Book Review: “Nazis After Hitler: How Perpetrators of The Holocaust Cheated Justice and Truth” by Donald McKale – posted 2/25/2014
I had not planned to review this book but I must say it surprised me. The book addressed important questions that, in my opinion, still evade adequate attention. Questions like: what happened to the perpetrators of the Holocaust? How much justice was done? Why did so many war criminals get away with their crimes? The great value of this book is that it goes right at those lingering questions and it provides clear, well-reasoned answers.
Without knowing that much about the period immediately after World War 2, I had held a relatively positive conception of the Allied effort to seek justice against Nazi war criminals. I suppose this was because of Nuremberg.
Professor Donald McKale’s book “Nazis After Hitler” paints a far darker picture. Contrary to my uninformed and probably widely shared assumptions, McKale shows how the postwar world felt little obligation to ferret out and bring perpetrators to justice. The sad truth is that there was no day of reckoning for most of the criminals who carried out the Holocaust.
I found the story perversely fascinating. It combines the worst acts committed by a motley collection of desk murderers, ideological fanatics and sadists and a world incapable of any commensurate response to the awful crimes committed. How the pitifully weak response happened cannot be easily reduced but I will try and synthesize some of the major threads that run through the book.
The extent of the Nazi crimes were not initially well understood by the outside world. Millions had been murdered by the Nazis but the Nazis went to considerable effort to try and cover up their crimes. The Holocaust as we know it now was not as clearly delineated then. The world did not yet have the benefit of memoirs by people like Primo Levi and Victor Klemperer, histories by Raul Hilberg, the movies Shoah and Schindler’s List, and the TV docudrama Holocaust.
There were disagreements among the Allies about how to address the Nazi war crimes. The British and Prime Minister Winston Churchill favored summary execution of Nazi leaders. President Roosevelt opposed summary executions and favored postwar trials. Surprisingly, Stalin agreed with FDR on this point. In June 1945, the Allies agreed to hold the International Military Tribunal (IMT) at Nuremberg to prosecute “major” war criminals.
A significant dilemma was the scope of the German war crimes. What do you do when massive numbers of citizens are engaged in a grossly criminal enterprise? How do you separate out those who deserve punishment from those who do not? What is appropriate punishment, particularly when so many are implicated? The Allies decided to concentrate on those they initially considered the worst of the worst. There were other trials but McKale shows how the Cold War lessened the focus on the Nazis.
The jurisdiction of the IMT was also a problem. The IMT tried crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and participation in a common plan or conspiracy to commit those crimes. There was no clear statement specifically addressing the Holocaust against the Jewish people. In retrospect, it is clear that the IMT’s jurisdiction reflected lack of awareness of the crime against the Jews.
The system of gas chambers and concentration camps engaged the efforts of many thousands of people. The Wehrmacht, the German armed forces, included 20,000,000 soldiers. The German Nazi party also included many millions. In assessing responsibility, where do you draw the line? Who is guilty and how far down the line do you go? In the best of all possible legal worlds, you would have had an individualized assessment of perpetrators wherever they were in the hierarchy if they had dirty hands. Nothing even remotely like that happened. Nothing ever happened to the overwhelming majority of perpetrators.
Immediately after the war, McKale wrote that, among the German people, the Third Reich was instantly forgotten. No one knew nothing. The typical stance was denial. Germans were not exactly stepping forward, acknowledging guilt. McKale tells an interesting story about a young German woman, Katharina von Kellenback, who sought to find out about her uncle’s role in the Holocaust. The 1979 TV broadcast of Holocaust prompted her curiosity.
von Kellenback ran into “a near perfect wall of silence”. Family members brushed off her questions and acted like they had been victims. von Kellenback described “a monumental vanishing act” that erased the consciousness of the perpetrators. She correctly characterized this evasion as a conspiracy of silence.
Through her own research and efforts, she found out her uncle, Alfred Ebner, had been an early and fanatical follower of Hitler. He had been deputy commissioner of the Pinsk region’s Nazi civilian administration, a role that included responsibility for the local Jewish inhabitants. It turned out he had been directly responsible for implementation of Nazi extermination policies. He had organized the ghettoization of Pinsk-area Jews, mostly women and children. He supervised the confiscation of Jewish property , the exploitation of Jewish labor and the starvation of the Jewish population. Under Himmler’s directive, between October 29-November 2, 1942, a Nazi battalion under his authority marched Pinsk’s remaining Jews from the ghetto and shot them in large trenches. A few managed to get away.
