Holocaust Remembrance (21 January 2023)


Imagine the hysterical shrieks of outrage if, during one of Israel’s innumerable wars of aggression—mislabeled wars of “self-defense” or “necessity”[1]—Germany had supplied Israel’s enemy with tanks.  The New York Times reports that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been pressured to supply Ukraine with tanks.  So far Scholz has hesitated because


he does not believe the world is ready to see German tanks near the borders of Russia, a reminder of the Nazi invasion in World War II.  One senior American official said this week that if Mr. Scholz and the German public are worried about that, in these circumstances “they are the only ones who are.” (20 January)


In other words, German concern about the bad optics is absurd.  My parents passed through the Nazi holocaust.  My most salient memory of growing up is my home suffused with what had befallen them: pictures of my Mother’s dead family hanging on the living room wall; my Mother reading about the Warsaw ghetto (both my parents were immured in the ghetto) in John Hershey’s The Wall and Leon Uris’s Mila-18; my Mother glued to the television screen during the Eichmann Trial.  I’m 69. Vladimir Putin is 70.  The Nazis wiped out some twenty-seven million Russians.  The Wikipedia entry for Vladimir Putin reads in full under the heading “Early Life”:


Putin was born on 7 October 1952 in Leningrad, Soviet Union (now Saint Petersburg, Russia). The youngest of three children of Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin (1911–1999) and Maria Ivanovna Putina (née Shelomova; 1911–1998). His grandfather, Spiridon Putin (1879–1965), was a personal cook to Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. Putin’s birth was preceded by the deaths of two brothers: Albert, born in the 1930s, died in infancy, and Viktor, born in 1940, died of diphtheria and starvation in 1942 during the Siege of Leningrad by Nazi Germany‘s forces in World War II.

Putin’s mother was a factory worker and his father was a conscript in the Soviet Navy, serving in the submarine fleet in the early 1930s. During the early stage of the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union, his father served in the destruction battalion of the NKVD. Later, he was transferred to the regular army and was severely wounded in 1942. Putin’s maternal grandmother was killed by the German occupiers of Tver region in 1941, and his maternal uncles disappeared on the Eastern Front during World War II.


It might be supposed that Putin’s childhood was not unlike my own: pervaded by somber memories of the murderous Nazi invasion. But the notion that, were Germany to supply tanks poised on Russia’s border, it might be unseemly, is of course too silly for words.  One hopes and prays that, should Germany yet decide to provide the tanks, it will—again—get its just desserts.


[1] “They were all wars of choice or folly” (Israeli political scientist Zeev Maoz).


Video is timestamped, but if it starts from the beginning, you can skip to 29:00


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(start at 25:00)



I write about this program in my forthcoming book on identity politics, cancel culture, and academic freedom.  The Smothers Brothers broke the blacklist of Pete Seeger.  Here’s the song Seeger sang on the program.  I can still see that night in my mind’s eye:


Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) was the U.S. president during the war in Vietnam. He was very tall.  You’ll figure out the rest.  Now even Bernie Sanders is dragging us into the Big Muddy, except this time it might be nuclear annihilation.

I started last night a 1,000-page biography of Rosa Luxemburg that I first read a half century ago.  The author reports that Rosa’s artistic tastes were highbrow conventional.  She didn’t go for popular-proletarian literature and music.  Still, I believe that if Rosa attended this concert, she would — despite herself — be singing along with the rest of us.

Though the road be rough and rocky,
And the hills be steep and high,
We can sing as we go marching,
And we’ll win that one big union by and by.