The top 50 political donors gave more than $440 million to the people and groups pushing candidates for state office in 2014, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity. Here’s a look at who the kingmakers were.
The top 50 political donors gave more than $440 million to the people and groups pushing candidates for state office in 2014, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity. Here’s a look at who the kingmakers were.
If money is influence, the Republican Governors Association wielded more of it than anyone else last year in state elections nationwide.
The group, led in 2014 by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, gave roughly $69 million to candidates, political parties and independent groups — more than double its Democratic counterpart — as it tried to elect Republicans to the top office in as many states as possible. The group gave more than any other donor to state-level elections last year — from races for governor to legislator to supreme court justice.
The association applied an effective strategy that’s becoming more common: giving money using multiple paths to circumvent limits on campaign contributions to candidates and parties, a Center for Public Integrity analysis has found.
In addition to the money it spent directly on TV ads and other campaign efforts, the group gave about $14 million to candidates including Illinois’ new Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. It also gave more than $3 million to state parties, including those in Texas and Maine.
The bulk of the checks it wrote, however, totaling about $50 million, went to other political groups that in turn spent the money on state races.
Its efforts largely paid off. Republicans gained four governorships in 2014 and only lost two, leaving them holding the reins in 31 states.
The group “was designed to supplement what candidates could do on their own in the states,” said Dick Thornburgh, a former Pennsylvania governor who turned the association into a powerhouse in the mid-1980s. “Obviously, it’s grown beyond that.”
Its competitor, the Democratic Governors Association, gave $32 million and ranked second among the sugar daddies of 2014, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis. The group only picked up one new governor’s mansion, with Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf defeating incumbent Republican Tom Corbett. (Alaska’s Republican incumbent was beaten by an independent, Bill Walker.)
Together, the two governors’ groups and other national political organizations gave significantly more than political parties, unions, multimillionaires or corporations that also contributed heavily to influence state-level campaigns. The donations went beyond races for governor. The funds made their way into lower-ballot contests such as attorney general, state supreme court justice and state legislator.
The national groups also cropped up on the lists of the biggest donors in most states, outgiving homegrown political players in a sign that all politics may now be national.
In all, the top 50 political givers spread more than $440 million to the people and groups pushing candidates for state office, the Center for Public Integrity found. The list is thick with billionaires such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, unions such as the American Federation of Teachers and corporations such as telecom titan AT&T Inc.
They also were more successful in backing winners than most donors, becoming the de facto kingmakers of state politics.
“It’s an amazing amount of power concentrated in a handful of organizations,” said Ed Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics that collected some of the data used for the analysis. “If people want to understand why government is dysfunctional, you don’t have to look much farther than this list.”
The Citizens United effect
To identify the kingmakers, the Center for Public Integrity looked at donations given to 2014 state candidates and political parties during 2013 and 2014, as tracked by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Reporters also collected state and federal contribution records for 140 independent organizations that aired political TV ads during 2014 state elections.
The analysis does not include funders of groups that don’t disclose their donors to any state or federal agencies — so-called “dark money” groups. And it does not total overall contributions, because some donors received money from other donors on the list. [More details on the methodology.]
The findings paint a picture of independent groups playing a bigger role in financing state-level elections than even political parties or the candidates’ campaigns, one effect of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The 2010 ruling allowed many groups to accept and spend unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and wealthy patrons to influence elections as long as they did not coordinate with the candidates. Thus, they could bypass limits on giving to a candidate or political party and leapfrog ahead.
The top 50 donors identified by the Center for Public Integrity gave more than 40 percent of their contributions to independent political groups, surpassing what they gave to either candidates or political parties.
The strategy allows donors to multiply their influence, said Larry Noble, former general counsel of the FEC who now works as an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center.
“You give the maximum to the candidates, but then you want to give more,” he said. “You give to the party committee that’s also going to support the candidate. You give to outside groups that are also going to support the candidate.”
The mega-donors thus control more of the political messages that determine which issues are central to the campaign — roles previously played by candidates and political parties. And in exchange, they may expect the newly elected officials to dance with the ones that brought them.
Behind the curtain
National political groups have their own heavy-hitting donors. But because the groups function as the middlemen of political giving, voters often don’t know the original source of the cash behind a politician’s election.
The Republican Governors Association, for one, served as a conduit for billionaires and corporations looking to influence governors’ races.
