By: David Schwarcz  | 

Editor’s Desk: No Sympathy for the Devil (Vol. 50, Issue 7)

After witnessing the plethora of literature and listening to many television and radio programs jamming the air waves about President Reagan’s visit to the military cemetery in Bitburg, I expected students to write a host of op-ed articles and letters condemning Reagan’s “insensitivity” towards the holocaust survivors. But to my surprise, not one student, faculty member or administrator submitted an article. As editor, the Bitburg assignment unfortunately, fell on my shoulders.

Where was I to begin? Every political, historical and ethical consideration regarding this symbolic visit was already covered by many of today’s renown jounalists. I could not add to or support their arguments but only restate their positions. I searched for a new angle but came up empty. Every attempt to communicate my outrage sounded forced and insincere.

Dreading this assignment, I procrastinated with the hope of finding an op-ed about Bitburg slipped under my door: signaling my redemption.

Accepting my fate, I continued to search. I finally came in touch with my feelings while asking my father, a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp, if he thought that the press had given the Bitburg visit too much exposure. “Like many survivors,” he replied, “it pains me to be reminded of the past.” My mother frantically interjected, sounding the litany, “we can never forget the past.” Instinctively, I agreed with my mother but sympathized with my father. This moving discussion forced attention to my hidden feelings and the unspoken facts about the past.

I, like many children of holocaust survivors suffer an identity crisis. We have inherited the responsibility of safeguarding our parents tragic past and reminding the future generation of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis. But at the same time, we dare not re-open the wounds of our parents and thus remain silent. We yearn to speak out like our mothers but must sympathize with our fathers. As we continue harboring the memory of these atrocities, the need for expression intensifies while the means of expression becomes elusive. Unable to adequately describe our outrage, we engage in the usual moral posturing; decrying the world’s injustices. Intellectual discourse, masking our true feelings, enters where impassioned outcries should prevail,

As we desperately attempt to distance ourselves from the uncomfortable past, the past unrelentlessly permeates the present. It won't go away.

Bitburg has revealed how much the wounds still fester. As Flora Lewis so aptly stated “the ‘children’ cannot escape the results of what was done, nor pursue their restless search for identity by asking for absolution of the past.” Of course our expressed outrage, however forced, has not deterred Reagan from attending the ceremony in Bitburg, nor has it quelled our uneasiness about the past. It has, however, brought us closer to our past so we can better deal with the present. As President Reagan’s visit to Bitburg “encourages pride in German nationalism”, we must firmly denounce German nationalism, recognizing it as the root of great evil. We must valiantly continue to provoke the profound anxieties experienced by Germans when reminded of the unimaginable atrocities perpetrated against humanity. We will not permit them to escape the past, and without notice enter the civilized world. The pain is understandable, but it is an insult to the past and a dangerous precedent for the future to remain silent. Indeed, we must sympathize with our fathers but not at the expense of endangering our future.