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Indifference often implies complicity
on January 10, 2010
Anti-Semitism was quite rampant in Poland when I was a little kid. Then, under the Germans occupation I was saddled with the most gruesome experiences. I saw the Germans looting, expropriating, mocking, beating, torturing, shooting, hanging, burning alive, babies choked or smashed to death, starving and other unimaginable acts of extreme wickedness carried out against innocent people. As a Jew, I was considered to be genetically programmed as subhuman. I was hated before I was born and tortured by people who did not know me. While being captive in forced labor and concentration camps, I kept asking how was it possible that nobody cares about me, about us? How does an adversary of humanity prevail? We felt a sense of abandonment and powerlessness. We prayed to God and hoped that the admired humanitarian President Roosevelt will come to our rescue; he will stop the ongoing slaughter.
Reading ROOSEVELT AND THE HOLOCAUST, I can see why the expected and deserved help did not come. Roosevelt had a full plate with domestic agenda and the New Deal. Furthermore, some of his closest advisors and members of his cabinet had no affinity for the Jewish people. I was not aware that so many Americans had feelings of enmity or even hatred toward Jews simply because they were Jews. The poisonous weed of Anti-Semitism was apparently transplanted from Europe. It is disheartening to learn from Beir's well documented book that there were very few outcries in America against German mass murder of innocent people. There were no rallies in America to counter the monster rallies in Germany of constant incitement to hatred. In the American Congress, only a few voices of protest were raised against the Nazi dehumanization of Jews while the Holocaust raged. The American leaders and the populace kept mostly silent when victim groups such as "asocials" Gypsies, Homosexuals, Poles, Russians, Jehovah Witnesses were being eliminated by the Nazis.
Beir mentiones Szmul Zygielbojm, who managed to escape to England, was saying on BBC:
"It will really be a shame to live on, a shame to belong to the human race.... The governments of Great Britain and America must be compelled to put an end to this mass murder. [Zygielbojm appealed to governments, because human rights or charitable organizations did not have the resources, as governments had, to stop the Nazis.] For if we do not try to find means of stopping it we shall bear part of the moral responsibility for what is happening. I cannot be silent; I cannot live while the remnants of the Jewish population of Poland are perishing... By my death I wish to make my final protest against the passivity with which the world is looking on and permitting the extermination of the Jewish people. I know how little life is worth today, but I was unable to do anything during my life, perhaps by my death I shall contribute to breaking down the indifference of those who may now, at the last moment, rescue the few Polish Jews still alive."
He spoke for millions whose voices were stilled. Ultimately, Zygielbojm committed suicide.
I have often been asked by my life audiences, or readers of my autography: How could such a terrible thing as the Holocaust happen? I respond with Winston Churchill's famous statement, "The Holocaust was not just a Jewish tragedy; it was the world's tragedy, because the world did let it happen." In his well researched book, ROOSEVELT AND THE HOLOCAUST, Robert L.Beir corroborates that great statesman's statement.
Anybody interested in the events and the political environment in the United States during the Holocaust, in Nazi Germany, will benefit from reading this book. A German woman asked her father, in her book, that its title I forgot, "where were you daddy during the Holocaust? Did you resist or at least protest the Holocaust? Are you one of those Germans who claim "We haben nichts gewusst" [we knew nothing]. I have never heard you saying: "tut mir leid" [I am sorry]."
Robert Beir, who was born in New York City, puts the same poignant question to many Americans, including himself. Beir sounds to have qualms of conscience for being somewhat indifferent during the Holocaust. It was not an ephemeral calamity, but an apocalyptic onslaught followed by mass slaughter going on for at least four years. Any person of compassion should feel compunctions about his or her indifference to the horrors during the Holocaust, as well as about other genocides that have taken place, in other countries, since the Holocaust. Compassionate people have no right to remain silent in face of genocide against any people. Silence is actual complicity. If we let the seeds of racism and prejudice to be sown, they will sprout and eventually flourish. The specters of similar holocausts are looming over us, because prejudice and bigotry still prevail in many places all over the globe. In my eyes, when an innocent person, regardless race, nationality or ethnicity is attacked the whole of humanity is attacked.
Beir, a Roosveltian, was asked rhetorically by a student "what about the St. Louis?" Namely, where was Roosevelt, the Great Humanitarian, when the St. Louis with 937 refugees was compelled to sail back to Europe, in ineluctable harms' way! This act gainsays the inscription on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.....Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Beir became embarrassed not knowing the answer to that student's question. This incident had prompted Beir to look into it. He did extensive research and in process had realized how vital it was to know thoroughly the history and philosophy of the person he had entranced.