The five largest contributors behind the group’s gargantuan giving power all appear separately on the Center for Public Integrity’s top 50 donor list: Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson; billionaire David Koch, who runs the Kansas-based Koch Industries with his brother; electricity giant Duke Energy; investment firm ETC Capital, whose founder, Manoj Bhargava, also founded the company behind the 5-Hour Energy drink; and billionaire hedge-fund manager Paul Singer, according to IRS records from 2013 and 2014.
Meanwhile, four of the five largest contributors to the counterpart Democratic Governors Association were also familiar names from the top 50 list: Michael Bloomberg and branches of three labor unions — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the National Education Association and the Service Employees International Union.
The Republican and Democratic governors’ associations employ another common strategy that both amplifies and obfuscates their giving: contributing to “an outside group with a good-sounding name” to make support of a candidate look more diverse and to help attract different constituencies, Noble said.
For example, state records collected by the Center for Public Integrity show that the Democratic Governors Association gave more than $6 million to a group called Making Colorado Great, while the Republican Governors Association gave nearly $5.5 million to Grow Connecticut. The Colorado and Connecticut organizations then spent millions airing TV ads in their states’ respective gubernatorial contests.
“It’s name branding,” Noble said. “If you were a teacher and you see an ad from a teachers union, you’re going to give it a lot more credibility than an ad from the DGA.”
Diverse giving becomes trendy
All but a handful of the top 50 mega-donors used more than one avenue to spread their gifts. And most gave money to influence races in more than one state.
Billionaire hedge-fund manager Kenneth Griffin, for example, gave more than $4.6 million before the election to the campaign committee of Rauner, the Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Worth about $5.5 billion, according to Forbes, Griffin and his soon-to-be ex-wife Anne also gave at least $2.2 million to independent political groups that backed state candidates, such as the Republican Governors Association, and more than $500,000 to state GOP parties in Illinois and Florida.
A representative for Griffin declined to comment.
Some of the top donors also gave widely. Sixteen of the top 50 contributors gave to 50 or more state-level candidates running in 2014.
Getting what they paid for
Nearly 85 percent of the candidates backed directly by the top 50 donors won their elections in 2014, a far better success rate than the typical political contributor, who backed winners only 52 percent of the time.
Duke Energy, for example, had a 94 percent success rate after supporting 381 different candidates.
For corporations, in particular, political giving is a way to ensure a seat at the table once a lawmaker is elected, said Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levitt. Giving across the aisle improves their odds of having an ally in office come January.
“They’ll give to the incumbent and also the challenger just in case the challenger wins,” Levitt said. “They’ll give more to leadership positions because leadership positions are gateways to access for committees, for legislation, for broader regulation.”
Mass media giant Comcast picked winners in 93 percent of the more than 1,000 candidates it backed. It gave nearly $1.7 million directly to candidates, spreading it widely in 36 states.
“The contributions that the company makes are because we operate in a highly regulated industry,” said Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice, adding that most candidates backed are incumbents. “The decisions that are made by legislatures control our business.”
In addition to its national giving, the Philadelphia-based Comcast gave heavily in its home state. Top recipients were Gov. Tom Corbett and running mate Jim Cawley, both Republicans, who together raked in $107,000 from the state’s top broadband provider but lost re-election. Hedging its bet, Comcast also gave $1,000 to Wolf, who won the governorship from Corbett.
Duke Energy, another company regulated by states, divvied up more than $500,000 among the hundreds of candidates it backed, many of whom ran for office in North Carolina, where the company is headquartered.
Additionally, the electric utility donated more than $210,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Duke Energy may have been trying to boost its support in the Sunshine State, where it has faced massive criticism for charging customer fees for nuclear plants that do not — and may never — provide power. Florida’s governor and legislature are responsible for naming the members of the commission that regulates the utility and allows such fees.
“We do not make contribution decisions on single issues,” Duke Energy spokesman Chad Eaton said. “Our employee-led PAC considers an array of issues before any decisions are made.”
In general, he said, Duke Energy donates to candidates who demonstrate “support for public policy issues that are important to our business, customers and communities” in the six states where it provides electricity.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, meanwhile, gave nearly $2.7 million to 568 candidates in 34 states and had a 64 percent win rate. It contributed more than half million dollars to Democrat Pat Quinn’s failed bid to retain the Illinois governorship, but saw more success with the $410,000 it gave to Wolf’s successful run for governor in Pennsylvania. In both states, the Republican opposition had supported scaling back public pensions or preventing unions from deducting union dues directly from members’ paychecks.
