Our subject makes pygmies of us all. Our location evokes memories so raw and profound that I end up thinking: "there but for the grace of God go I."
One summer day -- it seems like an eternity ago, though it was really August 1956 -- I visited the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. At the time I was a translator for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, and I wanted to see my mother's birthplace. She had often spoken of the Podol, the busy, Jewish marketplace along the Dnieper where she was born and raised. In 1917, on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution, she left for New York with her father and oldest brother the rest of the family to come in the early 20s.
Because I'd been briefed, the Podol seemed familiar -- still busy, bustling, as I'd imagined it, but the synagogue on that Friday evening, probably the same one my mother had attended, was a relatively quiet oasis of Jewishness, except, of course, for the tumult I had created simply by entering. Taller by a foot than most of the old men who had gathered around me -- warm, curious, skeptical old men -- I was escorted to a place of honor near the bimah. After the service, I was besieged by questions.
"Where are you from?"
"New York." "New York? I have a sister there."
One question after another, until a very small man with the wise fingers of an experienced tailor approached me and felt the lapel of my jacket. "Where was this made?", he asked. "Brooks Brothers," I answered, "it's a men's store in New York." The man made a face. "Huh," he said, with a touch of scorn, "we made better suits than this right here before the revolution."
The rabbi, nodding to the ceiling, a signal he assumed I understood to mean "the place is bugged," urged us to continue in the courtyard, which we did in a mixture of Yiddish and Russian.
"Where were your parents born?"
"My mother was born here in Kiev."
"And what was her name? What was her father's name?"
"Bluma," I answered. "Her father's name was Volf Portnoy."
It was at that moment that something magical occurred. The old tailor, who had melted into the crowd, suddenly reappeared and raised his hand -- and his eyebrows. "Volf Portnoy," he began, recollections forming around the wrinkles of his eyes. "Of course." He remembered. "Volf left with two children: a boy and a girl." The tailor smiled. "We never heard from them again."
That "girl" was my mother. I remember being stunned. Almost four decades had passed from 1917 to 1956 -- four decades filled with revolution, war, communization, more war and the Holocaust. I was part of a tapestry of history, a human link between my mother and this tailor.
The rabbi then told stories about Bolshevik madness and Nazi savagery, about the thousands? tens? hundreds? of thousands of Jews butchered or scattered or buried -- ravines of "heaving civilization," as poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko had imagined the ravine outside of Kiev called Babi Yar. But now, years later, the heaving had stopped. "Over Babi Yar," wrote the Russian poet, "rustles the wild grass. The trees look threatening, like judges, and everything is one silent cry."
As I left the synagogue in the Podol, I felt like "one silent cry." "There but for the grace of God. . . ."
My father's journey from east to west, though different, was similar. He was born in Zyrardow, a textile town one hour west of Warsaw -- a town founded by Philippe Girard, a French merchant in the early 19th century. Many Jews lived in this essentially dreary, Catholic town, whose skyline was spiked by a tall, red brick church. My father left in June 1914, when he was 16, and war clouds darkened Europe. His family, like many others in Zyrardow, consisted of a practical mother and a praying father. His mother made blouses, and his father studied in the neighborhood shul, apparently oblivious to many of the enveloping dangers. More than likely, it was his mother, who encouraged him to go to London, where his older brother had emigrated a few years earlier, as one way of escaping service in the Tsarist army. Travel then was not travel now, and my father, by some fluke, found himself detoured to Galveston, Texas. He arrived in late June, alone, speaking no English and finding few folks there who spoke any Yiddish, Polish, or Russian. It did not matter: he had reached the Goldine Medina, and from then until 1962, when he died, he always loved his new country. Eventually, after stops in St. Louis, Missouri, and Rock Island, Illinois, he made his way to New York, and there met my mother.
Together they raised a family -- a daughter and two sons; faced severe economic hardships during the depression; then, experienced the war (in which a son and a son-in-law served) and, from afar, the Holocaust. After World War II, we learned that of my father's entire family in Zyrardow -- his mother and father, and five remaining brothers and sisters, and all of their children, a very significant brood, when one adds the uncles and aunts and their children -- only Velvil, one of the children, survived the Holocaust. He fought with the Polish underground throughout the war. When the fighting stopped, my father urged Velvil to come to America, but Velvil insisted on going to Palestine. We were later informed that on the very first day that he took up arms in defense of his dream of a Jewish homeland, he was killed -- the last of the Kalbs, except for those, like my father, who had left.
