Residents of Warsaw could not help but notice that they left from a railway station not far from the Umschlagplatz, whence the Jews of Warsaw had been deported by train to Treblinka only twenty-six years earlier. Three million Jews at least had lived in Poland before the Second World War. After this episode of communist anti-Semitism, perhaps thirty thousand remained. For Polish communists and those who believed them, the Jews were not victims in 1968 or at any earlier point: they were people who conspired to deprive Poles of their righteous claim to innocence and heroism.
No major war or act of mass killing in the twentieth century began without the aggressors or perpetrators first claiming innocence and victimhood.
evil depends upon good, in the sense that those who come together to commit evil deeds must be devoted one to the other and believe in their cause.
Cultures of memory are organized by round numbers, intervals of ten; but somehow the remembrance of the dead is easier when the numbers are not round, when the final digit is not a zero. So within the Holocaust, it is perhaps easier to think of 780,863 different people at Treblinka: where the three at the end might be Tamara and Itta Willenberg, whose clothes clung together after they were gassed, and Ruth Dorfmann, who was able to cry with the man who cut her hair before she entered the gas chamber. Or it might be easier to imagine the one person at the end of the 33,761 Jews shot at Babi Yar:...