Money does not always guarantee a win, of course, and a lack of funds doesn’t necessarily foretell a loss.
In Maryland’s governor’s race, former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Democrat, outraised Republican Larry Hogan several times over yet lost in one of the biggest upsets of election night. Brown was hurt by low popularity ratings that no giant war chest could fix, according to Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. And because Hogan accepted public funds for his campaign, he was limited on how much money he could spend yet also freed up to spend time on the campaign trail, not the fundraising one.
And some of the top benefactors saw little return on their campaign investments.
Billionaire physicist Charles Munger Jr., son of the Berkshire Hathaway executive of the same name, gave nearly $300,000 to 45 Republican candidates in 2014. Only 13 won for a 29 percent success rate.
The nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, also fared poorly when backing candidates directly — only three of their 13 candidates won.
Allies in office
Most of the more than 6,300 state officials elected in November began work this month, shaping and creating policy across the country in 50 governors’ mansions and 99 legislative chambers — 11 of which flipped from Democratic to Republican control in the 2014 election.
For some big donors, that means the candidates they backed can now fight for their causes in state office. Or they might just be more willing to take a phone call from a benefactor who has a legislative wish list.
Noble said candidates typically know which donors they have to thank for their success — even when patrons filter their donations through independent groups.
And now, for some top givers, the real campaigning is about to begin.
Rauner, the newly sworn-in Republican governor, for one, is already gearing up for battles with the veto-proof Democratic-controlled legislature in Illinois as he pushes his stated goals of plugging the state’s budget deficit and strengthening ethics laws. He isn’t just counting on good will or smooth talking to win over potentially reluctant legislators. He’s counting on cold, hard cash to help make the case.
Rauner and two top donors, Griffin and shipping supply magnate Richard Uihlein, poured $20 million into the governor’s campaign committee in the final two days of 2014, which Rauner reportedly plans to use to back other candidates who support his policies.
Rauner’s new war chest will enable the new governor to be in a state of “perpetual campaign” — to air commercials aimed at persuading state legislators or to donate to other lawmakers’ re-election campaigns in exchange for support of Rauner’s agenda, said Christopher Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, Springfield.
In the past, a governor might have promised state legislators financial backing for development projects in their districts or helped them acquire contracts or new jobs.
“Instead of building somebody a playground in the school, he’ll be able to donate money to their campaign,” Mooney said.
And if they don’t do want he wants? “He’ll be able to fund an opponent,” he said.
Recent governmental budget cuts have not been distributed evenly with slashed spending hitting pro-Republican states the hardest, according to new analysis by Reuters.
Funding for a range of discretionary grant programs has fallen 40% in Republican states compared to a drop of only 25% in swing states or states that tend to support the Democrats, claims the news agency.
“I would suggest these numbers would tell us there is politicization going on,” said John Hudak of the Brookings Institution, who helped Reuters analyze the federal spending.
The money that the government allocates to discretionary spending goes to initiatives like the Head Start preschool education scheme and anti-drugs programs.
(COVINGTON, Ind.) —Former U.S. Rep. John Myers, who represented western Indiana’s 7th District for three decades, has died.
Owner Robert Shelby of Shelby Funeral Home in Covington says the 87-year-old Myers died Tuesday morning in his home following a brief illness.
Myers was a lifelong Covington resident. The Republican served in U.S. House from 1967 to 1997.
Visitation will be held Friday at the Covington United Methodist Church, with the funeral at 2 p.m. Saturday at the church. Burial will follow in Mount Hope Cemetery.
It must be tough to be an openly gay lawmaker in the Bible Belt.
But Alabama state Rep. Patricia Todd, a Democrat, isn’t backing down.
After a federal judge ruled Friday that Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, Todd wrote a Facebook post that might have a few of her peers worried.
“I will not stand by and allow legislators to talk about ‘family values’ when they have affairs, and I know of many who are and have,” Todd wrote. “I will call our elected officials who want to hide in the closet out.”
