In the nineteenth century, Victor Hugo wrote, “War will be dead, the scaffold will be dead, hatred will be dead, frontiers will be dead, royalty will be dead, dogmas will be dead, man will begin to live.” But here we are in the twentieth century. War is not dead, nor is the scaffold. Dogmas are not dead, and man does not know how to live. Truly this is a killing century, a century of terror, destruction, and devastation, marred by moral cynicism. The mind of man, trained by generations in science and education, is shockingly applying the results to the perfection of weapons of death. As man's capacity for destruction has become almost unlimited, the need becomes even greater to rekindle his awareness of a higher purpose in human destiny.
Our own generation has witnessed the unthinkable horror of the Holocaust and the systematic extermination of six million Jews—men, women, and children. Indeed Israel Zangwill was right when he said, “The people of Christ have become the Christ of the people.”
The whole nation is sinking in a sea of horror and cruelty…. I do not know whether anyone else is recording the daily events. The conditions of life which surround us are not conducive to such literary labors…. Anyone who keeps such a record endangers his life, but this doesn't alarm me. I sense within me the magnitude of this hour and my responsibility to it. I have an inner awareness that I am fulfilling a national obligation…. My words are not rewritten, momentary reflexes shape them. Perhaps their value lies in this…. My record will serve as source material for the future historian.
KAPLAN DIARY, January 17, 1942
The Holocaust visited on the Jews was different from all earlier massacres in Jewish history because of its conscious and explicit planning, its systematic execution, and the absence of any emotional element in the remorselessly applied decision to exterminate everyone—everyone—to ensure that no one might escape or survive. There was no chance for survival!
The terror inflicted on all Hitler's victims, and his total disregard of the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”—nor take life without proper trial, nor kill the defenseless, nor harm the innocent—was in this case so violent and unprecedented that it is difficult to grasp how even an insane or half-sane fanatic would find it in himself not only to conceive such a plan, but to decree that “Thou shalt kill” millions and an entire nation without evoking the immediate horrified reaction from the world: “Why, you must be out of your mind!”