Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Sometimes words are simply not enough. They fell way short of expressing our disgust, fury, hurt and outrage when the news came along that Jewish cemeteries are being vandalized in Philadelphia. Yes, that such a thing would happen in my old hometown is an additional wound, but that it would happen anywhere in our country is the point.
None of us is perfect, that's for sure. It is probably true that we all carry bias of some sort in our make-up. But our better angels manage to keep such demons under control, until they don't.
As a young Army officer I was sent to Germany as part of the United States Occupation Forces. World War II had ended short years before so there was no shooting or open hostility, but anger bubbled just beneath the surface. My assignment to an orientation program in Munich overlapped a weekend so, knowing that the Dachau concentration camp was somewhere in the area, I set out to visit that site. My experience was a searing one; it still remains fresh in my mind.
Unlike today where the death camp at Dachau is a “tourist attraction” in my time it was anything but. The camp was deserted save one single care keeper, a thin, bedraggled older gentleman who pressed a very modest booklet into my hand. We had to wear our uniforms when off duty back then and he was uncomfortable in my presence. Dachau then was much closer in appearance to its years of infamy than it is to today's well-scrubbed site with throngs of visitors. That day was gray, damp with drizzling rain. I went into the gas chamber where supposedly inmates were to shower. Tiled from top to bottom with a triangular opening at the top. Claustrophobic. And the sickening physical fear that someone would close the door where I entered and I would never get out. The opening up top was to provide the lethal chemicals that would snuff out so many lives crawling the walls and screaming in unheard fear and agony. Then to the crematorium where bodies were pushed into flaming ovens. I remember standing at attention and saluting, tears running down my cheeks. There was nothing else I could do then, and but one thing I can do now.
Which is to remind you that horror really did exist in our past and it does right now. Antisemitism is part of it that horror.