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A Public Service Message from the American Income Life Insurance Co.Waco, TexasBernard Rapoport, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer The Worst Thing That Has Ever Happened By Dr. Robert D. King American Income Life Insurance Company is pleased to publish Dr. Robert D. King’s Yom Hoshua address to the Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin. The UT historian Robert Abzug, in his moving account of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps just published \(Inside the begins with a quotation from the critic Susan Sontag describing her reaction to the pictures of Bergen-Belsen and dachau from 1945: Nothing I have seen in photographs or in real life ever cut me as sharply, deeply, instantaneously. . . . When I looked at those photographs, something broke. Some limit had been reached, and not only that of horror; I felt irrevocably grieved, wounded, but a part of my feelings started to tighten; something went dead; something is still crying. I know exactly how she felt, though it took me longer to get there. There are only personal reactions to the Nazi persecution of the Jews, and this one is mine. The earliest memory I have of what we now have grown accustomed to calling the Holocaust is that of newsreels at the end of the war: gaunt, sick men in striped uniforms, scarcely alive, scarcely moving, breathing rapidly and shallowly. I was eight then, and I am not conscious of knowing that what I was seeing was anything but the face of war itself. We had been at war, and I knew that men died in war. But I cannot remember any distinction then between men killed in war and men in newsreels dying in striped uniforms. It was all war. Later, in high school, I remember reading, at the home of a Jewish friend of mine, a book that I believe was called the Black Book of Polish Jewry. It was my first acquaintance with the structures of the horror: the gas chambers, the stacked bodies, sadistic brutalities the details of which I can no longer talk about except with great difficulty, and then only infrequently. Then this was in the early 1950’s there came television accounts of what had happened, and I began to understand something of the enormity of what had befallen the Jewish people between 1939 and 1945. But my understanding was a dry and detached thing, akin to the understanding I have, say, of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii: it was a misfortune and there was great suffering and loss of life, but nothing in me died there. In college I won a scholarship that took me to Germany for a year of study. No great significance should be read into the fact that it was Germany where I spent my senior year; it could have been Italy or France, only the college I attended did not have scholarships to those places, and I very much wanted to get to Europe. The year I spent in Germany was extraordinarily important for me, unquestionably the most formative year of my life. My interests shifted from mathematics to history and literature, and I traveled a lot. This was the Germany of the late 1950s, a time when Germans were trying awkwardly, tentatively, without enthusiasm, not gracefully to come to terms with their terrible past. There were films and books on different aspects of the Holocaust, and, perhaps because I was living in the country responsible for the evil, I felt more personally affected by the magnitude of the horror than I had before. But there was one event, one chance acquaintanceship, that for complicated reasons I do not fully understand brought me to the “limit” of which Susan Sontag spoke. I happened to take part in a retreat on the Bodensee sponsored by the church ministry at the university I was attending. The topic of the retreat I had not known this when I signed up for it was German-Jewish relations, and most of the participants were students like me, only German. The minister who had organized the retreat brought as a participant Landesrabbiner Block, the rabbi of the state of Baden-Wurtemberg. I spent a good deal of time with Rabbi Block during those few days. Rabbi Block had been born and educated in Germany where he served as a rabbi until 1938, which, after the “Kristallnacht,” was when things took a precipitous turn for the worse for German Jewry. He Dr. King is Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas at Austin. American Income Life Insurance Company EXECUTIVE OFFICES: P.O. BOX 208, WACO, TEXAS 78703, 817-772-3050 BERNARD RAPOPORT Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer 20 OCTOBER 11, 1985