After the war Ebner disappeared back into the general population, started a business, and lived with his family in Stuttgart. In 1962, he was arrested but he was not indicted until March 1968. He and other members of the Nazi police battalion were charged for several hundred cases of malicious and cruel murder.
To obtain a murder conviction, the prosecution had to prove Ebner acted because of racial hatred. Ebner denied any personal hatred of Jews. He presented himself as a loyal civil servant who followed orders, following the Eichmann example. As witnesses could not verify that he personally did any shootings, some charges went away. Testimony did establish that in the summer of 1942 he ordered 40 sick and mentally retarded Jews be shot. He led those Jews to the trucks that transported them out of the ghetto to be shot.
However, the judges in his case dismissed the charges for lack of evidence. McKale reported that Ebner’s case never went to trial. The Court later suspended proceedings against him in 1971 for reasons of his alleged poor health. Later in 1978, the court dropped all charges. Ebner died peacefully in 1987 without acknowledging anything.
Unfortunately this type scenario was common. Years went by and victims died. Personal identification was difficult as peoples’ appearance changed; perpetrators changed their names; and they moved. So many victims had been murdered in the most anonymous fashion imagineable and they were not around to point any finger at a perpetrator. Politics changed and the Cold War struggle dominated all attention.
As I had said previously only a tiny minority of the estimated several hundred thousand Holocaust perpetrators were ever prosecuted. Ebner at least had been prosecuted even if he evaded punishment. According to McKale.from 1945 to 1992, the West Germans investigated 103,823 persons suspected of committing Nazi crimes. Courts convicted 6,487 (of which 5,513 were for non-lethal offenses). 13 people received the death sentence; 163 got life in prison; 6197 got temporary imprisonment and 114 got fines.
McKale says that nearly all of the convicted got light prison sentences.
As part of the denazification effort in West Germany, the Americans, the British and the French classified perpetrators into one of five categories: major offender (criminals), offender (active supporter of the Nazi Party), lesser offender (persons who collaborated in less serious ways), followers (persons who joined Nazi organizations but had not participated in their actions) and the exonerated. A typical category 1 criminal was looking at imprisonment in a labor camp from 2 to 10 years along with confiscation of property. McKale says classification was enormously difficult. He gives many examples and shows how hard it was even to prosecute big-time Nazis who committed major offenses.
I think it is fair to say that the West Germans lacked the political will to do justice. So many people were implicated and silence offered mutual protection.
I had previously mentioned the Cold War. The onset of the Cold War against the Soviets figured into the weak prosecution of Nazis. The Americans and the British quickly became far more interested in integrating West Germany into its anti-Soviet effort than in pursuing an agenda from the last war. The Americans moved to recruit Nazis – not prosecute them.
The East German response to the Holocaust was equally compromised for a different set of reasons. The East Germans could not acknowledge the Jewish specificity of the Holocaust. The party line, following the Soviets, would not recognize that any single group had been specially victimized by the Holocaust. All victims could only be seen as anti-fascists. The Soviets had their own anti-semitism and the inability to see the world, rather than ideology, was part of that. GDR statistics from 1945-1964 show that Soviet-dominated German courts convicted 12,807 persons of “Nazi and war crimes”. 118 received death sentences, 231 got life in prison, and 12,458 got varying terms of imprisonment.
McKale shows that the East Germans actually placed Bernhard Bechler, a former professional military officer in the Nazi army and a committed National Socialist, in charge of denazification in Soviet-occupied East Germany. Bechler was uninterested in uncovering and purging Nazis who had engaged the Holocaust. The East Germans decided against a blanket dismissal of former Nazis from government administration. They were fearful about public reaction so they did not take strong steps. Generally speaking, witnesses who testified before East German denazification boards claimed they had never supported mistreating Jews or any group. That, of course, leaves the question how the Holocaust ever could have happened.
Professor McKale explains how the arguments made by Nazis after the war reappeared later out of the mouths of Holocaust deniers. I found myself less interested in that later part of the book. I think Holocaust deniers are nutty and don’t deserve that much time because they lack all credibility even if some crazy people still make the arguments. I found myself dwelling more on the power of anti-semitism. Behind all the excuses about following orders lurks the anti-semitism. I think Professor McKale deserves credit for taking an unflinching look at the Holocaust perpetrators. His book is a necessary corrective to widely shared misconceptions.
