Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Just as I have blogged on the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, racism, and intolerance previously (as found via my blog tags), today I am doing it again.
Warning: This post contains some graphic, or disturbing photos.
We continue to face a serious problem with anti-Semitism in this country. And sometimes people do not realize their actions support it. When you call for the country to bend its laws toward “Christian values” and lament the lack of Jesus in schools you are in essence saying that there are two Americas. A just, righteous one of Christians, and a lawless, immoral one of everyone who does not meet your definition of Christianity. Guess what. That includes Jews in the immoral have-nots, for no other reason than their faith. That is textbook anti-Semitism.
I have run into many who hesitate to call some of what we have seen rise up in this country over the last several years as “fascist.” Fine. Have your semantic comforts if you want them. Regardless of whether you see actual fascism or not, there has been ample evidence that the racist, bigoted ideologies that helped fuel the rise of Nazi fascism and genocide in the past are alive and thriving in this country right now.
In the wake of people carrying Nazi flags, white supremacist group symbols, KKK iconography, and racist and anti-Semitic signs in Charlottesville a few years ago, at a rally called “Unite the Right”, in clear reference to those who lean Right politically, I expected most people on the Right to quickly denounce those participants in the rally. To quickly say, “Those people don’t represent me” or “Nazis are bad”.
The people who gathered for the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville marched in a torchlight parade, in a deliberate echo of parades conducted by Hitler’s Nazis. They clearly chanted “Blood and Soil”, a Nazi phrase steeped in white supremacy, and “Jews will not replace us.” It was not one or two of them doing this, but the vast majority in lockstep. It does not get more clear-cut that that demonstration. If there was a moment to stand up with your fellow citizens of Jewish heritage and declare “Never again”, it was that moment. To do otherwise betrayed those who suffered and those who survived. It betrayed the service of Americans who died to put an end to the Nazi regime during World War II and those who survived and were too traumatized by what they saw of the Holocaust’s remains to even talk about it. To do otherwise betrayed common decency and morality.
Yet I did not see that moment from those on the Right who I assumed would have no problem doing that. I spent some time after Charlottesville trying to prove my hypothesis that those jerks who showed up were just a fringe movement, and that regular conservatives, Right-leaning folks, Republicans, and Trump-supporters would have no problem condemning their extreme behavior.
I waded into conversations. I was polite. I made clear I was not casting any accusations at those with whom I was conversing. I made clear I did not assume they were like those who showed up in Charlottesville. I politely pointed out that those who did show up in Charlottesville are the ones that chose to label the entire Right as being like them with their name of the rally. I expected denials. I expected denouncements. To my horror, I did not get them.
I got rationalizations. I got excuses. I got “not everyone there was bad” but not an admission that the majority, or even some, were bad. I got explanations that only served to create sympathy to actual f’ing Nazis. I even got some who refused to believe that anyone there actually supported such ideologies going so far as to ignore the photographic evidence of Nazi, KKK and other white supremacist symbols.’
If these folks’ first impulse in responding to Charlottesville was defensiveness or justification, instead of condemnation, then I knew the fight against the same evil that arose in Germany under Hitler could arise again in this country, right here and now. It didn’t make these folks evil, but it meant they were so concerned about something else they were will to hand the Devil the keys to the house.
In some instances, the response was even worse. I got it mansplained to me how white nationalism was good, and understandable, and completely acceptable. I got it explained to me they were just a bunch of history buffs. I got it explained to me that it was all the counter-protesters’ or the police’s fault, ignoring the fact that they were only responding to what the Unite the Right folks had created. The best I got was similar to the then president’s retraction of his condemnation, i.e., “there were bad people on both sides.” Which amounts to saying that confronting or defending oneself against white supremacists is just as bad as being a white supremacist.
I knew we had a rising problem with anti-Semitism and the kinds of thought processes that led to the Holocaust in the U.S. and around the globe. It wasn’t until Charlottesville that I knew that this was something far more widespread and far more deeply entrenched than just a few fringe nutbags sounding out. It was now mainstream. It is hard to hear. And it is hard to believe. But for a variety of reasons, some of which I am certain people do not even recognize in themselves, a significant number of Americans, probably close to 40% or 45%, when pushed, were more willing to stand close to neo-Nazis than denounce them.
The question before us then and now is, have you taken a hard look at yourself and are you able to honestly answer if you are one of them?
It is not a matter of saying “I’m not a Nazi.” That is not the issue. The issue is that their pushing their ideologies into mainstream morals, laws, and policy in this country is not a deal-breaker for you. The issue is that Stephen Miller, a known and committed white supremacist, was forming this country’s immigration policy, and you found yourself justifying his actions because …Why? Because talking points on Fox News said so? Because he was Trump’s guy? Similar justifications were made by Germans decades ago.
