A few hours after my column ran this Tuesday (“Mytheology: Wesleyan Viewed from the Right: It’s a Brand New Day,” Nov. 11, 2008, Volume CXLIV, Number 19) I received an angry e-mail from a friend about my usage of the slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei.”
I was under the impression that he was reacting against my implied comparison between two arguably totalitarian slogans, so I replied back snappishly, but he then informed me that it had been written over the gates at Auschwitz. I was shocked and horrified to learn this, and so I apologize for using that phrase. I had intended it merely as a reference to what I thought was an oft-used campaign slogan in Nazi Germany, NOT to imply that Obama was on the verge of committing genocide.
I realize that I was wrong not to research the phrase. If anyone should have done so, it would be a half-Jewish student whose mother’s side of the family was fortunate enough to escape Europe before Hitler could get to them.
This was an extreme comparison, and I am deeply sorry to anyone who was offended by the column. I realize I make it something of my business to offend people, but it is supposed to be the sort of offense that makes them think, not offense for its own sake, and certainly not the sort of offense that trivializes legitimate atrocities that still haunt the lives of many distinguished members of the world’s population.
I realize I am not especially popular on campus as it is, but I would like that lack of popularity to exist for reasons of which I am aware and of which I am not ashamed. To any Jewish students especially, I am deeply sorry for any offense and I hope you will accept it as coming not from a conservative or as a liberal, but as a fellow believer in another slogan that is written over the door of a far better building—the museum at Yad Vashem in Israel: