Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Black on White

December 12, 1934
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Even more shocking than the wholesale executions in Moscow and Leningrad in recent days, is the placid unconcern with which that distressing news was received by the world at large. The human race, it would seem, has lost its capacity for indignation. Whether it is a few score officially sanctioned murders in Germany or Austria, or a few score panicky “liquidations” in Russia, the instigators by this time need expect nothing more embarrassing than a few headlines in the outside world.

Bloody war and bloodier peace have dulled sensitiveness to human pain; have destroyed utterly the respect for human life as such.


Hitler’s blood purge several months ago might have been visited upon sacrificial cattle rather than men and women, for all the genuine fellow-feeling for the victims that it aroused abroad. A few perfunctory protests, and on to the next headline!

And the most recent Soviet purge scarcely evoked even the perfunctory protests. The conscience of the human race, never a very active organ at best, has become almost entirely atrophied in these last years. We have finally conceded to dictatorial minorities, it would seem, the right to kill at their own sweet convenience. They need no longer bother to present even a formal and befuddling explanation or apology. They realize that nobody cares anyhow.


We can put aside the question as to whether the German and Russian mass killings are justified or not from the point of view of the killers, which is to say the State. Certainly from the vantage point of anyone who is not a part of such a State, the slaughter is indefensible.

In Germany the blood-letting was a phase of a petty factional fight for power inside the dictatorship. In Russia it was even less—the Kremlin did not even claim that the sixty-six who were executed in Moscow and Leningrad menaced the government or that they had the faintest connection with the young man who shot Sergei Kirov. It was as forthright an act of official vengeance, as wanton a display of autocratic power, as history can reveal.

I am fully familiar with the Nazi explanation of Hitler Schrecklichkeit. I am equally well aware of the Soviet explanation. In both instances words cannot conceal the one towering fact: that these men are capable of mass slaughter without so much as a twinge of conscience.


They are not upset by their role of mass executioners. Having overcome the natural distaste for a nasty job, maybe developed a slight unnatural relish for it, people have no difficulty finding rationalizations. To the extent that they are immune to normal feelings, it is dangerous to entrust human life to them. High-minded, super – patriotic, over – zealous inquisitionists—whether in medieval Spain or present-day Berlin and Moscow—are pathological cases.

Here, in New York, I see men and women, otherwise normal, who actually thrill with joy at the

Recommended from JTA