Dina Porat presents an excellent case-study study of large-scale revenge, particular when fails. (This a from a review of Dina Porat’s book, Nakam: The Holocaust Survivors Who Sought Full-Scale Revenge as reviewed by Daniel Kraft, “The Failed Plot to Kill 6 Million Germans in the Wake of WWII: A new history of a group of Jewish ex-partisans who tried to even the score.” (link) )
Kraft’s summary sets the stage:
Nakam, whose title is the Hebrew word for vengeance, tells the story of a group of survivors and partisan fighters who remained in Europe after the war’s end, formed a clandestine group they called the Nokmim (Avengers), and, in response to the genocide of Europe’s Jews, attempted to kill 6 million German citizens—men, women, and children—by poisoning the water supplies of major German cities and by delivering arsenic-laced bread to German prisoners of war.
As the Bible (and my book) clearly point out, the Avengers were doing wrong here. First, they were (as Kraft details in his review) emotionally involved to a degree that rendered clear moral judgment near-impossible. Emotion is never a valid basis for revenge.
Second, the immediate danger of a resumption of the real Holocaust was past. Law and order was slowly being restored to Europe. Even though there were anti-Jewish groups that continued to threaten and even kill relatively small numbers of Jews, those groups posed no threat that would have required killing 6 million additional Germans to thwart.
But there are circumstances where violent action against those who are carrying out an even greater evil is required in the form of responsibility in order to protect the relatively innocent. While the full-scale Holocaust was taking place in Germany, the law there was not legitimate, and did not need to be obeyed. This is a different phenomenon from revenge.
With that said, there is more analysis to be conducted on this historical event: Even as an attempt to thwart evil, the plans by the Avengers seemed doomed to fail. Their lack of success (i.e., no deaths) speaks either to a lack of knowledge or of logistics. Perhaps they were not aware that using a crude chemical poison, even administering the LD50 all at once will only kill half those targeted. It takes time to distribute poisoned bread, during which time symptoms would have begun to arise in the first to be poisoned. Once they had carried out a particulate type of attack, that type would not be effective again.
Even a legitimate response to a large evil takes far more planning to succeed; sometimes only full-scale war can be successful.