I knew this documentary came out a couple years ago but I never had a chance to see it until recently. Made lovingly by Phil’s brother Michael Ochs and by Kenneth Bowker, “Phil Ochs” There But for Fortune” brought back many memories. As a Phil Ochs fan, I really enjoyed hearing the old music I have not heard for a long time.
Phil was a gifted songwriter. I will name some of my favorites: “Is There Anybody Here”, “I’m Gonna Say it Now”, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore”, “Ringing of Revolution”, “Small Circle of Friends”, “There But for Fortune”, and “When I’m Gone”. I struggled with this list because I am leaving out some other songs I love too.
It is hard to define what Phil meant to my generation. He certainly never had the widespread popularity of a Dylan or Neil Young. Still, he spoke to many of us and his songs connected. He was an authentic 60’s voice. On old tape, Abbie Hoffman reminisces about how you could always count on Phil to perform for any benefit or demonstration. That was true.
In the movie, it was mentioned that “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” was the anthem of the anti-Vietnam war movement. I think that was also true. I remember I owned the album (see album cover above) with that song on the cover. Phil wrote the best anti-war songs of anybody. They were lively, had great lyrics and the message could not have been clearer. They still sound good.
There is nobody around like Phil now and we are far worse for that. Phil was a conscience and his songs were strong. He had an ability to write topically about headline news. Maybe I am not as tuned in to music now (okay I am not as tuned in now) but I do not see any young singer/songwriter out there like him with an equivalent Movement-type connection. Maybe there is a rapper somewhere. I just don’t know the artist. Music now seems so insular.
Getting back to the movie, it is chronological in tracing Phil’s life. He grew up in an incredibly screwed up family. His father, a physician, suffered from manic depression. It sounded like he was in mental hospitals a lot and he was not there for Phil, his brother Michael or his sister Sonny. Phil’s mother also sounded miserably unhappy and mean to her children. She had expected Phil’s father to be financially successful which he was not. The family moved around frequently as Phil’s dad could not establish a successful medical practice. Phil did have a loving brother and sister though.
Phil’s family was apolitical. His friend, Jim Glover, was a big early influence. Phil met Jim when they were students together at Ohio State. Glover’s father was left wing. Glover and his father introduced Phil to folk music including Pete Seeger and the Weavers. That music had a big impact.
After 3 years, Phil dropped out of Ohio State and moved to Greenwich Village. It was the early 60’s. His goal was to become a songwriter and not just any songwriter. He wanted to be the best. The movie shows how Phil was part of a group of artists who all descended on the Village at the same time. These artists included Judy Henske, Eric Anderson, David Blue, Dave Von Ronk, Tom Paxton and Bob Dylan. They used to hang out together at each other’s apartments and listen to each other perform.
Quite a few of Phil’s old friends talk about him in the movie. According to Ed Sanders, Phil was a very friendly guy and he attracted a wide circle of friends. Lucien Truscott IV described Phil as “liberal but not didactic”. He said he never was cool and he was not afraid to expose his feelings.
Phil had a difficult relationship with Bob Dylan. He always sought Dylan’s approval but Dylan apparently never gave it. It sounded competitive between them. According to the movie, Dylan criticized Phil’s political songs as not being about his deepest emotions. It is hard to evaluate the whole thing now. Phil’s desire for Dylan’s approval sounded almost pathological. (I wonder what he would think of Dylan selling Chryslers.) They had times when they were friends though.
Phil embodied the contradictions of the era. He could write “Love, love me, love me, I’m a liberal” but he admired JFK and he had a very hard time coping after JFK’s assassination. I always liked his song “That was the President”. Phil had a hard time with the wishywashiness of liberals.
As the Vietnam war dragged on and the Movement frayed, things headed in darker directions. The Village artists moved on and out. There was immense rage and bitterness about the failure of the political system to address both Vietnam and civil rights. Profound alienation welled up especially in the wake of all the assassinations and the never ending war. Ed Sanders said that the bullet that shot RFK went through a whole generation and I know what he meant.
From the movie, it looked like Phil was confused. By nature, he was not a compromiser. He really wanted to be famous. He made an album “Pleasures of the Harbor” which went in some new directions. The album was badly reviewed although the movie said it did sell some. Phil started drinking more heavily. He tried to do a makeover, dressing in gold lame, following Elvis who was one of his heroes. He joked he was trying to get Elvis to become Che Guevara. I think it is fair to say that this whole makeover was not well received by Phil’s fans who liked the folky Phil fine.
