When the Nazis occupied Hungary, one of their first orders of business was to round up the Jews. A notably moving account of this period comes in a book called Masquerade, written by Tivadar Soros—the father of the philanthropist George Soros. The elder Soros, a lawyer in Budapest, tells the story of how the Nazis summoned the Jewish lawyers in alphabetical order. The first day, it was those whose last names started with A–C. By the end of the week, they reached G. Tivadar did not wait to find out if he was prominent enough to make the list when they reached S. He and the 14-year-old George went into hiding—George’s mother and brother hid separately—and survived the war. Those who thought they had no choice but to queue up in alphabetical order did not.
I thought of that story this week. In Brazil, the world’s thirdmost populous democracy, Jair Bolsonaro, a proud admirer of the country’s former military dictatorship, won the first round of presidential voting. A prominent Saudi dissident seems to have been brazenly kidnapped and dismembered. Soros himself has been in the news, too. (See Talking Points.) A man who for years was hated by the hard left for opposing communism in every form is now a bogeyman for the hard right; fringe groups spread false stories of how this Holocaust survivor collaborated with the Nazis. With repressive regimes rising around the world, the march of autocracy has the aura of inevitability—an impression dictators and would-be dictators encourage, just as the Nazis fostered the illusion that there was no choice but to line up for deportation and execution. But the rise of autocracy is not inevitable. Bad as this week has been for democracy, it’s a good week to note the lesson of Masquerade: That even in the darkest times, there are always choices, alternative paths of justice and sanity for those who have enough wits about them not to wait patiently for their name to be called.