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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 managed to get his family to what was then called Palestine, but he himself went to Lithuania in order to “be where I was needed,” as he put it to me. He was there when the German troops marched in in 1941. Almost immediately there began the massacres that destroyed the ancient Jewish community of Vilna, that most intellectual and cultured of Jewish cities in Eastern Europe, its Jerusalem. He experienced all this horror with his own body, he saw terrible massacres with his own eyes, indeed he later, during some of the 1958 trials of war criminals in Germany, testified in court on what he had seen. Somehow, I never learned how, he had eventually escaped to Palestine to join his family. He had returned alone, a man in his sixties, to Germany in the mid-1950s to tend to the spiritual needs of the tiny community of Jews left in the southwestern German state of BadenWurttemberg. As he said, “Someone had to do it.” I suppose, if one had pressed him on it, he would have said it was to “be where I was needed.” Rabbi Block was a good man. I learned nothing of the details of the Holocaust from him; he didn’t care to speak of those things, and I was not inclined to ask. One afternoon he, the Lutheran minister, and I were walking on the shores of the lake, and we came .to an old structure that I recall as something like a deserted lighthouse. One could climb a spiral staircase to the top and get a good view of things, and we did that, the three of us. In the small room at the top, which had a window opening onto the lake, I saw to my disgust and embarrassment that we had stumbled into a sort of accidental museum. On the walls were chiseled slogans with dates from before the war: the kind of pro-Nazi, anti-Jewish filth painted on the windows of Jewish stores in pre-war Germany. The moment was appalling. The minister murmured some kind of hopeless apology; I could say nothing. Rabbi Bloch said simply: “Those were very bad times, and maybe it’s good to have such reminders.” That was it, a simple declarative sentence. But something in what he said and in the way he said it moved me more than anything else ever has that I have heard or read about the Holocaust. He had managed, God alone knows how, to subdue his hatred and his memories of scenes too awful to bear. I don’t think he would have said that he had forgiven the Germans, and I wouldn’t have asked; but I think he would have said that one must live, and one can’t change the past, but one must never forget. That’s all he said: “Those were very bad times, and maybe it’s good to have such reminders.” Perhaps for reasons that had to do with me and the situation as much as:with his actual words, this brief encounter, these simple words, were for me some kind of turning point in my personal relationship to the Holocaust. I have felt since then, quite simply, that the Holocaust was the worst thing that has ever happened. The worst thing that has ever happened. Can one really risk saying such a thing? I do not wish to make comparisons between horrors, between genocide in Poland and genocide in Cambodia, and you can take what I say metaphorically if that makes it more acceptable. The destruction of one highly cultured and gifted people by another highly cultured and gifted people; the sadism; the loss of the entire Yiddish-speaking culture of Eastern Europe; the relentless pursuit of ever more thorough genocide even though that pursuit deflected resources from the war effort and even though the end of the war was plain to see for the most stupid of men; the butchery of children beyond number it goes on and on. And I can only sum it up by saying that it is, for me, the worst thing that has ever happened. One can find hope, little pieces of hope, in the Holocaust. There were partisans who fought back, there was the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, the anniversary of which we celebrate tonight. There were the Gentiles who helped, the Righteous Gentiles: Raoul Wallenberg, Anton Schmidt, Joop Westerweel. And Oscar Schindler German, con man, bon vivant, immoderate drinker, not an intellectual, not a religious man who saved hundreds of Jews in the Cracow Ghetto, and of whose motivation we have not the faintest understanding. At Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, there are 4,500 names of the Just, the Righteous Gentiles, the men and women who, usually inexplicably, risked everything to save Jewish lives. If God did not exist, he would have to be invented to explain why such people obscure wheeler-dealers like Oskar Schindler did what they did. And we must also ask ourselves: why only 4,500? I have never found answers in the Holocaust, only questions. After such knowledge, what forgiveness? The more I have learned of the Holocaust, the less I ultimately understand. No answers, only questions. As Susan Sontag says, something went dead; something is still crying. American Income Life Insurance Company .EXECUTIVE OFFICES: P.O. BOX 208, WACO, TEXAS 76703, 817-772-3050 BERNARD RAPOPORT Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21 4’4 -4 …/tOirfloellAACAWA ,4004110.410″,..Y.010rOVAPIP1110000.…… 1,-..,..040, ‘ ” ” ”