The decline of the Movement coincided with Phil’s decline. He had his own issues with manic depression and with alcoholism. The drinking especially became extreme.
Phil wanted to see the world and he did do some travelling in the early 70’s. He went to Chile during the Allende period and was very inspired by what he saw. He met the famous Chilean folksinger Victor Jara who knew about him and they became fast friends. Phil was later distraught after the military coup which among other things resulted in the brutal assault and murder of Victor Jara at the National Stadium. Phil organized a benefit for Chilean refugees after the coup and he got Dylan to come and perform. Even though he personally was in very bad shape, the event was a big success.
One thing I never knew before seeing the movie, Phil travelled to Africa. While in Dar Es Salaam, he was attacked and strangled. He was left for dead on a beach. He suffered permanent vocal cord damage. He complained he could not sing well after that. He also complained he was losing his creativity.
Phil spiralled down in 1975 before he took his own life by hanging himself. He felt defeated and he said stuff like Phil Ochs is useless and should be killed. The movie shows him acting psychotic. It was like he was a different person at the end. The movie does a good job in honestly conveying all of Phil, including his extremely depressing last days.
While it sounded like Phil had many regrets about his marriage as well as regrets for not being a good father, his daughter Meegan and his wife Alice both said sweet things about him. Phil bought Meegan a cat they named Rimbaud. He also bought her an encyclopedia. Meegan felt Phil wanted to introduce her to poetry. He did genuinely adore her although it sounded like he was an absent father.
Besides the tragedy of his out of control alcoholism and his mental illness, Phil’s life does show the difficulty for committed activists living through periods when social change is not on the agenda. Phil could not make that transition and he could not figure out a way to live that was personally fulfilling. I do think that Phil’s struggles were reflective of a much wider generational problem: how to live ethically and in a principled manner when the society is deeply morally compromised and its values are deeply problematic.
I always liked the words from Phil’s song “When I’m Gone” so I will end with that:
There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone And I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone
And you won’t find me singin’ on this song when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here
And I won’t feel the flowing of the time when I’m gone
All the pleasures of love will not be mine when I’m gone
My pen won’t pour out a lyric line when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here
And I won’t breathe the bracing air when I’m gone
And I can’t even worry ’bout my cares when I’m gone
Won’t be asked to do my share when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here
And I won’t be running from the rain when I’m gone
And I can’t even suffer from the pain when I’m gone
Can’t say who’s to praise and who’s to blame when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here
Won’t see the golden of the sun when I’m gone
And the evenings and the mornings will be one when I’m gone
Can’t be singing louder than the guns when I’m gone
So I guess I will have to do it while I’m here
All my days won’t be dances of delight when I’m gone
And the sands will be shifting from my sight when I’m gone
Can’t add my name into the fight while I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here
And I won’t be laughing at the lies when I’m gone
And I can’t question how or when or why when I’m gone
Can’t live proud enough to die when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here
Book Review: “Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields” by Wendy Lower – posted 2/5/2014
I did find this book a revelation. The subject of women’s role in the Holocaust has never gotten much attention. It was a black hole in Holocaust studies. Wendy Lower’s book goes far toward filling this gap.
The book provides a wealth of new information but more importantly, it critically examines the role of German women. Lower does not shy away from offering insight and making provocative generalizations. It is not boring history.
You might legitimately ask: why another book on the Holocaust? This book tells us stuff we do not know. Also, it shows how masses of women, just like men. can blindly engage in the most awful acts of evil over and over again.
While the Holocaust has always seemed to be a largely male endeavor, Lower shows women were very much integrated into the Nazi machinery and master plan. As she says, Hitler’s Furies were not marginal sociopaths. They were zealous administrators, nurses, teachers and secretaries as well as robbers, tormentors and murderers. To quote Lower:
“They believed that their violent deeds were justified acts of revenge meted out to enemies of the Reich; such deeds were, in their minds, expressive of loyalty.”
Lower shows how the decimation of the Jews was an essential part of the Nazi push into Eastern Europe. That was where there was the largest concentration of Jews. The Nazis believed the Jews had been dangerously “bolshevized”. Lower describes the various roles women played in the imperial conquest of Eastern Europe.
She says that one-third of the German female population, thirteen million women, were active in Nazi Party organizations. Lower destroys the myth of the innocent apolitical German woman. I found it surprising but she says female membership in the Nazi Party actually increased until the end of the war.
