Watching the World
Memories of the Holocaust
◆ A new book, Voices from the Holocaust, by Sylvia Rothchild, contains a series of memoirs by Jews who survived Nazi concentration camps. Survivor Sally Grubman, a schoolteacher in Lodz when the Nazis came to power, was taken to the camp at Auschwitz and later to Ravensbrück. Her experiences there prompted this observation: “I saw people who became very, very good and people who became absolutely mean. The nicest group were the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I take my hat off to those people. They were born martyrs. They did marvelous things for other people. They helped the sick, they shared their bread, and gave everyone near them spiritual comfort. The Germans hated them and respected them at the same time. They gave them the worst work but they took it with their heads high.”
“Singled Out for Extermination”
◆ The U.S. Social Security Administration has published a document outlining proof-of-age requirements for Nazi Holocaust survivors to obtain certain Social Security benefits. Among the guidelines stated in the document, identified as SSR 81-16, is one that states: “This policy applies to persecuted groups including but not limited to Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Blacks, and Orientals.” Under a section defining “evidence that an individual is a survivor of the Holocaust” is the stipulation that “the person is a member of one of the groups which had been singled out for extermination by the Nazis; i.e., Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses . . .”—Part 1B, Rulings Based on Program Policy Statements, pp. 18, 19.
“Before the ‘Bang”’
◆ In March, Britain’s New Scientist magazine published an article entitled “In the Beginning,” outlining events during the first tiny instants after the so-called big bang. The science journal later published a letter from one British reader who found the article “absolutely fascinating,” but observed: “What happened 10-35 seconds after the ‘big bang’ is most interesting but what happened 10-35 seconds before the ‘bang’ is the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question.” The writer asked: “Why should sufficient embryo matter to make the whole Universe suddenly appear out of less than nothing? Why should this matter obey fundamental laws which have made all subsequent development of the Universe possible? Answers please, or even just hypotheses . . .”
Voice from the Dead
◆ For people who have a hard time accepting the loss of loved ones, a California firm is marketing a $10,000 “electronic tombstone.” Powered by a small solar panel, the tombstone contains a muted recording of the dead person’s voice. “This can play up to 90 minutes of pre-recorded gab from the grave,” says the inventor, “and the solar device operates under all extremes of weather—even buried under snow.” Indicating the worth of such a device, he declared: “Every single rock star will want one—it’s an ego trip.”
Religion’s Future “Worrisome”
◆ In a recent public opinion survey, pollster George Gallup came up with what he calls “worrisome findings” on the state of religion in the United States. He told an audience at Pennsylvania’s Duquesne University that a most ominous trend is “the sorry state of biblical knowledge in our nation and the shocking lack of knowledge about the basics of our faith.” He said that the survey found that 60 percent of all teenagers polled could not name any of the four Gospels and, of churchgoing youths, 40 percent could not do so either. A third of the teenagers did not know that the number of apostles was 12 and a fifth of churchgoing youths failed to answer correctly as well. “Most Americans pray,” said Gallup, “but in an unstructured and superficial manner. . . . Prayers are usually prayers of petition [asking for something] rather than prayers of thanksgiving, intercession or seeking forgiveness. God for some is viewed as a ‘divine Santa Claus.”’
Sticking to the Job
◆ Zhao Wenjin, a handyman hired in 1926 to take care of the United States Consulate in Xiamen, People’s Republic of China, was still at it 55 years later. In 1980, the first visit by U.S. officials since the restoration of diplomatic ties found him sweeping, cleaning and repairing the unused building. “The image of him sweeping this place religiously through the Korean War and the Cultural Revolution is kind of poignant,” said a U.S. State Department official. Now, at 75 years of age, Mr. Zhao can retire under the American government’s pension plan. And even though his monthly salary was only $53 all those years, “he probably will be entitled to the minimum annuity under the Civil Service Retirement System—$122 a month,” said a government official. Per capita income in China is about $20 per month.
‘Most Violent Democracy’
◆ The world’s most violent industrial democracy is the United States, according to Harry A. Scarr, former director of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. He illustrated this by noting that, in one recent year, the U.S. murder rate was seven times that of Great Britain and five times that of Japan. The robbery rate was 17 times greater than Japan’s and eight times greater than Britain’s. And in the U.S. the rate of rape was 12 times higher than Great Britain’s and 10 times higher than Japan’s. The pattern of violence still continues in the United States, with a 13-percent increase in such crimes last year alone, the biggest jump in 12 years.
