Vienna was home to 23 synagogues prior to World War II, only one of which outlasted the Nazis –the Stadttempel, which was constructed in 1825 and 1826 and which survived Kristallnacht in November, 1938. This beautiful house of worship was saved because the emperor had ordered that it be built behind facades and as part of an organic structure which included apartment buildings and which shielded passers-by on the street from the view of a non-Catholic house of worship. The terrorists of Kristallnacht could not torch the temple without burning down the homes of gentiles and without endangering one of the oldest Catholic churches in Vienna –The Church of St. Rupert which predates 1200.
Thus self-interest saved a synagogue from anti-Semitism. There’s a lesson there even for the reflexively anti-Israel left in America and the president who has too embodied their agenda over the past four years. Everyone in the U.S. needs to be aware of the growing threats to Israel because they endanger our ally but also our own security.
I visted the Stadttemple on Wednesday, the day after the attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. Security was tight but not oppressive. The synagogue’s staff has sad experience with terrorism, as the congregation was itself attacked in 1981 by Abu Nidal’s fanatics who killed two and injured 30 more with machine guns and grenades. Close examination is thus paid to visitors, especially on the day after another attack on Jews a country over from Austria, but the synagogue didn’t close. If you can survive Hitler, you can survive anything.
I learned of the Stadttemple from Daniel Silva’s incredible new thriller The Fallen Angel. I taped an interview with Silva before leaving for Europe and played it on the day of the launch of The Fallen Angel. The transcript will be posted at HughHewitt.com and I encourage you to read it as well as the book and indeed the entire Gabriel Allon series of thrillers. (The first book in the series is The Kill Artist and all of the titles and their right sequence are available from DanielSilvaBooks.com.)
Silva’s books are wonderful entertainment and Silva is widely regarded as at the very top of the thriller writers working today, but the far deeper value of the books is in the education they provide on the precarious situation of Israel in the world today. The nature of that situation first became very obvious to millions of Americans in my generation when terrorists attacked the Israeli Olympic team in Munich in 1972, ecventually killing 11 Israeli athletes and coaches on September 6, 1972. Most American 50 and older can tell you exactly where they were when this atrocity unfolded, and as the 40th anniversary looms, we can only hope the organizers of the London Games are not only committed to remembering that awful massacre but also to remembering its details correctly and without concern for the political winds blowing once again against Israel all across Europe.
The Fallen Angel takes the reader not only to Vienna and Rome in another superb combination off pacing and plot, but also to Jerusalem and into the heart of the “Temple Denial” phenomenon, the all-to-real effort by the fanatical opponents of Israel’s history to claim that the First and second Temples of Ancient Israel never existed. This appalling assault on truth obliges its proponents to condemn themselves as unthinking fanatics, but the world doesn’t have to accomodate their extremism any more than it does the nuttiness of Holocaust deniers. Silva’s thriller does a great deal to call attention to the phenomenon, and to the physical threats to Israel as well, especially those coming from Hezbollah.
The Israeli government has named Hezbollah as the organizer of this week’s massacre in Bulgaria and we should believe this indictment. We should also reject any attempt to quickly move on and not allow the desire to celebrate the Olympic moment and movement to paper over this latest massacre or the awful anniversary that approaches of the Munich Massacre any more than we ought to accomodate Temple Denial or Holocaust Denial. We have to hope the London Olympics understands the significance of a 40th anniversary and commemorates the victims without fear or political correctness.
Mitt Romney travels to both London and Israel soon, and I have to hope someone on his staff sticks a copy of The Fallen Angel into his airplane reading. Not only will it help make the traveling time fly by, it will also bring the candidate up to speed on some of the aspects of the crisis engulfing the Middle East in a way not even the best briefing paper can convey. This kind of dual purpose in a novel is rare, and not to be missed, by ordinary beach-going vacationers or presidential candidates.