The litany of institutionalized cruelty since Auschwitz proves the world’s memory is short.
Newscaster Edward R. Murrow, covering the Allied troops’ liberation of Germany, accompanied one of the first contingents to overtake a German concentration camp. No American was prepared for the horrible scene within the gates: emaciated, bony corpses stacked like cordwood and the awful stench of burning flesh. Worst of all were the living corpses, the Muselmänner, or walking dead. One man, a human skeleton with skin draped over him like loose-fitting leather, stared at Murrow with haunting, empty eyes. Finally he spoke in a raspy, wheezing voice: “Mr. Murrow, Mr. Murrow … do you remember me?”
Edward R. Murrow glanced at the man and quickly shook his head. But the man persisted. He grabbed Murrow’s arm in his clawlike fingers and said, “Don’t you remember? You interviewed me in Prague. I was the mayor then, of Prague, Czechoslovakia.”
Six years after that liberation, thousands of miles away in the desolate Siberian wasteland, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was serving out his term for making a disparaging reference to Stalin in a letter. After six gloomy years he suddenly discovered the joy of writing. “Sometimes in a sullen work party with Tommygunners barking about me, lines and images crowded in so urgently that I felt myself borne through the air, overleaping the column in my hurry to reach the work site and find a corner to write. At such moments I was both free and happy” (Gulag III, p. 99).
But how could he write? Any scrap of paper would be confiscated and cause suspicion against him, no matter how innocent the writings were. After all, the lines could be in code or perhaps contain the membership list of some organization. Solzhenitsyn ...1
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