January–February 2023

Contents Related Letters

Re: “Liberal Interpretations,” by Curtis Gillespie

It was so tiresome to read yet another piece that focuses on the glib words of journalists, regarding Justin Trudeau’s limited intelligence, rather than an article that actually assesses the prime minister’s record. Not a word about how he masterfully handled the pandemic, the greatest crisis Canada has faced since the Second World War. And a “decent showing” at the Emergencies Act inquiry? Really? C’mon. Even his worst enemies recognized his brilliant performance during one of the rare times he was free of his oppressive handlers, who have scripted him to near political demise.

I subscribed to the Literary Review of Canada because I thought it was about Canadian literature. This anti-Trudeau essay does not belong. Keep your politics to yourself.

Sherri Davis
Wakefield, Quebec

I was delighted when, early in this thoughtful essay, I read of the danger posed by “autocratic” and “illiberal movements.” We would learn about both the right and what The Economist has called the “illiberal” progressive left. But Curtis Gillespie misses half the trouble.

One of the biggest disasters of this current government has been the way it has pursued its progressive agenda. Whether through good intentions, political calculations, or a mixture of the two, it has been obsessed with ethnicity and gender to an unhealthy degree and often acts without due process. Thus, it divides Canadians in many ways. Trudeau has relentlessly pursued “bad” instead of “good” diversity. The good kind is working hard to have all groups participate in society at all levels, using affirmative action in ways that do not limit (or limit as little as possible) the rights of anyone. The bad kind is when one imposes rigid quotas that mask or do far more injustice than they solve.

University funding has been tied to strict quotas of ethnicity and gender, for example. Certain positions are only for Black candidates, others for Indigenous candidates. In some cases, white people are explicitly told not to apply. Consider that recently the University of Guelph’s physics department advertised a faculty position. White men, unless they had a disability, were not permitted to submit an application. So the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, even if he had won a Nobel Prize in physics, was not eligible, while someone with inferior credentials from an “equity-seeking group” might have been.

We see this dangerously illiberal “category” analysis of the human being everywhere in Canada, and it is the sickly child of Trudeau. A wiser leader would have pursued diversity in a way that also honours excellence and merit. We could all come together around a diversity that is joined with excellence and fair due process. Currently, we have none of that.

Robert Girvan

Re: “A Moral Absolutist,” by Sandra Martin

The remarkable experiences of Rudolf Vrba deserve to be better known. Sandra Martin’s review of Jonathan Freedland’s The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World is a welcome contribution to the telling of that story.

Freedland’s book, like Martin’s review, discusses at length the delays and difficulties involved in getting information about Auschwitz out, and the even greater difficulties encountered in getting the Allied powers to act on that information. This discussion might also have touched upon the extraordinary actions of Witold Pilecki, the Polish cavalry officer who bears the distinction of having been the only person to voluntarily have himself sent to Auschwitz.

After the Nazi invasion, rumours began to circulate about what was happening in Auschwitz, but there was no way of confirming them. In 1940, Pilecki proposed a mission to the Polish resistance, one so dangerous that it verged on the suicidal: He would deliberately allow himself to be caught in a Nazi raid so that he would be sent to Auschwitz. Once there, he would document the atrocities and then attempt to escape. Officials agreed to his plan, and Pilecki, having receiving a warning of an impending Nazi raid, went to the neighbourhood where it was to happen. He allowed himself to be captured, and, as expected, he was sent to Auschwitz.

In the camp, Pilecki managed to establish a network that eventually included hundreds of inmates. He regularly wrote reports, which were smuggled out and delivered to the resistance and then shared with the Western Allies. In April 1943, he and two comrades escaped from Auschwitz, carrying an additional trove of stolen documents. These were forwarded to the Polish government-in-exile.

The reaction paralleled what happened when Vrba escaped a year later with another cache of material. The reaction was tepid, and the Allied powers took no particular action. One problem may have been that they didn’t know what to do. One suggestion, frequently made by those without a military background, was that the Allies could have targeted the railway tracks leading to Auschwitz. The problem there is that the Nazis were extremely efficient at repairing rail infrastructure. Bombed tracks were often back in operation within twenty-four hours.

As for Pilecki, he continued working with the resistance after his escape and fought in the Warsaw Uprising. A “moral absolutist” like Vrba, he devoted himself after the war to documenting human rights abuses by the new Stalinist government that had taken power in Poland. That government imprisoned him for his actions, and, five years after his escape from Auschwitz, it executed him and buried him in an unmarked grave.

Ulli Diemer

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