Ignorance of the Past Breeds Optimism for the Future!

| January 27, 2011 | 2 Replies

Raoul Wallenberg Passport Photo from WikiMedia Commons Used with Permission

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.

Let’s recap. A successful business man, with a perfectly peaceful, safe and secure livelihood, left Sweden and put everything on the line to save innocent people from one of the greatest human tragedies in history. His life, his future and any dreams he may have had were utterly and completely destroyed.

Meanwhile, a subhuman dirt bag that made a career out of injecting dye into the eyes of children, amputating their limbs and mutilating them for no better reason than to get his name on the books for medical experiments; a cold, hateful asshole that calmly sent innocent people to gas chambers on a daily basis, went on after the war to enjoy the life he stole from so many others for the total amount of time Raoul Wallenberg lived on this planet.

Many years ago, I ran across a calendar that was designed to help the uninitiated understand the meaning of the Jewish holy days. For each holiday, a brief description of its historical purpose was included. Under the holiday “Yom Kippur” (Day of Atonement) was the traditional description “Man is judged by God.” This made sense because I understood the concept that this was a day on which the books of accounting were opened and God would decide the fate of every Jew based on the kind of person he had been in the preceding year. But the description for Yom HaShoah really floored me. Under the name of that holiday was the description “God is judged by Man.” I struggled to understand how the Jewish people could make such an audacious statement!

I would later learn that the Holocaust was a turning point for many Jewish people. There were some that would dig in their heels and view the whole thing as a test of their faith – as evidence that there are things in the universe that people just cannot understand. But others saw this as evidence that if there ever was a covenant between God and the Jewish People, God had utterly failed to keep his end of the bargain. The Holocaust was an equal opportunity atrocity. The best of people and the worst of people having been identified as Jews (or Communists, or homosexuals, or Jehovah’s Witnesses) were captured, tortured and killed. It made no difference if you were an Atheist, a Christian or a fanatically observant Jew. If you were one of the targets or perceived as sympathetic to one of the targets, you were next. And there was no God to save you.

I know the Conservatives tend to panic when anyone dares to compare their world view and policies to those of the Nazis. That is an exercise of free speech reserved for their guys, Beck and Limbaugh. But if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck. . . you know the rest.

For all of the things the Holocaust may be, ancient history is not one of them. Some of the survivors are still with us. They will tell you that most of the victims did not see it coming until it was too late to escape. When Hitler came to power the German people were suffering a terrible economy, massive unemployment, and a sense of national despair. Waging unnecessary and unprovoked war created a huge boost for the economy. Depriving the people of basic human rights such as fair trials, the right to face their accusers and confront the evidence against them, and the right to legal counsel made the despicable acts of a totalitarian government not only possible, but relatively easy.

Like our modern politicians, the Nazis had a “solution” to offer the public: eliminate the gays, the “communists”, and the Jews. But hate is nurtured by an abundance mentality. There is always room for more. Today it seems that the voices of rational, educated, compassionate human beings are drowned out by a sea of misfits with a flag in one hand, a bible in the other, and a hateful idiot in the middle. The gays, the communists/socialists, and the Jews are blamed for creating all of the problems with which they, as categories had nothing to do. But move over for the Mexicans, the Muslims, and the “Liberals.” If we could all understand how important it is to hate those people, all modern problems would be solved. Combine that thinking with the ignorant rhetoric about “Second Amendment Solutions” and the blind, stupid “faith” that we are unconditionally the best country on earth (even if we torture people and hold our leaders above the law); and that God just likes us better than everyone else, and we will surely repeat the atrocities of World War II before the end of this generation. Ignoring what happened before makes it easier to believe we have ‘the truth.” But it will not save us from ourselves – or the rest of the world from us.

Copyright © 2011, Rick D. Massey, JD

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Category: History

About the Author ()

Bio: Rick Massey is an attorney who lives and practices in Eastern Missouri. Rick lives with his wife and their amazing little girl in Lake St. Louis.

Comments (2)

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  1. MikeFitz17 says:

    Rick: Thanks for the illuminating and timely column. Your depiction of the opposite fates that awaited Wallenberg and Mengele remind me of how "unfair" the universe is.

    Torture, imprisonment and murder for one of history's greatest heroes; an easy life and the escape from justice for one of its worst monsters.

    One of the lessons I take away from the Holocaust is how almost all of us, regardless of education or social background, regardless of whether we are Americans or not, are capable of virtually any atrocity if we are scared or angry enough. Our government's actions after 9/11 certainly underscore this point.

  2. Rick Massey says:

    Mike: I think that is the most important lesson in all of this. These were some of the brightest people of their time. They included some of the world's most brilliant scientists, doctors, writers, artists and engineers. But many never saw it coming because they could not believe their government could actually be that evil. And here we are watching a very similar combination of circumstances unfold before our eyes. Yet when you mention the very real threat that we could be heading down the same path, they look at you like you need to take off your tin-foil hat.

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