TEREZIN, Czech Republic, June 30 (UPI) — Leadership comes in many forms. Often it springs from a crisis — often from evil. Normal people become heroes. The collapse of communism and Nazism was an end. It was also a beginning.
Last week I had lunch at London’s Oxford and Cambridge Club with Sir Michael Burton. Sir Michael was deputy commandant of the British Military Government and the last British minister in divided Berlin. He was assistant undersecretary of state for the Middle East and ambassador to Prague from 1994 to 1997. He is, like me, a Magdalen man.
Michael is a quiet hero. He is down to earth — a man of common means who has worked behind the scenes with little public credit sought. As a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order and Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George he has been honored by those who recognized his indispensability.
“Leaders,” said Sir Michael, “see problem situations where others don’t.”
This is true of Prince Radu of Romania. Prince Radu is running as an Independent presidential candidate in Romania. He spoke to assembled guests at the Royal Over-Seas League. “We have many problems in Romania. … I will focus on agriculture; infrastructure and motorways. … We cannot ignore the Roma minority — there are 2.9 million Roma and we pretend they don’t exist; we must manage our relationship with Moldova and with Hungarians in Romania better.
“The president must be ethical and professional. He must stay within the areas defined by the constitution. … I am running to espouse the values of democracy, not monarchy. I will respect the constitution. … I will represent the state — the people — not a political party.”
Radu is a man the Romanians should support.
In Terezin, 10 days later, the air is stifling and thick. A dark foreboding tension hangs over what was once a normal Czech town. Theresienstadt — Nazi Germany managed to make the town a symbol of annihilation. But from the ashes of the past, from the sickness of genocide, a new future arises.
Today, the last day of the 5th Holocaust Era Assets Conference after Washington, Stockholm, Rome and Berlin, the venue is the Riding Hall of Terezin — the former German show camp from which tens of thousands were deported to death camps. Bright minds and talents were wiped from the face of the Earth. Culture was obliterated, replaced by diabolical theater. In the 1940s smoke and mirrors masking genocide was certified by the Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross as perfectly normal. Only recently has the ICRC apologized after resisting for decades.
Stuart E. Eizenstat, the official U.S. delegate to the Assets conference, is a man of numerous talents and of great seriousness of purpose. Global Panel and the Prague Society hosted him and J. Christian Kennedy, the U.S. government’s special envoy on Holocaust Issues, at a small reception days earlier at the lovely Crown Plaza Prague Castle. Eizenstat served Presidents Carter and Clinton in senior positions — as chief domestic policy adviser, ambassador, undersecretary of state, undersecretary of commerce and finally deputy treasury secretary — he is a man who knows public policy well.
Eizenstat, a friend and mentor who I have known for more than two decades, is introduced by Princess Elizabeth Lobkowics, whose property was confiscated by the Communist Czech regime and returned later after a hard fight. She is an honest lady; salt of the earth. Eizenstat has spent 30 years fighting for the assets of those disenfranchised — Jewish and non-Jewish alike. “We must move quickly or those dispossessed will have all perished. … The Holocaust was a war within a war. … We must put this in the mind of young people to prevent further genocide — like the type happening in Darfur.
“Even my own beloved America made serious mistakes. We did not open the border to refugees. This was a sign to Hitler that the world doesn’t care. During the ensuing years many of the victims became footnotes. It is disgraceful. There are abject poor people living in New York today who had all their assets stolen by Hitler’s regime.”
Eizenstat had written a memo in April 1978 suggesting President Carter create the President’s Commission on the Holocaust. With Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate as chair, the Commission began its work that would culminate in the creation of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial. It is the third most visited site in Washington.
“During the Carter presidency we learned from these mistakes. We issued special visas for Iranian refugees. Human rights became a primary focus.”
Today in Terezin, “there was hardly a dry eye,” said Cyprus Ambassador Achilleas Antoniades, after the Defiant Requiem, directed by Dean Murry Sidlin of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at the Catholic University in Washington, closed the conference.
The communists saw the Holocaust as a footnote in history and did less than nothing to preserve its memory.
Nazism and communism are the flip-side of the same coin.
Leadership often springs from evil.
(UPI International Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Berlin, Copenhagen and Sydney-based Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A supporter of the anti-communist underground, he has advised political candidates and is a founding trustee of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council.)