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Jewish World Review April 19, 2000 /14 Nissan, 5760

Don Feder

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Museum needed for preserving memory of communism's victims -- "NEVER AGAIN" is the slogan of Holocaust remembrance. Recall what happened when hell was on earth, we are urged, so those nightmare years will never be repeated.

The public's reaction to the plight of Elian Gonzalez -- we're bored by coverage; we don't understand what all the fuss is about; why not just let the father schlep the kid back to a Marxist dungeon? -- demonstrates that most Americans learned next to nothing from the epic struggle of the 20th century.

Take the so-called leader the free world, who has colluded with Castro throughout the affair. Last week, Bill Clinton confessed that he thought there were "some people in Florida" (i.e., Cuban-Americans) who "didn't think anyone should go back to Cuba."

The president of the United States is astonished to find that there are people who've escaped communism who believe no one should have to endure what they went through. But then, what would you expect from the man who calls the butchers of Beijing "our strategic partners"?

Cuba is only 90 miles off our coast. Yet most American have only a vague idea of what's going on there.

The average monthly wage is $20. Castro deliberately keeps his people in rags to forestall the rise of a middle class that would threaten his precious revolution.

According to Freedom House, Cuba has one of the highest per capita rates of imprisonment for political offenses in the world. Its 1999-2000 report cites the "cycles of repression Castro has unleashed with increasing frequency."

In Cuba, Elian would live as an inmate of a maximum security prison. Everything from his diet, to his work, to expressions of faith would be severely restricted.

Infractions of the rules -- possessing "enemy propaganda" (pro-democracy literature) and "disrespect to the leader" (insufficient groveling) -- would be brutally punished. Guards would watch him day and night. From this prison, there is no parole, no commutation of sentence.

If Elian is returned to the island it will not be to his father's care but to the custody of the Maximum Leader. According to the Cuban Constitution of 1976, parental rights are recognized "only as long as their influence does not go against the political objectives of the state."

From nursery school, children are indoctrinated in Marxism. Youth are channeled into the Communist Pioneers. Children are taught to inform on parents. Schools keep permanent dossiers on students whose loyalty is questioned.

How fast we forget!
Alina Fernandez explains that teen-agers are sent to schools in the countryside where parents may see them only once every few months. There, they are forced to work half days in the fields. These schools are notorious for high rates of venereal disease and abortion.

Fernandez, who fled Cuba in 1993, is somewhat of an authority on family relationships on the island. Her father (whom she calls "the executioner") is Fidel Castro.

In a sense, none of this is extraordinary. Cuba is the latest act in the century's longest-running tragedy. From the firing squads of the Bolshevik revolution to the tanks that crushed students in Tiananmen Square, the death toll from communism is over one hundred million.

Those killed outright are the lucky ones. At least they were spared the planned starvation, gulags, mental hospitals, slave labor and just the bleak, gray existence of a police state.

How could we have forgotten so soon -- within a dozen years of the fall of the Berlin Wall?

How could memory fail when more than 100,000 Americans died fighting the spread of this contagion in Korea and Vietnam? Thanks in part to their heroic sacrifices, the citizens of a dozen nations no longer exist in the shadows of a perpetual totalitarian twilight.

We need a museum dedicated to preserving the memory of communism's victims. There, the public could see the pictures of the killing fields and torture cells, and hear the testimony of the likes of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and the Cuban poet Armando Valladares. Like the Holocaust Museum, it would help us never to forget and remind us that the struggle continues.

If our memory of communism's horrors hadn't faded, Americans would put Bill Clinton, Janet Reno and the National Council of Churches on a slow boat to Havana before they allow Elian to be taken back.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate