The Tory peer Daniel Finkelstein has written an exceptional book about his parents’ survival during a horrific time. Despite his political views, the book is so good that it is forgivable. The title, Hitler, Stalin, Mum And Dad, cleverly contrasts with the events it portrays, which are far from cozy.
The events described in the book happened to people who were similar to us. They lived in modern homes, read contemporary books, enjoyed entertainment at the cinema, restaurants, and cafes, and drove the latest cars. The book includes pictures of the modern house in Polish Lwow and the up-to-date Amsterdam block of flats, where the journeys to the inferno began.
The book provides a superb account of the Devil’s Alliance between Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Third Reich. Many people were crushed between these two oppressive regimes. Finkelstein vividly describes the courage and endurance of his grandparents, two of whom were worked and starved to death by utopian dictators. Despite the immense challenges, they fought fiercely to keep their children alive and succeeded.
Finkelstein remains angry at the fact that many people fail to see that Moscow and Berlin, who were supposed to be enemies, were actually allies against freedom, democracy, tolerance, and kindness.
Before the tragedy struck, Finkelstein’s parents and grandparents had no idea that death was approaching them. The horrors they experienced were reminiscent of the Middle Ages, but made worse by modern technology and the efficiency of evil bureaucracy.
The article includes two images. One shows Gaza on October 12 and highlights the difficulty of achieving acceptance of the Jewish state in the Arab world. The other image depicts Bucha, Ukraine, on April 6, 2022, and reflects the author’s feeling of living in a pre-war era despite having spent most of his life in a post-war period.The world we live in may appear modern and prosperous, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe. In fact, with the advancements in technology such as computers and CCTV, hell could be even worse than before. This was a realization I had after spending most of my life in a post-war era and now finding myself in what seems like a pre-war age.
During a recent X/Twitter debate, someone asked me where Jews were being persecuted in today’s world. I pointed to the most striking example, which occurred just outside the Gaza Strip in Israel on October 7. However, I also acknowledged that across Europe, there are many Jews who worry about anti-Israel demonstrations and signs of anti-Semitism, such as Stars of David scrawled on walls. It is clear that the beast of anti-Semitism is not dead, but only sleeping.
If we look back at Europe in 1932, we can see a similar situation. Many Jews were successfully integrated into German society, holding positions as war veterans, statesmen, lawyers, and doctors. These were intelligent individuals who were aware of the events happening around them. Yet, very few could have predicted the horrors that were to come because it seemed so unlikely.
Even those who did sense the danger often fled in the wrong direction for safety, only to find themselves caught by their would-be murderers. The trigger for the disaster that befell Daniel’s ancestors was something that almost nobody had foreseen, and to this day, it remains relatively unknown in the West.
In August 1939, a pact was made between Hitler’s Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and his Soviet counterpart, Vyacheslav Molotov. The details of this pact were concocted in a Moscow house on a street ominously named ‘Death Lane’. The suddenness of this pact was such that the Soviets had to obtain Nazi flags from a movie studio to line Ribbentrop’s route from the airport to the Kremlin.
Within weeks of the pact being signed, Nazi and Soviet troops were parading together in the conquered Polish city of Brest-Litovsk, and their secret police forces were exchanging prisoners. Sealed cattle wagons began transporting previously contented people to their torment and death, based on their class or ethnic group. These trains headed towards Siberia and Belsen, carrying Daniel’s father and mother, respectively, when they were young.
Stalin once remarked that while a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic. This unpleasant truth becomes evident as you read about the iron bureaucracy, the semi-starvation, the health-wrecking hard labor, and the diseases caused by neglect and hunger. It brings to life what was previously just a flat sentence in a school history book.
In conclusion, it is important to recognize that the world we live in may not be as safe as it seems. History has shown us that even in prosperous and modern times, atrocities can occur. We must remain vigilant and aware of the signs of hatred and persecution, ensuring that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.The survival of Daniel’s parents cannot be called ‘miraculous’. Despite the destruction and chaos, chance and officialdom sometimes provided opportunities. However, the exceptional courage and determination of Daniel’s forebears played a crucial role in their survival.
The current state of the world is filled with excessive passion and rage. Angry demonstrations and a lack of desire for compromise are prevalent. The issue of Israel’s existence is a prime example of an unsolvable argument, as few in the Arab world will ever fully accept it. Only with the support of the free West can they find a way to coexist.
Some idealists, particularly in the U.S., believe that American power can reshape the world. However, their attempts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya have all ended in failure. These endeavors have contributed to the migration crisis and increased instability in Europe.
Each failed idealistic venture has desensitized the world to war. We are now living in a pre-war era, which is a stark contrast to the post-war period I have experienced throughout most of my life.
Daniel Finkelstein’s book emphasizes the importance of reason and warns that our peaceful world is a rarity in human history. It can easily be disrupted by anger, power, greed, and intolerance. Before we become too angry with our neighbors, we should take heed of this message.
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