Revealed 50 years on: What Elie Wiesel wrote about the Six Day War (& “anti-Semitic UNESCO”)

May 02, 2017


[Note by Tom Gross]

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016) died last year, as I noted here

For decades before he won the Nobel peace prize, and before U.S. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama recognized him as one of the spokesmen of the Holocaust, and of conscience in general, and celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey recommended his books to her mass audience, Elie Wiesel was a little-known journalist writing in Yiddish at the Forverts in New York.

He had joined the Forverts as a staff writer in 1956. Now for the first time, Wiesel’s Yiddish-language column marking the Israel’s shocking victory against all the odds in the 1967 Six Day War, and the reunification of Jerusalem, has been translated into English and published in The Forward, the English-language successor to the Yiddish-language daily Forverts.

This was a giddy time, coming only two decades after the Holocaust when Israel was threatened with destruction by massed invading Arab armies. Instead it ended up restoring Jewish sovereignty over the holiest sites in Judaism, which had previously been under Turkish, British and Jordanian control.

As a matter of historical interest, Wiesel’s article is below. (The translation from Yiddish to English is by Chana Pollack.)



The Forward publishes this at a time when the international community, including this week UNESCO, attempts to re-write thousands of years of world history and pretend that Jews and Judaism weren’t at the heart of Jerusalem’s history in a way that no other people, religion or culture have been.

For decades almost every country in the world apart from the United States has failed to back Israel at the UN. Yesterday, under robust lobbying from Israel and from the Trump administration, a record ten countries (of those who had the vote at UNESCO) sided with Israel. They are: The United States, Britain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Greece, Paraguay, Ukraine, and Togo.

Perhaps more important, India, soon to be the world’s most populous country, refused to vote against Israel as it usually does, and abstained. 22 other countries abstained and several other countries absented themselves. Sweden was the only European country to vote with the world’s dictatorships to ensure the “fake history” resolution was passed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the UNESCO vote denying any Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem as “absurd” and “anti-Semitic”. The Israeli foreign ministry also said it would reprimand the Swedish ambassador to Tel Aviv after the government of Sweden played a borderline anti-Semitic role in whipping up anti-Jewish sentiment at UNESCO.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely declared that UNESCO is “continuing to falsify history.” The resolution, she said, “only harms the relevance of the organization that is supposed to protect heritage and culture yet again and again abuses its position when it comes to Israel. Israel doesn’t need approval from political bodies for its historical and undisputed connection to our eternal capital Jerusalem, a 3,000-year-old connection that speaks from every stone in the city.”

“Israel appreciates the countries that stood on the side of truth and didn’t give in to politics that is distorting history,” she added.

Israeli opposition left-wing Labour Party leader Isaac Herzog said in a statement that “the UNESCO resolution against Israel is an anti-Semitic disgrace that distorts history.”

The leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid also said in a statement that “the resolution is unfounded and anti-Semitic.”

“Once again today we saw how a string of representatives in the United Nations, instead of following the truth, surrender to the anti-Semitic campaign that is led by anti-Israel NGOs,” Lapid added.



What Elie Wiesel Wrote About The Six Day War

Published in The Forward, May 1, 2017

(Originally published as a column in Yiddish by former Forverts staff writer Elie Wiesel on June 12, 1967.)

Future generations will probably never believe it. Teachers will have a hard time convincing their students that what sounds legendary actually occurred. The children will naturally swallow each word, but later on, as adults, they’ll nod their heads and smile, remarking that these were fantasies of history.

They won’t believe that this small state, surrounded by hatred, fire and murder, had so quickly managed a miracle. It will be hard to describe how, amid a sea of hatred, a tiny army drove off and humiliated several well-equipped military hordes of who knows how many Arab countries.

How does acclaimed scholar and Talmudic genius Shaul Lieberman put it? In another 2,000 years, people will consider these events the way we think of descriptions of the Maccabees and their victories.

Did I say another 2,000 years? No, make that: in another year, or even tomorrow.

Last Sunday, the Arabs and their allies were boastfully threatening Israel that if she dared to make another move, she’d pay with her existence. And several hours later, our Jewish heroes advanced, and the entire world, holding its breath, followed their every movement.

You’ll recall the radio broadcasts at the beginning of the week that sounded practically Job-like. Every hour, another Arab government declared war against Israel. Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia. And then: Morocco, Tunisia, Algiers. In Tunisia, an incited mob led a pogrom in the Jewish Quarter. Other Muslim — or part Muslim — countries rushed to sign up in [Egyptian president Gamal Abdul] Nasser’s “holy war.” Malaysia, Sudan, Mali, Guinea and more.

We bit our lips, cracked our knuckles and could find no comfortable spot for ourselves. Quietly, we asked if the test was too hard this time. Was too much being demanded from the Jewish people and from their land? How could we expect to be redeemed, knowing that the enemy numbered tens of millions, even hundreds of millions of people, against a mere 2 million Jews in Israel?

And then, between Passover and Shavuot, the Hanukkah miracle occurred. It didn’t take long before the supposedly mighty enemy was rendered speechless and lost its nerve. Even the Soviet Ambassador to the UN, Nikolai Fedorenko, suddenly changed his tone. Instead of worrying about whether Nasser would finally curb his appetite for power, world leaders began looking for ways to make amends to Israeli Premier Levi Eshkol.

It was as though a theater director, unfamiliar with his cast, suddenly switched the parts of his actors: those who had stubbornly opposed us now asked for mercy, as their former protectors now distanced themselves from them. Overnight, the mood at the UN Security Council seemed unrecognizable.

We all need to recite the Hallel thanksgiving prayer for being granted the privilege of witnessing these events. The battle has not yet ended, but the enemy has already retreated and won’t easily recover.

It may well be that future generations won’t comprehend how Israel vanquished her enemies. Yes, there are sacrifices, but in the long run nothing gets lost.

And yet the blood that was shed by our young lions, the sacrifices endured, everything will be inscribed. Each widow’s tear, every death rattle of the fallen soldiers – they won’t pass unnoticed by our descendants.

For Jews around the world, these last events are a deep source of pride. Every Jew witnessed and survived this trial together. Rarely, as a people, do we feel such a deep connection to each other, of loyalty to the purest principles driven by our shared history.

Do you remember how thousands of Jewish youth besieged the Israeli Consulates, pleading to be sent as volunteers to Israel? Do you recall the mass demonstrations in the streets? And the countless Jews, including the poorest of the poor, donating their meager savings to the pushkes [charity boxes] of the United Jewish Appeal?

This new Jewish awakening is part of that miracle, a part of the Jewish victory. Those who thought Jews were frightened by huge armies were mistaken, and those who thought you could separate the Jewish state from the Jewish people around the world clearly underestimated us.


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