By Howard Rotberg
The past cannot alter the present. Holocaust museums have not affected young Islamists who don’t believe it occurred. And the future?
The American television series was called “The Twilight Zone” written by and hosted by one Rod Serling. It was a long time ago but I remember it like it was yesterday.
The meaning of “Twilight Zone” according to Your Dictionary is “the mental state between reality and fantasy” or “An area of ambiguity between two distinct states or conditions” So, Serling’s dramas told stories of weird events and alternate worlds.
The episode in question, “No Time Like the Past” was shown on March 7, 1963; it was season 4, Episode 10, and it was one of several different episodes about the possibility of time travel, or the travel backwards or forwards in time. I was almost 12 years old, already a voracious reader, and fan of Twilight Zone – a much more intellectual drama than most on the television.
Serling was born to a Jewish family in Syracuse, New York. His father was a grocer who lost his business during the Great Depression, and later became a butcher. Query – what was the effect on the son as an 8 year old to see his father lose his business? . Would difficult events take him back to the financial catastrophe; would he be prone to a type of catastrophic thinking where small issues get linked to the larger catastrophes of the past and so blur the lines between fact and fiction?
He enlisted in the army right out of high school, during the Second World War, and was disappointed that he was not sent to Europe as he wanted to fight Hitler; instead he was sent to the Pacific theatre and while at first was undistinguished in his military service, he eventually showed acts of heroism Serling saw a lot of death and severe injuries among his fellow troops; he himself received only minor injuries but he witnessed much death in his unit leading to mental trauma.
After the war he began writing first for radio and then for the growing television industry, culminating in his work writing most of the episodes of The Twilight Zone..
Serling’s opening narration for this episode was as follows:
“Exit one Paul Driscoll, a creature of the twentieth century. He puts to a test a complicated theorem of space-time continuum, but he goes a step further, or tries to. Shortly, he will seek out three moments of the past in a desperate attempt to alter the present, one of the odd and fanciful functions in a shadowland known as the Twilight Zone.”
The plot for “No Time Like the Past” is summarized by Wikipedia partly as follows:
Disgusted with 20th century problems such as worldwars, atomic weapons and radioactive poisoning, the character Paul Driscoll solicits the help of his colleague Harvey and uses a time machine, intent to remake the present by altering past events.
Paul first travels to Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and attempts to warn a Hiroshima police captain about the atomic bomb, but the captain dismisses him as insane. Paul then travels to a Berlin hotel room to assassinate Adolf Hitler in August 1939 (immediately before the outbreak of World War II the following month), but is interrupted when a housekeeper knocks on his door and later calls two SS guards to his room because she sees him with a rifle in front of a window looking out where Hitler will be speaking. On his third stop, Paul tries to change the course of the Lusitania on May 6, 1915 to avoid being torpedoed by a GermanU-boat, but the ship’s captain questions his credibility.
Paul accepts the hypothesis that the past cannot be changed. He then uses the time machine to go to a small town in Indiana in 1881, resolving not to make any changes, but just to live out his life free of the problems of the modern age. But despite this, he gets involved in events with catastrophic results. Accordingly, Paul understands that “the past is sacred” and belongs to those who are native to it. He knows too much of the future and fears that he will inevitably cause a lot of trouble. He returns to his own time and declares that instead of continuing to fixate upon the past, he will now try to do something to positively impact the future.
The unsuccessful attempts to prevent death by changing history made a big impression on me. I fantasized about being able to successfully assassinate Hitler. My father was a survivor of Auschwitz where his parents and then 8 year old sister were murdered in the gas chambers. My father in those years did not talk about his experiences and I felt it was wrong to try to ask him questions. The silence enveloping those with experience of the Shoah was quite universal so it was something I just accepted. My curiosity of what happened and why was channelled into my reading, but in those years, there was yet to be a proper history of the Shoah written and accessible to me. All I could find was Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich which was essentially a military history, and a book given to my father by his uncle who had escaped Poland to Canada in the ‘30s, a very sad book with many graphic photos of dead Jews, called The Black Book of Polish Jewry, assembled by a group of authors. The important books by Raul Hillberg and Lucy S. Dawidowicz were just being published while I was at university.
The show’s warning that instead of fixating on the past we try to positively impact the future, had a special meaning for me. In a sense I did become fixated on the history, on the basis of the admonition that those who do not learn from the past are compelled to relive it.
After high school, I therefore spent three years studying history at University of Toronto before switching to Law School there, which was my father’s suggestion. But in those three years, I was one of a handful of students studying the Holocaust through the lens of cultural history and the history of ideologies. I realized that understanding ideologies, such as antisemitism, nativism, racism, communism, etc. was the key to understanding why people could commit the most evil acts..
I eventually understood that I could go back in time, not to assassinate Hitler or otherwise change the course of history, but I could study history and write about history. But unlike the character in the show who says that the past is sacred, I did not think that it belonged only to those who are native to it. History belonged to those intelligent and learned enough to understand it.
The fantasy of the 11 year old about taking a time machine back in time to kill Hitler and prevent the Holocaust, became replaced with taking the knowledge gained in books and personal accounts of the victims to my task of warning about a Second Holocaust, this time in our historic homeland.
