"He instinctively can find the shining greatness of our American culture and does a good job of highlighting it (although he also does have those rare lapses when he writes about hockey, but that is something caused by impurities in the Eastern waters or something)." Erik Keilholtz
Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
In the seventh and eighth grades in the mid-1950s, I was an unruly student. Particularly when the teacher would demand of her class "silence" I became oddly loquacious. Thus I was forever being banished to the back of the room, where behind a partition of some sort the teacher maintained her third "library," piles of old magazines such as Life and Look that featured photographs of current events. As my school was a Catholic grammar school, we had regular classes in religion, the grisliest moments of which were when our teacher told us about how the Romans martyred the early Christians.
It was after one of these lectures that I made the discovery that marked my political views indelibly. I was sent off to the "library," with my head full of tortured and murdered bodies from some gruesome Roman slaughter in the Coliseum. Inevitably I turned to the pages of Life and Look, and there I discovered still more tortured and murdered bodies. There were piles of corpses, shirtless men with skeletal upper bodies exposed, and American soldiers, cigarettes dangling from their mouths, greeting the survivors. Faraway Romans had not committed this atrocity; German European totalitarians had.
And Walter Reich, former director of the US Holocaust Museum, on images of Auschwitz:
One of those photos is installed in front of the remains of another of the gas chamber buildings; it's of Jews - mostly elderly men, women and children - who, a few minutes after the camera's shutter was snapped, would be ordered to undress and get into the building for "showers." Four young girls, including a girl of 4 or 5 with clasped hands, stare into the camera's lens. Larry Rivers, the American artist, saw that photo and painted the scene on a large canvas. When I was the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I hung that painting on the wall facing my desk so that I'd never forget the individuals for whom that museum was a memorial - and each morning those young girls would make eye contact with me. This past week, in Auschwitz, staring out from the same photo planted in the ground in front of the gas chamber in which they were gassed, those girls were able to make eye contact with world leaders.
One day, while I was the Holocaust Museum's director, a visitor to the museum, an Auschwitz survivor, looked at another photo from that set, which is on the wall of the museum's permanent exhibition. It's a photo of Jews getting out of cattle cars and lining up for selection. The visitor was convinced that, in the photo, she saw herself, her mother, and her baby daughter. She also said she saw the prisoner who had told her that it would be better if she were to hand her baby to her mother. Confused and uncomprehending, she did that. That act, it turns out, saved her life. Had she not given the baby to her mother, all three would have been killed, since women holding babies were automatically sent to be gassed, as were older women, such as her mother. Having given her baby to her mother, she was ordered to move to the line that turned out to be for those who were "fit to work" - and only her mother and baby were sent into the other line, the one that was destined, she later learned, for the gas chamber. When she saw the image of her child on the Holocaust Museum's wall she broke down. Sobbing, she said it was the only picture that existed of her child. She touched it, caressed it, wouldn't leave it. The other museum visitors nearby also broke down and wept, and so did a staff member. This was the Holocaust summarized in a single story contained in a single photo.