Winning and Losing

The newly painted pedestrian crossing in Johnsonville

Today is Saturday January 30th. Kia ora!

I have posted this photo of a pedestrian in Johnsonville, between the Johnsonville Shopping Centre and Moorefield Road. There is a road bump here, but you could barely see the white stripes before. Well, you can now. They have been repainted. I would estimate this crossing gets used quite a lot, seeing you need to use it to get to the train station, to catch a bus north, or to get to the new library. I guess it’s part of the infamous “hub”. I am pleased to have the stripes repainted. I still hope for a controlled crossing, and more pedestrian safety.

Well, I guess you can take Trump out of the White House, but you can’t take Trumpism out of the Republican Party. More on this later.

This morning I finished reading East West Street by Philippe Sands. I could not renew it, so returned it to the library one day late. I must reserve it again.

What an interesting book this turned out to be! It’s a true story about two Jewish law scholars who grew up in the city of Lvov, in what is now Ukraine (previously Galicia, near Poland). I had never heard of these two, or indeed of Lvov, and initially I feared  the book would turn out to be boring. The author’s grandfather also grew up there, and the stories of the three and their families are complicated, but well worth reading. Lemkin and Lauterpacht were law scholars, legal thinkers, who struggled with their existing legal systems.  Lemkin focused on the crime of genocide, a term he used for the attempted extermination of a particular race or tribe of people; Lauterpacht worked on the law as it pertained to an individual, and the individual’s rights, coming up with the term crimes against humanity. Both were involved in the setting up of an International Court of Law, arising out of the League of Nations. Both were involved with their families in fleeing from the advances of the Germans in the 1930’s and 40’s. At one stage Vienna was thought to be a safe place. It was, for a time.

Both men, and the author’s father, managed to escape from Lvov when it was absorbed into Poland, and the Nazis took over; the escapes, and the stories of family members, make for harrowing reading. L and L struggled to have their terms recognised, although they were recognised as great legal scholars in England and the US. The author’s mother was brought to England (without her parents) as a one year old, in a truly remarkable story of survival. This family reunited (the author’s grandparents and his mother); There is no mention of his father. He ended up as a lawyer himself, involved in prosecuting cases of genocide after World War 2.

Both were involved, to some extent, in the Nuremberg Trial.  When it came to making a legal judgment of the main people involved in Hitler’s Reich, and the isolation and murder of the Jews from Galicia (and Warsaw and many other places) there was great difficulty in obtaining agreement from the Four Powers in charge of Germany and Austria (the Soviets, the US, the French and the British) how this would be done. There had been a huge conflict: now people wanted to move on.  The story of the trial is very interesting. Ultimately, Hans Frank, who had been Governor General of Poland, was hanged for his crimes against humanity, and some justice was seen to be done.

The book is most interesting, weaving together three detective stories of discovery. I was struck by the immense personal difficulties and hardships of those involved; the rapid decisions that had to be made; and the leaving behind and separation of family members. The Nazis were quite deliberate in how they went after Jewish people (and others, whom they deemed “undesirable”), by rendering them stateless, taking away their individuality, and their culture. Then, in Warsaw, and in Lvov, they were moved into a ghetto (they were not allowed to leave, on pain of death), and then moved for “resettlement”, a dreaded “Aktion” which meant transported in dreadful conditions to a Concentration Camp, where most were put to death.

The author had trouble putting details together. Many Jewish survivors did not wish to remember, and who can blame them? But some came around, and found photographs, and bits of information. Much of it fitted together. I am so glad that I read this book, and I should like to read parts of it again. I tend to read things quickly at first, but it’s nice to go over something more slowly, and see other pieces fall into place.

Reading this book and listening to US politics couldn’t but remind me of the parallels here. The Republican Party, some of whose leaders strongly condemned Trump initially when the mob of his supporters invaded the Capitol, have now almost completely capitulated, and those who spoke out are being censured.  For the most alarming elected representatives (whose elections are not doubted), such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, not only are they not repentant, and apparently not censured by their own Party, but they continue to make terrifying threats. More and more we hear how frightening the assault on the Capitol was; the people censuring some mobsters are judges, not other Republican politicians. The lies are scary, and they’re being built on. You try to ignore them, but It’s as though you can’t.  Where are the Right to lifers? The Evangelicals? I haven’t heard from these folk. It is truly alarming to have people consider some lives more worthy than others. Nancy Pelosi has stated that the main danger lies within.  The workplace of elected representatives has become very scary. What next?

Meanwhile, people like Kevin McCarthy have gone to Mar a Lago to “kiss the ring”. There’s a photo of him and Trump, with both men beaming.

It is just so scary, that despite bring given so many off-ramps, the Republican Party still supports this man. I watched a history of American Carnage on PBS and was again reminded how scary he has been.

The Democrats are wonderful. Joe Biden seems to have heaps of energy. He has a wonderful team: Jen Psaki continues to delight with her daily press briefings, and there was a Covid 19 briefing not attended by the President! There are lots of executive orders, there’s so much to do undoing Trump’s ghastliness and cruelty. Biden’s team is amazing, and good luck to them. Once again I am reminded off the awesome powers of the presidency.

Back in New Zealand the panic over new Covid 19 diagnoses (three in the community) seems to have died down. There is a long weekend now, with Auckland Anniversary Day on Monday. We are still at Level 1 restrictions (not Level None, as Dr Bloomfield reminded us). With any “lapse”, there is a great deal of righteous indignation; I think you can’t be too absolute, and MIQ measures have worked well for New Zealand to date. They are tweaked as needed, and that is a salvation too. It also looks wise that the NZ government hasn’t rushed into ordering a vaccine, as there’s now a new one that doesn’t require a follow-up dose.

It’s quite cold in Wellington at present. Not very summer. That’s it for now. Ngā mihi.

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