Exodus British officials meet up to decide what to do. The meeting is decided by the hardliner Cecil Bradshaw. He criticizes the US government.
"With all of Truman's talk the Americans have only allowed ten thousand Jewish refugees into the country since the end of the war. Certainly Truman is for Zionism ... as long as Palestine isn't in Pennsyvania...." (Chapter 30, p. 174.)
It is indeed true that during the 1930s that some Jews who were fleeing Nazi persecution were not allowed to migrate to the United States. This includes the infamous MS St. Louis incident of 1939.

The villain Bradshaw says the following.
"...The Zionists are very clever people. For twenty-five years they have made us the villains in Palestine. They write words into the mandate articles that were never meant. They can argue a camel into thinking he is a mule. ... two hours with Chaim Weizmann and I'm about ready to join the Zionists myself." (p. 174.)
This character is a villain. These words also alludes to the fact that there are different views about the meaning and obligations of the mandate articles concerning British rule in Palestine.

Ari Speaks Out

As the strike continues Mark interviews Ari to share his views. Ari lambasts the British for betraying the Jews in Palestine.
"Whitehall is using that tired whipping boy, the mysterious Zionists, to cover three decades of dirty work, lies to both Jews and Arabs, sellouts, double crosses, and betrayals in the mandate. The first promise they broke was the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which promised a Jewish homeland, and they have been breaking promises ever since. The latest double cross has come from the Labour party, which, before the elections, promised to open the doors of Palestine to survivors of Hitler's regime. (p. 177.)
Ari condemns the British government for lying to Arabs as well. But in this statement he is not specifically discussing Palestinian Arabs but Arabs in general. Also the reference here to British "lies to both Jews and Arabs" is made to condemn British policy toward Palestine. This is little fixation on what wrongs the British authorities did to the Arabs in general and the Arabs in Palestine specifically. The Palestinian Arabs are not directly discussed in and of themselves.

Ari issues a challenge to the British.
If Whitehall is so concerned about the welfare of these children then I challenge them to throw open the gates of Caraolos to inspection of the newsmen. It is nothing more or less than a concentration camp. People are kept behind barbed wire at machine-gun point with insufficient food, water, and medical care. No charges have been brought against these people. But they are forcibly detained in Caraolos. (p. 177.)
It was not only in Caraolos that the British detained people without charges. In Palestine as well the British authorities imposed administrative detention. This was imposed by the British in Palestine in 1945-8. This practice was later continued in the State of Israel and continues to be used by the State of Israel to this day. It is usually used against Palestinians.

Mark went onto the Exodus again.
Ari was in the wheelhouse as placid as ever. (p. 179.)
Of course he is this placid. He is the flawless Leon/Ari. He bears the author's name and the author's favor.

The Refugees' Desperation

To put pressure on the British Ari led the children on the Exodus to go on a hunger strike to break the blockade. Mark and Kitty discuss this drastic act. During the conversation Mark says the following expressing his amazement at these people who are so desperate to get to Palestine.
I wonder if we really understand what is driving those people so hard. Have you ever seen Palestine? It's worthless desert in the south end and eroded in the middle and swamp up north. It's stinking, it's sun-baked, and it is in the middle of a sea of fifty million sworn enemies. Yet they break their necks to get there. They call it the Land of Milk and Honey ... they sing about water sprinklers and irrigation ditches. (p. 181.)
In this description the Palestinian Arabs are not specifically mentioned. The land there is described but the Palestinian Arabs are not described living here. Mark states that "it is in the middle of a sea of fifty million sworn enemies" but there is no questioning over why it is like that. And these fifty million does not appear to include the Palestinian Arabs. They do not seem to appear here directly. Perhaps they are viewed as part of the "sea of fifty million sworn enemies" but if so they not mentioned specifically.

As for the desperation of refugees it must be noted that such things have occurred all too often over the years.
  • In the current refugee crisis in Europe it is safe to assume that many stories of desperate attempts to get out of poverty and destitution can also be found among them. 
  • In Calais many immigrants yearn to go Britain and have taken many desperate moves to try to get to Britain. Despite the many problems they endure many still want to go to Britain.
  • During the Communist rule in East Germany many Germans tried to get to West Germany by getting through the Berlin Wall or swimming pass the border in the sea. Many were shot to death at the Berlin Wall. Many drowned at sea. But still they went.
  • Recently two asylum seekers in Nauru who are trying to get to Australia have burned themselves alive. An Iranian man, who has since unfortunately died, and a Somali woman.
When people are in a desperate situation which compels them to leave they will proceed despite the many obstacles against them.

Flawless Leon/Ari Wins Again

Mark then explains that this hunger strike would not be possible if the children were not loyal to Ari.
"Try to remember one thing. Ben Canaan couldn't do this without the support of those kids. They're behind him one hundred per cent." (p. 181.)
Of course the kids are behind Ari one hundred per cent. This is the flawless Ari he's talking about. Ari bears the author's name and is blessed with the author's favor.

Ari and the crew have a discussion about the hunger strike. Ari wins the argument after David invokes the memory of the revolts against the Romans.
I say if we leave this boat and willingly return to barbed-wire prisons then we will have broken faith with God. (p. 182.)
Kitty goes to the Exodus and helps look after the hunger striking children. After working for thirty-five hours she meets with Ari.
He showed almost no effects of the siege. ... She wondered if he was frightened or even knew fear. She wondered if he was sad and shaken. (p. 184.)
Just about every character is really impressed with him. At least with Kitty there is an important reason why she should be impressed with Ari. She is falling in love with him and that advances the plot. But that does not explain why just about every other character describes Ari in similar adulatory ways. Ari is flawless. The author makes so many characters sing Ari's praises.

Then Ari escalates the hunger strike.
Ari Ben Canaan, spokesman for the Exodus, announced that beginning at noon tomorrow ten volunteers a day will commit suicide on the bridge of the ship in full view of the British garrison. This protest practice will continue until either the Exodus is permitted to sail for Palestine or everyone aboard is dead. (p. 186.)
Since this involves the flawless Ari naturally this ploy works perfectly. Cecil Bradshaw's will is broken and he gives up. He is haunted by fears that he may be defying God's will.
Could it be that the Exodus was driven by mystic forces? ... Bradshaw walked to the library and found a Bible and in near panic began to read through the pages of Exodus and about the Ten Plagues that God sent down on the land of Egypt. Was he Pharaoh? Would a curse rain down on Britain? (p. 188.)
Bradshaw authorizes the Exodus to leave for Palestine. Being secure the Exodus delays its voyage to allow the children to recover from the hunger strike and celebrate Hanukkah. Later Kitty goes to the Exodus and asks David Ben Ami to explain Ari to her. He then begins to describe events in Zhitomir in Tsarist Russia back in 1884.

But that is for another post.

No comments:

Post a Comment