Auschwitz and politics

Samuel Pisar and the cities from which Auschwitz inmates were sent

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 75 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. It’s interestingly the first day of work for the new US Secretary of State (= Foreign Minister), Antony Blinken, who was confirmed by the US Senate yesterday. At the event announcing his nomination to the position, Blinken spoke movingly about his stepfather, Samuel Pisar, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp and two other camps. From his school in Poland which had 900 students, he was the sole survivor, and also the only member of his own family to survive the war. He escaped from the camp at the age of 16 and hid out in the Bavarian forest.

Blinken spoke at the event about how his stepfather, hiding in the forest, heard a rumbling and saw a tank coming towards him, but not with the Swastika insignia, but rather showing a 5-pointed star, the indication that it belonged to the US army. Seeing the youngster, the driver of the tank opened the hatch; it was an African-American soldier. Pisar spoke the only English words he knew (taught to him by his mother): “God bless America”. The soldier hoisted him into the tank.

Blinken spoke of that episode as an indicator of the idea of “America” as the last best hope for humanity. His stepfather, Pisar went on to become a celebrated diplomat and international lawyer, with the goal of achieving world peace through ongoing conversation among all countries, both friend and foe.

Blinken intends to follow his stepfather in terms of fostering multilateral relationships and international agreements, a direction opposed to that of the Trump administration. He also announced that his intention as Secretary of State was to run the office with “confidence and humility”. If he follows through with “humility”, that will be a stark contrast to the Trump Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who entered into the position announcing that his approach would be characterized by “swagger”, something he repeated recently as he was leaving office.

Finally, the current Foreign Minister of Germany, Heiko Maas, presents a very different perspective. When interviewed in 2018 when he took on that position, he stated, “Ich bin wegen Auschwitz in die Politik gegangen”, i.e., I got into politics because of Auschwitz. He acknowledges Germany’s guilt and the responsibility it bears “for all time”, as Maas has repeatedly stated. That represents again a contrast to the Trump administration, which in its 1776 project, insisted on downplaying the US history of slavery and of systemic racism.

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