Our Journey to Jerusalem, Part IV

10:09 PM

Over the past few months I have continued to read books and watch movies about Jerusalem. Life got a busy for a minute and I slowed down my progress, but I have picked it back up and really began focusing on working through my list. We also recently paid the balance due on our trip. This will easily be the most expensive trip we have ever taken. I do not doubt that it will be worth every penny.


O Jerusalem! Day by day and minute by minute. The historic struggle for Jerusalem and birth of Israel by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre

Synopsis: This was a historical novel. It begins shortly after the partition vote in the United Nations. The Jewish reaction (flooding the streets in celebration) and Arab reactions (fear and uncertainty are described). Immediately following the vote Jewish leadership begins preparing for war. Efforts to purchase arms and organize a military are described. As the Jewish people organized the Arab people vowed to besiege Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem prepared for a long siege. They took stock of all foodstuffs and prepared for the worst case scenario.The Arab countries surrounding Palestine prepared for war. Each country vowed to invade if Israel declared independence. However, each Arab leader, especially King Abdullah of Jordan, had their own agenda.

As the May 15 partition date drew nearer tensions rose. There were brutal terrorist attacks, perpetrated by both Arabs and Jews. Jerusalem became increasingly unstable. Bother the Arabs and Jewish people prepared plans to move into the fortified positions when the British left. Jewish intelligence was able to pinpoint when the British planned to leave Jerusalem and were set up to take key positions.

Jerusalem was placed under siege prior to the withdrawal of the British. This cut the Jewish people in Jerusalem from the coast. Many Jewish lives were lost trying to break through the siege. There was some success but for the most part Jerusalem was cut off. Both sides committed atrocities. The Jews committed a terrible massacre at Deir Yassin. The Arabs committed a terrible massacre in the etzion bloc

The British withdrew from Jerusalem on May 14th. On May 15 the Jews held many key positions. They also declared independence and war broke out. With the British gone the fighting for Jerusalem was bitter. At times each side had the upper hand and held key strategic positions. The Jewish quarter of the old city was particularly hard pressed to hold out. Eventually the Arabs (with the help of the Arab legion) took the entire old city. The new city wasn't in much better shape. As the war dragged on the people in the old city were literally starving to death. The Jewish army tried and failed many times to break the siege. They started building an alternative road, but when that wasn't going to quickly enough there were literally groups of men who would carry food on their backs to keep the people alive.

On June 11, 1948 a  UN sanctioned cease fire began. This allowed the stomachs and storerooms of Jerusalem to be filed. It also allowed the Jewish people to rearm. Arms and ammunition poured in. The Arab attempts to rearm were not a fraction as successful. David Ben-Gurion is quoted as having said he knew the Jews had won the war when he saw how much better equipped the Jewish people were. After four weeks the fighting began again. This time the Jews were had larger numbers and better equipment. They fought for Jerusalem, but fell just short of taking the old city prior to another cease fire on July 19, 1948. It would be nearly 20 years before Israel would take control of Jerusalem.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. - Psalms

My thoughts:
1. This was a historical novel. Unlike other novels I read that are fictional stories based on historical events this is a retelling of if things as they happened. The authors spent five years interviewing thousands of people, reading public records, and private dairies to gather the material covered in this novel. This research shines through as the authors craft a compelling narrative that rings true. The narrative was extremely in depth. It truly does give a minute by minute recounting of the major events leading to the creation of the Jewish state.

2. The story is surprisingly personal. They make the story come alive by telling individual stories as a way to illustrate the events in and around Jerusalem. They do an excellent job of bringing to life the people to lived and died in Jerusalem around this period of time. Reading this book I actually felt like I knew these people. This story is told from the personal experiences of people who lived (or died) during partition and the war. This helped me connect with the story. There were moments that were incredibly sad. The authors introduced you to someone just before the war or a terrorist attack took their lives. These stories clearly illustrate the terrible cost of war.

3. This novel does and excellent job of showing all sides. While the story is focused on the creation of the Jewish state, just as much of the story is about how the Jewish state impacted Palestinian Arabs. Portions of the story are told from the perspective of Palestinian Arabs and their personal accounts.

4. One thing that is very clear is that atrocities were committed by both sides. The authors recount the events of Deir Yassin and they are heartbreaking. There are also terrible acts committed by the Arabs - such as when they nearly starved the Jews living in Jerusalem to death. War is terrible and this war was no exception.

Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad by Gordon Thomas

Synopsis: This book begins with the story of the death of Princess Diana and talks about the possible involvement of Mossad in this event. It then goes on to discuss the brief history of Mossad and their role in the Jewish state. Key scandals, failures, and successes are discussed.

My thoughts:
1. I listened to this book because the title looked interesting. It isn't as focused on the Jewish state or Jerusalem. It was, however, very interesting to learn about the role Mossad played in the development of the Jewish state and their continued survival.

2. One of the more interesting stories was the about the development of nuclear weapons in Israel. It was fascinating to learn about how they were able to hide the development from international inspectors and ultimately develop fictional weapons.

3. For each success Mossad had there were an equal number of scandals that made the Jewish intelligence service look foolish. I thought this book did a good job of focusing on the good and the bad.

4.  The author is a former reporter for Britain's Daily Express. His tabloid style is apparent throughout the book. He also relies heavily on unnamed sources, which makes the whole book feel less credible. He also ends many of this stories with a question about whether his narrative is the way it really happened (case and point the Princess Diana story). While this book was interesting it didn't teach me very much about Jewish culture or Israel, other than that Israel has a damn good intelligence agency.

Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Synopsis: This epic tale of Jerusalem is presented chronologically, stretching from King David's establishment of the city as his capital to the 1967 Six-Day War, with an epilogue bridging the history of the city to nearly the present day. Montefiore presents the story of the history of Jerusalem as the center of the world. He touches on the significant events and figures throughout the history of the city - the great Jewish patriarchs (Abraham and Moses), King David, exile to Babylon, Greek and Roman invasions, rise of Islam, Crusades, Turkish occupation, World Wars, the British mandate, creation of the Jewish state, and peace talks. He covers all of that and more. 

My thoughts:
1. I loved this book. It was incredible. Montefiore summarizes so many source documents to create this epic history of the world's most significant city. Throughout the book he provides key insights through well-placed footnotes. I learned so much from his history of this city. 

2. The history of Jerusalem is really the history of the world. It was incredible to consider the impact this city has had on every great empire. The history of Jerusalem cannot be told without learning about the Roman's and Greeks or the British. So many great world leaders were influenced by this city - Napoleon, Ceasar, Lincoln, and so many more. Great writers such as Herman Melville were drawn to this city. The influence of Jerusalem on the rest of the world is stunning. 

3. I loved that within this epic history Montefiore included a discussion of the Latter-day Saint apostles who visited and consecrated the land for missionary work. I thought it was pretty cool that he considered that a significant enough event to include in the history of the city. Obviously this is very important to member's of the church, but this author has no connection to the church and still felt it was important to include. 

4. He paints a picture of Jerusalem with fairly broad strokes and for the most part refrained from judging events. He did however give an opinion at the end of the book. He spoke about the current state of the city. His opinion is that there needs to be a two-state solution with the internationalization of Jerusalem (similar to the Vatican). After reading this history I think I agree. The conflict in Jerusalem is very complex. Jews, Arabs, and Christians have each held the city for hundreds or thousands of years. Each group has a historical claim to the city. Truly though these holy sites belong to the entire world and the best option would probably be to put no single group in control of the holy city. I think the best chance for lasting peace in Jerusalem would be to give the city to the world.


Schindler's List

This movie tells the story of Oskar Schindler; a German, war profiteer, and Jewish hero. The story begins when Oskar arrives in Krakow after the German army has occupied Poland. Schindler joins the Nazi party and becomes close to key German military commanders through bribes and lavish parties. As he is building his influence, the Jews in Krakow and the surrounding area are relocated to a ghetto in Krakow. Schindler sees an opportunity and connects with Itzhak Stern, a local Jewish leader. Schindler uses Stern’s connections with the Jewish business community to obtain financing to allow him to acquire an enamelware factory. He uses his connections with the German army to obtain lucrative contracts with the German army. Schindler hires Jewish workers from the ghetto in Krakow to run the factory (he pays their wages to the German army). His main motivation for hiring Jewish workers is that they are less expensive than polish workers. Itzhak Stern works as his accountant and manages the factory. Stern uses the factory as a way to categorize as many Jews in Krakow as possible as “essential to the war effort” to keep them from being killed or shipped to concentration camps.

