Around the Chabad observance of Yud Shvat (the yahrzeit of the 6th Rebbe), much discussion is expended on the Holocaust, anti-Zionism, mesiras nefesh, and particularly, the ultra-frum response that kept hundreds of thousands from fleeing Europe. The 6th Rebbe of Chabad indeed advised that, given the proper service of Jews, there might be no war. This fits with Chasidus and with the principles of bitachon and emunah, as taught in Chabad. Indeed, stories are told of the Rebbe simply ignoring the dangers of jail when he was on death row in 1927, and that this is how he overcame the evil decree and was set free. Other gedolim advised their followers to stay, counseling that a secular Zionist Israel or a free America would cause damage to the people's frumkeit. Similarly, at Chaf Dalet Teves, the yahrzeit of the first Chabad Rebbe, much discussion centers on the fact that the first Rebbe supported the oppresive Czar over the forces of egalite' under Bonaparte.
As a justification in these cases, Chabadniks will point out that frumkeit remained strong in Russia, but it did not in France. Similarly, they felt it was better for the people to die in Europe than to live in America and risk diminishing their Jewish observance. Granted that when people came to America, many did do away with some of the frum observance. Also, granted that Russia was a frummer place than France, both before and after the Napolean wars.
However, my question is on the logic. Since when do we push away pikuach nefesh vadai on a safek (perhaps they will lapse in frumkeit). Would not a better course have been to save themselves and the people and then attend to them in the new places with extra kiruv, extra leadership, as has occurred thoughout the history of Judaism? Now, we get to the real point. Did these Rabanim not have faith in their own ability to lead? Did they prefer millions of dead Jews or Jews living in squalor and oppression to having to face up to their own insecurity in their abilities to shepherd the flock? Was it more important to keep them nursing from pure dogma than to save them from almost certain death?
Chabad was certainly not the only exporter of this philosophy. Satmar, Munkatz, all of the major Chasidic groups favored this approach in WWII. Complicating the pure philosophy, great efforts were expended to save the king bees themselves. The Rebbes of Chabad, Satmar etc. DID ESCAPE Europe and came to Israel and America, and they did start up their religious bases anew, as most of the communities back in Europe were destroyed by the war. The justification I heard this year is the most amazing that I have heard yet. According to one kiruvist rabbi, these Rebbes saved themselves so that their communities would not lose hope in the future. Also, they saved themselves while advising others to die so that the communities wouldn't take the attitude that they were willing to die personally, but they were not willing to allow their Rebbes to die, so the Rebbes saved themselves so that the people would follow their directives to stay. That's right! The Rebbes left so that the people would allow themselves to be killed!!
An aside about the example from Napolean, many chabad point out that the yeshivas remained in Russia but not in France. I would respond though that France was not a frum place before Napolean and continued not to be frum after Napolean. Would it not have been better to live in freedom and depend on Jewish leadership to stem the religious problems? Isn't that the definition of Jewish leadership or even just plain leadership? If these Rebbes were such great leaders, and they had people willing to sacrifice their lives for them in Europe and Russia, why were they so insecure that they could lead a refugee community to remain frum?
So, here we are today, with Israel and America never stronger in Judaism. People practice Judaism with impunity, spread the word and even get sponsored and protected by government officials to do so. Europe has very few if any of the old yeshivas, and they are all far weaker after the war, owing to the fact that most of their support DIED in the WAR! Russia, so far superior to France in frumkeit that the Czar was preferable to Napolean, was almost devoid of Judaism until about 17 years ago, and it is now being reintroduced. I also grant that much of this is due to the leadership of the 7th Chabad Rebbe, in the environment of freedom that exists today. I would argue that it is the environment of freedom, though, that allows these things to flourish, and that during the time of Communism, for instance, very few inroads were made.
So, with Iran flexing its muscle and trying to replace Naziism, I hope that future leadership is less shortsighted than in the past. I hope no one will say better dead than possibly frei (possibly not). Rather, I hope they will lead ... and live. After all, it is our children and grandchildren we are talking about. Now that is a worthy goal.