There were contradictions in the crazy Nazi world view. Hitler rejected equal rights for women as a Marxist demand. He very explicitly said women’s place was in the home, producing healthy Aryan babies. Hitler felt women were inferior outside the domestic sphere. Lower quotes Hitler in 1935 and 1936 saying to Nazi Party Women’s Organizations that a mother of five, six, or seven children who were healthy and well-raised accomplished more than a female lawyer.
The Nazis glorified efficient housekeeping as an expression of “cultural and biological Germanness”. They loved women in aprons and saw good housekeeping as reflecting German superiority.
Lower says women were expected “to fall in line, follow rules, sacrifice for the greater good, develop nerves of steel and suffer in silence”. The Nazis restricted women who sought degrees in higher education and in political office by instituting quotas.
At the same time, the Nazis needed women to colonize the East. The Nazi imperial fantasy, the eastern Lebensraum, was a frontier which included both massive death camps and utopian, German-only colonies. The Nazis needed women to populate their projected racist utopia.
In 1933, the Nazis called for abolition of the female vote. It would appear that elections were not a big item in the Nazi agenda after 1933. While I do not believe the female vote was ever officially abolished, the Nazis transformed Germany into a one party dictatorship as quickly as they could once Hitler was appointed chancellor. One month into Hitler’s rule in February 1933, the Nazis suspended civil rights. From that point on. elections became passe. They arrested, imprisoned and murdered their opponents. The Reichstag fire created the pretext for thousands of arrests and disappearances.
Lower follows the careers of a number of Nazi women who were secretaries, nurses, teachers, and wives. She points to their youth as a defining quality. She wrote that ‘” terror regimes feed on the idealism and energy of young people”. The average age of female concentration camp guards was 26.
In a manner reminiscent of Raul Hilberg, she categorizes German women as witnesses, accomplices, and perpetrators. She asks: why did they kill? Her chapter on this theme is not easily reduced. She cites the environment as a most important factor in whom will become a perpetrator of genocide. As she says,
“Without certain settings and experiences, individuals with a proclivity to commit crimes would not commit them.”
Lower argues that the Nazis mobilized a generation of German women and conditioned them to commit evil acts as an assertion of Germany’s superiority. She also mentions Theodor Adorno’s work on authoritarian personality. She says empathy results from an upbringing of moral socialization. Most German women of the Nazi era received regular beatings when they were growing up. Violence was the norm as far as disciplining children. Lower argues that harsh authoritarian violence does not lead to empathy and moral behavior.
Maybe what was most shocking to me was that so many perpetrators, both male and female, literally got away with murder. As Lower says, the record of justice against Nazi perpetrators has been poor. Even now I find it surprising how true that still is. The limited number of prosecutions compared to the extent of the mass murder is an absurdity. She says most German women who participated in the Holocaust quietly resumed their normal lives. She goes on:
“In the postwar investigations in Germany, Israel and Austria, Jewish survivors identified German women as perpetrators, not only as gleeful onlookers but also as violent tormentors. But, by and large these women could not be named by the survivors, or after the war the women married and took on different names and could not be found.”
After World War 2, the International Tribunal at Nuremberg decided to limit prosecution to several hundred of the worst Nazi war criminals. Lower writes that in a public way German women were overwhelmingly silent after the war about their war-time experiences. They were silent about what they did to the Jews. They knew nothing. They saw nothing. Very few were ever judged.
A German narrative that emerged after the war saw women as victims rather than as criminals. They were the “rubble women” who helped rebuild Germany from the ashes. They were beleagered martyrs in this characterization and their accusers lacked credibility. They would cry when questioned which typically evoked sympathy from the male prosecutors and jurists.
Lower quotes Annette Schucking, a Red Cross nurse with a law degree. In 1948, she became a founding member of the reconstituted German female lawyers league, The Nazis has disbanded the organization in 1933. Schucking was interested in pursuing war crimes investigations. She spoke to prosecutors to try and get them to pursue a Nazi policeman, who along with his SS unit and local army and indigenous auxiliaries, had shot 6000 Jews in the Ukraine. This policeman had shot the Jews because he thought it would get him a promotion. Schucking had personal knowledge of the case from extensive conversations with participants in the killing. She went to Novgorod Voynsk and explored the now ransacked Jewish quarter. She described her knowledge in great detail in the book. Because she was a lawyer by training, she wrote out precise details in letters she wrote her parents. Nothing resulted from her attempt to investigate. This is what Schucking told Lower when she was interviewed in 2010:
“It was impossible to talk openly in their court system with any colleagues who had been in the East. Former Nazis were everywhere.”
