Magazine article The Spectator

Quiet Courage

Magazine article The Spectator

Quiet Courage

Article excerpt

'Listeners may find some of the content disturbing, ' said the announcer before the programme began (a warning that was also given in the Radio Times). You'd have thought we were about to hear a particularly raunchy play, or some horrific accounts of death by torture, murder or old age. Behind Enemy Lines (Radio Two, Saturday) was shocking at times, and needed to be. That was the point.

John McCarthy, the Beirut hostage who was held captive by Islamic Jihad for almost five years, talked to others who had been imprisoned not for crimes committed but because of political hostilities and race hatred. We heard from Valdemar Ginsburg, a Lithuanian Jew who remembered the Sunday when his family, all 14 of them, spent the entire day arguing about whether or not they should leave their home before the Nazis arrived. They decided to stay on, hoping that it would be easier to survive under Nazi rule than in a Russian slave labour camp in Siberia. They made the wrong choice. He is the lone survivor, but carries within him horrific memories of when the Nazis surrounded the hospital in the ghetto, boarded up all the doors and windows, poured on petrol and set it alight knowing that all those inside would be burnt alive. 'Our killers, ' he recalls, 'were our Lithuanian neighbours; young men who volunteered to join the Nazis and who were prepared to do their dirty work.'

He was himself taken away to Dachau, where 'we lost all our compassion. We became callous and selfish.' But from that experience came his determination to survive so that he could bear witness to a terrible truth, 'How easy it is to turn people into evil.'

Was this what we were being warned against in that cautionary trailer?

Or were we being protected from the appalling witness of Ibbi Davidowitz who had been interned in Auschwitz? She took pleasure in the luxury of having a shower for the first time in days, although she did think the soap had an unusually greasy feel and a peculiar smell. …

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