Again, "there but for the grace of God. . . ."
I remember, during the war, that my father would read the Yiddish language newspaper, The Forward, and, after dinner, he would often share with me the awful news from Europe. To paraphrase the Watergate questions -- what did we know? and when did we know it? We knew enough, and we knew enough in timely fashion. Week after week, month after month, we read about the roundup of Jews, the wholesale deportations, the killings. In July 1941, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, then a reliable news source with extensive European contacts, disclosed in New York that hundreds of Jews had been massacred in Minsk, Brest, Litovsk, Lvov, and other East European cities, as the Nazis cut a bloody path through the Soviet Union. By mid-March 1942, a representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee returned to New York from Budapest to tell of 240,000 Jews killed just in the Ukraine. On May 18, 1942, The New York Times reported from Lisbon that the Germans had machine-gunned more than 100,000 Jews in the Baltic states, another 100,000 in Poland, twice that many in western Russia. The news appeared on an inside page -- several inches of neutral copy.
In May, two Jewish members of the Polish National Council in Poland -- Szmul Zygielbojm and Ignacy Schwarzbart -- produced even more startling information. They disclosed that the Germans, with Teutonic efficiency, had begun to put Jews into what were called concentration camps there, to be killed in gas chambers, 90 at a time, or burned to death in ovens. Zygielbojm and Schwarzbart concluded that the Nazis had embarked on a program, as they put it, "to annihilate all the Jews in Europe." The two Jewish representatives recommended that the Allies retaliate in some way against German citizens living within their jurisdictions. The recommendation fell on deaf ears, coming as it did, after all, from "prejudiced sources."
News of the Nazi atrocities was published. On June 30, 1942, and again on July 2, The New York Times ran reports, first published by the Daily Telegraph in London, that more than 1,000,000 Jews had already been killed by the Germans. The reports were mind blowing, but The Times again placed them on an inside page.
In July, Gerhard Riegner, a representative of the World Jewish Congress in Switzerland, reported to London and Washington for the first time that Hitler had in fact ordered the extermination of European Jewry. "Received alarming report," he wrote, "that in FŸhrer's headquarters plan discussed and under consideration, according to which all Jews in countries occupied or controlled [by] Germany, numbering 3 1/2-to 4 million, should, after deportation and concentration in [the] East, be exterminated at one blow to resolve once [and] for all the Jewish question in Europe." In London, the Foreign Office said that any official British response "might annoy the Germans" and besides, officials added, they had no confirmation. In Washington, the State Department was suspicious of what scholar Walter Laqueur described as the "unsubstantiated nature of the information."
In October, 1942, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency published the whole Riegner cable without attribution. A month later, Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles confirmed to Rabbi Stephen Wise that the cable was accurate in every depressing detail. Worse, he said, two of the four million Jews had already been killed. The United States then pushed for an Allied condemnation of the Nazi program of extermination which was announced in mid-December 1942.
At this point there could be no doubt about the authenticity of the reports of Nazi atrocities against the Jews. And yet, amazingly, the coverage was marginalized. It lacked the explosive force that would carry it from the inside pages to the front pages, from a duckable option to unavoidable action. How come?
Elie Wiesel, in a recent conversation, explained by drawing a distinction between "information" and "knowledge." On its own information meant only the existence of data. It lacked an ethical component. It was neutral. Knowledge, implied Wiesel, was a higher form of information. Knowledge was information that had been internalized, crowned with a moral dimension that could be transformed into a call for action.
For the first secretary of the World Council of Churches at the time, the Protestant theologian W. A. Visser't Hooft, the moment when information became knowledge occurred during the war when a young Swiss businessman told him of a recent trip to Russia. The businessman had been invited by Nazi officers to witness the killing of Jews as if he had been invited to a sporting event. In Visser't Hooft's own words, "group after group of Jewish men, women and children were forced to lie down in mass graves and were then machine-gunned to death. . . . From that moment onward I had no longer any excuse for shutting my mind to information which could find no place in my view of the world and humanity."
