Amy's Blog: "One Author's Life"


What Holocaust Survivors Can Tell Us About the Use of Language

August 26, 2016

Tags: American culture and politics, language, elders, Holocaust survivors

Eighteen years ago I interviewed a brilliant Holocaust survivor named Leo Petranker. He shared many observations about life, democracy, and the nature of human beings. One of his comments, in particular, sticks in my mind:

"Always watch the language of a people," he said. "When people use extreme words, like 'assassinate', this is a sign of trouble to come."

In the years since I interviewed Mr. Petranker, American culture has become much more coarse. All you have to do is read the comments section of any online newspaper or magazine to see the escalation in the use of inflammatory language. This has now carried over into politics in a way that would have been completely shocking to Mr. Petranker.

There are words used commonly today that would have been considered insulting, vulgar, or outrageous just a short time ago.

I don't know where this trend is headed for us here in the States, but I think it would be wise to pay attention to Mr. Petranker's warning. Our elders are so often right, if only we would listen.