Todd elaborated on her threat to the Huffington Post: “If certain people come out and start espousing this rhetoric about family values, then I will say, ‘Let’s talk about family values, because here’s what I heard.’ I don’t have direct knowledge, because obviously I’m not the other person involved in the affair.”
“One thing I’m pretty consistent on is I do not like hypocrites,” she added. “If you can explain your position and you hold yourself to the same standard you want to hold me to, then fine. But you cannot go out there and smear my community by condemning us and somehow making us feel less than, and expect me to be quiet.”
On Sunday, U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade issued a two-week stay on her ruling, giving the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals until Feb. 9 to decide whether to continue the delay.
Figuring out whether Todd will make good on her threats in the intervening time will certainly make Alabama politics rather interesting.
On Tuesday, the non-profit Center for Plain Language released its third annual report card for federal government agencies. Those who are following the spirit and letter of the Plain Writing Act—a 2010 law designed to eliminate bureaucratic gobbledygook—got A’s. Those who failed to abide and didn’t submit documents to be reviewed earned big fat F’s.
The bad news is that government agencies are still using words like weatherization, gasification, grantsmanship and interdependencies. The good news is that, overall, the average grade is going up, with 16 of 22 departments improving over the previous year’s grades.
That means fewer sentences like this, from the Department of Defense:
The Deputy Secretary, the second-highest ranking official in the DoD, is delegated full power and authority to act for the Secretary and to exercise the powers of the Secretary on any and all matters for which the Secretary is authorized to act.
And more sentences like this, from the Social Security Administration:
You need a Social Security number to get a job, collect Social Security benefits and get some other government services.
As well as fewer sentences like this, from the Department of Education (note, this really is just one sentence):
Comparison teachers included those from traditional routes to certification (those who completed all requirements for certification, typically through an undergraduate or graduate program in education, before they began to teach) and teachers from less selective alternative routes to certification (programs that allowed teachers to begin to teach before completing all requirements for certification, but that were not as selective as TFA and the Teaching Fellows programs).
And more sentences like this, from the Transportation Security Administration:
Fireworks are not permitted in checked or carry-on baggage.
But the Center for Plain Language also did things a little bit differently this time around. Rather than just grading compliance (Does the agency appoint someone to oversee their plain language endeavors? Is there a way for the public to give the agency feedback about their language?), they gave each agency a grade for compliance, writing samples and information design. The latter is a web-inspired category that’s all about using typeface and white space and graphics to make complex ideas easier to digest. In that area, most agencies came away with C’s.
“They just don’t write that well,” Annetta Cheek, co-founder of the Center for Plain Language, says about government employees. “There’s a lot of feeling that if it doesn’t look complex and legal maybe it’s not legal … It’s just counter to the culture of the government, and people struggle to write plainly.” When it comes to visual elements, she says that’s not even on most agencies’ radars. They’re all text and no pictures. “It will be a while before they dig themselves out of the hole and get to the high level that some private sector companies already have,” she says.
Cheek has been lobbying for Washington, D.C., denizens to speak simply with the public for the past 20 years. And she says that despite the government’s taste for overwrought sentences, “we are finally seeing some significant progress.”
The full report card is above. Cheek says that they’ll likely be dropping the compliance grade next year, since almost every agency has figured out how to follow the letter of the law (note all the A’s). And rather than letting the agencies cherry-pick samples to submit—which forces some skepticism about how much these grades really convey—the Center’s researchers will be making their own selections. The grades for writing were determined by feeding example documents through a software program that picked out red flags like long words, needless words and passive verbs. The information design scores were determined by two people independently scoring the documents’ visual elements.
The Act itself doesn’t include a process for oversight, which is why the Center for Plain Language developed this annual process for rewarding straightforward speech and holding jargon-lovers’ feet to the fire.
At the Iowa Freedom Summit over the weekend, Sarah Palin did her very best to troll Hillary Clinton. At one point, she held up a “Ready for Hillary” car magnet and quipped, “I’m ready for Hillary.” The dig earned a cacophony of hooting and applause.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Super PAC Ready for Hillary, which has been laying the groundwork for a Clinton campaign for the past two years, fired back. The group launched a new online fundraising site that pictures a still frame of Palin holding up the Ready for Hillary car magnet—an obvious attempt to aggravate the Democratic base, which loves to hate the wink-prone former governor of Alaska.
