As the President rejects our foundational principles, all we can turn to is our instinct for shared defiance.
By Adam Gopnik / The New Yorker
February 13, 2017
Within two weeks of the Inauguration, the hysterical hyperventilators have come to seem more prescient in their fear of incipient autocratic fanaticism than the reassuring pooh-poohers. There’s a simple reason for this: the hyperventilators often read history.
Beate and Serge Klarsfeld, the couple who did so much to bear witness to the terrible truths of the Second World War, came to town last week to introduce their new memoir to an American audience. In it, there is a photograph that can only be called heartbreaking in its happiness, unbearable in its ordinariness. It shows an eight-year-old Serge with his sister and their Romanian-Jewish parents walking along a promenade in Nice, in 1943, still smiling, still feeling confident, even at that late date, that they are safe in their new French home. Within a few months, the children and their mother were hiding in a false closet, as Gestapo agents took their father to Auschwitz, and his death.
What the photograph teaches is not that every tear in the fabric of civility opens a path to Auschwitz but that civilization is immeasurably fragile, and is easily turned to brutality and barbarism. The human capacity for hatred is terrifying in its volatility. (The same promenade in Nice was the site of the terrorist truck attack last year.) Americans have a hard time internalizing that truth, but the first days of the Trump Administration have helped bring it home.