The wall came tum­bling down

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Suzanne Fields

Twenty years ago the Ber­lin Wall fi­nally came tum­bling down. If Humpty Dumpty had been fool­ish enough to sit on it, that’s where he would have had his fa­tal fall. Not all the East Ger­man guards nor all the Stasi op­er­a­tives who spied on ev­ery­one could have put poor Humpty to­gether again.

It was a defin­ing mo­ment for mankind, ex­pos­ing the ul­ti­mate fail­ure of the bru­tal and goofy Marx­ist eco­nomic sys­tem. As John F. Kennedy noted on his visit to the Wall in 1963: “There are some who say com­mu­nism is the wave of the fu­ture. Let them come to Ber­lin.“

My daugh­ter, who lives in East Ber­lin where a stretch of the Wall still stands as a sym­bolic re­minder of free­dom’s loss, guides vis­i­tors to the rem­nants of the wall to show them how times have changed. Houses in East Ber­lin that were in de­crepit dis­re­pair in 1989 be­cause noth­ing had been done for them from the time the Wall went up a quar­ter of a cen­tury ear­lier, with fallen bal­conies and crum­bling paint, have be­come fash­ion­ably gen­tri­fied. The ground, blood­ied by men and women killed try­ing to es­cape through no-man’s land the deadly ter­ri­tory be­tween the Wall and free­dom, is now green with fresh growth and dap­pled with new con­struc­tion.

There’s a baby boom in the East Ber­lin neigh­bor­hoods of Mitte and Pren­zlauerberg, where young peo­ple, stu­dents and pro­fes­sion­als, have moved. That’s the ul­ti­mate vote for the fu­ture. The young peo­ple feel op­ti­mistic for the next gen­er­a­tion.

The city of Ber­lin has been com­pared to Faust, with two spir­its in the same breast, one ter­ri­ble and one won­der­ful, and this was cer­tainly true for the 18 years the Wall di­vided the city. Some Ber­lin­ers soared above the city in bal­loons, glid­ers and small planes, flee­ing to free­dom. Oth­ers were shot like squir­rels by the East Ber­lin guards, tak­ing tar­get prac­tice at those who tried to climb over it.

Iron­i­cally, the Wall was de­mol­ished on the same date, 51 years ear­lier, of Kristall­nacht, “the night of bro­ken glass,” that thrust the Nazis to na­tional promi­nence. Syn­a­gogues were set afire and the win­dows of Jewish homes and busi­nesses were smashed. Death stalked the burn­ing build­ings that was the be­gin­ning of the Holo­caust.

His­tory, as we all know, never stands still, which is why it’s im- por­tant that we mark the dates of tragedy and tri­umph chal­leng­ing us all to cel­e­brate he­roes great and small who did their part to cher­ish life. I re­cently came across an obit­u­ary of Jo­htje Vos, who died last month at the age of 90. Mrs. Vos and her hus­band Aart saved 36 Jews in the Nether- lands af­ter the Nazi in­va­sion, hid­ing them in their home at great dan­ger to them­selves and their four young chil­dren.

As a young wo­man Jo­htje had gone to Paris, a free spirit to be a free-lance writer, but re­turned to Hol­land where she wanted to have her chil­dren. She is in­ter­viewed in a book en­ti­tled “Res­cuers: Por­traits of Moral Courage in the Holo­caust” by Gay Black and Malka Drucker, where she in­sists there was noth­ing heroic about what she and her hus­band did.

All the more rea­son to honor them. Dan­ger for them be­gan when they agreed to keep a suit- case of valu­ables for a friend forced to re­lo­cate to a ghetto. Then they were asked to hide a child, then a cou­ple. Par­ents of a girl, age 3, the same age as their youngest daugh­ter, sent their lit­tle daugh­ter to the Voses just be­fore they were picked up by the Nazis and sent to their death. The Voses cher­ished her as their own.

“More and more peo­ple came to hide in our house,” she said. “We had mat­tresses all over the floor, and they had to be cam­ou­flaged in case the [Nazis] came. The Ger­mans came many times look­ing for Jews.” She has been re­luc­tant to talk about what she did be­cause it didn’t seem spe­cial to her. “I don’t feel righ­teous,” she said. “If some­one heard us talk to­day with some of those we saved, they would think we were be­ing nos­tal­gic, re­mem­ber­ing a beau­ti­ful time. But there was some­thing beau­ti­ful in it, be­cause we were stand­ing to­gether, for what­ever rea­son, to­tally to­gether.” Brav­ery is mea­sured in acts both small and large.

“By de­fend­ing Jews, you are de­fend­ing ev­ery­one in a mi­nor­ity,” Pres­i­dent Ni­cholas Sarkozy of France said two weeks ago in re­marks to the Amer­i­can Jewish Com­mit­tee in Wash­ing­ton. “Whoever saves a sin­gle life,” says the Talmud, “is as one who has saved an en­tire world.”

By re­call­ing Kristall­nacht, the fall of the Wall and the courage of those like the Voses, we iden­tify the worst and the best of hu­man­ity. We show our en­dur­ing re­spect for civ­i­liza­tion through re­mem­brance.

Suzanne Fields, a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times, is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.

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