Upon the passing of her husband, Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein, Mrs. Tehillah Lichtenstein took over leadership of the Society of Jewish Science in 1939, just as the full scope of Hitler’s campaign of conquest was beginning to emerge. We forget, perhaps, that at that time, not all Americans were convinced that we could, in fact, prevail against his armies.

“…for a while neither the British nor Russians nor Americans could defeat [the German/Nazi army], and — horrifying thought! — it seemed that Hitler would win the War.” [1]

Yet, in an essay that appeared in “The Jewish Science Interpreter” issue of May, 1941 — 1½ years after her husband had passed; about 6 months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor; 3 years and one month before D-Day;  exactly 70 years ago this month — Mrs. Lichtenstein expressed, almost prophetically, her absolute certainty that Hitler would eventually be beaten:

     “…I do not for a moment believe that Adolph Hitler will triumph in the end. A spirit that is bent on destruction must in the end meet with destruction. History tells us so, in very clear language. Again and again we have seen the rise of an evil genius, and, for a little day, which at the time may seem endless, the murky flame of his triumphs lights up the sky with a necromantic glow that throws terror into the hearts of men. But in the end, mankind, chastened, saddened, but with increased wisdom, emerges strong and free; marching on with the triumphant forces of good. History tells us that there comes a time when man at last fully realizes that he does not need to tolerate tyranny and slavery and oppression, and that he has the power to throw it off. Perhaps we have reached that point today; perhaps Hitler’s days are numbered. There is no doubt that we are arrrayed in battle against him. Whether we shall immediately be successful against him will depend upon which of us is using the better weapons. I do not mean precisely the better armaments, though these, of course, must enter into the material aspects of the combat. But the weapons of the spirit go beyond that, and are more determinative of results than cannon and battleship and bombing plane.” [2]

However, the spiritual war of WWII didn’t end with the military armistice or the liberation of prisoners from the camps.

For “spiritual” victory over Hitler, in 1970, rabbi and philosopher Emil Fackenheim proposed a “614th mitzvah” —  “Jews are forbidden to give Hitler posthumous victories” — consisting of 4 parts. In it, Jews are:
1 — to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish;
2 — to remember the victims of Auschwitz, lest their memory perish;
3 — forbidden to despair of Man, lest they co-operate in delivering the world to the forces of Auschwitz;
4 — [forbidden] to despair of the G-d of Israel, lest Judaism perish. [3]

Rabbi Fackenheim’s “614th mitzvah” opens up to each of us the possibility of  a  multi-leveled, multi-faceted response to the Shoah. Of course, no one has the right to tell us — especially survivors and their families — what we should feel. But Dr. Fackenheim’s response can allow for emunah to do its healing work in us, without discounting the eternally inescapable sadness of what happened. It also shows us a multi-faceted way to respond to the tragedies that we face in today’s world.

I think that Mrs. Lichtenstein would have approved of the balance he found between grieving for those who died — which we must never stop doing — and maintaining our belief in G-d’s ultimate Goodness and its potential expression in all people. So doing, we deny Hitler not only a military victory, but a “spiritual” one as well. It’s a struggle we might not yet have completed. But we can and we will, b’ezrat Ha-Shem — with G-d’s help.

Let us, then, honor the memories of those millions who died in their helplessness, by reminding ourselves, even in our sadness, that against the monumentally brutish use of science, technology and material power, a spiritual power for Good was the ultimate victor then, and can be again for us now.


[1] http://www.holocaust-trc.org/fackenheim.htm

[2] This essay of Mrs. Lichtenstein’s isn’t available at this time, but an anthology of some of her other essays, entitled “Applied Judaism,” can be purchased at: http://www.appliedjudaism.org/

[3] http://www.holocaust-trc.org/fackenheim.htm (as above)