I thought for a long time about how Tales of Jewish Sudan could honour Holocaust Memorial Day. I wanted to mark the occasion in some way and yet I am acutely aware that, mercifully, the Jews of Sudan emerged unscathed from the W’ar.
It was then that I remembered the writings of Rabbi Malka, which appeared in the Jewish weekly paper of Cairo, 'Al-Shams'.* Between 1943 and 1945 Rabbi Malka returns again and again to the atrocities that were being committed in Europe. His writing moves from despair and anger to a reluctant acceptance that these horrors must be God’s will. He knows he is powerless to help his fellow Jews in Europe, and he also knows that if Axis forces are victorious then he too will be in danger.
Below are some extracts from these writings.
Civilisation Expires and Humanity in Agony, 1943
In this essay, Rabbi Malka despairs at German victories. His frustration, anger and his despair for humankind is palpable.
I keep following carefully the news of the horrors of Germany, its savagery and its bestiality to our Jews, perchance that I would read of an approaching end to this grave tragedy, or a possible cure to Germany itself of this eternal stigma. Alas! Nothing of the sort seems in sight. Things keep getting from bad to worse.
Germany’s savagery has now gone on for 5 years, with every day bringing more critical news, and with the Germans using every ingenuity in torturing device and slaughtering our people in a savagery and barbarism whose equal the world has never known.
What our people have suffered at the hands of the Nazis will take volumes to fill. Through such savageries, I daresay, civilisation expires and humanity is in agony, unless the world will rise up to save their victims.
What has Hitler gained of all his bloody career against our defenceless Jews but shame and disgrace, for himself and his nation, now recorded for them in the blackest pages of history?
Hitler’s Certain Ghastly End
In this essay, Rabbi Malka seems to be coming to terms with the horrors he has been reading about. He takes comfort in the books of Job and Exodus, concluding that Hitler must, eventually, fall.
It baffles the minds of men in general, and of men of God in particular, to see Hitler flourishing as the greatest contemporary criminal, a violator of both heavenly and earthly laws, a usurper of smaller nations ill fortunes made them neighbours to his Nazi Germany, and nevertheless our Almighty is still patient with him. From one victory to another, from one country vanquished to a next, from one Jewish community exterminated to another, and, while the faithful of every creed across the globe continue their prayers to God to break down the power of this despot, one wonders how to this day such prayers remain unanswered while Hitler grows in conceit and aggression.
I have no doubt that a miracle will occur and Hitler will similarly be doomed, notwithstanding the helplessness of his Jewish victims.
Herod and Hitler
In this essay, Rabbi Malka argues that only Herod has come close to Hitler in his persecution of the Jews, quoting St Mark as evidence for this. He concludes that Hitler, like Herod, must be possessed by some sort of ‘wicked soul’, and yet his exceptionally strong faith forces him to be hopeful.
These grinding wars, these human butcheries that go on in the world are but sheer madness.
I wonder why the Almighty is still patient with him [Hitler]. Those of weak faith are likely to waver in the face of all this suffering. There is no doubt that the world is going through a hard test. Those of us, who are strong of faith, have no doubt that good will finally vanquish evil. There is no doubt that God will soon hasten to the rescue of his Jewish nation and to the rescue of all mankind. Do hasten the day, O God, we pray thee.
Germany: A Calm Word to Professor Wahba (1944)
In response to one of Rabbi Malka’s previous articles, a certain Professor Wahba had written to the Al-Shams newspaper praising Germany as a proud nation contributing to civilisation. Rabbi Malka’s response is, contrary to his title, anything but ‘calm’. His anger is palpable and his writing fiery.
[Germany is] A nation that made it lawful for itself to undertake a wanton annihilation of another peaceful and innocent people, our Jewish people, out of sheer wickedness, and for no sin they committed or any justification whatsoever.
I would call it [Hitler’s Germany] the cemetery and the dumping ground of civilisation.
Hitler’s Germany has, indeed, become like a microbe to the blood of humanity as it continues to devastate all five continents, that has annihilated half our nation – six million in its gas chambers – after confiscating their properties, and even the remnant still find no home and still roam about with no asylum. In Poland alone more than a million Jews were murdered. Of Romania’s million Jews, less than 10% are alive. The Sephardi Jews of Salonika were practically annihilated, and so are those of Bulgaria. Even in France the Nuremburg laws were applied, depriving Jewish Frenchmen of their citizenship and property.
Only through effort and through faith combined shall we regain our liberty. May God point the way to all of us.
Why Do They Hate Us? An Evening Dialogue (1945)
In 1945 the war had just ended and Rabbi Malka is philosophical. He writes in the style of a Platonic Symposium, listing attacks on Jews throughout history - from Pharaoh, to Hamman, to the Middle Ages, to the Pogroms and finally to the Holocaust. Each character puts forward an idea as to why the Jews are hated, each of which is then refuted. Finally, the Rabbi in the party puts forward his own opinion.
We went through all kinds of pogroms such as would grey a baby’s hair. From slaughters by the thousands in every age and place, to plunders, confiscations and deprivations of human rights and liberties…this endless persecution, and its underlying causes, have ever occupied the minds of our thinkers, appalled as we are at those savageries and atrocities pitilessly committed against us without end.
I searched through our lives, and did find a lot of shortcomings, both public and private, yet still all these did not seem to justify the endless martyrdom to which we were subjected throughout the ages. There are obviously similar, even greater shortcomings in other nations, and still no nation suffered as much as we Jews did.
Man is wicked by nature, animal by instinct, even more cruel than an animal. The more the progress, the more they invent deadlier means to kill and destroy each other. They not only hate us Jews, but even as states they hate each other…In time of wards they show this hatred to each other. But in time of peace they hide it. On the other hand, their hatred to Jews need not be hidden…Evil nature is ever there in the soul of man…but at the same time God placed in him a pure soul that impels him towards good. Those two sides in man are in constant struggle, and man is only human when his better nature prevails.
It is true that our catastrophe in Hitler’s Germany has surpassed all other disasters, yet even this may foretell that salvation is at hand.
If we want them not to hate us, we must begin by stopping to hate each other and by uniting as one body of Jews. Also, we must be equally honest and loyal to our governments, our neighbours and fellow men from every faith and sect…we must not despair, as God’s deliverance will surely come.
Our Duty to Fellow Jews, the Nazi Survivors
The last of Rabbi Malka’s writings on the Holocaust was also written in 1945. It contains an impassioned plea for aid to Holocaust survivors and a scathing condemnation at the world’s indifference.
Has the war really ended? The first answer that comes to mind is that is has.
Yet this is only true for the vanquished and victorious. Not so for us, Jews. For Jews, the concentration camps are still full. Every day its interns, near dead of hunger, are released to wander in a world that stood indifferent to the sufferings of those who died and now to their dying remnant.
Anti-Semitic poisons spread by the Nazis are such that even the victorious Allies still do not bother to promulgate laws for the return of at least the fortunes plundered. The 20% remnant of the Jews of Europe are thus still homeless, naked, hungry, penniless and sick after all they went through.
We Jews ourselves must leap to the rescue of our martyred brethren in Europe. We, Sephardi Jews, must not lag behind in this sacred and urgent duty, every one to the limit of his means and power.
What we cannot do singly, we must unite to do as a body. The hour is grave, and the call of our conscience is urgent. May the Guardian of Israel help us all to evert every effort to answer this call.
* The extracts quoted here are from 'Frontiers of Jewish Faith' by Solomon Malka. This is a complete compilation of Rabbi Malka's original Arabic writings translated into English by his son, Edmond S. Malka.