28, January, 2010
Schuman’s report on the Holocaust may not have been the only one to be brought to the attention of the Allies in August 1942. At least one other independent testimony of the systematic extermination of Jews arrived at that time. Professor Howard M Sachar wrote:
‘The first reliable information of the ‘”Final Solution” evidently reached the West in August 1942, when the American Jewish leader, Stephen Wise, learned of it from Gerhard Reigner, the representative of the World Jewish Congress in Geneva.’
Schuman’s postwar efforts were centred on creating a system that would act as a conscience for the world, instead of destructive Nazism or selfish nationalism. Conscience provides the means for people to live in harmony together.
Without moral progress, technical progress and industrialization had led to industrialized mass murder. One of the most educated and cultured societies in Europe had descended into unconscionable barbarity. The major corporations employed slave labour and even ran death camps. (The companies paid the SS. The slaves got nothing but brutality and death.) White collared accountants calculated the minimum rations for a slave to work and die of starvation within nine months. A Judeo-Christian society had given itself over to exterminating Jews.
To create a governmental system to act as the conscience of Europe and make positive and irreversible progress in the moral field was an even greater challenge than technical progress.
National governments resisted any agreement that would affect their sovereignty. High officials in the French Foreign Ministry, the guardian of French ‘national interest’ but more accurately often only that of the coal and steel barons and finance, had deliberately sabotaged his efforts at European reconciliation.
If that was true in France, in Germany the coal and steel and other cartels had encouraged the rise of Hitler to defend their interest. Schuman warned that the next time this happened, it would mean world suicide.
The Council of Europe was Schuman’s first step. As Prime Minister and Foreign Minster, he made the establishment of this institution a priority. It was founded as a means to render impossible in the future any slide to godless, unconscionable Hitlerism or dictatorship. It made human rights and fundamental freedoms a litmus test for membership of the new entity called Europe.
Presenting the Human Rights Convention to the Assembly in 1949, Schuman’s colleague, French lawyer, Pierre-Henri Teitgen, said:
‘An honest man does not become a gangster in 24 hours. Infection takes time. In thought and in conscience, he has to let himself be drawn into temptation. He gets used to the fault before he commits it. He descends the stairwell step by step. One day, he finds evil has beaten him and he has lost all scruples. Democracies do not become Nazi countries overnight. Evil progresses in an underhand way, with a minority operating to seize what amounts to the levers of power. One by one, freedoms are suppressed, in one sphere then another. Public opinion is smothered, the worldwide conscience is dulled and the national conscience asphyxiated. And then, when everything fits in place, the Führer is installed and this evolution continues right on to the deadly gas ovens of the crematorium.
‘Intervention is needed before it becomes too late. A conscience must exist somewhere which will sound the alarm to the minds of a nation threatened by this spreading gangrene, to warn them of the peril and to show them that they are committing themselves to a crooked road leading far, sometimes even to Buchenwald or to Dachau. An international jurisdiction within the Council of Europe, a system of surveillance and guarantee, could be this conscience, of which other countries also maybe have special need.’
The innovation of the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community or the European Commission of the later two Communities of the Rome Treaties was made to create an impartial and independent voice for European democracies. That is why it must be independent, not tied to any interest, whether national, political, commercial or otherwise.David Heilbron Price
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