istvan reiner

I often come across photographs on the internet which unsettle me. However, I do not think any had the effect on me comparable to that of this simple portrait of a young boy. I found it very moving and although I know it may upset others I felt I needed to share it.


It is the portrait of Istvan Reiner, a Hungarian boy, who was born in 1940. His parents, aware of the gathering holocaust did all in their power to try and protect him even going as far as to change their faith and become protestants. It was all to no avail, he and his grandmother were taken to Auschwitz, and there murdered.

When I look at Istvan’s face he is a beautiful young lad with a warm and appealing smile. He has big eyes full of happiness and pleasure. He is playing, pretending to be a bus or train ticket inspector and having fun thinking of his future adult life. It is a face full of promise. In his face I can see my children and my grandchildren playing the same games, I can even see echoes of myself and my brother when we were boys.

It is difficult to comprehend how someone could take this little boy and snuff out his life and future, but they did. It is hard to believe that people looked at his face and saw something terrible and threatening, but they did. It is terrible to think that people looked at Istvan and saw something worthless and in need of disposal, but they did.

Two factors seem to be required to create this special type of horror.

Firstly, it requires that people are able to see others as different and worthless. Common denominators to define this have been race, religion or nationality. Once we start to see people as Jews or Muslims, as Scots or English, or blacks or whites, rather than as people, we take a step on the path to reducing them. Instead of seeing the face of Istvan, a happy young boy, we see a jew boy, a black or an arab – a problem rather than a delight.

Nationalism and racism always carry this risk and they reduce us as people, while at the same time making us think other people are worth less.  By thinking less of humanity, humanity becomes less.

Secondly, it requires a strong state. It requires a state that takes responsibility away form the individual, usually at the same time as taking their freedom and liberty. People working for the state, and following orders, are able to commit the most heinous acts. When normal individuals, like you or I, have our freedom and responsibility removed we can become brutes in the herd. The writings of Hannah Arendt and Eric Hoffer  should warn us of the dangers of totalitarianism, regardless of whether it arises from the left or right side of the political spectrum.

While we try to deal with this wave of nationalism and racism which prevails we should remember Istvan and other like him and remember we are playing with fire. No matter what excuses you give yourself – it’s antizionism not antisemitism, anti-religion not racism, it’s class war not nationalism – you are dancing on the edge of the abyss. Take a second to think again about your antipathy and remember the words of the Burn’s poem  .. ..

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

 

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