Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp, is a short train ride outside Munich. I went there in my 20s, deep in a German winter.
A cold mist drifted across the wire fences and the watchtowers and the museum that was once the SS administration block. Spots of sleet settled on the wrought-iron entrance gate which still displays, in evil black letters, that indelible Nazi lie of lies: "Arbeit Macht Frei" - Work Brings Freedom.
I was with an American backpacker I had met, about the same age. His father had been a Luftwaffe pilot, killed on the Russian front; his widowed mother had emigrated to the United States. He spoke fluent German. He was on his first visit to their homeland.
And so we walked through the camp in the lowering light. The shower room where prisoners were gassed. The iron hanging hooks. The red brick crematorium ovens. The pistol range where Jews, Christians, homosexuals, Poles, Czechs, Russians - and dissident Germans - were murdered for sport by drunken SS guards. The mass graves. The silent witness of 6 million dead.
As we left Baracke-X, the killing block, the American boy slumped to his knees, weeping. "Mein vater," he sobbed, in throaty gasps racked with pain. "Mein lieber vater." The Luftwaffe flier he never knew had been, however remotely, an agent of the Holocaust. We clung to each other in the Dachau rain, crying.
That preamble is necessary, I think, because, in these times, to write anything even mildly critical of Israel attracts a hail of letters from furious Jews hurling the charge of anti-Semitism. After last week's column, which canvassed the immorality of the Israeli Defence Forces killing Lebanese civilians, a hysterical Melbourne dentist wrote to accuse me of Holocaust denial.
Other emails, a little more rational but loaded with lofty condescension, fumed that I was either ignorant of history or unethically distorting it. My motive could only be hatred of Jews. "For your own career advancement," sneered one. Oh, please.
A third and larger group sent polite and laboriously long letters replete with internet links to this source and that, earnestly proclaiming Israel's right to defend itself from its hostile neighbors.
We can ignore the mad dentist. As for the second lot: we might bang on forever about everything from the Masada sacrifice to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, but that will not change the awful realities of the Middle East today.
It is the third group which warrants an answer. Yes, the Jewish state has every right to exist and to defend itself against those Islamic terrorists and their sponsors who seek its destruction. The Hezbollah rockets fired onto Haifa are an atrocity. The Hamas suicide bombers of Gaza are murderers. Innocent Israelis have died in their scores.
But does that give Israel some eye-for-an-eye license to destroy Lebanon, the only other democratically-constituted state in the Middle East?
Next time you write, please tell me why Lebanese children should die in their villages beneath the wings of the Israeli Air Force or be carried, shattered by Israeli shrapnel, into bombarded hospitals. Have you seen the horror in their eyes on the TV news? What did they do to deserve this crime against them? Are you no better than your terrorist enemies?
Please explain, too, why an Israeli missile slammed with deadly accuracy into the unmistakeable red cross atop a Lebanese civilian ambulance. Then tell us how it was that four United Nations observers were killed in an attack on a UN compound in southern Lebanon, an installation that had been there for 20 years, marked on every map, and which had broadcast no fewer than 10 appeals for a cessation of the shelling.
Finally, I ask you is it possible that Israel might crush Hezbollah only to create a new generation of neighbors who will grow in hatred to seek vengeance in years to come? Is that all you will achieve?
The monument to the Unknown Prisoner in Dachau carries this legend, carved in stone: "Den Toten zur Ehr. Den Lebenden zur Mahnung." To Honor the Dead. To Warn the Living.
And so to the Bush Administration, where the hypocrisy is now practically incandescent.
The President is a stuttering loon; we know that. But the sight of his handmaiden Condoleezza Rice, belatedly flitting from Beirut to Jerusalem in her selection of fetching pantsuits, "regretting" civilian casualties and bleating about "the root causes," makes you want to heave a brick at the TV set.
Israel gets at least $3 billion ($3.9 billion) a year in military and other aid from the US. The bombs dropped on Beirut were born in the USA. La Rice grandly offered Lebanon $40 million to clean up the carnage they had wrought.
More than ever I am convinced that she is actually Cindy Birdsong, the reborn second vocalist from the Supremes.
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© 2006 The Sydney Morning Herald