It’s like me saying “I don’t see color” and then ignoring when my candidates espouse policies that are deliberately targeting African-Americans to keep them disenfranchised. People who stormed the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021 said the same thing about themselves not seeing color and not being racist. They were there because the election was illegally stolen and they were there to take back their country. They were patriots. Yet, on the verge of entering one of the Congressional chambers, all it took to dissuade this mob from reaching their stated goal was one black man with a few taunts and that crowd was more than willing to chase him instead. Racism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism are baked into mainstream Republican voters thought processes, many without their awareness or consent.
For f’s sake, George Soros and Jewish people with money like him have been paraded as bogeymen for these voters to fear for years. The fear-prod of some “vast Jewish conspiracy” is alive and well in this country, just like it was Nazi Germany.
Racism, white supremacy and the kinds of bigotry and exclusionary thinking that led to the Holocaust already have deep roots in the vast majority of those who are or sympathize with Republican candidates. It has gone from a party that white supremacists would have nothing to do with, to, thanks to a strategy and ideology shift, a party which white supremacists and Nazis would endorse, but which rejected those endorsements, to now. Where endorsements are made and not commented upon. Where white supremacists openly run as Republican candidates and, if they win, are not only tolerated, but defended should they face censure or condemnation for their repugnant ideological stance.
And again, I know many who tend to identify, sympathize with, or vote Republican don’t think any of this applies to them and are offended by the suggestion it does. Many have also been made so afraid of the possibility of any liberal policies being enacted that they see that eventuality as tantamount to bringing down an apocalypse upon this nation. And thus they would argue they vote Republican because the alternative is absolute disaster for the country. Now, given that this country’s last Democrat president served two terms, helped usher this country through a terrible economic crisis (one that happened on and was aided and abetted by the watch of the two terms of a Republican president, no less), and left this country facing, to some measures, relative stability and improving conditions, there is precious little evidence for this hypothesis that Democrats will bring nothing but doom to the nation.
Where does that leave us then? People who are more afraid of Democrats’ policies than they are of actual Nazis and white supremacy. Who would rather stand nearer the Nazis than nearer a liberal or progressive. And for that, I have to question your priorities. Because of that, I have to ask you take a hard, honest look at yourself and question your priorities too.
I am not asking for an admission, nor am I calling you a terrible person. In fact, quite the opposite. Right now, being a well-meaning person makes it easier to be misled, and not realize where you end up standing or who you are standing next to.
See these white supremacists and other nasty folks have learned how to say all the right things to make well-meaning and good folks think that the way to do the right thing is to do the things that actually end up supporting white supremacy instead. They are taking advantage of your good nature and using that to convince you. In fairness, if this evil were easy for everyone to spot coming and root out, it would not have ever taken off. Not in Germany in the 1930s. Not in the U.S. today.
The key is to take stock every once and a while and figure out to whom this path you are being led down has left you standing next. Is it nearer to Nazis than to liberals? Then maybe you should step away form those leading your there and figure out a better course for yourself.
The Holocaust was perpetrated by monsters, but they were monsters who were also normal “good” people who loved their families and probably helped out their neighbors when in need. Every-day, ordinary people did those horrific deeds. 6 million Jews killed. Millions more of non-Jews add to that count, particularly those from the Soviet Union and Poland. And that’s just the toll of the Holocaust. Many, many more were killed for the same excuses in the years prior to the Holocaust.
Let me put it in perspective. Many of us have small gaps in our family history. An uncle who may have died young. A grand-uncle killed in a war. They are empty chairs at family gatherings and barren branches of a family tree, with no descendants.
In contrast to small gaps, I have many Jewish friends with huge holes in their history. Whole branches, whole lines, all or nearly wiped out. Never to gather on the Sabbath and help fill in the family history. Vast numbers of cousins never even having the chance to be born. If some of us have family lines where a few have been picked off by sharpshooters, my Jewish friends have the equivalent of whole regiments mowed down by shot and shell. The horror of that realization makes me weep, but for them it is merely one more reality. They celebrate the lives they have, treat the memories of all who have gone as blessings, and continue on. Because they have always faced some level of anti- Semitism or other persecution, and they learned to endure.
So while normal people perpetrated or stood by and allowed the Holocaust to occur, other normal people strived against it or survived it. To quote myself from another blog about the Holocaust:
Ordinary people did some amazingly horrible things to other people. Ordinary people did some amazingly heroic things to help other people.
Learn from that about who we are, how we got here, and who you want to be.
So on this Holocaust Remembrance Day, as we in this country face a reckoning with just how far we have let white supremacy advance, take a look at your priorities and to whom they have you standing next. Figure out to whom you want to be standing next.
Never forget. Never trivialize. Never let all that suffering have been in vain.
Mankind has proven over and over again that it has the capacity for great kindness, but that is also capable of returning to atrocity, no matter how enlightened we try to be.
We must always be vigilant regarding ourselves.
Never again is right here, right now, and always.
As we get more distant from those horrible events and actions, we lose the firsthand account survivors and the immediacy of hearing their living history. Therefore what you have done, are doing, to recall and remember that time, is vital to us as human beings. Thank you (even as I am once again choked with horror).