published August 15, 2007
this is column 53
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Issue: 8.07
Man's Inhumanity to Man

For me, as for so many other Jews, the Holocaust has been a never ending search for understanding of manís inhumanity to man (Robert Burns).

Ten years ago, among many of my readings, I discovered a book by Saul Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews: Volume I, subtitled The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939.

What was most impressive to me was the manner in which Friedlander, a Jew, was able to chronicle the history of the Nazi regime in a calm, factual tone, thereby providing information which impacted more strongly on us, than the more emotional accounts we so often encountered.

This past year, Friedlander delivered Volume II, Nazi Germany and the Jews, The Years of Persecution,1939-1945, in the same manner as the previous volume, with an objectivity amazing in someone who spent his boyhood in Nazi occupied France and had strong ties to the Holocaust.

In his text, he referred to the writings of Primo Levi and I began reading all of Leviís books, struck once again by the objectivity and factual nature of his writings, especially the volume, Survival in Auschwitz.

Levi, a brilliant scholar, had the opportunity to meet and correspond with many different people, but he stated that the question most often asked, was how the German people could claim ignorance of what the Nazis were doing to the Jews as well as to others.

Levi believed that many Germans knew what was happening in their country but did nothing about it because they were:

1) indifferent
2) had been strongly indoctrinated to hate the Jews
3) were afraid to do anything because they feared retribution from the SS.

Perhaps some or all of these reasons were true and so they did nothing.

Fast forward to the next century and ask similar questions about the citizens of the United States. We were told, via the media, often later rather than sooner, about the horrific conditions in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. We were told about torture and dehumanization but did we flood the internet with emails stating our indignation and insisting on change? Did we also flood our leaders with requests to DO something? No matter how much we complain and, in reality, we donít have the SS, most of us are afraid to speak out, even though it is an issue that should be of great concern.

Before I get a flood of Ďare you defending the Nazisí, let me say with the greatest vehemence I can summon, Ďof course not.í What I am saying is that before we speak of manís inhumanity to man, we must attempt to walk in anotherís shoes. The Jews regard the Germans as villains and destroyers of human life. Will the time come when the Iraqis speak in the same way about us?

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