Archive for January 27th, 2011
In 1912, three months after the death of his father, a little boy was born with what should have been a silver spoon in his mouth near Stockholm Sweden. He grew up in a wealthy home with his mother (who remarried six years later), stepfather, one brother and one sister. His family was well-connected. His grandfather was a Swedish diplomat and envoy to Tokyo, Istanbul, and Sofia. He was educated in America and became fluent in at least four languages.
It was in 1944, after the Hungarian government undertook a massive deportation of Jews to almost certain death in Auschwitz that the young man, Raoul Wallenberg, secured his place as one of the great heroes of recorded history. Ultimately, more than 430,000 Hungarian Jews were deported. Most of them were killed on arrival. But tens of thousands of people (some estimate as high as 100,000) were saved by a small group of volunteers led by Wallenberg.
After creating a phony Swedish Embassy encompassing 32 buildings in Budapest, Wallenberg began disseminating “protective passports” to Hungarian Jews. He had the implicit – but not the official support of the Swedish government which had denied him any assistance beyond looking the other way while he forged official looking documents. The “embassy” was a front. The “passports” were created by Wallenberg himself and were not issued by the authority of the Swedish government. For all practical purposes, he was on his own.
If you ever get the chance to visit the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, take some time to view the archived video interviews with some of the survivors. One of them describes an instance in which Wallenberg came into a warehouse filled with families that were trying to evade deportation. The eye witness account says Wallenberg was crying when he entered the building. He said “I wish I could save all of you.” “But I can only take your children.” “Please let them come with me.” This story was told by one of the surviving children.
Wallenberg’s driver describes another account that illustrates how determined and how persistent he was in saving a trainload of people that were about to be shipped to Auschwitz.
Then he climbed up on the roof of the train and began handing in protective passes through the doors which were not yet sealed. He ignored orders from the Germans for him to get down, then the Arrow Cross men began shooting and shouting at him to go away. He ignored them and calmly continued handing out passports to the hands that were reaching out for them. I believe the Arrow Cross men deliberately aimed over his head, as not one shot hit him, which would have been impossible otherwise. I think this is what they did because they were so impressed by his courage. After Wallenberg had handed over the last of the passports he ordered all those who had one to leave the train and walk to the caravan of cars parked nearby, all marked in Swedish colours. I don’t remember exactly how many, but he saved dozens off that train, and the Germans and Arrow Cross were so dumbfounded they let him get away with it!
Today, January 27th, is recognized around the world as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Even Iran of all places will mark the occasion. International Holocaust Remembrance Day will be honored in Israel in addition to the better known national holiday, Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), which is (with a few exceptions) observed on the 27th of Nissan on the Jewish calendar and occurs in the spring on Western calendars. The Jewish holiday is also known as “Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah” (Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and the Heroism).
About 63 years ago (conflicting accounts place his death between 1945 and 1947), Raoul Wallenberg, one of the greatest human beings who ever lived, is believed after having been imprisoned and tortured to have died in a Soviet prison camp. It was not the Nazis, but the Soviet Union that finally got him.
More than 30 years later (1979), one of the world’s sorriest excuses for a human being, Joseph Mengele, died while swimming in Brazil having enjoyed a comfortable, mostly secure and prosperous life. He never had to face responsibility for his actions. With the exception of having been born into privilege, the only thing these two men seem to have shared is the amazing lack of justification for how each of their lives turned out.
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I was reading an article called “15 Styles of Distorted Thinking” when it struck me: People who are extremely action-oriented often make unconscious use of these 15 mental distortions. Further, people of action often fail to think things through carefully. Let me offer a few examples:
1. Filtering: You take the negative details and magnify them, while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. A single detail may be picked out, and the whole event becomes colored by this detail. When you pull negative things out of context, isolated from all the good experiences around you, you make them larger and more awful than they really are.
2. Polarized Thinking: The hallmark of this distortion is an insistence on dichotomous choices. Things are black or white, good or bad. You tend to perceive everything at the extremes, with very little room for a middle ground. The greatest danger in polarized thinking is its impact on how you judge yourself. For example-You have to be perfect or you’re a failure.
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