Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I met a very old man today

I just bumped into him on the sidewalk, right outside my apartment building as I was stepping out this morning.

He had been in Auschwitz.

I learned this because he was looking for a particular address on my street, and his search was somehow connected to his status as concentration-camp survivor. Someone from this address had contacted him and wanted to give him a package - or so I gathered, as an old man's garbled speech can be especially tough for the non-native to decipher.

But this was unmistakeable: Ja byłem w Oświęcim.

It's hard to know how to respond to such statements. I helped him find his address and went on my way, but later on this struck me as an especially Polish experience.

Since living here I have come to know people who were imprisoned in concentration camps during the Second World War, and who have told me the stories first hand.

This is especially relevant in light of what the president of Iran has been saying lately.

In Poland, living contradictions of that evil tripe are walking down the street.

The old man's cataract-scarred eyes reminded me though that those of us who have heard the stories bear a special responsibility to future generations.

The attempts at historical revision we're hearing today are just the beginning.

We won't be bumping into the truth on the sidewalk forever.


At 12/21/2005 02:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen. Historical truths need to be learned from our elders, and cherished by us, and taught to our children.

What a special opportunity to have those experiences first hand!

Thank you for the nice Christmas email - I hope you have a safe and bright Christmas and New Year!

Heather Griswold

At 12/21/2005 02:36:00 PM, Blogger beatroot said...

but I don't think we should be scared of 'historical revisionists'. David Irvin, the weirdo crank historian is in a prison in Austria at the moment because, 15 years ago, he 'denied the Holocaust'. Surly the best way to expose these sorts of slugs is to let them deny what they want, and then for us to show openly in debate that these people are talking rubbish. Putting people in prison because they say things we don;t like just gives fuel to neo-nazis, it won;t make them go away...

At 12/21/2005 04:50:00 PM, Blogger Gustav said...

I agree beatroot.

What I mean by an obligation to future generations is to nip lines of argument like this in the bud. It's very easy for us to do so now, because we have living proof that such trash is untrue.

But in a few years we won't. We need to make sure the Holocaust remains universally-accepted historical fact. I'm for open debate - but let's remember that open debate has led to the intelligent-design controversy. At least the scientific method doesn't disappear over time. We don't have that luxury with history.

I predict that by the time my grandchildren are my age, there will be a significant movement of historians who question whether the holocaust ever occured. We must always remember what powerful proof it is that we know people who were there. We can only fight such arguments with open debate, but we must hold firm to the side of the debate which is true.

At 12/21/2005 07:30:00 PM, Blogger beatroot said...

I hope you have lots of grandchildren.

But I can't agree that their children won't be taught about the holocaust. How could we possibly know that? For sure, the way people have interpreted the bible has certainly changed over three generations. But that's the difference between academic study and faith. History doesn't have paradigm shifts like that. (At least, I can't think of one). What may happen, and it's happening now in social science, is that you get this 'post-modernist' idea that there is no Truth, but truths - plural. In that case, then the history of the holocaust will be just one history among many.

What I think your grandchildren might have to worry about is saying and thinking things that 'polite society' finds offensive. Denying the holocaust is a crime in some countries. Denying Arminian massacre is in others. If you question anything about climate change some say you are a 'climate change denier'!


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