The Hidden Hand – Day of Infamy

Beyond BT contributor, Yaakov Astor has just published his latest book, The Hidden Hand. Here is an excerpt.

1941, a week before Chanukah.

Hitler’s armies are only twenty miles from the Kremlin and German soldiers even joke about catching a bus to see Stalin. Stalin, no friend of the Jews, is nevertheless vital to the safety of Jewry, as well as the world. If the Soviet capital falls, then the two-front war the Germans feared becomes only a one-front war. If Germany has to fight on only one front… the implications are truly frightening to ponder.

Same date — almost dawn — thousands of miles to the east, somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean: Six aircraft carriers have moved into position. On their decks and in their holds, some 350 modern fighter aircraft primed for action have received the go signal. Their target: Pearl Harbor.

7:40 A.M., Hawaii time. The Japanese achieve total surprise. In fact, surprise is so complete that even before the first bomb is dropped, Squadron Commander Mitsuo Fuchida radios back to the carriers the code words for victory: Tora! Tora! Tora! (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!) In less than three hours his pilots will wipe out much of the American Pacific Fleet. It will truly be a day of infamy.

However, even more infamous and insidious events are occurring this day. In German occupied territory, hundreds of miles behind the front lines, in the tiny town of Chelmno, a diabolical experiment is taking place. The hierarchies of Nazidom have already ordered the “final solution” to the Jewish question. But, practically speaking, can it be done? Can you get masses of people to walk into a death camp? Can you then exterminate them using a minimum amount of ammunition and soldiers?

In Chelmno on December 7, 1941 the Nazis find out the answer to both questions: Yes. They transport scores of Jews under the guise that they are merely being relocated east. Then they gas them in specially made vans. Historian Martin Gilbert marks Chelmno as the beginning of the Final Solution. To be sure, the Wannsee Conference in early 1942 would set the bureaucratic wheels in motion, and the wheels of the cattles cars transporting Jews to the death camps would not be rolling for several months. Nevertheless, December 7, 1941 is a particular day of infamy of the infamy known as the Holocaust, because on that day the Nazis knew their plans for making Europe Judenrein could become reality and were within their grasp.

Of Historical Moments
We are helpless, hapless creatures in the absence of divine perspective. Our helplessness is even more pronounced during momentous events. Most people are impotent to realize what is happening. And the few who do realize are at a loss to understand. And the rare individual, who perhaps understands the historic moment as it occurs, nevertheless is almost sure to lack detailed comprehension of all the implications.

Caught up in the myopia of life, historic moments cannot be fully appreciated. Time, though, is a kind of divinity in that it affords us that superhuman perspective. Even the layman armed with “time” can perceive patterns and forces the most learned, perceptive person trapped in the myopia of the moment does not have the slightest inkling of.

When divergent threads of historical movement, dancing and bobbing without seeming rhyme or reason, converge into a single moment such as December 7, 1941 even the ardent secularist is hard-pressed to call it coincidence. Coincidence has been described as a letter from God delivered anonymously. Judaism employs a specific term for such coincidence: hashgachah — “Divine Providence”: the acknowledgment that everything that happens happens because there is a Master Weaver expertly spinning a perfectly patterned tapestry. Sometimes the pattern is not immediately apparent. But we who know the Weaver have faith that the final design will be awe-inspiringly evident.

The truth is, however, though people invoke “Divine Providence” for every good occurrence, we often shy from invoking the term when events work against us. Is that fair? If God is all-powerful enough to manipulate events for our good does He lose His omnipotence when events work against us? Perceiving Divine Providence in good events is valuable; however it is relatively easy when all the parts fall into place. Knowing that Divine Providence is in full effect during bad events, though, is a higher level. It requires faith. It requires believing that there is much more happening than what meets the eyes. Therefore, Judaism teaches that Divine Providence — the Almighty’s absolute power of manipulation over every little and big detail of our lives — is every bit in operation to bring about events such as the rise of a Hitler as it is in bringing about his fall.

It should come as little surprise, then, that although December 7, 1941 looked to be the bleakest of times, in reality the reverse is true. Though President Roosevelt himself called it “a date which lives in infamy,” nevertheless in the perfect 20-20 hindsight of history we can say that the dark historical moment that was December 7, 1941 was not completely dark. In fact, like the tiny flask of uncontaminated oil discovered by the Kohanim on Chanukah it contained within it the most sublime luminescence.

7 comments on “The Hidden Hand – Day of Infamy

  1. No one wants to admit this openly, but many people in Lithuania, Latvia and the Ukraine viewed the Nazis as hero-liberators who would destroy the Bolshevik-Communist-Russians. There were Russians who sided with the Nazis hoping that Communism would be destroyed. Many people in America favored entering the war ON THE NAZI SIDE because they considered Communist Russia under “Big Joe” Stalin to be the greater menace to civilization (“Big Joe” having starved to death millions in the Ukraine from 1933-35). Even after 1945, there were Americans who said openly, “We fought the wrong war,” (remember the movie, The Best Years of Our Lives, what the fellow says to the former pilot). What if America had joined WITH THE NAZIS to destroy Communism and the former Soviet Union? It was a tremendous miracle that the United States decided to fight with the Soviet Union against the Nazis, and not G-d forbid the other way around.

  2. Please disregard my comment of October 3rd, 2007 13:54 since the link given in it seems to be gone now.

    Incidentally, before Rommel was turned back, the Nazi sympathizer Anwar Sadat and friends were trying to locate a suitably grand home for Rommel to live in in Egypt.

    From the same book where I read about this, here is a related excerpt mentioning a Jewish agent in Egypt, “Yvette”, who helped British intelligence crack a secret code and thereby break into critically important German communications:

  3. I believe that the same author made some other excellent points about the hidden miracles of the Holocaust. Everyone should be grateful that the Nazis did not succeed in their efforts to create the atom bomb. In addition, Erwin Rommel, Hitler’s best general, was defeated at El Alamein by a series of coincidences and therefore did not carry out his boast to exterminate all of the Jews living in Eretz Yisroel (then known as the “Old Yishuv” part of the British Mandate) in one afternoon. Read his two books for more insights.

  4. Bob Miller’s point is excellent. It should be noted, however, that declaration of war on the US by Germany (and Italy) did not take place until December 11. The last link in his post makes the important point that it is not certain that even after Pearl Harbor that Roosevelt would have managed to get Congress to declare war on Germany. The resulting military aid to the Soviet Union (the enemy of my enemy is my friend, no matter how evil) was critical to the Soviet army’s defeat of the Nazis.

  5. I think your point about Hashgacha being found only in “positive” events is a good one. It is, perhaps, as myopic as thinking quite the opposite. That is, that only those “negative” things that occur are guided by Hashem.

    Hatzlacha Rabbah with the book.

  6. That week was also a concealed turning point dooming the German war effort. When the US declared war on Japan in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor (see ),
    Germany was not obligated by treaty to declare war on the US, but Hitler, yemach shemo, elected to do exactly that anyhow. See and
    This allowed full participation by the US in the Allies’ war against Germany. Prior to that, strong isolationist (and even some pro-German) sentiment in the US had limited FDR’s ability to aid the UK and Soviet Union militarily. Without Germany’s declaration of war against the US, it’s possible that Congress could have kept US forces out of the Europe and North Africa.

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