“Sarah Palin says Republicans will be ready for Hillary,” the text above the photograph reads. “Let’s show her she’s wrong.” It urges Clinton supporters to pony up $20.16 or more for a Ready for Hillary car magnet of their own.
At the Iowa Freedom Summit, Palin struck a feminist note, which was itself a not-so-subtle dig at Clinton’s potential electoral strength as the first female president. Palin said there shouldn’t be a “no girls allowed” sign on the Oval Office door, but insinuated that the first female commander-in-chief should be her rather than Hillary.
Palin also played off the title of Clinton’s 1996 book, It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us, reminding her fellow conservatives that it will take a “village” to defeat Clinton, should the former Secretary of State win the Democratic nomination.
Just one week after proposing the idea in his State of the Union Address, President Obama was forced to withdraw a proposal to change the way tax-preferred college savings plans work after criticism from Republicans and members of his own party.
A White House official confirmed Tuesday that Obama is no longer calling to tax income from so-called 529 plans in his budget to be released next week, but will maintain the other elements of his plan to make college more affordable. The administration had argued that the plans benefited those higher on the income scale and planned to use the savings to pay for the president’s free community college proposal and expanded tax breaks that would help those at lower incomes.
“We proposed it because we thought it was a sensible approach, part of consolidating six programs to two and expanding and better targeting education tax relief for the middle class,” a White House official said. “Given it has become such a distraction, we’re not going to ask Congress to pass the 529 provision so that they can instead focus on delivering a larger package of education tax relief that has bipartisan support, as well as the President’s broader package of tax relief for childcare and working families, paid for by eliminating the trust fund loophole and making sure the wealthy pay their fair share.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pressed Obama to drop the proposal with administration officials Tuesday aboard Air Force One as she joined Obama on his trip from India to Saudi Arabia. The White House said that Obama’s other proposals to close the so-called trust-fund loophole on inherited wealth and a new fee on the liabilities of the nation’s largest financial institutions would more than cover the cost of his education proposals.
On Tuesday, Speaker of the House John Boehner called on Obama to withdraw the proposal. “529 plans help middle-class families save for college, but now the president wants to tax those plans,” he said. “It’s another example of his outdated, top-down approach when our focus ought to be on providing opportunity for all Americans. And so, for the sake of middle-class families, the president ought to withdraw this tax increase from his budget when he submits it soon.”
Several bills passed the House of Representatives this week to combat human trafficking worldwide. Between Monday and Tuesday, a total of 12 bipartisan bills attacking the issue from all angles—from the demand for sex trafficking to the welfare system’s response to victims—passed the Republican-controlled House.
Many of the bills that passed Tuesday had passed the House during the 113th Congress, but didn’t get voted on in the Senate. Republicans are hopeful that will change this time around.
“Though last year many of these same bills got stuck in the Senate, for the sake of all those affected by human trafficking, I’m hopeful that these bills will be passed through the Senate, sent to the President’s desk, and finally become law,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
A total of 13 bills focused on trafficking passed the House last session and one, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, was signed into law last September. The bills were lauded by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle as important steps toward ending the practice, seen across the globe as a modern form of slavery.
Bills on the issue of human trafficking have also been introduced in the Senate, including a bill from Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called the Combat Human Trafficking Act, aimed at those who engage in sex acts with victims of trafficking. The bill, introduced Jan. 8, would also ramp up law enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute buyers and increase victim services. In a statement to TIME, Sen. Portman called human trafficking the “human rights cause of our time.”
“I am hopeful that legislation to strengthen law enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute all who commit sex trafficking crimes will soon become law,”said Portman.
On Tuesday, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) spoke on the Senate floor urging action on a bill he and several Senators introduced in January called the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015. “Yes, human trafficking is happening right in our own backyard, and more than 80% of sex trafficking victims in America are U.S. citizens,” Cornyn said, noting that big sporting events like the Super Bowl can be hotbeds for sex trafficking.
Human trafficking is estimated to be a multinational, multibillion-dollar industry and one of the most lucrative international criminal practices. The Department of Homeland Security estimates over 20 million men, women, and children are victims of trafficking. An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 American children are at risk of becoming child sex trafficking victims every year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The bills before Congress address what’s arguably the most maligned form of trafficking—child sex trafficking— and they go pretty far, too. One bill, the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act, calls on states to provide welfare services including counseling to keep child victims from having to enter the criminal justice system. Another bill, International Megan’s Law, would require the U.S. to communicate about when and where convicted child sex offenders are traveling internationally. One bill would make it a crime to “knowingly” sell advertising that offers certain commercial sex acts, in an effort to stop websites like backpage.com.