During the Holocaust, according to Wiesel, information about the mass killings of Jews edged towards knowledge among some people, but obviously not among enough people to awaken the conscience of the world or to affect American, Allied or Nazi policy. Questions about press and policy come to mind. How could such a story as the Holocaust not overwhelm the front page of every newspaper? How could it not be the lead story in The New York Times -- if not every week, then every month? How could President Franklin Roosevelt, who knew about the Holocaust, not lead the Allied charge against it? How could the United States of America not open its doors to those Jews who could escape the Nazi onslaught? (Remember the transport ship, St. Louis, May 1939, crowded with 930 Jewish refugees, turned away by the United States?)
To these questions, there were, it seems, five answers, or reasons. First and foremost, the Allies were determined to win the war; they did not have their focus on saving Jews. In this regard, Roosevelt must have heard the admonition of Machiavelli: "A Prince must have no other object and no other thought than war, and its methods and conduct." The Allies had settled, as firm policy, on the "unconditional surrender" of the Nazis, and "no other thought," even one as humanitarian as saving a people, was allowed to interfere with the prosecution of the war. Roosevelt did not want to alienate neutral nations, divert vital shipping, arouse false expectations, or antagonize Moslem states, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
To speak to the Nazis about the Holocaust, or anything other than their "unconditional surrender," was unacceptable to Roosevelt. As he told an aide, "We will have no truck with fascism in any way, in any shape."
Every now and then, Roosevelt acknowledged, however, that he was mindful of the "Jewish problem." He told visitors that he was considering a plan to establish a Jewish homeland in the Cameroons, or in Paraguay, or in Angola, or, if necessary, in Palestine -- but later, he seemed to be cautioning, after the war. Once, in 1942, after hearing that 2,000,000 Jews had already been killed, he urged Rabbi Stephen Wise to stop pressuring him for immediate action. "The mills of the gods," Roosevelt said, "grind slowly."
Clearly Roosevelt squirmed, but just as clearly he dissembled, even to his closest aides. For example, in early 1942, he told Felix Frankfurter not to worry -- that the Jews were being dispatched to Eastern Europe not to be killed, but to build fortifications against a Soviet counter-attack. Roosevelt knew better. On August 22, 1942, Roosevelt told reporters that the Nazi atrocities "give rise to the fear that . . . the barbaric and unrelenting character of the occupational regime will become more marked and may even lead to the extermination of certain populations." Was Roosevelt using code language? "Certain populations?" Who was kidding whom?
The bottom line was that Allied leaders persuaded themselves that any humanitarian digression, such as bombing the railroad lines into Auschwitz, could only delay and possibly jeopardize the achievement of their ultimate goal of defeating the Nazis.
To which many of us may respond, "nonsense," but the Allied judgment contained the core elements of my second reason, which was antisemitism. Roosevelt, the politician who presided over the war and who read the polls, was aware that, in the late 1930s, as the US was struggling to emerge from the depression, a xenophobic antisemitism flourished among many Americans. His "New Deal" was often described as a "Jew Deal." A poll by Elmo Roper asked in 1938: "What kinds of people do you object to?" 38 percent answered, Jews; another 27 percent answered, "noisy, cheap, boisterous, loud people." Another Roper poll, same year: 70-85 percent opposed raising quotas to help Jewish refugees. (Perhaps that explains the turnaway of the St. Louis.) In 1939, 53 percent of the American people told Roper that the Jews were "different" and for this reason "deserved . . . social and economic restrictions."
The war itself did not change America's antisemitic attitudes. In the spring of 1942, sociologist David Riesman described antisemitism in the U.S. as "slightly below the boiling point." According to one poll conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, shortly after the outbreak of the war, 66 percent of the American people -- two out of every three -- described the German people as "essentially peace loving and kindly."
Another poll said that 61 percent believed the German people should not be "blamed" for the "mass killings" of Jews. Fifty-eight percent said that "only" the Nazi leaders should be "blamed."
In January 1943, after Undersecretary Welles publicly confirmed the "final solution," after the Allies publicly released their joint statement of condemnation, another poll said that more than half of the American people did not believe that the Nazis were "deliberately" killing the Jews.
