Words and Reality

It is Martin Luther King Day. I am listening to Martin Luther King’s historic speech where he says “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Unwittingly my memory takes me back to Nov 29 1950 when my family arrived in the port of New Orleans on our way to Shreveport LA to join family who sponsored our immigration. I am immensely impressed by the highways, the cars, the restaurants, the supermarkets and and taken aback by signs posted on restrooms, in buses, in movie theaters : “For whites” and “For coloreds”. And then, after many years of struggle for racial equality, I find myself in 2008 celebrating the election of the first non-white President of the United States.

The calendar does not stand still. Today is January 27, 2015, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I find myself returning in memory to 1945, and I am on the northern front with the Russian Army, advancing westward to the final defeat of the Nazi war machine. I cannot help but think back to 2004 when I visited Auschwitz with my son-in-law and two grandchildren. The gruesomeness of the extermination strikes you when you see the personal belongings of the perished sorted out according to their use. The guide showed us small room, closet-sized, where inmates would be shoved and left to die and the wall in the court yard where the victims would be shot routinely.

Recently, the Palestinians have been promoting the ‘argument’ that Israel was established by the Europeans to ‘atone’ for their crimes against the Jews. I would like to make it clear that after the re-establishment of Israel, the connection between Jews and and the Holy Land has never been interrupted; the daily prayers and the pilgrimages have been ongoing. The League of Nations after WW1 has confirmed the historic rights to the land without infringing on the rights of the local inhabitants. For the record: The Arab countries supported the Nazis in WW2. Denials and historical distortion sets a dangerous precedent and should never be tolerated.

Some articles in the British press recently expressed the idea that perhaps it’s time to put the Holocaust to rest in history. Sixty-five percent of Germans wholeheartedly agree with this idea.  And 35% of Germans believe that the way the Israelis are treating the Palestinians is no different from how Hitler treated the Jews. The Arab press rails at the Europeans for attempting to atone for the Holocaust by supporting the Jewish claim to the re-establishment of a Jewish state. 

If one was to agree with the notion that we should put the Holocaust to rest, then we are agreeing to a selective, edited view of history.  The idea that we can put to rest anything that we don’t like is inconceivable. If you want to eliminate the Holocaust, then  why not eliminate World War II?  Why not edit out the struggle for civil rights In the U.S. or the genocides in Rwanda? 

History is history.  One can interpret it in a variety of ways. But to deny the events of the Holocaust would be to allow our society to be based on lies, not just in this arena, but in all areas of our lives. Better that we should be uncomfortable speaking about and remembering unpleasant truths than that we and our descendants should become accustomed to living a life of lies. 

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