When I began revising an old manuscript that became A Stone for Bread, I found myself wondering if one more novel portraying a Nazi concentration camp might seem outdated. Yet since I began that revision, authors and filmmakers have continued to powerfully render Nazi Germany and its horrors, as in Anthony Doerr’s novel All the Light We Cannot See and the film by Costa-Gavras titled Amen.
In the 20th century, wars and revolutions, along with murderous dictatorships, killed uncountable millions, as in Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China and many other places. You can see the list here. But Nazi Germany’s murder of civilians, which is estimated at more than 28 million (see link), continues to resonate in western consciousness. Yet Hitler’s regime did not perpetrate such massive slaughter by itself. They had many helpers, which even today is sometimes denied.
This past April, Marine Le Pen, a French presidential contender, said in a political speech: “I don’t think France is responsible for the Vel d’Hiv,” the 1942 roundup of 13,000 French Jews who were held at the Vel d’Hiv, Paris’s Winter Velodrome stadium before being deported.
Le Pen’s statement was widely criticized for ignoring the history of French collaboration with the Nazis. The Los Angeles Times, which quoted her remark, noted that approximately 75,000 Jews were deported from France to Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Only 2,500 survived.
And now America has a President who seems able to furiously castigate business leaders who resign from his economic council but has to be forced by his advisors to tepidly condemn neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. This from a man who holds the office once held by Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, extraordinary men who with thousands of American soldiers and civilians were the determinative forces that saved Western democracy.
I suggest this current president pay a visit to France and Omaha Beach and the American cemetery that lies above it.