There is a difference between nationalism and patriotism. It is not to be misunderstood.
“You’re our future leaders,” Holocaust survivor Murray Lynn told cadets at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville on Tuesday. “Please don’t confuse nationalism with patriotism … I should know. Jews were scorned as foreigners in most of Europe for many centuries.”
It’s not just anti-Semitism in the days of Hitler that has Lynn worried. He warned about the “forces of relentless hatred” that had turned his young world into a cautionary tale “not just for our time, but for all time.”
The solution lies in three things, he said: education, education, education.
The students had marched in formally and a color guard demonstration, choir-led national anthem and pledge of allegiance followed.
Teachers, administrators, family and visitors joined to listen to Lynn, now an octogenarian, at once measured and yet at times impassioned when delivering his remarks.
Quoting a favorite author, he defined patriotism as a love of homeland but nationalism as a scorning of the homeland of others.
Lynn urged those in attendance to reflect on what history teaches and how it should serve as a guide toward pluralism and diversity and away from nationalism, racism and false pride.
After his brief remarks, Lynn sat, the room hushed and a documentary was aired recounting the punishing realities of how he had learned these hard lessons.
Born into a Jewish Hungarian family, Lynn was just a teenager when the Nazis’ tentacles reached his doorstep.
His father was taken with other community leaders and executed. His mother was raped, and later killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz along with his siblings.
Lynn only survived the concentration camp by lying about his age, telling prison guards he was 16 — old enough to work 12-hour shifts hauling concrete in the camp.
Not life in the squalid, unsanitary sleeping quarters nor any injury or illness could compel Lynn to give in and visit the hospital. That was merely a euphemism for death.
He was forced to march to Germany before Auschwitz was liberated and was only freed when Allied forces occupied Germany.
He returned to Hungary to find another family in his home. The only response when he rapped on the door was an angry disbelief that he had survived.
He later found his way to Ireland, but discrimination there forced he and other Jews to leave.
Lynn arrived in America by way of New York City before calling metro Atlanta home. He has led a life of prestige in business and philanthropy by any measure of success, married and raised a family.
But Lynn confesses that he is forever haunted by the nightly echoes of terror from days lost in time but not in mind.
When prompted by an audience member after the documentary ended, Lynn offered up sheer will for how he survived the most intimate and brutish kind of evil.
He later said he had “no clue” about the existence of the concentration camps or what might befall his family prior to “deportation.”
And Lynn doesn’t want anyone to forget or be surprised by how evil can flourish, and the consequences of silence when people don’t speak up.
“As I got older … I came to the realization that my life is not entirely my own,” he said in the documentary. “We must all “draw lessons” from the Holocaust and “send a message to the world.”