This I Believe

Epstein, Benjamin R.


  • Benjamin Epstein, National director of the Anti-Defamation League, describes the faith in people he had as a child and how he lost it after studying abroad in Nazi Germany and how he again regained it after his return to the United States.
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And now, This I Believe, the living philosophies of thoughtful men and women, presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Benjamin R. Epstein is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. His interest in furthering better relations among all men began when he was a student at Dickinson College, went to Berlin University and witnessed firsthand the rise of Nazism. He is co-author of Trouble-Makers: A Report on Intolerance in the United States. Here now are the beliefs of Benjamin R. Epstein.
Children need faith to give them a sense of security. Therefore, they choose to believe. As a child, my parents taught me to believe in the basic decency of those around me, to treat everyone as I would like to be treated. Implicitly, I believed in the essential goodness of those around me. I believed this because I wanted my world to be a friendly one. I grew to adolescence in a small Pennsylvania steel town among Negroes, Poles, Arabs, Slavs, and Italians. My parents were traditional Jews, and the Friday night candles were lighted with unfailing devotion. My school companions of every creed and nationality were struggling for acceptance in our community. By the time I was graduated from high school, recognition for my efforts had come, and I felt secure and confident in the friendship of teachers and townspeople.
My four years at Dickinson College, a small Methodist Episcopal Institution, were filled with the struggle of all adolescence. Religion and philosophy were frequent bull-session topics. I found that I could live happily as a Jew in this Protestant environment, which had room for differences. That I as a Jew was selected as one of the college’s exchange students to Germany, in spite of the Nazi coup, reaffirmed my faith.
But belief can turn to disenchantment, then despair. As an exchange student representing Dickinson College at the University of Berlin in 1934 and 1935, I saw Nazism seize power. I caught glimpses of the terrible brutality, the evil virus of prejudice and fear spreading throughout the land of Goethe and Schiller, Wasserman and Mann.
I saw the beginning of the end of the civilization. I was frightened and bewildered. What I saw in Germany was sheer evil. Could I still believe in the essential goodness of man?
When I returned to the United States, I was sick at heart. Even in my own country, there were grim signs that the Nazi evil was spreading. It took a painfully long time for me to gain perspective, to escape from the black net of despair in which I was trapped. Gradually my faith in men, at least in my own countrymen, returned. Thinking Americans, I found, clearly recognized the threat of the bigot. Most Americans are believers in the basic concept of the brotherhood of man and reject hatred when they have the truth. I believe that we can, acting together, defeat hatred.
I believe that freedom-loving people are constantly struggling for fulfillment of the goal of a fuller democracy for all.
My faith is best expressed by John Donne’s lines: “No man is an island entire of itself. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. No man suffers but that I suffer. No man’s rights are deprived but that a part of my rights are deprived. If I desire liberty and happiness, I must seek it for every man. I can find my faith only in my brother’s faith.” As a child, I felt this instinctively. As a man, it is my credo.
That was Benjamin R. Epstein of New York, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.