In December 1944, the American Institute of Public Opinion asked, "Nobody knows, of course, how many may have been murdered, but what would be your best guess?" Twenty-seven percent of Americans answered, "fewer than 100,000." One percent answered, up to 1 million. Roper warned: "antisemitism has spread all over the nation and is particularly virulent in urban centers." David Wyman, author of The Abandonment of the Jews, concluded that 15 percent of the American people would actually have "supported" an anti-Jewish pogrom of some sort, and another 20-25 percent would have been "sympathetic" to such a pogrom. In the scholar's own words, "As much as 35-40 percent of the population was prepared to approve an anti-Jewish campaign, some 30 percent would have stood up against it, and the rest would have remained indifferent." We are talking here about the American people in the closing months of a war against the Nazis, in which many Americans were killed.
The third reason was directly related both to this astounding antisemitism and to the enormity of the Nazi crimes. Many people simply could not believe that the German people, so highly educated, so sophisticated, so cultured, would be engaged -- could be engaged -- in the systematic extermination of the Jews. Many others, either because they were basically antisemitic or totally absorbed with the war effort, were indifferent to the Holocaust. Arthur Koestler, writing from London in a New York Times Magazine piece published in early 1944, spoke of his "ultimate loneliness when faced with death and cosmic violence." "You," Koestler said, "you are the crowd who walk past laughing on the road; and there are a few of us, escaped victims or eyewitnesses of the things which happen in the thicket and who, haunted by our memories, go on screaming on the wireless, yelling at you in newspapers and in public meetings, theaters and cinemas. . . . You shake yourselves like puppies who have got their fur wet, . . . and you walk on, protected by the dream-barrier which stifles all sound." Koestler concluded what he called his "inability to communicate the unique horror of this experience" with these words: "So far three million have died. It is the greatest mass killing in recorded history; and it goes on daily, hourly, as regularly as the ticking of your watch."
This was, oddly, a benign explanation; people simply could not absorb the monstrous dimension of the Nazi crimes. True, to many, the Jews were, for the past 2,000 years, such a problematic people but surely not a people deserving of extinction? In late 1944, John McCloy, the Assistant Secretary of War, turned to A. Leon Kubowitzki, a senior official of the World Jewish Congress, and said, "We are alone. Tell me the truth. Do you really believe that all those horrible things happened?" Kubowitzki later wrote: "His sources of information were better than mine. But he could not grasp the terrible destruction."
Even in Palestine, during the war, the Jewish press could not absorb and communicate the full dimensions of the Holocaust. Facts were reported -- information conveyed, but it was information that had not yet become knowledge.
There were also those Allied officials and ordinary citizens, already predisposed to look with supreme indifference upon Jewish suffering, who found the "Jewish problem" to be a most annoying distraction from the day's work. And, such a waste of time. A British diplomat in the Foreign Office explained in September 1944, why he did not want to be bothered. It would compel other busy diplomats, in his words, "to waste a disproportionate amount of their time in dealing with wailing Jews." Frank Roberts -- a very proper British diplomat, a future Ambassador to Moscow, with whom, years later, I had excellent professional dealings -- Roberts, in possession of an intelligence report concerning the grotesque Nazi use of Jewish corpses, sighed with barely a trace of exasperation: "The facts are quite bad enough," he said, "without the addition of such an old story as the use of bodies for the manufacture of soap."
Disbelief during the tense times of all-out war, compounded by wearisome information about "wailing Jews," was hardly the stuff to awaken the conscience of the world to the Holocaust, hardly the stuff to compel the usual editor, working at the usual news desk in World War II, to decide to "front" the Holocaust -- at least, not then.
One explanation was that the Nazis were so skillful at hiding the facts. They used the tools of modern totalitarianism to control the flow of information, to confuse the enemy, and to stimulate a rush of pride and patriotism among their own people. They not only dominated the German press, all of which was filled with propaganda, lies and distortion; they also controlled and intimidated the small number of sympathetic, Berlin-based foreign correspondents, who came to understand that they had to play ball with the Nazi authorities or they'd be expelled or imprisoned. They functioned, to the degree that they functioned at all, under a rigid system of censorship. Their reporting, like soft porn, was soft propaganda. There was no real reporting from Germany -- no equivalent of CNN's Peter Arnett in Baghdad. There was no broadcasting, no television (then still in its infancy), and no wire service dispatches. German and foreign reporters were intermediaries of Nazi propaganda. The news from Germany was the news from Hitler's headquarters.
