Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Mass Murder, Page 6

This is a fascinating Post article about Peter Bergson, the Lithuanian Jew who escaped the Holocaust and became an advocate for Europe's Jews in America. It's fascinating because I didn't realize how little the general American populace knew during the war about the genocide taking place in Europe. The fact that a traveling show in 1943 could be the first time anyone had really heard about the mass murders is quite a shock. Not to mention the fact that Bergson finally succeeded in getting Congress to support efforts to end the genocide... in 1944.

Bergson used some fairly familiar awareness-raising tactics:
He enlisted celebrities, including writers Ben Hecht and Moss Hart and actors Edward G. Robinson and Paul Muni. They created a dramatic pageant called "We Will Never Die," with music by Kurt Weill and readings praising the achievements of Jews throughout history, as well as describing the horrific plight of victims of the Nazis.

Or how about this: the Washington Post didn't learn about the murder of Jews until November 1942, and then they buried the news on page 6 (link leads to PDF of article). You would think a headline titled "Half Of Jews Ordered Slain, Poles Report" would make a fairly sensational Page 1 headline. What the hell was on the front page on November 25, 1942 that would push that story back to page 6? Read the full story - it's about as gruesome as a matter-of-fact news article can be.

So when we bitch about Darfur or Rwanda massacres being pushed to the back of the national consciousness, or about our government's slow response to said massacres, remember: nothing new there. In fact, we've probably gotten better about it - would a newspaper learn about a gruesome genocide and not give it a little front-page time?

It also points to the importance of public advocacy against such horrific acts. We lampoon our celebrities for holding "save Darfur" concerts/publishing CDs to "raise awareness," but without them, how soon would such atrocities fall out of our national conscience? This was the most appalling genocide in modern history, and yet it took two and a half years (from the January 20, 1942 Wannsee Conference at which the Final Solution was hatched) and some pretty grand gestures to get Americans worked up enough for Congress to act. Think about that next time you rip Bono or Brad Pitt for their issue advocacy.

1 comment:

Michael said...

As usual Jeff, you have brought some sharp insight to a sticky topic.