Hate crimes are constant war zones
“This isn’t Nazi Germany,” a survivor of an attack last weekend on a synagogue in Poway, Calif., commented. The gunman was a 19-year-old college student motivated by the white nationalist hate propaganda that has been increasing in volume and venom at an alarming rate in this country and across the globe. Six months later to the day, this “fine” young man took up the cause that he found admirable in the killer at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The Anti-Defamation League, that has been addressing anti-semitism and all forms of bigotry for over 100 years, has reported a marked rise in anti-semitic incidents. In 2017, anti-semitic incidents rose by 60%, the largest single year increase on record. Last weekend, a teenager with an AR15 rifle added another figure to their statistics.
“The things I saw beggar description” is a quote by General Dwight D. Eisenhower on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. It continues “I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations to propaganda.”
Eisenhower visited what he called a “horror camp” near the town of Gotha and this seasoned military general, a veteran of the horrors of battle, admitted he had “never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock.” In his memoir “Crusade in Europe,” he stated “The Jews were in the most deplorable condition. For years they had been beaten, starved, and tortured.”
“They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate,” said Franklin D Roosevelt, the president of the United States in 1944, regarding the D-Day operation where nearly 500,000 soldiers of our Greatest Generation were killed, wounded, or lost in a bold mission to stop the Nazi tyranny. We will commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day a month from now. Our World War II vets, not many left now, went on to free Europe from the Nazis. Many bore witness to concentration camp atrocities when they were charged with the duties involved in their liberation.
“Never Again.” I have visited both the Normany beaches of D-Day and one of the concentration camps; the one in Dachau, Germany, where this is written on a monument in the center of the camp. Even after 75 years, the impact of these sites is enormous. How could this have happened?
The hindsight of history shows us that the answer is gradually, insideously; a dog whistle here, an omission of condemnation there, the message that the attitude of white supremacy is acceptable. The pointing of blame for economic inequality toward minorities works its way into the general culture, aided by leadership that gradually prods the populace toward these beliefs.
Hate crimes have increased, while the administration has defunded the branch of Homeland Security that investigates these crimes, a passive signal that the government will look the other way. The words of Holocaust survivor Primo Levi point this out: “More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”
“Jews will not replace us.” How do we reconcile what is going on today with what our World War II heroes fought for? So much sacrifice, so many died fighting the horrors of the Nazi regime, for only a scant 75 years later-literally their lifetime-to have Nazi flags and slogans being touted in our own country. They fought to keep it from our shores, yet, here it is.
For their memory, as well as the victims, shouldn’t we be actively renouncing anti-semitism and neo-nazism? The marchers in Charlottesville were not there to prevent the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, as a current Trump revision would like us to believe. Their chants were slogans of Hitler’s Nazi party, which had nothing to do with a civil war statue. Even so, his defense of Lee as a “fine” general is, in effect, praise of a traitor to the country whose support of slavery was the inhumane atrocity of his time.
“There were fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville confrontation, according to Trump. Were there also “fine” people on both sides in the Poway synagogue last Saturday? Is there any moral equivalency that can be drawn between a 19-year-old bent on murder coming face to face with a 60-year-old woman named Lori Gilbert-Kaye who, with courage and the protective instinct of a mother, reacted to his threat by putting herself in the line of his fire and giving her life to save her rabbi?
There were many testimonies to her kindness and good deeds, her caring for friends and neighbors. He will be remembered for his hate.
“It happened, therefore it can happen again” is another quote from Primo Levi. This past week, the Days of Holocaust Remembrance have been observed, reinforcing that between 1933 and 1945, six million Jews died at the hands of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party, who in the newly formed German democratic government, were democratically elected by the people. This is history. This is fact.
We could be doomed to repeat it by not acknowledging that there are some alarming similarities in current events. Let’s not allow ourselves to blindly follow someone who is leading us down a path of division and hate just because we may perceive an illusion of economic promise — someone who can tweet thoughts and prayers and make condolence calls one minute, then stand in front of a crowd condemning and demonizing immigrants, the press, democrats and any who dare to disagree with him the next — repeating tactics that were successful then and can still be recognized in the rhetoric he uses now. “But the economy is great” is no excuse.
“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart,” Anne Frank wrote in her diary while in hiding from the Nazis. She was a 14-year-old victim of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Seventy-five years have passed. Little 8-year-old Noya Dahan, wounded in Saturday’s synagogue attack, said “I don’t really feel safe here. This is not the first, and definitely not the last time this happened.”
Anne, Noya, why is it so hard to learn the lessons of history?
Susan Bigler is a Sheridan resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org