Posts Tagged ‘anti-semitism’

Letter From New York 01 27 15 On the 70th Anniversary…

January 27, 2015

A light dusting of snow continues to fall but we did not have the major storm that was predicted; it veered at the last minute to the east, sparing both the city and Claverack. I’m still waiting for the plowman to come and do the drive but that’s minor compared to what might have been. All is calm.

The deer are scampering across the drive as I type, continuing their restless wanderings. Jazz plays on Pandora and I have a fire in the Franklin stove. It has been a lazy day. Trains weren’t running into the city this morning. It was, in effect, a snow day.

Sipping morning coffee, I read the Times and finished last week’s edition of The Week, my favorite magazine. In the afternoon, while doing some household things, a British mystery played. It seemed like that kind of day.

It is snowy and cold and winter desolate. Perhaps not unlike the January 27th of seventy years ago when Russian troops liberated Auschwitz. German soldiers were lining up prisoners about to gun them down when the warning came that the Russians were coming and they fled.

58,000 were forced on a death march from Auschwitz to other camps. 15,000 of them died before reaching other camps. Left behind were thousands deemed too ill or weak to walk.

Today, about 300 survivors of Auschwitz gathered in a white tent for ceremonies to mark the anniversary. The Presidents of France and Poland as well as the American Director, Steven Spielberg, of the famous Shoah Project, are joining them.

It is possibly the last major anniversary that will be attended by survivors of the camp; they are aging and passing from the scene. Many are in their 80’s now; the youngest in their 70’s. Soon time will have silenced their voices.

Let us hope the memory of what happened doesn’t fade and that we never again allow such things to happen.

But the signs aren’t good. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe, perhaps now at the highest levels it has been since the end of World War II. Jews are leaving Europe at a faster pace than ever, frightened by the events around them. This was underscored during the Charlie Hebdo terrorist action in Paris where hostages were taken in a Jewish grocery store, with four being killed.

One of the stories I read today stated that Anti-Semitism is not returning to Germany; it never left. But there was a time when boys weren’t afraid to wear their yarmulkes and now some are.

90% of those who died at Auschwitz were Jews. The others were of Romani descent, political dissenters, homosexuals and others the Nazis hated. They hated extravagantly.

One survivor asked the question of how men could spend their days slaughtering human beings and then go home to their wives and children, eat dinner and listen to music? Because we are human beings, capable of extraordinary dichotomies, including the ability to do just that. Many days at Auschwitz 6,000 human beings were killed. In the end over 1.1 million died there, 15 square miles devoted to death. And those who did the killing went home at night and seemed to live normal lives. Is it possible? Yes, because it happened.

Letter From New York August 19, 2014

August 19, 2014

Or, as it seems to me…

The sun continues to play hide and seek and it is still unseasonably cool in the Northeast; which makes for beautiful weather. I have called these days “Goldilocks” days, not too warm, not too cool, just right.  And today is one of those “Goldilocks” days.  Clear, sharp shadows splatter the gravel circle in front of the cottage.  It is only in the low 60’s with promises of greater warmth for the day.

I am sipping that incredibly important first coffee of the day after having just perused the headlines of the New York Times on my iPhone.  This is the last of the five consecutive days I have spent at the cottage, lost in the thrall of these “Goldilocks” days, able to feel detached from the world while surrounded by green comfort of the countryside.  While I have been here, events move on and I have viewed them dispassionately for the most part.

Yet, even cosseted in the country, I am not able to ignore events here and abroad.  They feel further away but that is emotional distance not real distance – real distance has been compressed to jet flight hours.  Yesterday a woman on her way to treatment for cancer fell sick in Dubai from what might have been Ebola.  The total death toll from that disease is now above 1200 and mounting with the day.  Those who have sickened but lived to tell the tale are treated with suspicion and fear when they return to their villages.

The fragile Gaza ceasefire seems to have been broken by rocket attacks on southern Israeli towns.  While the tension continues there, anti-semitism is rising in parts of Europe.  In France, Jews are leaving for other countries, many for Israel. In Germany, similar things are happening.  Since the war, a place where Jews have lived, for the most part in peace, there is a sense of shadows falling upon a population that once felt safe.  Hungary has been turning anti-semitic for some time now.  Generally tolerant Italy has seen businesses and synagogues defaced.  There are anti-semitic gatherings in the Netherlands.  Britain is on its way to recording its worst year of anti-semitic incidents in years.  Jews were blamed in Spain for the defeat of Soccer teams. A Belgian doctor refused to treat a Jew for a broken rib.  

Ancient hatreds rise to the surface, it seems, when events scratch away choreographed civility.  And it is shame that civility is choreographed.  Why can’t it be a part of the civil fabric?  Because we have not learned that the “outsider” is not the cause of our troubles?

In Ferguson, MO the National Guard was called out to maintain order.  31 were arrested; unrest continues, fueled by an apparently small number of agitators and outside disruptors.  The wounds of racism have not healed in Ferguson; apparently they were only papered over.  Michael Brown’s death ripped that away and fury erupted.  And it is likely that racism’s wounds still remain to be healed in much of this country.  We’ve come a long way but not as far as we could or should.  If we had, Ferguson might not have happened.