Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Slate covers "Persecution Perpetuated"

Ray Fisman, one of the most creative economists I know, writes in Slate about Nico Voigtländer's and my work on the medieval origins of anti-Semitism in the interwar period ("Persecution Perpetuated"). Grim subjects make for some interest, or so it seems...

On a small personal note, there is a silly little illustration how deeply ingrained mental habits become, which occurred to me looking at the picture that accompanies Ray's piece. If I am not mistaken, this is Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard, the Leibstandarte, shaking hands with the Führer. The Leibstandarte had an exacting minimum height standard (5 foot 11). Back in the 1980s, I did national service looking after old people, cycling from house to house to help with household chores, shopping, cleaning, personal hygiene, you name it. And since I am a little taller than average (6 foot 4), many an elderly lady, in the sweetest of voices and with no ill intention, would pay me a compliment: "Wow, you are tall. You could be in the Leibstandarte!" It would always remind me how very lucky I am that I was born when I was, and that I could do national service as a conscientious objector, those 20 months of menial labor be damned (the only thing that would have been better would, of course, have been to skip it entirely; but it took Germany a long time to do the right thing and abolish the draft).

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