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Daniel Ruth

Evil and its helpers

One of the first things you see upon entering the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington are the shoes — thousands of them, all representing a victim of Hitler's ovens and other atrocities.

There are the shoes of adults who walked the final steps of indignity to their deaths. There are the shoes of children and infants, who you know probably perished within moments after having them removed upon entering Dachau or Auschwitz.

It is a poignant, eloquent and brutal confrontation with the evils of the Third Reich's "Final Solution."

Over the years my wife Angela, who serves as the director of the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, has administered a nationwide Holocaust Remembrance Project essay contest for high school students.

I've been privileged to occasionally serve as one of the judges reviewing the thousands of annual submissions and have accompanied her to Washington where the finalists are invited to participate in a week of meeting with survivors of the Holocaust, which concludes with a banquet where the students receive scholarships and hear from such distinguished speakers as Elie Wiesel, or Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, or Gen. Wesley Clark, or the late Daniel Schorr and Michael Blumenthal.

There is a reason for this program. With the passage of time since the end of World War II, it is vitally important for future generations not to lose sight of the horrors of mankind's darkest chapter. Each year, more and more survivors — now in their 80s and 90s — pass on, taking with them their first-hand oral history accounts of what they witnessed — what they endured.

Six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. More than 1 million Americans were either killed or wounded fighting the Axis powers to bring this horrific nightmare to an end. The gravestones — and the memories — are long and vast. There is no statute of limitations on misery.

And there should be no statute of limitations on feelings of betrayal and outrage.

A recently disclosed 600-page U.S. Justice Department report details a decadeslong, post-World War II history of American collaboration with former Nazi henchmen, who were given entry to the United States and subsequently worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and the nation's budding space program.

Included in this group were the likes of Otto von Bolschwing, a former associate of Adolf Eichmann, who worked for the CIA, and Arthur Rudolph, a Nazi scientist who eventually made his way to the NASA to become the father of the Saturn V rocket.

More perversely, Rudolph was even honored by NASA for his contributions when he should have been swinging at the end of a rope.

Indeed, the report notes that Justice Department officials frequently conspired to hide the backgrounds of former Nazis granted admission to the country.

For every veteran who fought in World War II, for those who died or were wounded in combat, the report, which the Justice Department tried to keep secret for four years, is a cruel slap in the face of their service.

And for the millions who died in the concentration camps and those who managed to survive the daily terror of Nazi brutality, the report opens old emotional scars.

It has long been debated among ethicists whether scientific revelations by former Nazis, who gained their knowledge on the backs of slave labor, should be recognized.

Is it worth it if the science is written in blood? Is it worth going to the moon, if the science that got America there cost 6 million pairs of shoes?

The United States, we all know, hasn't always had the cleanest of hands. Over our history we have cozied up to all manner of tyrannical despots who served our broader interests. We hold our noses and look the other way. Being a world power isn't for the naive, or the easily scandalized.

Still, World War II was fought to rid the planet of the likes of Hitler. American treasure was spent to preserve freedom and challenge the dark, perverted, twisted forces of pure evil.

And 65 years after the end of the war, its effects still linger.

I have gotten to know a number of Holocaust survivors over the years. I have listened to their stories of unfathomable horror, their stories of incredible courage.

They deserve better than what the United States did in providing a safe haven for sadistic killers? For what? A moon rock? We deserve better.

Who knows what the next batch of Holocaust Remembrance Project essays will bring this year. But I hope some of them address the price of shame, the cost-benefit ratio of complicity.

History demands such an accounting. So do all those lonely shoes.

Evil and its helpers 11/15/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 15, 2010 6:32pm]

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