This week marks the Sheloshim commemorative of the passing of one of my heroes and a hero of our people, Moshe Arens.
Seven years ago I had the honor to have interviewed him in Jerusalem, focusing upon his authorship of his classic Flags Over The Warsaw Ghetto (Gefen Publishing). While my review focused primarily upon the inspirational role played by Rabbi Menachem Ziemba Hy”d, the face-to-face experience with Mr. Arens was in and of itself a memorable experience.
Arens’s role as a leader of our people was coupled with his private life as an aeronautical engineer, researcher, diplomat and politician. Born in Lithuania to a family whose mother was a dentist and father an industrialist, Arens saw his world change when the family immigrated to the United States in 1939, just one step ahead of the outbreak of World War II and the Holocaust.
During the war, Arens served in the United States Army Corps of Engineers as a technical sergeant. He was to settle in Israel in 1948 and join the Irgun. In 1951 he returned to the United States and studied engineering at MIT and aeronautical engineering at the California Institute of Technology. He later married Muriel Eisenberg, and together they had two sons and two daughters.
Arens returned to Israel and in 1957 became a professor at the Technion. He later devoted much of his study to the role of the Jewish Military Union in the Warsaw Ghetto, which fought alongside the Jewish Combat Organization in the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and most of his public career to politics, rising within the Likkud Party to serve in several prominent capacities: foreign minister, defense minister, member of the Knesset.
In their tribute to his memory, the editors of The New York Sun wrote, “We didn’t know Arens well. In each of the several times we interviewed him, though, he made an impression for the shrewdness of his analysis and the quiet strength of his character.”
They focused on Arens’s devotion to the Warsaw ghetto revolt and its uniqueness in both the left and right uniting in their common struggle to defeat the Nazis.
“This emerged in sharp relief with the death, in 2009 in Poland, of Mark Edelman, leader of the vestige of the General Association of Jewish Workers known as the Bund…”
The Bund was a left-wing organization, and Arens, a right-wing leader, gave the Bund its due in his history of the struggle against the Nazis.
“‘The Bund’s lofty ideas took precedence over reality,’ Arens wrote in 2009, ‘And cruel reality put an end to the Bund.’” That, though, “was not because most Polish Jews deemed its ideology superior, but because the human base of the Bund was exterminated along with the rest of Polish Jewry, by the Germans during World War II.
“Arens was no socialist. He reminded his readers, though, that the Bund had won among millions of Polish Jews a ‘loyalty that sustained them during the war years, and gave them the courage to heroically fight the Germans along with other Jewish fighters, outnumbered and outgunned, in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.’ His elegy to Edelman is one of the most affecting newspaper columns we’ve ever read.”
The Sun editorial concludes:
“As Arens himself is laid to rest, the question nags at us still — why did Arens make such a bow to a hero at the other end of the ideological spectrum? Certainly Arens understood that if we are not vigilant, the dream of Herzl could yet be dealt as cruel a fate as what befell the Bund. Yet he also understood how hard it is to predict whence, in the depths of combat, heroism will be revealed.”
Arens was a man of great integrity.
May the legacy of Moshe Arens, now of blessed memory, teach us to continue to fight for our people’s rights to peace everlasting in our homeland, the Land of Israel.