He’s making the scene big-time right now on YouTube and various other video sites online: Adolek Kohn, an 89 year old survivor of Auschwitz, recently revisited the Nazi concentration camp where he was imprisoned over sixty years ago, and danced a shuffle to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” But the event has ignited a debate over whether Kohn’s actions demonstrate disrespect towards those who were not so fortunate — Kohn’s fellow inmates who perished at Auschwitz and other internment camps during the Second World War. A recent Associated Press article asked, “The fight … poses uncomfortable questions about how to approach one of history’s greatest tragedies: What’s the ‘proper’ way to commemorate it? Can a survivor pay homage in a way that might be unthinkable for others?”
It is perhaps no one’s place to pass judgement on those latter two questions. My guess is that it’s up to survivors of such horrible events to determine for themselves how best to celebrate their deliverance, or to try and forget it as each prefers. I prefer, rather, to focus on the “one of history’s greatest tragedies” statement. It’s a phrase that seems to imply that, in the case of Nazi Germany, government got a little too out of hand, but that, with proper limitations – and perhaps a slightly different philosophy underpinning it — other governments might be all right, or even desireable. It a phrase that seems unable or even unwilling to acknowledge that governments — regardless of the nomenclature used in each individual case to justify their existences — remain at root fundamentally the same. To wit, that each presumes to dominate the lives and properties of the populations ostensibly subject to their rule without obtaining the express consent to do so from each and every member of that populace. The rest is just a matter of degree. Yes, there is a difference between the level of individual liberty present in America 2010 and Germany 1942. Yet, the fundamental manner in which both governments operate and operated respectively remains essentially the same: Plunder at the barrel of a gun, and imprisonment or death for all those who do not obey its edicts. No government ever really deviates from this basic aggressive and wholly arrogant policy.
No doubt, Mr. Kohn’s dancing is at least in part on the grave of Nazi Germany, and those who fueled its sadistic machinery in the first place: the camp guards and kommandant, the SS, the Wermacht; Himmler, Goering, and Hitler himself. But this is merely like pruning branches on a dark and malignant tree, instead of cutting at its roots. It was and is, in truth, not simply the Nazi German version of government that allowed such atrocity to take place, but the very concept of government itself. Never mind that the conditions imposed upon Germans by the victorious governments of the First World War led indirectly to the Nazis’ rise — look at the idea of government itself, what it does in practice rather than myth and hollow theory, and it becomes readily apparent at once that this is the real problem. It becomes apparent that Nazi Germany was really nothing more nor less than a logical extension of all government, all politics, and where it invariably leads.
Dance, Mr. Kohn, by all means. But let us soon join you in dancing not just on the grave of Nazism, but also on that of the most hideous, destructive, and intrusive abomination ever spawned by man: All governments, everywhere.