Magazine article Insight on the News

Bigotry Is Never Extinguished

Magazine article Insight on the News

Bigotry Is Never Extinguished

Article excerpt

The Holocaust is never out of the news. In fact, we hear a lot more about it today than when it actually was happening.

The author of a new book accuses IBM of having given high-tech information to the Nazis that made the roundup of Jews considerably more efficient than it otherwise would have been, and which helped the Nazis run the trains to Auschwitz on time.

Haven, a four-hour CBS miniseries based on the experience of Ruth Gruber, a midlevel Jewish employee of the Department of the Interior during World War II, exposes how the wartime State Department was rife with anti-Semitism in a time when some critics called Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal "the Jew Deal."

New news: The six-pointed star in the crown of The Mall in Washington, the National Memorial Holocaust Museum, was tarnished when Rabbi Irving Greenberg, chairman of the Holocaust Museum Council, invoked museum auspices to write to Bill Clinton to beg for a pardon for Marc Rich, telling the outgoing president that such a pardon for a friend of Israel and the museum would be a "Godlike action."

Yes, the Holocaust speaks with many mouths, and the light of our democracy and freedom of the press continues to work as a disinfectant exposing facts both great and small. The rabbi's letter was a mistake in judgment, but because it was so quickly uncovered in the media it served as a warning (and a reminder) about how easily the tragedy of the Jews can be exploited for cheap -- or expensive -- politics. Religious leaders must be particularly sensitive to the risk of being exploited. (Roger Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles, for instance, apologized for a letter he wrote in haste to President Clinton, without checking the facts, asking for a pardon for a convicted heroin dealer.)

Anti-Semitism, once rampant here as elsewhere, slowly has melted in the decades since World War II, but bigotry never is quite extinguished. Just the other day Clinton played a round at a country-club golf course in Boca Raton, Fla., that he knew was off-limits to both blacks and Jews.

My daughter, a graduate student in Berlin, is exotic in Germany precisely because she's Jewish. Most of her German friends never had met a Jew, so close did Hitler get to his goal of exterminating a race. The Nazis were counting on getting away with it, so sure were they that the rest of the world wouldn't care. Heinrich Himmler, congratulating SS officers in Poznan, Poland, in 1943 for keeping "an honorable silence" after confronting mountains of Jewish corpses, said: "This is a glorious page in our history, which has never been written and never will be written. …

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