I am a politician. Oh yes, I know that sounds like a confession, but when at the end of the War I went into politics, it was because, like many other men in their 30s at the time, I wanted to take an active part in building a society which would be civilized and just. I went into Parliament, and by 1950, I was an experienced legislator sitting on innumerable committees.
And then the Prime Minister made me a member of the British Delegation to the European Assembly in Strasburg. I was honored and pleased. I had always passionately believed in European unity. But also, I felt I was getting stale in home politics. Where was the idealism and ardor that I brought to politics in 1945? The answer, I had to give myself, was that it had been replaced by a somewhat cynical pragmatism which asked not “is it right,” but “does it work?”
When I went to Strasburg, soon I was back again on the familiar committees, analyzing charters, altering “ands” to “buts,” and “ifs” to “althoughs.” I remember how we finished debating the Charter of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms one Saturday, and I thought to myself: words, paper and nothing else. That’s what I thought. And the next day with three other politicians who were relaxing, we took a car and drove out to the Voges Mountains. We were in a good mood. The sun was shining, and we stopped on the lower hills for an excellent lunch of chicken washed down with ice cold Alsacean wine.
But then, suddenly, as we drove on into the mountains, we came to a forest with a notice: “Zone of Silence.” It was a strange, eerie forest of firs, so silent that if a single bird had sung, you would have heard it. But no bird sang. And then, when we ourselves had fallen silent, there, stretching out in front of us was Struthof, a Nazi concentration camp preserved by the French, with its barbed wire, its watchtowers and its gallows, as a memorial of man’s inhumanity to man.
I got out, walked past the wire, past the terrible huts, the punishment cells and the crematorium, past the vivisection room, to the great pine cross over the mass grave where thousands of nameless men of countless nationalities lie buried. And all of a sudden, I felt I knew what made it worthwhile to endure what is ugly and worthless in party and political machines; for it is when all who believe in Western values abdicate their responsibilities that the pagan totalitarians take charge and create the Struthofs. Our job, my job as a politician, is to do what lies in my power to defend the sacred rights of human personality against those whose contempt for man is of a blasphemy against God himself—to end the sin and reclaim the sinner.
It was at Struthof that I achieved a rededication of my faith, my enthusiasm, and my belief, giving sense and meaning to the worn-out language of politics; for Struthof is a warning of what happens when man denies the brotherhood of man. And so it was fitting that there I renewed my faith that human progress depends on our belief in the brotherhood of man, the fatherhood of God, and in the human rights which all of us, of whatever color, race, or creed, derive from his paternity.
Maurice Edelman was elected to British Parliament in 1945 as a member of the Labour Party. A correspondent during World War II, Edelman later became an accomplished writer of novels and mysteries. He died in 1975.
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