During the Holocaust, infant Pierre Sauvage was hidden by a French family. Years later, as a filmmaker, he interviewed the villagers who hid—and saved—some 5,000 Jews (including himself) from the Nazis. Sauvage drew this memorable conclusion: “People who agonize don’t act. People who act don’t agonize.”
I have thought of Sauvage’s findings often in watching Angela Merkel, who in the face of stiff political resistance gave sanctuary in Germany to 1.1 million asylum seekers in 2015. An entire industry has sprouted to analyze Merkel’s generous response to the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. (Was she seeking an infusion of skilled workers? Did she hope to soften Germany’s image after the Greek debt talks or—for that matter—the Holocaust? Or did she simply believe offering refuge was right?) Regardless, she acted. She rejected calls to turn away refugees—calls echoed by some in my own country. By doing so, she and Germany saved thousands of lives and improved hundreds of thousands more—lives of individuals who, like Sauvage, will be able to make lasting contributions.
Merkel’s can-do motto in responding to the crisis—”Wir können das schaffen, und wir schaffen das,” or “We can handle this, and we will handle this”—must still be seen as a summons for our age.
Power is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations