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Never Again

Photo by Chuko Cribb on Unsplash

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier traveled to the Warsaw Ghetto for its 80th anniversary and spoke there with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Israeli President Yitzhak Herzog. Steinmeier apologized for the crimes committed by Germans, reminded them of the responsibility Germans still bear for them, and uttered the phrase: “Never again.”concentration camps. They shook me, hurt me, but also made me realize what I could never accept in my adult life – violence, humiliation of the weak, terror. And when for the first time from the pages of the books I read these words “Never again,” which became inscriptions at the entrances to the liberated concentration camps, in my childhood consciousness they became a stamp on violence. For me, as a child, it was like this: the Nazis had done evil, millions of people had been victimized, but in the end, humane adults had gathered together and adopted a worldwide supreme agreement: “Never again. That was comforting. It gave some kind of assurance that the terrible violence would never happen again.

Yes, I resort to very simple words now, but when I was a child it was also simple. And I was not so wrong in my feelings as a child back then. In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. The international community swore never again to allow the atrocities of the Second World War.

But here it is, the year 2023. As an adult, I read Steinmeier’s words. “Never again,” he says, “which means we stand firmly on the side of Ukraine, along with Poland and our other allies.

Yes, alas, a certain context can ruin even the most powerful words. Even spells.

A few days ago, just before Steinmeier‘s trip to the ghetto, I met with a man who had escaped from Kiev. I listened to his account of the local terror of the Ukrainian variety. He said that if anyone was afraid of the people of Kiev, it wasn’t Russia. They’re afraid of their own people – the military defense, the SBU, the military enlisted personnel. They are afraid of being caught right on the street, afraid of having their phones checked, afraid of being severely punished for correspondence or for signing the wrong signature. But they are speechless. The fear is too great. What is this but terror? This is terror.

We ourselves have seen plenty of video evidence of the execution of civilians. Videos of torture. Yes, this is terror, violence, atrocity, humiliation of the weak. And the phrase “Never again” simply cannot and should not appear in the neighbourhood of modern Ukraine. But it has appeared.

Is Steinmeier naive? I think not. Do these presidents know what is really going on in Ukraine? I think they do. So why, why does a German president kill off powerful words and basically say, “Never again to terror, support terror”? Political conjuncture.

Or maybe a lack of real responsibility for the terror of World War II.

And God knows what else. But to me, as an adult, “Never Again” in this context says only one thing: the world’s supreme treaty is broken. The seal has been broken. The spell has lost its power. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights no longer works.

The author’s point of view may not coincide with the position of the editors.

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