PRAGUE (Oct. 21)
President Vaclav Havel delivered an impassioned condemnation of anti-Semitism and its ultimate expression, the Holocaust, here Saturday night, saying it shamed him as a member of the human race.
The playwright, who became Czechoslovakia’s chief of state when democratic government replaced 40 years of Communist rule two years ago, has denounced anti-Semitism on past occasions.
But he spoke with special eloquence at a concert attended by Israeli President Chaim Herzog, who was ending a weeklong state visit to Czechoslovakia.
He recalled, as few national leaders do, that collaborators among his own countrymen implemented Nazi racial laws during World War II. He branded them “the non-murdering murderers.”
Havel said he was always rendered “desperately speechless” by evidence of the Holocaust.
“Whenever I am faced with documents on the Holocaust, on concentration camps, on mass extermination of Jews by Hitler, on racial laws and on the endless suffering of the Jewish people during World War II, I feel strangely paralyzed,” he said.
“I know that I should say something, do something, draw some conclusions from all that, yet at the same time I feel that any words I could say would be false, inadequate, inapt or deficient, and that I am unable to do more than stand there in silence and incomprehension.”
Havel attested to “a metaphysical feeling of shame of the human race of mankind, of man. I feel that this is his crime and his disgrace.”
He recalled that when he was a little boy during the Nazi occupation, he “envied some other children the six-pointed yellow stars they wore on their breasts. I thought it was a decoration,” he said.
“If it is not to happen ever again that any children be compelled to wear on their clothes a brand designed to warn others against them and to indicate that they are inferior,” he said, “we have to remind ourselves time and again of the horrors that befell the Jewish people, chosen to rouse, through their suffering, the conscience of humanity.”
ONLY THE DEAD CAN FORGIVE
Only a few days earlier, Herzog himself declared that “only the dead are entitled to forgive, and those alive should not forget.”
The Israeli president spoke at the Jewish cemetery in Terezin, a town in Bohemia 30 miles north of Prague, where the Nazis established a massive ghetto for Czechoslovak and foreign Jews, most of them en route to death camps in Poland.
Herzog was addressing a group of several hundred survivors from various countries.
The Czech prime minister, Peter Pithart, used the occasion to denounce anti-Semitic utterances he said are being heard even in countries like Czechoslovakia that were left after the war with hardly any Jewish population.
In an unrelated ceremony last Friday, an American rabbi representing the U.S. government signed an agreement with officials in Prague for the protection and preservation of historic sites and monuments marking each other’s cultural heritage.
The pact, signed by Rabbi Arthur Schneier of New York and Martin Stropnicky, director of the cultural policy section of the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry, creates a joint commission of the two countries to help identify, protect and preserve historic sites and cultural properties, including Jewish cemeteries in Czechoslovakia.
Schneier signed as chairman of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, an office he was sworn into by Vice President Dan Quayle in June.