Roger L. Simon

Treblinka Square

Perhaps the most peculiar slip of the first presidential debate of 2004 was when Kerry referred to Lubyanka Square (the former KGB headquarters in Moscow) as Treblinka Square, confusing the prison made famous by Sozhenitsyn and Arthur Koestler, among others, with the even more murderous Nazi concentration camp. Why this error? Those of us with a quasi-Freudian turn of mind might wonder if it has something to do with that sudden “discovery” by Kerry of his Jewish roots. The Senator, like Madeleine Albright, “stumbled” on his grandfather’s Jewish background (both were Czech incidentally) quite late in life, indicating either a rather remarkable lack of curiosity or something worse, deliberate obfuscation. I frankly suspect the latter because Kerry has a record of this, having participated, to some degree or other, also in the pretence that he was Irish-American. (Christmas in Cambodia anyone?)

Being Jewish, of course, I find the denial of the Jewish roots particularly disturbing. Hiding your ancestry has always meant to me an acquiescence to racism, a kind of Stockholm Syndrome in advance. When I first heard about it in Kerry’s case some time ago, I knew I could never support the man. And now we have this odd reference to Treblinka, like something buried trying to get out.

I have been wrestling with another question related in some way. Now that it is 2004 and I am a man of sixty, I have been trying to understand the real meaning of what happened in 1968. After all, I was a participant in those events, as much as John Kerry, perhaps more. One of the things that has always struck me is how many leaders of the Generation of 68 were Jewish, not just the likes of Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg and Jerry Rubin here, but abroad as well. Daniel Cohn-Bendit was arguably the most famous figure of May 68 in Paris. But here’s the thing about the year 1968 looked at from the perspective of 2004, 36 years later. 1968 was only 23 years after the liberation of Auschwitz. In history, but a minute. Doesn’t that give you chills? It does me. I’m trying to understand it. Were these people (was I?) running away from some unspeakable horror into a world of sex, drugs and rock and roll? Who could blame them?