So, it’s Monday night at the Loews Del Coronado Beach resort in San Diego. My driver, Robert David, a super nice man whose family largely perished under horrible circumstances in the Holocaust, has driven me down here. I twisted my back while turning to watch FB and also Jimmy Kimmel two nights ago, so I have my pal and fellow scribe, Judah Friedman, keeping me company and helping me with my briefcase.
My room has a breathtaking view out over the San Diego Bay and I can see moonlight and palms. The furniture is bright and cheery and the evening is serene, with me all by myself with my TV.
That’s where the problem came in. On TV, on the MHC, there was a gruesome tale (perhaps a repeat) of the slaughter in Poland after the Nazi and Russian occupation of 1939. With grainy and also recreations on high def film, there are images of Polish officers under interrogation by the NKVD to see if they will be collaborators with the Russians.
If they won’t, they are taken off to cells and forests and swamp lands to be summarily executed by a man or men in leather aprons with immense Soviet era revolvers.
The killing went on for weeks until about 23,000 Polish Army officers had been killed. These murders were on direct orders from Stalin. He liked to kill people. Plus he harbored a grudge against the Polish army officer aristos who had beaten the Red Army decisively in 1919-1921 and thus won the all too brief independence of Poland. And he wanted to kill all intelligent people in Poland who might make a resistance to the Russian occupation.
It’s a horrible, disgusting, nauseating true story. It’s part of the horror story that is Europe from 1914 to about 1945 and maybe later if you count all of the Russian emigres who were killed after the war and those killed in the Soviet satellites and in the bloody wars in the former Yugoslavia.
The Stalinist killings in Poland came to be known as the Katyn Forest Massacre, from where many of the remains were found. When the Nazis found the skeletons, they blamed it on the Reds. The Reds blamed it on the Nazis. FDR said unequivocally it had to be the Nazis. He was wrong and wildly too optimistic about the Russians, of course, as he often was. The Russians admitted they did it about 30 years ago.
I turned off the TV. And then I spent a fitful, fearful night of dreams of Soviet execution – these dreams have haunted me all of my life –but then when I awakened, I was not in the swampy forest of Katyn. I was in sunny, glorious Coronado Bay. San Diego. America.
I could not believe my blessings. I had breakfast. Got dressed. Went down to give my speech to the kindest, most intelligent people on earth, the Urban Land Institute. Every face was lovely, insightful, kind, sympathetic.
The speech was well received. I got ready to go home. On the way back, we stopped at a TGIF restaurant where I had fries and barbecue sauce and a long face wash. The dining room was bright and airy. The fries were crisp and delicious.
I said to Bob and Judah, “How did this happen? All over the world, men are meeting the cruelest of deaths. Our fellow Jews, in particular, have been slaughtered in the most sadistic ways imaginable. Even now, little girls are being raped to death in the middle east. In Congo, millions die for wars we don’t remotely understand.
“And we’re here in the sun, in air conditioning, eating fries and diet cokes and lemonade. How can you explain it?”
“It’s above my pay grade,” Judah said.
Robert said, “Five words. The United States of America.”
“But why did we get to be here when six million of our cousins were murdered? Why did we get to be here when four hundred thousand Americans died in uniform fighting the SS and the Japanese? How can we explain it?” I asked.
No one said anything, so I said, “It’s not our job to explain it. It’s our job to be grateful and on our hands and knees with gratitude.”
This is how I seek to live my life. In an ongoing state of gratitude for America. I recommend to the professional complainers in the media and in politics and in the universities that they try it. Gratitude: That’s our national motto — or it should be.