For the overwhelming majority of Germans and their European Nazi allies, there was never any reckoning. I say this as a disgruntled lawyer, judge, and Jew who did not see justice done. Maybe it is all too late now but the witnessing and the history are important. Lower’s book is an important corrective to the view that appropriate punishment was meted out to the Nazis. While some number did go down for their crimes, the overwhelming majority escaped any punishment. Who says you cannot get away with murder? Thousands did.
I wanted to acknowledge the passing of Shulamit Aloni. Although little known in the United States, Aloni was, for many years, a very important figure on the Israeli Left. I am reprinting a remembrance written by Gideon Levy that appeared in the Israeli paper, Haaretz. Jon
Shulamit Aloni: The great woman of the dreams
Remembering a brave, principled woman who fought ferociously for Israeli civil rights.
By Gideon Levy
Shulamit Aloni [ http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/1.570350 ] was the first lady of Israel, the first lady of the remains of its liberalism and openness. She took part in shaping the state, but was one of the few figures in its history to do so other than by means of rivers of blood. Not a celebrated general with a chestful of medals, not the “exterminator of terror,” neither conqueror nor settler, yet still an Israeli hero – a civilian hero, for a change.
She was controversial – Golda Meir despised her at the start of her career, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef at the end – but no one disputed her honesty, determination or courage. Here was a woman, an Israeli leader, the controversy around whom revolved not wars, but rather around civil rights, the separation of state and religion, minority rights and social justice, all of them rare issues in Israel.
Aloni was the founding mother of them all: She invented Israeli enlightenment. She was the first, inspiring others and pointing the way. She did not always succeed, knowing more than a few painful failures, and late in life she became more extreme, railing at many things that she herself had helped to create. I would needle her, “You built this all,” to which she would respond indignantly, “It didn’t turn out the way we planned.”
And still, many Israelis owe her their rights and their standing – consumers; gay, lesbian and transgender individuals; Arabs and Jews; men and, above all, women – and perhaps they are not aware of this.
We bonded over the occupation. We played tennis together at the Sonesta Hotel in occupied Taba, in the period when her husband, Reuven, was head of the Israeli occupation administration in Sinai. On the tennis court, a good place for discerning personal character, she was arrow-straight and devoid of the desire to win at any cost.
The Aloni I knew was not only a woman of principle, but also had a lust for life. One time, when we had a lunch date, she brought me to a Whitman ice-cream shop for “American waffles,” topped with mountains of ice cream, whipped cream and a Maraschino cherry. You only live once, she said at the time, and Aloni lived a full, rich life. She enjoyed art and culture, had a thing for designer clothing and drove a trendy red jeep – yet was still a warrior for justice.
Lacking any cynicism, Aloni quit government coalitions and positions when necessary and was one of the most humble, least egotistic politicians I have known. At a time when most of her colleagues – including the most righteous among them – worried about their reputations and receiving proper credit, Aloni cared only about the issues themselves.
She was the third angle of the triangle of Sonia and Shimon Peres at the Ben-Shemen Youth Village, sharing a tent with the couple – how their paths diverged since that time.
She was Israeli (and Zionist) to the bone, a great patriot. When we walked together one time through the alleys of Cairo, I begged her not to talk aloud in Hebrew – even then, it was dangerous for Israelis in Egypt – and she didn’t heed me, nearly shouting in Hebrew. When necessary, and even when not, Aloni always said what she thought, and thought what she said.
Now she has successors – one works for gay rights, another battles the occupation, while this one sees to women’s rights and that one to minority rights, one fights the religious establishment and another champions freedom of expression – but not one of them encompasses what she encompassed. One brave woman flying so very many flags. Perhaps that is the reason the Zionist left that remains is a weak, stuttering, apologetic left.
She was the great woman of the dreams, in the title of the Yehoshua Kenaz novel: the dream of an egalitarian, secular, democratic and just society.
She was the great woman of the disappointment: Most of her dreams did not come true. Israel became a worse place – racist, ultranationalist, occupying, theocratic and bullying, its democracy and equality in tatters.
Precisely the opposite of everything she preached. Was she ahead of her time? Absolutely not. She came at exactly the right time, but perhaps she left too soon. It’s Israel that drew back from her, and with horrifying steps.