Though the issue of child sex trafficking is well addressed in the bills, little attention is given to international and domestic labor trafficking, of which there are an estimated 14.2 million victims worldwide. The oversight hasn’t gone unnoticed by leading anti-trafficking group Polaris , which operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
“Overall the introduction of these bills is a step in the right direction,” Brandon Bouchard, a spokesperson for Polaris tells TIME. “We just wish Congress would include labor trafficking in their efforts to combat trafficking worldwide.”
The group is also worried that some of the new initiatives proposed under the legislation will impose on already cash-strapped programs.
“Funding for survivor services is already severely limited. Adding new programs and initiatives that draw funding from these minimal allocations is counterintuitive,” said Polaris director of national programs Keeli Sorensen in a statement.
The bills came at the start of a busy week on the issue of trafficking. Human rights organization Human Rights First will host a working group meeting in Washington, bringing together government and non-profit leaders from across the nation to discuss how to best address the issue.
Seventy years ago today, Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in German-occupied southern Poland where, from 1942 on, the Nazis killed at least 960,000 Jews, 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma (Gypsies), 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and 10,000-15,000 others. Most were killed in gas chambers designed and constructed for the purpose.
In February 1944, less than a year before the liberation, the Italian chemist Primo Levi arrived at the camp with more than 600 other Jews who had been deported from German-occupied Italy in sealed train cars. In all, some 10,000 Jews were deported to concentration and extermination camps from Italy after the German occupation in September 1943.
Following is Levi’s account of the selection process by means of which the Nazis determined who would be killed and who would be kept alive for slave labor, from Survival in Auschwitz, (Simon and Schuster):
The climax came suddenly. The door opened with a crash, and the dark echoed with outlandish orders in that curt, barbaric barking of Germans in command which seems to give vent to a millennial anger. A vast platform appeared before us, lit up by reflectors. A little beyond it, a row of lorries. Then everything was silent again. Someone translated: we had to climb down with our luggage and deposit it alongside the train. In a moment the platform was swarming with shadows. But we were afraid to break that silence: everyone busied himself with his luggage, searched for someone else, called to somebody, but timidly, in a whisper.
A dozen SS men stood around, legs akimbo, with an indifferent air. At a certain moment they moved among us, and in a subdued tone of voice, with faces of stone, began to interrogate us rapidly, one by one, in bad Italian. They did not interrogate everybody, only a few: ‘How old? Healthy or ill?’ And on the basis of the reply they pointed in two different directions.
Everything was as silent as an aquarium, or as in certain dream sequences. We had expected something more apocalyptic: they seemed simple police agents. It was disconcerting and disarming. Someone dared to ask for his luggage: they replied, ‘luggage afterwards’. Someone else did not want to leave his wife: they said, ‘together again afterwards’. Many mothers did not want to be separated from their children: they said ‘good, good, stay with child’. They behaved with the calm assurance of people doing their normal duty of every day. But Renzo stayed an instant too long to say good-bye to Francesca, his fiancée, and with a single blow they knocked him to the ground. It was their everyday duty.
In less than ten minutes all the fit men had been collected together in a group. What happened to the others, to the women, to the children, to the old men, we could establish neither then nor later: the night swallowed them up, purely and simply. Today, however, we know that in that rapid and summary choice each one of us had been judged capable or not of working usefully for the Reich; we know that of our convoy no more than ninety-six men and twenty-nine women entered the respective camps of Monowitz-Buna and Birkenau, and that of all the others, more than five hundred in number, not one was living two days later…
This is the reason why three-year-old Emilia died: the historical necessity of killing the children of Jews was self-demonstrative to the Germans. Emilia, daughter of Aldo Levi of Milan, was a curious, ambitious, cheerful, intelligent child; her parents had succeeded in washing her during the journey in the packed car in a tub with tepid water which the degenerate German engineer had allowed them to draw from the engine that was dragging us all to death.
Thus in an instant, our women, our parents, our children disappeared. We saw them for a short while as an obscure mass at the other end of the platform; then we saw nothing more.