As another birthday approaches, I have begun to realize that the adjective "historical" is generally used to refer to an event that occurred prior to one's birth. In this case, I remember when Hobson's Choice premiered in Great Britain, when Samuel Becket took up the pen to begin Godot in Ireland, and when Kristallnacht was orchestrated in Germany. When one is connected to an event, that event is part of one's life and daily existence. Such events are always part of today, regardless of when they occurred. The word "historical" appears to have an automatic disconnect in our perception of reality. That is probably why it is often so difficult to learn from history.
It angers some, and often understandably so, when comparisons are made between the dehumanization and annihilation of tens of millions of men, women, and children caused by a plague, and the dehumanization of and annihilation of six million Jews and three million other Nazi-designated undesirables, including homosexuals, the physically and mentally handicapped, and Gypsies during the Holocaust. While such comparisons are always made by those who never experienced the unrelentless sadism that defined the Holocaust, there are parallels between the political, social, and economic factors that fueled the Holocaust and continue to fuel the plague. One could argue that our failure to oppose any government's policy that denies the dignity, value, and right to life of its citizens adds a further insult to the memory of those nine million human beings whose dignity, value, and right to life was denied by a government, not in some historical footnote, but in the living memory of so many.
One of the lesser known consequences of Kristallnacht was the Kindertransports, in which 10,000 children were sent from Germany, Austria, Poland, and Czechoslovakia to the safety of England shortly after The Night of Broken Glass. Forcing those children to leave their parents was heartwrenching. Far more painful were the deaths of the hundreds of thousands of children who perished in the concentration camps, some more horribly than their parents. Near the end of the war and at the height of the concentration camp murders, orders were issued that the children were to be thrown straight into the crematorium furnaces without first being gassed.
A physician recently wrote to me about his government's policy of not treating HIV-infected children with their first opportunistic infection with available drugs because it would cost his country too much to keep these children alive. This is not an argument against purchasing expensive antivirals by a developing nation with limited healthcare funds. This is an argument for the denial of available medical care to a child for the economic benefit of the state. Such a policy echoes Göring's policy statement three days after Kristallnacht, "I implore competent agencies to take all measures for the elimination of the Jew from the German economy...."
Do we need another Kindertransports to take the hundreds of thousands of these children to safety in a a country where they will be cared for, where they will be safe from economic infanticide? Would their parents give them up for a chance at life? Is there a country in which the life of a sick child has value and is not an economic burden? Is there a country that will give refuge to a child who is ill and needs medical care and protection? If there is not a country, is there a city? If there is not a city, is there a synagogue or a church? If there is not a a synagogue or a church, is there one person who will help?
Is there one person who will give something of herself or himself to attest to the value of the life of a child? Is there one person upon whom the lesson of our silence in response to the screams of the children hurled into the extermatorium fires has not been lost? If there is, please contact the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care. Help us change the course of the plague among the children of the world. Help us reestablish the dignity and value of a child's life and, in so doing, help reestablish the dignity and value of all human life.