Monday, April 19, 2004

Never Again

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and it's only fitting that I point to this personal recollection by one survivor of that catastrophe, Arnold Distler, father of physicist Jacques Distler.

At a remove of 59 years since the end of World War 2, it's often hard for those without any Jewish relatives to imagine what it must have been like to live through such experiences, to lose brothers, sisters, parents and children to mass murderers, to spend years of one's life on end either hiding in terror of discovery or teetering on the edge of death as a slave, merely because of an accident of one's birth. It is this very distance that makes it so easy for so many of us to throw around insults like "Hitler!" or "Nazi!" or "Fascism!" without thinking of how it cheapens discourse to compare individuals and policies we merely find disagreeable to phenomena that lead to the single bloodiest era in the history of mankind.* As such, I think it salutary for people to listen to stories like Arnold Distler's, so they can put a face to the historical facts they've been taught, and realize that those evil deeds happened to people just like themselves, rather than being merely morality tales to be marshalled as propaganda on behalf of whichever political enthusiasm they happen to be supporting at any given moment. If it helps prod a few people to stand up to the cruelties of their own day as well, that would not be a bad thing.

*Yes, that includes the Ukrainian famine and China's Great Leap. About 55 million people lost their lives in World War 2, a war that began entirely through the agency of Adolf Hitler.