Was this audacious task just another turn at catastrophic thinking? Was it disrespectful to link one set of unique historical events to another? Would survivors or the family of survivors be offended? Would the Holocaust deniers and Islamists heap scorn on me for exaggerating current events by calling them, too, a Holocaust? Would I be accused of joining those who compare the Shoah with various current events for the purpose of downplaying those tragic events which should never be compared with other lesser events?
When Israel made the terrible mistake of trying to make peace through the ill-advised Oslo Process, with the resulting terrorism against its civilians and growing support for its genocidal enemies, I decided to write a book about a professor who starts to realize that a Second Holocaust was underway – this time by Arabs, islamists, and leftists who promoted alliances under the rubric of “intersectionality”. In The Second Catastrophe: A Novel about a Book and its Author, i wrote about a fictional professor of history, who aims to alert the world to a Second Holocaust and therefore impact a present and a future where Iran threatens to fire nuclear weapons at Israel Iran’s with its terrorist proxies, and Hezbollah, along with the genocidal Palestinian Authority, surrounding Israel and firing missiles and other weapons at Jewish civilians.
And so, I had a susceptibility to seeing the world somewhat negatively; in fact I too, like Serling, developed a kind of “catastrophic thinking” which came out in my novel, where I had the professor worried about a Second Shoah and writing a book to warn the world.
My cousin’s wife in Tel Aviv spent many years helping Holocaust survivors write their memoirs, which is another way to help preserve the facts of history by going back in time to record them all.
I remember one time that I was in Israel and I heard about a debate going on whether Yad Vashem and other historians should not rest until they can put a name on every victim, or whether it was a mis-use of finances and a task with diminishing returns.
People who live full time in Israel and daily face terror cannot afford the mental and emotional stress of catastrophic thinking, which would leave one with a tendency to the mental illness of depression.
In fact, contrary to my assumption,Israelis have done well on the annual survey of the happiest nations on earth, being the World Happiness Report with data from the Gallup organization.
Israel this year ranked as the 11th happiest nation, ahead of Australia, Ireland, the United States and Canada.
Why are Israelis so happy when Iran has promised to nuke them when it gets the nuclear bomb. Moreover, in the meantime Iran supplies weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah, who are pledged to destroy Israel. Then the Europeans and the United Nations take seriously the Palestinian Authority, as a “peace partner” and the recipient of financial aid when those nations should know better, because of what happened in Gaza when Israel gave up land for “peace”.
I posit that people are happier when they understand reality and understand that reality sometimes demands action, rather than repressing thoughts of fear and denying uncomfortable thoughts, and having their youth and intellectuals favor the terrorists, which is exactly what has happened in Belgium (17), United Kingdom (18) and France (20).
I think that France is now paying the price in terms of happiness for its appeasement of Islamist immigrants.
Is Israel on a dangerous path by having leftists and Islamists in the governing coalition? Will the Israelis react to this situation with a more catastrophic thinking and fall down the list of happiest nations?
We are all in a Twilight Zone if we think we can alter History, which cannot be done by a non-existent time travel machine, nor in Zuckerberg’s virtual meta world; It can only be done by realistically changing the present and future with a foundation of accurately depicting the past.
The history of our People is replete with catastrophic events, which like the character on television we cannot change. The time is near that Israel might have to attack Iran before Iran perfects nuclear weapons. Israel might have the terrible choice of whether to lose many thousands of people, after a pre-emptive attack or millions of people after Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian Arabs act first with nuclear weapons. Israel must make the world aware that Israel is the past, present and future of the Jewish people; we can’t change the history of the Nazis and the Shoah, but we all learn from History. And, as Jews, we learn fromTorah the story of the Amalekites.
We can be happy as long as we are prepared to do what is necessary. We can’t rely on those who will be part of the future to change the present, in some kind of time travel. Every Jew, in Israel or the Diaspora, must understand his or her obligation to first publicize, and then modify, the real threats that exist and are emanating from the Islamists and their leftist “woke” friends.
We know that we are now in the Twilight Zone – the past cannot alter the present. All the Holocaust memorials and museums have not affected young Islamists who say they don’t believe the facts of the Holocaust.
Even in America, a nationwide survey in 2020 among Millenials and Generation Z’ers (under 40) showed a lack of knowledge including 1 int 10 who did not recall having heard the word “Holocaust” before, 63% did not know that 6 million Jews hadbeen murdered, and half of respondents could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto.
Just 90 percent of respondents said they believed that the Holocaust happened. Seven percent were not sure, and 3 percent denied that it happened. One of the most disturbing revelations, the survey noted, is that 11 percent of respondents believe Jews caused the Holocaust. The number climbs to 19 percent in New York, the state with the largest Jewish population.
A number of studies have disclosed the high prevalence of antisemitism among Muslims around the world. As Muslims flock to the West, the West must make certain that immigrants are vetted to ascertain that they do not see themselves as perpetrators of Jihadist tactics to achieve their “world-wide caliphate”.
I invite you all to contemplate and publicly discuss past, present and future. We can do so, without losing a place near the top of the happiness index; in fact that will be easier if we get out of the Twilight Zone and work with reality.
©Howard Rotberg. All rights reserved.
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