In addition, like Stalin's Communist ideologues in the Soviet Union, the Nazis were experts in the relatively new 20th century field of mass propaganda. They rallied their people to their banner in giant rallies, in party-line pamphlets, in careful indoctrination. Scholar Wyman concluded, after studying Nazi archives, that the Germans perfected a code language intended to fool everyone and it ended up fooling many. "Special treatment," as we now know, was their term for gas chambers; "final solution," their term for systematic extermination of the Jews. They used railroad cars especially designed for "industrial equipment" to transport Jewish victims to death camps in Eastern Europe, telling them (and anyone else who raised questions) that they were going to labor camps.
Eventually, the truth emerged, but it took an unconscionably long time. Not until reporters, such as Edward R. Murrow, described the death camps at Buchenwald in 1945 did the true enormity of the Nazis crimes become apparent to the average listener of CBS News, to the average American.
My fourth reason concerned the very nature of journalism, as practiced in the United States. During the war, American journalists, never an adventurous lot, performed, with very, very few exceptions, like obedient servants of the U.S. Government. Reporters were cautious patriots, comfortable with their role as cheerleaders in a cause against fascism, which they fully supported. Vietnam was still 25 years away. The story was the prosecution of the war, the pursuit of an Allied victory, unconditional surrender. Like most other Americans, journalists covering the war had no other objective. Their editors wanted stories about the home front and the war front. Neither the editors, nor the reporters, were geared to do stories -- quite fantastic stories, it seemed -- about millions of Jews being gassed and burned to death as part of a systematic German campaign to exterminate a people. Now, with hindsight, we can second-guess the editorial limitations of the time, but then it all seemed perfectly natural.
Across the desks of the Associated Press and the United Press came stories from Europe about the systematic killing of Jews, but few were put on the news agency wires for mass distribution. Few newspapers published such stories. Aside from a paragraph here and there -- Time, Newsweek and Life -- the national news magazines maintained a steady silence on the subject. In February 1943, when the United States first disclosed the Nazi plan for the extermination of the Jews, The Reader's Digest, American Mercury and Collier's allowed themselves a momentary flush of editorial excitement -- then quickly resumed their detached approach to the story. One exception to the rule occurred in late 1944, when Collier's and American Mercury published vivid accounts of the slaughter of Polish Jews written by Jan Karski, a leader of the Polish underground who had been an eyewitness to a Nazi killing camp. (Karski had earlier informed Roosevelt in a private meeting that "the Germans are out to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Europe." Disappointed by the President's response, Karski decided to go public.) There was little radio coverage of the Holocaust. Hollywood, though populated by many Jewish producers and writers, did many films on Nazi atrocities, but not one on the Holocaust. The very popular newsreel, called The March of Time, never touched on the killing of the Jews. One of the most momentous events of the modern era was allowed to pass virtually without comment.
My final reason, after "unconditional surrender," after antisemitism, after the unbelievability of the Holocaust, after the strange silence of American journalism, focused on the culture and personalities of the people who ran The New York Times, which also failed in its journalistic responsibility during the war. Not that it didn't cover the war -- it did, with an exceptional and costly burst of energy and professionalism; it simply did not cover the Holocaust; and to this day the people who run (or have run) this great newspaper are baffled and embarrassed by this extraordinary omission. The logo of The New York Times read and reads "All The News That's Fit To Print," but during the war The Times, which was and is so special to American journalism, knew much more than it printed about the Holocaust; and what it did print, it printed, as a rule, inside, cut, often trivialized. What was the reason?
Here things get very complicated. Arthur Hays Sulzberger was publisher during the war. According to family history, his ancestors came to America in 1695. Two were among the Jewish notables of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790, when General-turned-President Washington visited their synagogue. Not surprisingly, Sulzberger considered himself to be a member of the establishment, an American, who just happened to be Jewish. During a trip to Palestine in 1937, he confronted the reality of zionism, and it profoundly discomfited him. "Never have I felt so much a foreigner as in this Holy Land," he later wrote.
