The Irish Review

The Irish Review published by Cork University Press

Hubert Butler, IR 4

Hubert Butler’s powerful essay ‘The Children of Drancy’ was published in issue 3 of The Irish Review:

Anti-semitism, the idea which killed the Children of Drancy, was small and old and had existed for centuries in pockets all over Europe. If humane ideals had been cultivated as assiduously as the ideals of science and technology it would have long ago died without issue in some Lithuanian village. But science gave it wings and swept it by aeroplane and wireless all over Europe and lodged it even in Paris, capital of culture.

No one likes thinking on these lines, not even churchmen, who would sooner accept the idea of the mystery or iniquity than forego thinking in the big way on ecumenical or universalist lines. And yet observe how even pity can become helpless and sometimes destructive when it is divorced from deep personal concern and becomes a public matter. Public pity forms committees, sends tinned meat, secures entry visas, but the beating of its collective heart can be heard from miles away and it is easily eluded. Those in charge of the children eluded it by taking them to Auschwitz. It was to dodge public pity that the children were torn from their mothers and travelled alone or with doomed strangers. The mothers, when their future first became known, preferring death for their children to the lonely fate their foresaw for them, had started to throw them down from the tops of buildings. They would have continued to do this from the railway carriage windows and the dead or dying bodies might have roused some dormant committees into action in France or Germany or Poland.

Hubert Butler, ‘The Children of Drancy’, The Irish Review, 4 (1988), 1-6 [3-4]

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