Fall 1999
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TCU Magazine "Class Notes"

Freedom -- and responsibility -- of speech

By Jason Crane '00

I got there 52 years too late. If you want to consider it that. Dachau Concentration Camp was liberated by U.S. soldiers on April 29, 1945. The prisoners, the once overcrowded barracks and the electrified barbed wire were gone by the time I arrived. But the images remained.

I remember the anger and fear I felt as I entered the crematorium, where thousands of bodies had been burned. I remember the nausea I felt as I walked through the gas chamber, even though Dachau's had never been used. Most of all, I remember my stunned silence on the bus ride home, as I tried to imagine, failing miserably, what it would have been like to be Jewish, packed onto a slowly moving train, headed for Dachau.

I am not Jewish and I could only name perhaps a dozen Jewish people I know. I have never met a Holocaust survivor, or even the ancestor of one. Had it not been for my visit to Dachau, I would not know much more than what I read in my high school history book. My generation has been raised free from anything as horrific as the Nazi's reign of terror. To us (brace yourselves), the Holocaust may as well have never happened.

That was the thrust of a controversy that touched the lives of many at TCU last spring. The TCU Daily Skiff ran an advertisement, paid for by the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust, that offered $250,000 to anyone instrumental in arranging a prime time television debate between the CODOH and the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that fights anti-Semitism. The CODOH questions the validity of gas chamber use and the legitimacy of the Diary of Anne Frank, among other things. Immediately after the ad ran, and even more so after the Skiff ran an editorial defending their right to run it, the controversy blew wide open. Letters that denounced not only the ad but also the Skiff's editorial poured in. An Anti-Defamation League representative met with Skiff editors and several members of the TCU Publications Committee to discuss the issue. The motives and the competence of the Skiff editorial board and advertising manager were questioned. No one at the newspaper could have imagined the intense dispute their actions had unleashed.

As a member of the editorial board that made the unanimous decision to defend the ad's appearance in the Skiff, I knelt down in deference to the First Amendment that gives us that right, as any journalist would do. I was taking the ultimate journalistic joyride in which free speech reigns, even if the speech is offensive.

I soon realized I was not the staunch super hero, defender of free speech, whom I had imagined myself to be. In no way does refusing to print a paid advertisement stifle free speech. We were just fooled into thinking it did. After all, the ad was promoting an open debate. Who doesn't want that? I'd venture to guess the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust don't need any such debate to confirm what they already know.

The facts are there in black and white, just as journalists like for them to be. Sometimes the facts lose their edge. But the suffering so many endured, the anguish so many still endure, is as sharp as ever. More than half a century after the Holocaust, we tend to lose sight of that.

An article about the life of Holocaust survivor Rosalie Schiff ran in the Skiff the same week as did that fateful editorial. She and her family lived in the Jewish ghetto of Krakow, Poland, where Nazi's regularly killed and rounded up Jews to take to the extermination camps. One day Rosalie left her house to get a piece of bread, but when she returned, her mother, brother and sister were gone. She never saw them again.

Her poignant story and countless others like it add the texture we need to get a better grip on the Holocaust's atrocities. Rosalie tells her story to hundreds of schoolchildren every week. ³It's not getting any easier and I doubt it ever will,² she said. ³But it's important that people know.²

Indeed it is. Rosalie Schiff and husband William, also a Holocaust survivor, live in Dallas. But the Schiffs of the world will soon be gone. Holocaust survivors outlasted Hitler, but they can't outlast time. And neither can the soldiers who helped extinguish the Führer's fire. Their stories are dying with them. The next generation will be further disconnected from the Holocaust than is mine.

But there is still hope. The German Parliament approved plans in June for a Holocaust Memorial to be built in Berlin. The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem is a massive center of museums, research and teaching. Hundreds of Holocaust memorials dot the American landscape from Los Angeles to New York. And right here on campus we have the Jewish Studies Program, already in its second year. These efforts will do what Rosalie Schiff has been trying to do for the past ten years: keep history alive. The next generation of children will not have the opportunity to hear Rosalie's story, at least not from her. But like she said, it's important people know.

And now I do know, better.

Jason Crane is a journalism senior from Shreveport, La. You can write to him at tcumagazine@tcu.edu.