Interviews with Holocaust survivors and eyewitnesses are the most chilling chapters of my 55-year career as a reporter and historian. I can still hear the horror in Arnold Samuels’ voice as he described helping liberate Dachau, where emaciated bodies were stacked like cordwood and mounds of ashes in the ovens were still warm.
At 91, he closed his eyes, held his head and made a low keening sound — an anguished “Awwwwwww” — as the memories flooded his brain. He handed me a stack of photos he took at the concentration camp in 1945. “People need to see them,” he said. “But they give me nightmares. I just couldn’t visualize how a cultured nation could do that to other human beings.” The utter depravity of it seared Arnold’s soul — and mine.
Arnold, his brother, father and mother were among the fortunate Jews who escaped Germany before the Nazis began shipping boxcar loads of Jews to the gas chambers. Arnold and his friend, Henry Kissinger, were among the “GI Jews” who returned to Germany to help track down the SS monsters who presided over Hitler’s “final solution,” the liquidation of 6 million human beings — Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gays, brave Christian clergy like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill and others considered “Untermenschen” (inherently inferior) by the Third Reich.
I was also privileged to interview Henry Friedman, who helped establish the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle. As a teenager, Henry evaded the Nazis in a barn loft. Christian farmers risked their lives to hide him, his mother, his brother and a teacher. When his hometown of Brody, Poland, was liberated, only 88 of its 10,000 Jews had survived.
Now comes the news that state Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, wore a yellow Star of David patch during a speech to alleged “conservative” activists in Lacey to dramatize his opposition to Covid-19 vaccine mandates. “It’s an echo from history,” Walsh reportedly wrote on a Facebook page. “In the current context, we are all Jews.”
The concept of “context” apparently was beyond Rep. Walsh’s comprehension. In the beginning, the Nazis forced Jews to wear the infamous patch to make them better targets for ridicule and exclusion. As the madness metastasized, the patches were affixed to the threadbare uniforms of the walking dead.
Asked whether he could grasp that his stunt was deeply offensive to those of us who understand history and abhor anti-Semitism, and all manner of prejudice and mendacity, Walsh said, “Some people are offended by having to provide vaccine documentation at their work.” How’s that for context!
At mid-week, there was welcome news. Responding to criticism from both sides of the political aisle, Walsh said he now gets it. He’s “terribly sorry,” and “It won’t happen ever again.”
Arnold Samuels is gone now. His epitaph is “Never forget.”
On his behalf, we’ll be watching Walsh to see if his contrition is genuine. He could start by visiting the remarkable Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle.
John C. Hughes