Samuel Pisar is -- as he describes himself -- "an ex-Polish Jew who started life in Bialystok and almost finished it in Auschwitz." But Pisar is a survivor who, outlived Hitler and the Holocaust.
He came through the death camps at Maidanek and Auschwitz, was liberated by the Americans, got a law degree in Australia, Ph.D.s at Harvard and the Sorbonne, and today lives the good life (maybe too good, by his own estimate) in Paris as a legal adviser and consultant to multinational corporations and banks.
But the concentration camp experience burns through him, and you don't forget him once you've met him. Brilliant, polished, articulate, egocentric, Pisar is still dazzled by his ability to mix with the great and the near-great.
He is now a man with a mission, which -- at one and the same time -- is world survival and Sam Pisar himself.
In his written narratives and always fascinating conversation, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, David Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger, president John Kennedy seem at his fingertips. When he talks of his stint in 1962 on Kennedy's task force on foreign economic policy (chaired by George Ball), the self-reference is to "the Auschwitz kid advising the president on foreign economic policy."
At Harvard, "Kissinger was my classmate, Zbigniew Brzezinski was my classmate -- and a few others Sheikh Yamani, Ralph Nader. Joe Califano (he was a little younger)." But the compulsive name-dropping aside, it is easy to get hooked on listening to Pisar, because his personal holocaust has been so searing. And in terms of a cold-blooded assessment of the world's economic problems, he makes a lot of sense.
Pisar, now an American citizen, spent 10 days here and in several other U.S. cities recently pushing his new book, "Of Blood and Hope," which attempts to draw the parallel between the horror of the Holocaust and the economic disaster the world may be facing today.
In an earlier book that attracted considerable attention, "Coexistence and Commerce," Pisar laid out the theory that only through economic intercourse could the West begin to open up Soviet society. The drift away from this approach, acclaimed at the time, is what is troubling Pisar now.
With his second wife, Judith, attentively at his side in a hotel suite here, Pisar went through his frightening scenario: "I wrote this book because of the future holocausts -- all kinds of holocausts -- that are on the horizon."
What Pisar sees ahead is a kind of disintegration of normal world relationships, comparable to the destruction of "my town, my classmates, everything" during the Holocaust.
"To me, it's a knot that consists of oil, the economy, the arms race, the dollar that is playing havoc with everybody, the Soviet-American relationship -- and the strains in the (Atlantic) alliance," Pisar said.
The alliance was built for military purposes, Pisar points out, but "we are out of date in our thinking that the problem is still fundamentally a military problem. It is fundamentally an economic problem."
An effort must be made to look for people inside the Soviet Union with whom the West can maintain a dialogue Pisar insists, as we have earlier in this decade. The alternative, he warns, is to let the Russian hawks win the internal debate.
His personal contacts in Saudi Arabia, he said, convince him that ultimately, the OPEC nations will sell the Soviet Union 2 million barrels of oil a day, as the Russians begin to run out of oil in the 1980s.
The Arab nations, he warns, are "terrified" for a variety of reasons. "First of all, there is Russia. But they are not fearful, just militarily. They know that the Russians will not occupy the Gulf." But the Russians are positioning themselves "to make sure that they get the oil they want, and I guarantee you the Arabs will sell it to them."
The Russians -- and the Eastern European satellites -- will pay for Arab oil in gold, Pisar says.
The way Pisar sees it, it is in the West's self-interest to sell the Soviets sophisticated technological equipment that will help them develop more of their own oil out of the frost lands of Siberia.
"On this subject, we've always had one foot on the brakes and one foot on the accelerator," Pisar complains. Like most Europeans, Pisar thinks that the United States doesn't understand or appreciate the critical need to be on better economic terms with the Russians. "Europeans don't see the Soviet demon the way (Americans) do," Pisar says.For France, Germany or the United Kingdom to stop exports to the Soviet Union, he says, is the difference between 5 or 6 per cent unemployment, and 9 to 10 per cent unemployment.
Pisar contends the United States is overimpressed with Russia's strengths and forgets its "abysmal" weaknesses.
"In my childhood, in the city of Bialystok, I saw the Red Army crumble under Hitler's assault. Why? Because the treason -- and the inefficiency -- was fantastic."
Bitterly, Pisar adds: "Their ideology is sterile, the system stinks, it is nothing but a military machine -- I don't know how efficient it is -- but Soviet Communism is certainly no longer a model to anyone."
Among specific Soviet weaknesses he cites first "a bankruptcy" in agriculture. "One bad harvest means buying wheat from America, Canada and Australia," Pisar says, "two bad harvests in succession mean famine -- uncontrollable famine that could be a disaster to them and to us."
Second, the Russian economy "just doesn't work -- it never will. They've tried everything -- but they just have to redo the whole thing."
Third, "there is the ethnic weakness, which is horrendous. There is the Slavic elite in the center. And around the periphery you have the Balts and the Ukrainians and the Mohammendans in the South (of whom there are 40 to 50 million) and they are multiplying much faster than the Russians themselves. Then there are the Tartars, the Mongols and so on. These people hate the system more than they like it.
"I have seen it with my own eyes. I have seen Ukrainians, White Russians, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, in Bialystok on the 22nd of June, 1941, when the bombs started to fall, get out of Red Army uniforms and enlist in the German Army and the S.S. Some of them were the cruelest bastards you can imagine: They didn't want to shoot West, they wanted to shoot East."
Today, if there were another armed clash, "I don't think Mr. Brheznev knows whether the Hungarians, the East Germans, the Czechs, the Poles, the Rumanians, the Ukrainians and some of the others, which way they would shoot."
But why, Pisar is pressed, doesn't the West -- and especially the United States -- give enough attention to the weaknesses of the Soviet union? Surely, U.S. intelligence is as good as Pisar's -- or isn't it?
"We should know these things," Pisar responds, "but from time to time, our vision is blurred because we go on this arms kick, and think this is going to solve the problem. And from time to time, there is an election, and it's not a good subject to discuss at the time of an election."
The crucial problem that Pisar sees is that the "global Auschwitz" that he uses as a metaphor for economic and social calamities won't be averted until there is a new crisis, a new Pearl Harbor.
What does it take to wake the world up? In his conversation with me, Pisar said, "the next Pearl Harbor will be a big one -- I'm not sure we can afford it." In his book "Of Blood and Hope," he explains the "demons that preoccupy me" even more eloquently:
"They are the anxious edge in peoples' voices when they speak about the security of their jobs, the erosion of their savings, and the tensions that build in the neighborhood gasoline lines.
"They are the tragedies reflected in the daily press: the carnage in Cambodia, the unrest in Columbia, the terrosim in Ireland, the rioting in Iran that fans the flames of Islam.
"What I fear most is that the same blindness and indifference and abdication of responsibility that brought about the collapse of my parents' world will overtake us once again, in some unintended, unpredictable way. For the death camps were not only the symbols of a brutal war, but also of a slow capitulation of freedom before tyranny, and of a long calvary that followed."