The coronavirus is a teacher in unexpected ways, illuminating seemingly unrelated matters.
Why did the Jews entrapped in the Holocaust not fight back against the Nazis? Why did they “go like sheep to the slaughter?” One cannot ask the dead why they did or did not do anything. But on another level, we do have the testimony of survivors. Why did they not resist? The most common answer is: Everything descended so radically, so suddenly, so unbelievably, that we did not know what was happening. Mass murder? We couldn’t grasp it.
Why did the world not respond to the coronavirus when it was first detected in China, last November? (It now turns out that the first detection was not at the end of last December, when the fallen hero, Dr. Li Wenliang, reported it, only to be degraded and shut down by the Chinese authorities.)
Why did Italy not respond to the coronavirus last November, when it is now believed to have first been present in Italy? Why did Italy fall prey to this terrible plague that sweeps its country? Why didn’t Italy do something while it could? Why didn’t Italy avoid this run on its hospitals and the highest death rate from this virus in the world? Why?
The answer is perfectly clear, isn’t it? A radical, sudden overturning of everything we know about normal life cannot be grasped immediately. No one knew of the virus’ presence in Italy last November. It is rather cruel to pose these “why” questions to Italy, isn’t it? It is equally cruel to pose such questions about Jewish behavior during the Holocaust. They did not know.
In the case of China, we had the deliberate suppression of news of the coronavirus. Ditto, Nazi techniques. The mass deportation of Jews was one long sequence of deception. Jews were being deported for “resettlement in the East.” Fake letters were sent by those already deported back to those slated for deportation. Ghettoes were deemed temporary. Even with the arrival of masses at the death camps, what did they face? Showers. Not, to all appearances, poison gas, but showers.
Once those not deported caught on, there was one of two responses, essentially: 1. Nothing, as by then the survivors of the mass killings were so weakened and isolated that they could barely keep themselves alive. 2. Resistance, as in the most famous case of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which was replicated elsewhere and, in fact, represented a greater per capita resistance than among Allied POWs.
Which, by sequential, temporal analogy, is where we are now on the coronavirus. It took humanity a while to catch on. This is natural. Disruptions so radical that they catch all of society by surprise cannot be grasped immediately. Now that we are aware of the dimensions of this virus, we resist with every means at our disposal — also making mistakes and missteps along the way, all too obvious to see. Just as in those horrible years of the Holocaust, the missteps are all too obvious — in retrospect. At least now we know just how difficult it is to see them as we stumble along — in prospect.
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