Maxim Pinkovskiy ('04)

(Maxim appears 2nd from right in the photo seen here)

I participated in the Holocaust Remembrance Project of 2004, writing about the stealthy, yet predictable ways in which modern-day genocides develop, and lamenting governments’ lack of will to act decisively in the face of these signs. While I greatly expanded my knowledge of modern-day human catastrophes in doing research for the paper, the core of the project for me was the trip to Washington.

There, I got to meet 10 remarkable students, all of whom combined the normal hectic life of high school students with grace and a sense of humor (we invented a game called Tipsy, which involved tipping a paper cup into the air and keeping it from hitting the floor for as long as possible); their teachers, whose wisdom and encouragement I will never forget, and of course, the survivors.

These fascinating people, who at our age were faced with more horror than is seen by whole generations, not only bore witness to the atrocities committed by the Nazis, but through their own example, showed how individuals can persevere over them and triumph over evil. Having heard their stories, who can forget Leo’s leap from an Auschwitz-bound train, Irene’s secret Yom Kippur fast at Auschwitz, Henry’s endurance through a death march, Peter’s memorialization of the horror around him in his diary, or Alice’s migration on a Kindertransport to an entirely foreign land? Moreover, when one experiences their vivacity, the love and pride that they feel for their families, their wisdom and knowledge (most of them know at least three languages) that far surpasses those of most, and the extent to which they have added to the lives of others after the end of the war, one sees every moment of their life as a victory over death.

As he is no longer with us, and this year’s participants will not be able to meet him, I would like to write a few words about Peter Masters, Alice Masters’ husband, who participated in HRP in 2004. His family left Austria for Britain soon after its takeover by the Nazis, and Peter, a pacifist, entered a special commando unit of the British army that spearheaded the Allied landing at Normandy. I remember sitting spellbound as Peter told us about taking the war back to the Nazis, staying alive in nearly impossible situations thanks to his razor-sharp thinking, and ultimately helping “to defeat the threat of evil incarnate,” as he wrote in his memoir, Striking Back. After the war, Peter Masters became Britain’s first Fulbright scholar to the U.S., had a full career in graphic design and raised a wonderful family. Well past 80 at the time I met him, he would play tennis for two hours each day, and I remember him avidly talking with Leo about their tennis matches. Sadly, Peter Masters passed away in 2005, but his legacy will continue in the hearts of all who met him or read his book.

After the Holocaust Remembrance Project, I shared my experiences with my community, distributing contest information and brochures with participants’ essays at my school, and lending the survivors’ books to family acquaintances. My family and I have become members of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and we have supported the movement to bring the plight of Darfur to the attention of the world community. Currently, I am pursuing an economics-mathematics major at Columbia University, and hope to go to a Ph.D. program after earning my B.A. My interests are in institutional design and resolution of market failures – how it is possible to set up institutions like a credible currency, a working banking system, a market for pollution, or basic enforceability of contracts that would eventually become self-enforcing and independent of the presence of political will. By fostering sound institutions in developing states, it is possible to prevent them from going down the path of totalitarianism and ethnic tensions, which continues to lead to genocide in our time.