SS- Untersturmfuhrer Amon Goth is sent to Krakow to build the Plaszow concentration camp. Upon the completion of the camp the ghetto is emptied. Soldiers remove and kill every Jew living within the ghetto. Schindler observes the removal and massacre from a hilltop overlooking the ghetto. This is the first time he appears to be affected by the plight of the Jews of Krakow. Life in Plaszow is a nightmare for the Jews. Goth kills at random and often without provocation. Schindler builds a relationship with Goth using bribes and more lavish parties. He is able to use his influence to continue to use a Jewish workforce at his factory and eventually build a sub-camp at his factory. Schindler is approached by a Jewish woman (who has avoided detection by the German’s) asking him to allow her parent’s (who are at the Plaszow camp) to work at his factory. She approaches Schindler because she has heard his factory is a safe haven where Jews are not killed. At first, Schindler refuses because it is too dangerous to have a reputation of protecting Jews. Eventually, however he arranges for her parents to work at the factory.

 As the German’s are losing the war Goth is ordered to burn the bodies of the Jews that have been massacred in Krakow. Schindler is at the camp when the burning occurs and appears to be deeply affected by the event. After destroying evidence of the crimes that have been committed Goth is ordered to move the remaining Jewish population to Auschwitz.  Schindler uses a significant amount of his personal fortune to bribe Goth to allow Schindler to take around a thousand of the Jews to a new munitions factory he is building.

The women and men included on Schindler’s list are transported separately. The train carrying the women is erroneously routed to Auschwitz. They are processed and herded into a shower. They huddle together terrified waiting for imminent death by gas. Their relief is palpable as water, not gas, pours out of the shower heads. Schindler arrives and bribes the SS commander in charge of Auschwitz to release the women on his list.

At the new munitions factory Schindler provides as much freedom as possible to the Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews). SS guards are not permitted on the factory floor. Schindler also encourages the Jews working at his factory to observe the Sabbath. Schindler spent his entire fortune on bribes and the factory and buying munitions. He ensured that his munitions factory did not produce a single functioning munition to be used by the German army.

When Germany surrendered Schindler called together the Shindlerjuden and SS guards. He convinced the SS guards to ignore their orders to kill the remaining Jews and return home as men, rather than murderers. He also explained to the Jews that he would have to run because he was a member of the Nazi party and a war time profiteer. Before he leaves the Schindlerjuden give him a letter explaining how he saved their lives and a ring with a quote from the Talmud: “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” Schindler is touched but laments that he could have saved even more lives. Schindler flees and the Schindlerjuden is liberated by the Red Army.

The film ends with actual members of the Schindlerjuden visiting Schindler’s grave in Jerusalem.

My thoughts:

1. This film was hard to watch. The violence was brutal. One of the most terrifying moments of the movie is the scene at Auschwitz where the women Shindlerjuden are marched into a shower. Watching the anguish while they waited for gas to pour into the room was heart wrenching. Against this depressing backdrop the heroism of Schindler to save over a thousand Jews feels even more significant.

2. The film was shot in black and white. This gave it a documentary feel. It also increased the realism of the film. Being shot in black and white made the film feel older and more like I was watching events as they actually occurred. As I was watching the film I wondered why the film was in English. I thought that shooting in the film in the languages that would have been spoken by the characters may have added to the film experience. I did some research and found that Steven Spielberg spoke about this decision, “there's too much safety in reading. It would have been an excuse to take their eyes off the screen and watch something else." This film is excellent. It is a true masterpiece. The acting, production quality, music, and story all come together to create a truly moving experience. This film had an impact on me and I will not easily forget the lessons that this story teaches. 

3. The Jerusalem connection with this movie is interesting. The only part of this film that takes place in Jerusalem is the end of the film. Obviously the holocaust had a huge impact on Jerusalem and the current state of Israel. In many ways it is seen as one of the strongest justifications for creation of Israel. Because the holocaust is seen as a justification for the creation of Israel there are individuals out there who deny that it ever happen. They claim it is a fabrication, and that as a result, no justification exists for the Jewish state. Steven Spielberg has stated that part of his motivation in making this film was to challenge the holocaust deniers. He does not want the world to forget or minimize this terrible event. In 1962, a tree was planted in his honor in the Avenue of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in recognition of the important role he played in Jewish history. In 1974 his remains were buried in Jerusalem. His grave is in a prominent graveyard in Jerusalem. Not surprisingly he is the only member of the Nazi party buried on Mt. Zion. I hope that we get an opportunity to visit his grave when we visit Jerusalem. It would be a much more meaningful experience now that I have seen this film. 

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