WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army as it pursued the retreating Nazis is upon us. It is perhaps a good occasion for me to recall what has been one of the strongest formative influences on my political point of view, the Holocaust. I learned about it in early grammar school under peculiar circumstances
In the seventh and eighth grades in the mid-1950s, I was an unruly student. Particularly when the teacher would demand of her class "silence," I became oddly loquacious. Thus, I was forever being banished to the back of the room, where behind a partition of some sort the teacher maintained her third "library" -- piles of old magazines, such as Life and Look, that featured photographs of current events. As my school was a Catholic grammar school, we had regular classes in religion, the grisliest moments of which were when our teacher told us about how the Romans martyred the early Christians.
It was after one of these lectures that I made the discovery that marked my political views indelibly. I was sent off to the "library," with my head full of tortured and murdered bodies from some gruesome Roman slaughter in the Coliseum. Inevitably, I turned to the pages of Life and Look, and there I discovered still more tortured and murdered bodies. There were piles of corpses, shirtless men with skeletal upper bodies exposed and American soldiers, cigarettes dangling from their mouths, greeting the survivors. Faraway Romans had not committed this atrocity, German European totalitarians had.
As you have doubtless perceived, I was reading old magazine reports of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. The confluence of my teacher's lectures on ancient Roman atrocities and those magazines' reporting on atrocities that had been carried out just a decade before impressed forever on my mind the horror that mankind can wreak on a minority if not restrained by the laws and a Bill of Rights. It happened in the Holocaust against Jews. It happened in the Gulag against political dissenters and simple unfortunates.