On his return to New York, he found that his old fears of divided loyalty led him, to quote journalist Peter Grose, "to minimize, if not ultimately deny, his Jewish identity." Sulzberger helped found the anti-zionist American Council for Judaism, which Isaiah Berlin called "an assembly of mice who say that they will bell the zionist cat." Interestingly, The Times gave this splinter group as much coverage as it gave to all the other Jewish groups combined -- and much, much more than it gave to the Holocaust.
Sulzberger, as high brow among American Jews as Bernard Baruch or Walter Lippmann, was an ultra-assimilationist, a civilized man who simply wanted to avoid being categorized as a Jew. Baruch, denounced by the Jew-baiting Detroit radio priest, Father Charles Coughlin, as "the uncrowned King of Wall Street," fled from too close an association with Jews. Lippmann, one of the great figures in American journalism in this century, frequently criticized Jews as "rich, vulgar and pretentious." He suggested that Harvard limit the enrollment of Jews. He dismissed Hitler's antisemitism as "unimportant," adding that the German leader was "the authentic voice of a genuinely civilized people." From 1933, when Hitler came to power, until 1945, when Hitler was destroyed, Lippmann never wrote a word about the Holocaust, never once mentioned the death camps.
In The Times, the murder of millions of Jews was treated as minor-league stuff, kept at a proper distance from the authentic news of the time. For example, on July 2, 1944, The Times published what it called "authoritative information" to the effect that 400,000 Hungarian Jews had been deported to their deaths, and another 350,000 were earmarked for similar action. This news was published as four inches of copy on page 12. The Times was making a statement with editorial judgments of this sort, and other editors, other reporters, other news organizations, all took their cues from The Times. Everyone knew that its foreign coverage set the standard. A perception then spread that if the Jewish-owned Times covered the Holocaust in this skimpy manner, then so could they, with impunity. The Times's foreign editor during the war was Ted Bernstein, described by a colleague as "a brilliant Jew running away from his roots."
Was it then any surprise that Jewish news, other than the Holocaust, was also shortchanged in The Times; that bylines, such as A.H. Raskin and A.M. Rosenthal appeared, rather than Abraham Raskin and Abraham Rosenthal? Cyrus Sulzberger, a columnist covering the war, used his clout as a member of the family to discourage the hiring of too many Jewish reporters. Daniel Schorr said that he was told in the early 1950s that he would not be hired by The Times, because there were already too many Jews on the paper.
Of course the times and The Times have changed, and the journalism of the 1990s -- the journalism after Vietnam, after Watergate, after the technological revolutions which produced CNN, faxes, computers and the O.J. trial -- is significantly different from the journalism of the 1940s. We cannot impose the journalistic yardsticks of the 1990s on the 1940s. Nor can we fairly expect the journalists of the 1940s to perform as though they lived and worked in the 1990s. Now journalists are obsessed with sex and scandal, fires and sports, weather and murders, tilting towards sensationalism whenever the competitive opportunity beckons. Negative and cynical, they distrust the government and disparage politicians. Back then, journalists operated in a narrower environment, with simpler rules. They marched to the government's beat; they hated Hitler and Tojo; they supported the boys at the front. And, their technological opportunities were comparatively primitive.
It should be clear that the Holocaust was unique, the reporting of the Holocaust was unique, and neither can be duplicated. So long as there is a strong Israel and an articulate, influential Jewish community in the United States, I feel confident in saying that another Holocaust -- another foreign, state-run program of extermination of the Jews -- would be impossible. But other mass killings? These are not only possible but likely.
Given the unprecedented gobbling up of substantial media enterprises by even bigger media conglomerates, it should not be surprising these days that there is not even a commonly accepted definition of "news." Yet, if a story broke about another Holocaust, there could be no doubt not now that it would be front-page news. Such horrible secrets could no longer be kept for months and years. Responsible officials are constantly reminded that what was tolerated during the Holocaust is unacceptable behavior today. For example, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, during a recent visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, read with dismay John McCloy's 50-year-old negative response to a demand by the World Jewish Congress that the Allies bomb the rail lines leading into Auschwitz. The response and the demand were on a wall here flanking a huge blow-up of the death camps. "Remember, Strobe," said his companion, the Museum's Director Walter Reich, "any letter you write may end up on a museum wall."