Page 53 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 2

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John Milton, who began his career as poet in his early teens by
paraphrasing two psalms — Psalm CXIV, in praise of Israel’s
liberation from Egypt, and Psalm CXXXVI, a hymn of thank-
fulness — in his classic defense of freedom of the press tells us:
For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potencie of life in
them to be active as that soule whose progeny they are; and they do preserve
as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that
bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those
fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring
up armed men. And yet on the other hand unless wariness be us’d, as good
almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable
creature, God’s Image; but he who destroyes a good Book, kills reason it selfe,
kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to
the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit,
imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life. ’Tis true, no age
can restore a life, whereof perhaps there is no great losse; and revolutions of
ages doe not oft recover the loss of a rejected truth, for the want of which
whole Nations fare the worse. We should be wary therefore what persecution
we raise against the living labours of publick men, how we spill the season’d
life of man preserv’d and stor’d up in Books; since we see a kinde of homicide
may be thus committed, sometimes a martyrdome, and if it extend to the
whole impression, a kinde of massacre, whereof the execution ends not in the
slaying of an elemental life, but strikes at that ethereall and lift essence
[quintessence!, the breath of reason it selfe, slaies immortality rather than
of life.
For they that breathe violence against Israel and falsehood against
the cherished ideals of man cannot withstand the healing grace
of truth. Let “ truth and falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth
put to the worse in a free and open encounter.” That is why
dictators have suppressed the freedom of expression and of the
press. They fear the truth.
On October 15th, 1940, Dr. Cecil Roth wrote from Oxford to
Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach, president of the American Jewish Histor-
ical Society, concerning an air-raid on London that had taken
place shortly before. The raiders had destroyed the headquarters
of the Jewish Historical Society of England, its library and muse-
um. The results of three quarters of a century of devoted labor
by such men as Frederick David Mocatta, Lucien Wolf, Israel
Abrahams, Sir Herman Gollancz and others, had gone up in smoke.
The American Jewish Historical Society was asked by its sister
organization to cooperate in its reconstruction. At its annual
meeting on December 29, 1940, the night of the
great air-raid
over
London, the American Jewish Historical Society promised to
participate in the “cause of Jewish intellectual life, which must
not be allowed to be paralyzed by Nazi violence.” Duplicates
in its library will eventually go to England. Subsequently,
in 1942, Dr. Roth described the reconstruction of the Mocatta
Library, one of the earliest victims of the indiscriminate bomb-
ing expeditions over London. In April 1943, at a conference
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