In my “real” facebook world, there’s been a lot of outrage over Glenn Beck’s excavation of George Soros’ adolescent work for the Nazis, work Soros (a Jew) engaged in to stay alive while passing as a Christian in Nazi occupied territory. Liberals howl “How dare Beck judge Soros? ” But is that what Beck is doing or is Beck judging the person that helpless boy grew up to become? I don’t know, because I don’t watch Beck, but here is the argument I would make if I had Beck’s forum.
A lot of people have, through circumstances, been forced to do heinous things to survive. As a child, I certainly met my fair share, since I grew up in a world of Holocaust and Killing Field survivors. I knew people who worked dragging bodies out of the ovens; I knew people who sorted the teeth and hair removed from the dead bodies; I knew people who worked as slave labor in the factories, making weapons the Nazis used against the Allies; I knew Germans who survived Soviet concentration camps; and I knew people who survived the Killing Fields in ways that too terrible for them to describe. I wouldn’t dream of judging them. I have no right to judge, and I have no will to judge them. When one is completely brutalized and intentionally de-humanized, one does things that would be unthinkable in ordinary circumstances.
What distinguishes all the people I knew, though, when compared to George Soros is the fact that they judged themselves. Without exception, each knew that, even though unwillingly, he or she had been complicit in deeply immoral acts, and each spent a lifetime seeking redemption. All of them worked hard and were exemplary citizens, whether that simply meant avoiding doing harm or whether it involved more active engagement in altruistic acts. Neither the absence of external judgment nor their own knowledge that they were responding to overwhelming external forces took that edge off. They suffered twice, first in the doing and then in the ever-lasting guilt. But it was the guilt that made them people of exceptional decency and humanity.
Just yesterday, I read a book describing another such soul. The book is Anthony Flacco’s The Road Out of Hell: Sanford Clark and the True Story of the Wineville Murders. For those unfamiliar with the story, as I was when I picked up the book, Sanford Clark was a 13 year old boy who, in 1928, ended up living on an isolated chicken farm with his uncle. Unfortunately for Sanford, his uncle was a psychopathic serial killer who abducted young boys, brutally raped and generally tortured them, and then murdered them. Sanford differed from those boys only in that his uncle needed his labor, so stopped short of murdering him. Sometimes the “labor” his uncle demanded consisted of feeding the imprisoned boys, digging their graves or even participating in their murders.
When the uncle was finally arrested, Sanford was the chief witness against him. (By the way, I’m not telling you anything that’s not on the book jacket. This is not a suspense story; it’s the day-to-day details that make it riveting.) Where things get really interesting is the life Sanford led after he was finally rescued from this hell hole. He was consumed by guilt, but his moral compass demanded that his act of contrition consisted of leading a good life. He worked hard, married, fought in WWII, and raised children. He was well-liked in his community. He could never forget what he had seen and done, nor could he forgive himself, but his moral compass demanded that he contribute to the world as best he could.
All of these stories, the ones I heard growing up, or the ones we read about in books such as The Road Out of Hell, have a clear message: even the most horrific youthful experiences need not destroy a conscience. Soros, however, seems to have no conscience whatsoever about his complicity with the Nazis. Unlike the people I knew growing up, who lived with and worked daily to expiate their guilt, when he looks back, he’s good with it all. When Soros was interviewed about his wartime experiences on 60 Minutes, he expressed no regret whatsoever (emphasis added):
KROFT: (Voiceover) And you watched lots of people get shipped off to the death camps.
Mr. SOROS: Right. I was 14 years old. And I would say that that’s when my character was made.
KROFT: In what way?
Mr. SOROS: That one should think ahead. One should understand and–and anticipate events and when–when one is threatened. It was a tremendous threat of evil. I mean, it was a–a very personal experience of evil.
KROFT: My understanding is that you went out with this protector of yours who swore that you were his adopted godson.
Mr. SOROS: Yes. Yes.
KROFT: Went out, in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews.
Mr. SOROS: Yes. That’s right. Yes.
KROFT: I mean, that’s–that sounds like an experience that would send lots of people to the psychiatric couch for many, many years. Was it difficult?
Mr. SOROS: Not–not at all. Not at all. Maybe as a child you don’t–you don’t see the connection. But it was–it created no–no problem at all.
KROFT: No feeling of guilt?
Mr. SOROS: No.
KROFT: For example that, ‘I’m Jewish and here I am, watching these people go. I could just as easily be there. I should be there.’ None of that?
Mr. SOROS: Well, of course I c–I could be on the other side or I could be the one from whom the thing is being taken away. But there was no sense that I shouldn’t be there, because that was–well, actually, in a funny way, it’s just like in markets–that if I weren’t there–of course, I wasn’t doing it, but somebody else would–would–would be taking it away anyhow. And it was the–whether I was there or not, I was only a spectator, the property was being taken away. So the–I had no role in taking away that property. So I had no sense of guilt.
The only real question one is left with after reading the above is whether Soros was always a sociopath, or whether the war made him one. As I said, I know people who went through worse than he did, and came out human. He didn’t. He came out a very intelligent animal, by which I mean that he lacks the moral compass that, to me, is the single most important distinction between humans and animals.
So, whatever Glenn Beck said, he’s right that there’s a problem with Soros’ engagement with the Nazis during the War: The problem with Soros isn’t what he did to survive; it’s that he doesn’t care what he did to survive.
Cross-posted at Right Wing News