‘Meeting the Challenge’
◆ Sri Lanka’s Catholic weekly The Messenger recently carried an article titled “Encountering Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The article told of a discussion by local church officials on “How to meet the challenge of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The group reportedly considered the “necessity to organize in every Parish effective machinery to meet the encounter of Jehovah’s Witnesses and appeal to the Sri Lanka Bishops’ Conference to evolve such a plan of action in the entire island.” Among the speakers, a “Fr. Chianese gave a detailed survey of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the world today and remarked that they were making inroads into Catholicism in Sri Lanka,” reported The Messenger. “He also conceded that there were certain factors to be admired in them like their missionary drive, answering man’s needs for peace and security and the stress placed on the Second Coming of Christ.”
◆ India reportedly is suffering from a shortage of the snakes needed to catch rats that eat from 10 to 15 percent of the nation’s grain. Snake skins are in great demand for shoes and purses in Europe and America, fetching traders as much as $10 (U.S.) per foot after tanning. Though exports of the skins have been banned, a number of Indians make their living by selling them to traders who smuggle them out of the country. “Alive, their value to the country would be far higher than the export value of their skins,” reports The Economist of London. “But snake-catchers are among the poorest people in a very poor nation, and can hardly be expected to lay down their traps unless offered some alternative income.” One suggestion is that rat skins be substituted, using tanning techniques recently developed in India. Observes The Economist: “All that remains is to persuade fashion-conscious Westerners to switch from snakes to rats when they step out in style.”
Life Expectancy Falls
◆ Are medical efforts to lengthen life reaching their limits? For the first time in 12 years, U.S. life expectancy in 1980 went down—by an average of about three and a half months when compared to 1979. A Metropolitan Life Insurance study indicates that a newborn male could expect to live for 70.1 years in 1980, compared to 70.2 years in 1979. Girls could expect to live 77.5 years in 1980, compared to 77.9 years in 1979.
British Horse Power
◆ More and more farmers in Great Britain are switching from tractors to horse power as gasoline taxes and prices continue to spiral. From 5,000 workhorses in England during the 1960’s, the number has grown to more than 15,000 now. Instead of putting up as much as $33,000 (U.S.) for a tractor, farmers can purchase a trained draft horse for less than $3,300. And tractor tires at over $400 each can hardly compete with a set of horseshoes for about $22.
Honduras Bars Jesuits
◆ Asserting that Jesuit priests and members of the Maryknoll order “don’t dedicate themselves to their religious tasks but use their time to indoctrinate peasants and workers in essentially political questions,” a Honduran army official reportedly has announced that they will no longer be allowed to enter the country. Catholic leaders have increasingly come under similar charges in other Latin-American countries.
Bridge in the Desert
◆ Back in 1971, industrialist Robert P. McCulloch bought England’s famous London Bridge for $2.4 million. He shipped the pieces to the United States and reassembled them in the Arizona desert. “Most people thought the idea was ridiculous,” reports Newsweek magazine. “After all, there wasn’t even a stream running through Lake Havasu City, the ‘instant’ town McCulloch had founded several years earlier.” But things have changed. The town, grown to a population of 17,000, now has a man-made waterway running under the celebrated bridge. And the place has “become the second most popular tourist spot in Arizona—surpassed only by the Grand Canyon,” says Newsweek.
Living on Air
◆ A Canadian woman from Windsor, Ontario, reportedly reduced her weight over 80 pounds (37 kg) in a unique manner. Under medical supervision, an inflated balloon was kept in her stomach for six months. “She felt full as soon as she ate the smallest snack,” reports Reuters News Service.
◆ Because they refuse to marry, a New York City woman and her wealthy lover requested and were granted legal custody of their own child. They reportedly claim that marriage would be “harmful to their relationship,” which involves living separately. The father also was allowed legally to adopt the child, because, said the court, adoption would “remove the stigma of illegitimacy and . . . permit the child to inherit substantial amounts of property from his father’s ancestors.” Apparently there is no longer any concern about the stigma of immorality.
Advertising for Nuns
◆ In five years Spain lost nearly a quarter of its Roman Catholic nuns, dropping from almost 82,000 in 1974 to little more than 63,000 in 1979. In an effort to stem the tide, according to the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, some orders have resorted to placing “unusual ‘employment offers’” in Catholic publications. The paper cites one such ad that states: “Young girls with religious vocation, good mind and good health, you will be welcomed without dowry in the monastery of the Hieronymite sisters. A healthy and happy community life assured in a recently constructed convent.” Le Soir observes that such ads were “unthought of a few years ago, but now different convents have thus been induced to adopt advertising methods in order to eulogize the material charms and sympathetic atmosphere of the convents . . . An argument that is not without significance in this time of economic crisis: one can now enter the convent ‘without dowry.’”