The Corner

One Man’s Life

Today’s Impromptus is the second and final installment of a cruise journal — some notes on National Review’s recent cruise in Norway. One of our stops was Haugesund. And one of my notes is this:

On Haugesund’s main drag, there’s a new-looking Palestine Café. Elsewhere, there is a kind of mural for an old, evidently defunct store: Rabinowitz. That tells some of the story of modern Norway.

Turns out, there’s a Wikipedia entry for Moritz Rabinowitz. If even half of it is true — and I suspect all of it is — Rabinowitz was an extraordinary man. An extraordinarily admirable one. Let me summarize:

Born in Poland in 1887. Emigrated to Norway in his early 20s, to escape the pogroms. He had witnessed “barbaric” things.

Was a peddler. Opened an apparel store with two items in his inventory: a suit and an overcoat. The overcoat was stolen. Built a business, and businesses. Eventually employed 250 people. Was immensely charitable: Gave concert halls, parks, etc. Often gave anonymously. Funded Christmas parties in jails and orphanages.

Cried against anti-Semitism. Cried against the appeasement of the Nazis. Wrote FDR, Chamberlain, and others to implore them to intervene for Germany’s Jews. Warned the Norwegian government to beef up its defenses.

Prepared, personally, for a Nazi invasion. Eluded the occupiers for a while. Sent to Sachsenhausen. Was kicked and stomped to death. The rest of his family was murdered at Auschwitz.

Also in my cruise journal, I quote one of our guest speakers, Daniel J. Mahoney, the political scientist. He said that too few people understand “the tragedy of civilization”: the fragility of civilization, what it takes to defend it and keep it going. I could write on and on, but let me say this:

Humanity never learns a lesson, in an enduring way, because — this may make you laugh — people keep being born. And those who know, die.

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