Thursday, Jun. 17, 2010

The Holocaust

How do you apologize for the worst crime in human history? The question has befuddled generations of post-war Germans, but there was perhaps no politician with a cleaner wartime record to make a public mea culpa than Willy Brandt. As a politically active teenager with the Social Democrats, Brandt fled Germany for Norway in the Third Reich's earliest days in 1933. He returned to Germany after fighting for the Resistance during the war and became chancellor of West Germany in 1969. When a state visit to Poland in December 1970 coincided with a commemoration to the Jewish victims of the Warsaw Ghetto, Brandt joined in and spontaneously dropped to his knees (left). Brandt didn't utter a word during his kniefall, and later said in his autobiography, that upon "carrying the burden of the millions who were murdered, I did what people do when words fail them." Germany has since paid out billions to Israel and to Jewish survivors.